A Russian-American view into 23andme’s new country regional ethnicity breakdown

I was excited when I heard 23andme is breaking down ethnicity by country regions in eastern Europe. Years of research shows my ancestry is mostly Russian and some German ancestry from Poland.

The results from 23andme were surprising but not in a good way. With so many Russian lines researched back to the 1600s, I only saw one birth region of a great-grandparent- Tartarstan- and the other 4 regions were so far removed from my ancestors’ birthplaces.

One great-grandmother was born in the Russian Empire, but she had extensive German ancestry. Her birthplace now sits in eastern Poland.

23andme did find ancestry from her paternal grandmother’s region and another region was near the birth region of her paternal grandfather.

Due to missing records for the areas of Poland where my German ancestors lived, I cannot do more thorough research on those ancestors. The two other regions 23andme claims as my ancestors’ regions in Poland are so far away from where documents place them.

23andme gives the most specific ethnicity breakdown but it doesn’t match documented research of my ancestors. Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage provide the broadest ethnicity breakdowns. Ancestry has more specific information on ethnicity but it’s not going to break down any walls.

So far, it seems these DNA tests are better at finding relatives than serving as a crystal ball for where Eastern European ancestors once lived.

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A Russian-American’s inside view of the new AncestryDNA test
A Russian-American’s insider view of the MyHeritage DNA test
A Russian-American’s insider view of the Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder Test

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Ancestry releases important database on WWII displaced persons

Researching relatives and ancestors who survived WWII is getting even more easier this summer, thanks to Ancestry.com.

The second newest WWII-related database is Africa, Asia and Europe, Passenger Lists of Displaced Persons, 1946-1971, a resource on 1.7 million people. Arolsen Archives (formerly the International Tracing Service) provided the document scans on Holocaust victims and survivors, Nazi forced laborers and refugees.

The documents in the database provide first and last name, nationality, country of birth, religion, martial status, gender, age or birth date, country of last residence, job title, departure date, departure place, resettlement camp, arrival place and destination on immigrants.

Here is a sample document from the database:

These documents cannot be found online elsewhere. Last week, Ancestry posted Europe, Registration of Foreigners and German Persecutees, 1939-1947 with 10.1 million records also from Arolsen Archives.

Just two months ago, Arolsen Archives added 10 million records to its own database, totaling the records to 13 million. That database doesn’t involve any fees nor registration.

Anyone who has relatives or ancestors who were displaced by WWII should search for records in these databases. It takes one new piece of information to make breakthroughs. Sometimes, the breakthrough could be a different spelling of a first name.

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Ancestry.com quietly adds incredible WWII database

The summer can be a quiet time for genealogy research until a new database appears online.

Out of curiosity to see if any new documents have appeared on Ancestry.com for my immigrant relatives, I discovered “Europe, Registration of Foreigners and German Persecutees, 1939-1947”.

The incredible database of 10.1 million documents, obtained from Arolsen Archives- International Center on Nazi Persecution in Germany, provides names, birthdates, birthplaces, nationalities and addresses of foreigners present in Germany from 1939-1947 and Nazi persecution victims.

Here is a sample document from the database:

I highly recommend searching for any relatives or ancestors who could have been in Germany during 1939-1947. I was surprised the seven documents I found on my mother’s family were new online.

Arolsen Archives- International Center on Nazi Persecution has 13 million documents on Nazi persecution victims and war refugees in its database. The documents on my relatives posted to Ancestry aren’t available on that database.

To begin the search on this database, start here. The results can be narrowed down by first and last names, birthdates, birthplaces and relatives’ names.

Here is the database narrowed down by ethnic groups: Jewish, Polish, Soviet citizens (people from the USSR were lumped together), Czechoslovakian, Romanian, Hungarian, French, Bulgarian, Greek, Yugoslavian and Italian.

Since the database comes from Germany, y’s will be turned into j’s and v’s into w’s. I’ve also seen g’s turned into z’s and incorrect vowels within names.

This database could piece together family stories from WWII. With the 75th anniversary of WWII’s finale coming, many more records are likely coming online from Arolsen Archives. This blog will post when more records become available online.

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Newest Ancestry.com database will turn brickwalls into dust

Declassified file reveals relative’s full story on journey to the gulags

So far, I’ve had a general idea about the experience of my grandmother’s first husband being sent to the gulag from family stories, books on the gulag and an extraction of information from the regional Office of the Federal Security Service.

