The gift of patience becomes a gift of knowledge five years later

I’m not one of the lucky people who can click and click on the popular genealogy websites to build my family tree and easily find distant cousins online.

Lately, it’s been feeling as if it has been easy to find those distant cousins if I forget about the number of years I’ve waited to make these connections.

A month ago, a woman from Far East Russia whose great-grandparents carried the same surname as my great-grandfather in the same village contacted me. I looked up her family on my list of 380 relatives on that line and couldn’t find her family.

Timing was everything in this situation. My researcher in Kursk was close to completing his study of records for another line in a nearby village. I immediately contacted him with the woman’s information on her great-grandparents to see whether he could find a connection.

About a month later, I had my answer. Yes, we are cousins. My 9th great-grandfather is her 8th great-grandfather. Apparently, I only can find cousins lately if it involves our ancestors knowing each other centuries ago.

I just had the big thrill of learning earlier this month a woman in Moscow is my 8th cousin, once removed. She gave me a massive tree in Russian that took several days to translate into English and add into my family tree.

Now, it was my turn to be the gift-bearing cousin. The woman in Far East Russia was thrilled to get a scan of her great-great-grandfather’s first marriage and birth records for two sisters of her great-grandfather.

Then, I added her family’s info to my tree to figure out her direct ancestors. She only had names of her great-grandparents a few days ago but now she has information for every generation, including siblings’ families, back to her 8th great-grandfather.

We would have never connected if it weren’t for Всероссийское генеалогическое древо, the most popular genealogy forum for the Russian-speaking world. So far, I have found cousins 5 times from my mother’s and father’s families on this website over the past 7 years.

Being patient after posting information on my ancestors has proven worth the wait.

Related posts:

Discovery of a small genealogy forum leads to pushing family tree back to the 1600s
Guide to Using the Best & Largest Russian Language Genealogy Forum (with a video guide linked)
New Russian cousins found again!

An overlooked record opens a door to finding long-lost family from WWII

My search to find relatives of my maternal great-grandfather has been a slow knockdown of a brickwall. Every few years, I feel as if I have chipped away at some cement holding up the brickwall but it’s still standing strong.

This time, I finally believe I will be chipping away enough cement to push out some bricks to find my family. I’ve attempted to find my family through letters, social networking sites and genealogy forum posts.

Nothing was working until I was bored after this holiday season. I started to get curious about my great-grandfather’s brothers’ service during World War II. At least, I could learn about their service during the war while I figured out a plan to find the family.

I was thrilled to learn on Подвиг Народа that the youngest brother of my great-grandfather received a 40th anniversary award for his participation in the war.

And thank goodness for Russia for posting the information online. I found a woman who lives near Central Archive of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation on Всероссийское генеалогическое древо, the most popular Russian genealogy forum, to obtain the record for my curiosity.

The woman said the record wouldn’t offer much more information than what was already posted online, JUST his address from 1985,  military registration number and the enlistment office that gave the award.

An address from 1985 was enough to make me feel as if I got my chisel back on breaking down this brickwall. The researcher looked up the address on Yandex Maps (Russian version of Google Maps) and sent me links to photos of the address.

Another happy moment was to learn that it wasn’t an abandoned building. I still didn’t have the name of the person currently living at the home, thanks to an online address book for Kursk being removed a few years ago.

Whenever I’m stuck in getting information, I know posting on Всероссийское генеалогическое древо will get me some help. A man on the forum gave me the last name of the man living at the address of my great-grandfather’s brother and then I found the man’s initials for his first and middle names through some crafty searching on Yandex.

I tried to find the man who lives at the address on two Russian social networks (Odnoklassniki and VKontakte), but the name is too common.

Thanks to finding several relatives online in Russia, I sent the letter with an old family photo to a cousin in Saint Petersburg and he will send my letter to Kursk. The hope is that the man will be more eager to answer my letter when it was sent by another Russian.

I included in the letter my address on Odnoklassniki. Once he views my page on Odnoklassniki, I will know he received my letter. (Odnoklassniki reveals the identity of registered users who view members’ page.)

It’s been 74 years since my mother’s family has had contact with my great-grandfather’s family. Time will tell if an address of a baby brother from 1985 is all it takes to find this family and complete the story of how my family survived WWII.

Previous posts on this long search:
Putting some hope on military records to solve a family mystery
Getting some hope from the word “calculator”

Discovery of a small genealogy forum leads to pushing family tree back to the 1600s

The best gifts really come in small packages. The discovery of a small forum that only spread over two pages can be credited to learning about my 3rd great-grandmother’s family back to the 1600s.

It’s pretty lucky to make this breakthrough. The forum was deleted a few months ago. Timing is everything, especially when things go poof on the Internet without warning.

Adding my 9th great-grandfather from this family onto my family tree was hardly a quick and easy process. I found the post by my 8th cousin, once removed, on our common surname from the same village on a Russian language genealogy forum in October 2012. Not a moment was spared to contact her.

