Rediscovery of a long-lost photo of a grandfather uncovers a mistake

I assumed I had seen everything in my late father’s box of photos, negatives and slides that has sat for years in my laundry room. So many duplicates are in the box so it didn’t seem worth my time to sift through the disorganized mess.

My curiosity peaked once again whether there could be an undiscovered treasure in the box. Several years ago, I found a negative for a professional photo of my grandmother as a teenager with her father. My family doesn’t recall ever seeing the photo.

I thought I couldn’t possibly have missed another gem when I found the last photo. With so many negatives in the box, it gets annoying to find the right angle to view them while sitting on the floor.

So I took out my scanner to double-check that nothing was missed. From the glance while sitting on my living room floor, I thought this would be a waste of my time. At least, I would learn how to set the scanner to make the negatives into 21st century jpegs.

But I was curious about why my father mixed in two photos of my mother’s grandfather among rows of photos of his own family for these negatives. My father photographed his favorite family photos for negatives.

Then this photo appeared:

My mother nor I have ever seen this photo. I searched through the few pages of photos of my grandfather in my album. This photo is nowhere to be seen.

Every photo of my grandfather is a gem. My father is the only child of his father. My grandfather was the only child of my great-grandparents to live past childhood. A random cousin can’t appear in the future with photos of him.

Then the next photo in the negative strip didn’t make sense. I have identified it as a photo of my mother’s paternal grandfather from 1917 for years.

Once, I asked myself why would he have a professional photo taken of him in Saint Petersburg, Russia, at the same time he was living in Kiev, Ukraine, I knew I made a big mistake with the photo identification.

My grandfather only was 4 years younger than my mother’s grandfather, thanks to an unplanned fatherhood at 50 years old. Both men had lived in Saint Petersburg but my paternal grandfather is the only logical choice for the 1917 photo.

It took the discovery of one photo to learn that I really do have a photo of my grandfather as a young man. When 21st century technology mixes with the 20th century, the results can be amazing.

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Large Russian-American cemetery database offers another resource for researching immigrants

Many Russian-speaking immigrants escaping the Soviet Union found a special cemetery in northeastern United States. That one cemetery is claiming to be the largest Russian Orthodox cemetery outside of Russia.

Novo-Diveevo Russian Orthodox Cemetery is tucked away a few miles from New York City and attracted many Russian-speaking immigrants as their final resting place. More than 7,100 immigrants and their descendants are documented with grave photos on this Find A Grave database.

The best part of this database is the ease involved to search for possible ancestors and relatives. Every memorial can be viewed in a list with this link.

If that’s too time-consuming, the first or last name can be searched with just a few letters. That is highly recommended due to the challenges of determining in how names were spelled on gravestones- the original name or modified names.

Here’s a guide on tricky name spellings-

  1. Names ending with ov also can be spelled with ow or off
  2. Names with the zh sound also can be spelled with a j
  3. Names using the kh combination also can be spelled with the k dropped
  4. Names ending with y also can be spelled with iy or ij
  5. Names with the sh sound also can be spelled with sch
  6. Names starting with a g sound can be switched to a h for Ukrainians

My favorite feature of this cemetery is that many of the gravestones have photos, birthplaces or military service information.

If the memorial page doesn’t have that information posted in English, the information can be easily retyped with a Russian keyboard here. Then copy and paste the text on Google Translate for the English translation.

Anyone with Russian nobility ancestry is highly encouraged to search this cemetery’s database. The cemetery is filled with dukes and duchesses, counts and countesses and princes and princesses, who escaped the Soviet Union to save their lives from political persecution.

If nothing useful appears in this cemetery’s database, another cemetery database to check is Holy Trinity of Jordanville, N.Y. More than 2,000 Russian-speaking immigrants and their descendants are documented for that cemetery.

Related posts:
Quiz: Can you guess how former USSR immigrants changed their names?
The User-Friendly Guide to Find A Grave for Russian and Ukrainian Genealogy
Best tips on uncovering U.S. documents on mysterious Soviet Union relatives
Don’t let this easy mistake implode your family tree

 

Surprising journey starts after visiting grandparents’ cemetery

Three years ago, I finally returned to my grandparents’ cemetery for the first time since my grandmother died in 2012. It’s a 7-hour drive to visit my grandparents’ cemetery so the trip takes some planning.