A researcher who has been visiting archives in southern Russia told me so much more can be uncovered on his case since 75 years have passed. The researcher herself viewed her own relatives’ cases and was willing to do the same for me.

Nothing shocks me after what I have read about the gulag but the file read as if it came from Gulag: A History” by Anne Applebaum. The first husband of my grandmother, Vladimir, was arrested with his half-brother, Ivan, in 1932.

Here’s how the investigators got the husband’s confession:

Vladimir: I did not conduct anti-Soviet activities.
Ivan: My brother is hostile to the Soviets and, like me, conducted anti-Soviet agitation.
Vladimir: My brother is lying.
Ivan: Vladimir, I am your half-brother and I have confessed everything. I am your brother and cannot lie to you and you must confess everything.
Vladimir: Yes, now I plead guilty. I conducted anti-Soviet agitation. I was in a counter-revolutionary organization. Before, I gave false testimony, but now I will tell the truth.
Letters from abroad really came to me. In 1926, there was a letter from Bulgaria from a former white officer with the rank of ensign, Stefan Ivanovich Stublienko. He wrote that he lives badly, where his brother and father are missing.

The crimes of these brothers were being possession of 1,000 rubles of the gold currency from tsarist minting, expressing to acquaintances their intention to flee abroad and communicating through the postal mail to a foreign-living relative.

It didn’t help Vladimir that my grandmother didn’t support him, a typical situation during the Stalin era, when he was father of her two kids.

“I can hide the ends in the water. I have always secretly told my bank director, Vasiliy, about upcoming strikes, meetings among bank employees, and the latter was always warned about it in due time and, however, no one until this day knows anything about it,” my grandmother told investigators about an alleged conversation with her then ex-husband (who isn’t my grandfather).

For their crimes, the brothers were sentenced to three years at Lodeynoye Pole in St. Petersburg Region, one of the worst camps. Luckily, Vladimir was released a year early at age 56 after spending two years chopping trees down for firewood and other products. He made the hall of fame for productivity in the camp.

Then three years later, he was arrested again. This time, he confessed: “I carried on my counter-revolutionary activities more actively, spreading rumors about a quick war and the destruction of Soviet power.”

Vladimir also confessed that he expressed regret about the Soviet government killing of Chief of General Staff Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky.

Those confessions cost Vladimir another 10 years of his life to a gulag in Siberia  near the border of China. He was forced to build the Baikal–Amur Mainline of the Trans-Siberian Railway. A year later, he wrote a letter, begging to review his case, but a confession was a confession.

Sadly, nothing in Vladimir’s file reveals whether he survived his last sentence. He would have been 68 years old if he served the full sentence.

My researcher contacted the Federal Penitentiary Service in Moscow for more information. The office responded only relatives who can prove ancestry with documents can receive the information. That means I can’t learn more about him until the law changes.

His story is not forgotten for his family. I found Sergey, a great-grandson of Vladimir and Ivan’s brother, Vasiliy, on social network ok.ru. Sergey is thrilled to learn the details of the cases and all the biographical information collected by the NKVD on his great-great-uncles.

Thanks to this project for the photo of the Lodeynoye Pole gulag.

Related posts:
Declassified records reveal details of a family secret
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Database of political terror victims in the USSR explodes past 3 million

Major updates to Cemetery Databases and Best Genealogy Forums pages

Thanks to the surge of interest in genealogy in Russia and Ukraine, more resources are appearing online. That results in many new additions to the Cemetery Databases and Best Genealogy Forums pages.

I really didn’t expect to find many new databases for the Cemetery Databases page but a trend is spreading in Russia and other former USSR countries. Cemetery databases are appearing more online to build up cemetery maintenance businesses as more interest develops in genealogy.

It is a complete blessing to be able to find cemeteries documented online in Russia, Ukraine and other former USSR countries. Death records cannot be obtained in Russia until 100 years have passed and in Ukraine until 75 years have passed.

Many of the databases are in Russian but I explain on the Cemetery Databases page on how to use the websites with browser translators such as Google Translate.

The same is the case for the Best Genealogy Forums page. Those who truly want to make breakthroughs in their genealogy research need to try to use these forums in Russian and Ukrainian. Apps for browser translation really open opportunities to find relatives in the former USSR and fellow genealogy enthusiasts who will be eager to help you.

I repeatedly say this on my blog because one major mistake I made. Sixteen years ago, I found the All Russia Family Tree forum. I refused to try to learn how to use the forum, the largest genealogy forum for the Russian-speaking world.