It only was two weeks ago that I got the family tree that shows we are connected through my 7th great-grandfather, who was her 8th great-grandfather. This family line comes from her paternal grandmother and my 3rd great-grandmother. That’s what I call a distant cousin.

My cousin’s first e-mail message had the subject line- Здравствуйте двоюродный сестрa Кондрашeвa  (Hello cousin Kondrasheva) in October 2012. She was convinced we were related through an ancestor in the 1600s or 1700s. Her hunch was proven correct more than 4 years later.

I asked my researcher in Kursk to look at her family tree and see if he could connect our families three years ago. Nothing he found in old census records showed we were related. His research was looking at my direct ancestors, but not siblings and their families.

We stayed in contact on Facebook, with hope of figuring out this mystery. My cousin got busy with her own researcher to find as many documents as possible on her paternal grandmother’s family from Kursk Region archives and Russian State Archives of Ancient Acts.

It was only a few weeks ago that documents confirmed the relationship to my cousin in Moscow.  Her researcher’s thorough look at census records for siblings of my direct ancestors was the key to solving the mystery of our relationship.

I’ve lost count of the number of people my cousin’s researcher put in the family tree. It took several days for me to translate the names from Russian to English and add my distant cousins to my family tree.

I’m starting to lose count of the relatives I’ve found online. Only one Russian family found me on an English language website and everyone else found me on Russian language genealogy forums.

All thanks to using Google Translate and forcing myself to get comfortable with Russian language genealogy forums, I’ve connected with family throughout Russia and Ukraine. It’s amazing what can happen when your comfort zone is left behind.

Related posts:
Guide to Using the Best & Largest Russian Language Genealogy Forum
Making the right connections on forums

Search for grandma’s childhood home reveals family secrets

The curiosity of where my grandmother lived as a child was supposed to be just that. Records for her village were supposed to be destroyed during bombings in WWII.

Luck finally came my way in the form of a man who loves studying the history of his hometown, my grandmother’s former village. The acquaintance from a forum, Oleg, finally found the street where my grandmother lived as a baby.

Oleg hinted at that there was more than an address coming my way. I stopped my imagination from going too wild about what else I would learn about my grandmother’s childhood.

As soon I read the records Oleg found in archives outside of Kiev, Ukraine, I was shocked but not surprised. Great-grandpa was hosting an Evangelical Baptist church in his house in 1921, a time when the government killed people for practicing religion. (See Wikipedia’s page on persecution)

My great-grandfather was known for being very religious. He left behind two journals of biblical passages. His longest letter to his children about his family’s history, included a plea to his son to become a preacher. That plea fell on deaf ears.

Great-grandpa was even tenacious enough to send his sister in the USSR packages of clothing with hidden biblical passages when he lived in Berlin, Germany. No one was going to stop him from sharing his faith.

He was smart enough to keep the church quietly in a resort town, where people on the street where my great-grandparents lived and kept the church probably assumed a large family was gathering on a regular basis.

Then, my great-grandfather took his faith to a more noticeable position. Almost a year after he brought the church into his home, a document from archives shows he acknowledged the church as an official member of the Evangelical Baptist Union of Kiev. My great-grandfather signed the document as chairman of the board for the Evangelical Baptist Union of Kiev.

Nothing else is known about how long great-grandpa was hosting a church in his house nor serving as chairman of the board.

But today, a newer Evangelical Baptist church exists in my grandmother’s village, now a 35,000-resident suburb with high-rise apartments. The church (pictured below) has been open to the public for 50 years.

evangelicalbaptistboyarka

 

My great-grandfather’s name of Tikhon, meaning quiet, served him quite well. He hid a marriage and a child from his second wife and a church in his house and kept quiet about his work with the Evangelical Baptist Union of Kiev.

Finding the address where my grandmother crawled as a baby has shown one piece of information can lead to so much more.

Previous related posts:
Unimaginable breakthrough comes after years of hoping

Thanks for skimping on your taxes, great-grandpa

One man’s 13-year journey to stand on American soil after an escape during WWII

Escaping the Soviet Union during WWII wasn’t an easy task. A friend’s great-grandfather Peter somehow managed to escape for a new life in the USA. For years, the questions of how it was possible were left unanswered.

That was until yesterday. The man’s Alien Case File (the golden gem of researching mid-20th century immigrants) arrived on a CD, filled with pages of records to answer the questions.

It was quite a shock to learn about Peter’s journey to arrive in the USA. He left a village near Yaroslav, USSR, in 1944 and got on a plane “via Romania, Hungary, Austria” to Erfurt, East Germany. He stayed in communist East Germany for a year and then moved to free West Germany for three years.

Peter then moved to Cambridge and Oxford, England, for five years and returned to West Germany. It took him 13 years to finally arrive in the USA.

It sounds like an immigration journey that wouldn’t end. But how did Peter find a way to escape the USSR by plane? Why was communist East Germany his destination and why was he one of the lucky ones to get out after a year?

It is not surprising that it took 13 years for him to find his final home in the USA. With coming from the USSR, living in communist East Germany and later free West Germany, I can imagine U.S. immigration officials wondering about Peter’s activities before, during and after the war.

When he finally arrived in the USA, he got a room at the Bridgeport, Conn., YMCA and found a full-time job for $1.25 an hour at an aluminum foundry.

Not much else is known about his life from his file because the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is claiming that releasing another 10 pages of information would constituent invasion of personal and law enforcement privacy.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security will hear from me about what I think about using exemptions for my Freedom of Information Act request. I have successfully appealed their denial of information from an Alien Case file at least once.

It took five years to get this far and I am not stopping until I get all possible information to complete this man’s story of escaping the USSR. U.S. national security will not be threatened by releasing information on a Soviet immigrant who would have been 111 years old this year.

Peter’s great-grandson voluntarily sweated for days in a Kiev cemetery to find my great-grandparents’ graves last summer. I owe him my full determination to complete the story of his great-grandfather, who is buried a few rows from my grandfather (whose father’s grave was found by Peter’s great-grandson).

Our relatives escaped the Soviet Union for a better life, said their final goodbyes to their family and chose to be buried in the same cemetery. My grandfather and Peter’s great-grandfather never met but their relatives came together in a freer world they never imagined.

Previous posts on this journey:
Grandmother creates brickwall with weak mortar, thanks to one detail

Old electrical tower leads the way to family graves

Related posts:

Documents that open doors to information

Guide for success in obtaining Alien Case Files

 

Unimaginable breakthrough comes after years of hoping

Somethings I have refused to put on a wish list or as a goal because I know reality won’t bring fantasy to life no matter how much heart I put into it.

Recently, I got a message from a man I know from a forum for my grandmother’s hometown. Sometimes, his messages don’t provide much help. This time, it was a message with an unbelievable surprise that it felt as if it were Christmas again.

My immediate reaction was to call my mother with the shocking news that this man found the street where her mother lived as a baby in the early 1920s. It doesn’t sound as if it’s a big deal until I mention that my grandmother lived in Soviet Ukraine.

Getting records from Ukrainian archives past 1917 is quite a miracle. Ukraine won’t release its records online in the same way as the USA nor Canada does in my lifetime. Plus, the damage to Ukraine from WWII has resulted in many losses in archive records.

So, the countdown to mid-February begins. That is when my friend expects to get his hands on the records again. Two weeks ago, he told me that last week he would send me scans of the records he found. He wasn’t able to visit archives and he learned this week that archives will give him the records in mid-February.

I’m not going to complain about the wait. My friend has found where my grandmother lived as a baby and other things he hasn’t detailed. I’m not going to pester him with “so what is it?” Let a Christmas surprise come again in February.

This surprise will top his last from July, when he sent me a scan of the 1922 census of my grandmother’s birthplace that shows my great-grandfather was a tailor who skimped on paying his taxes and a scan from the local Russian Baptist church that shows he was a member and served in leadership. That is likely where my great-grandparents met.

The luck of having this guy help me for free is what I earned for getting out of my comfort zone and posting messages 6 years ago in a forum for my grandmother’s hometown near Kiev, Ukraine.

I used Google Translate to figure out how to register for the forum and posted messages looking for archive documents on my grandmother’s family and cousins from her father’s family. I never found family through the forum but the things that have landed on my lap were never on my radar.

That forum was deleted recently. It’s scary to think if I never got out of my comfort zone and never posted on the forum, I would have missed out on so much.

Previous related post:
Thanks for skimping on your taxes, great-grandpa

Get out of your comfort zone:
Secrets of searching the Internet in Russian and Ukrainian like a native speaker

Getting inspired in the New Year is as simple as filling jars

These days, jars are the thing. Fill jars with pretty things and put them on display. Leave out jars with gourmet spices for decoration. But jars can be put to even better use for genealogy.

It’s so easy to fall into negativity when dealing with genealogy. This record can’t be found, a relative refuses to help, a family village can’t be found on a map. Let’s have jars give a complete picture of how the adventure of genealogy is really going.

Here’s how to do that:

  1. Get 3 clear jars: one each for goals for the year, surprises and accomplished goals. Cheap jars can be found at Goodwill stores, craft stores, Big Lots, etc.
  2.  Make realistic goals to accomplish for the year, based on your budget and available time.
  3. Place the jars in convenient, but uncluttered areas, to keep your focus.
  4. Every time a goal is reached, date and move the goal into the accomplished goals jar.
  5. Every time, an unexpected success happens write it down, date it and put it in the surprises jar. Try to write down as many surprises, no matter how small (i.e. confirming an ancestor’s birth date with a document), to watch how those successes snowball into major brickwall breakers.
  6. On those days that it feels as if progress has stalled, open the surprises and accomplished goals jars to read all the successes so far.
  7. Then every three months, repeat step 6 to think about new goals to keep the success rolling and filling those jars.

On Dec. 31, pat yourself on the back for sticking with the plan for a year.

It’s time for the big reveal. Will you accomplish more than expected? Will there be more surprises than accomplished goals?

Need more inspiration for success in the New Year? Check out:
Say good-bye to frustration in the new year in 10 steps