When I realized years later I could combine my basic Russian language skills from my childhood and Google Translate to use this forum, I found that my grandfather’s nephew in Kyiv, Ukraine, was looking for my family. By the time I found his phone number online and had a friend in Moscow call his house, he was dead for two years already.

Thankfully, I connected with his daughter and she is visiting my house in July. We already met two years ago in Washington, D.C., but had I not been so stubborn I could have met her family and an army of cousins in Kyiv, my mother’s and her parents’ birthplace, a long time ago.

Now a war between Russia and Ukraine is preventing me to see my paternal grandmother’s brothers’ birthplaces in Luhansk and fear of terrorism is stopping me from visiting other areas of Ukraine.

Jump on any chance to use the resources on this blog. Challenging yourself will put you on a journey that cannot be imagined as I have shown in my blog posts. Stubbornness in genealogy only solidifies the cement holding up the brickwalls.

Follow this blog with the top right button to learn about other major updates to resources.

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10 million records added to WWII victims database

Researching relatives and ancestors who were victims of WWII as concentration camp victims, forced laborers or displaced persons just got easier.

This week, Arolsen Archives (formerly known as International Tracing Service) posted 10 million records online for free downloading here. The database, which has more than 13 million records, doesn’t involve any registration so it is straight to searching.

The best part of this database is that it can be searched in English. Since the database had so many records uploaded quickly, the search abilities are limited to names and topics for now.

These records are in German but some records have English written along the German. Anyone who lacks German language skills could try Google Translate to switch the typed German into English.

Also, plenty of German genealogy groups on Facebook have members who are willing to translate documents. The Genealogy Translations group is a popular group for this type of help.

This database was last updated in November, when I found more documents on my grandparents. Three more important records were just posted on my grandparents, who were displaced persons from Soviet Ukraine living in southern Germany during the war.

I hope to post soon about the information the new records reveal about my grandparents. This update to the database will be one of many to come.

I will post here when Arolsen Archives has another major update to the database.

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Free database on WWII soldiers grows by more than 5 million records

Anyone researching their relatives and ancestors who served in World War II for the Soviet Union has more hope to find military records online for free.

More than 5 million records recently have been added to the Memorial database for soldiers who died, went missing or became prisoners of war. The website doesn’t require any registration.

Each entry on soldiers can include their full name, birthdate or birth year, place of birth, date and place of recruitment, last place of service, military rank, and reason service ended. The records of soldiers can be saved as jpeg or pdf files. Directions are listed at the end of this post.

Yes, the database is in Russian but there are free online translator programs that can switch the Russian to English (keep on reading). The search page has the keyword box titles in English but the keywords must be in Russian. An English version of the database nor any database on USSR WWII veterans don’t exist anywhere.

Here is an example of results that will be missed for those who don’t want to try a Russian website:

Here’s how to use the database without knowing Russian:

  1. Download the Google Translate web browser application for Chrome here and Firefox here.
  2. If you don’t use that application, open the next browser window into Google Translate for easier switching between windows.
  3. Type your relative’s or ancestor’s name and birthplace into Google Translate and have it translated into Russian. If Google Translate doesn’t work, try this website instead.
  4. Copy and paste the keywords into the proper keyword boxes and then click on search.
  5. The results will appear in Russian for those not using the Google Translate web browser application. Copy and paste the results into Google Translate.
  6. Once you see a potential match, click on the link and then copy and paste the text into Google Translate.
  7. The document below the text providing details on the soldier can be saved as a jpeg file by clicking on the disk symbol or saved as a pdf file by clicking on the file symbol with PDF written in red. The link to the individual soldier’s page can be copied by clicking on the link symbol.

Once that information is downloaded, the next step is to search for relatives and ancestors in the Memory of the People database, which has information and records on recipients of WWII medals and other honors. The same steps taken on the Memorial database can be used for this database, in addition to free databases here.

This all takes some effort but it is well worth the effort when the documents are posted online for free. Getting used to combining language translator programs with Russian military websites is a great skill worth maintaining.

The Russian government is determined to post online as many WWII records and soldiers’ information as possible. The updates to WWII databases will continue on a regular basis to honor the soldiers who made the sacrifices for the USSR.

Follow this blog with the top right button to learn about new and updated databases.

Related posts:
Newly updated database reveals 2 million documents on WWII victims and refugees
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Databases of Soviet Army soldiers as POWs provide wealth of information