The visit was one of the few times I wasn’t coming for a funeral. Just coming to visit my grandparents’ grave didn’t seem like enough this time.

The New York City area has many Find A Grave volunteers but it’s a rare chance that many of these volunteers could read the Russian gravestones and crosses at Novo Diveevo Russian Orthodox Cemetery.

My Russian is probably  at the higher elementary level but this cemetery could give me the practice I needed to improve my language skills. I started with photographing about 600 gravestones and wooden crosses.

Thanks to this free online Russian keyboard, it was easy to retype the words I didn’t recall. Then copying and pasting the text into Google Translate revealed the unfamiliar Russian words.

I was hooked to coming back the next summer in 2016 to photograph more when a Russian-American Find A Grave volunteer thanked me for my efforts. He posted many memorial pages for Novo Diveevo before I started my journey and has been a great help to explain anything I couldn’t understand.

I pushed myself to photograph more gravestones and crosses for my visit in summer 2016. I was done with the clicking on my digital camera after 1,300 photos but I had no idea about how much work was ahead of me for the next visit.

After two visits, I was hoping to be done in summer 2017. When I returned again, I went into panic about how much wasn’t done and worried about the upcoming rainy weather.

Thankfully, I came armed with two memory cards and two camera batteries. When I got too hot and sweaty, I went into my car for some bottled water and air conditioning while I recharged my camera. Of course, my second battery discharged when I was an hour away from being done.

So off I went to the nearby Subway to take a lunch break, when I hid that I was charging my camera under the table. I killed time by poking around on my smart phone. I was determined to finish the cemetery on the third visit.

In the end, I pressed the shoot button about 2,700 times. At times, I was hiding under an umbrella. My abundant eagerness allowed me to ignore the time that passed after sunset.

So it wasn’t a surprise when I found some photos were too grainy to post or even read. My stubborn soul knew a fourth “quick” visit was needed for this summer.

I thought I had to only retake pictures of a small section and the newer gravestones and crosses since my last visit. Another surprise came my way when I checked on my smartphone whether my grandparents’ section was done. I hardly touched that section.

Once I was getting closer to finishing the section, two cemetery workers passed me by on their vehicle, with one saying in Russian “Why is she taking pictures?” I turned around and acted as if I was talking on my phone. I moved to the back of the cemetery for the newer graves and returned to that section when they were gone.

It felt so good to finish the cemetery after the 4th visit. I sweated, bled from prickly bushes, climbed under low tree branches and pushed aside many bushes and tree branches to take photos.

Three years ago, this cemetery had less than 200 memorial pages. Now the cemetery has more than 7,100 people in the database. Many of these people had the courage to escape the USSR for a better life and all the sweat and effort to include them on Find A Grave was well worth it.

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Untraditional source reveals the death of a great-grandfather

I don’t give up easily to find records in archives. The known facts are checked several times before I send a researcher to search through records.

That wasn’t enough when a researcher looked in two areas of an archive for my great-grandfather’s death record. The joke was on us because someone else managed to find the record more than 15 years ago.

A man was so intrigued by the city where my great-grandfather lived in southern Russia that he wrote a book about people who lived on or near the main street.

Thanks to this book by Oleg Pavlovich Gavryushkin, I know my great-grandfather died of heart failure and had his funeral service in 1912 at the Assumption Cathedral in Taganrog, where archives had a record of my grandmother being christened 10 years earlier.

That book was published 15 years ago but the author died 10 years ago, a day after my first son was born. I was a bit too late to thank the author for his book and ask where he got his information.

Sadly, the church doesn’t stand anymore, thanks to the communist government that pillaged the valuables and later knocked down the church for a public restroom that no longer exists.

 Source: Wikipedia

Thankfully the history of this church is well-known, with the work of historian Pavel Petrovich Filevsky. It helps fill in the emptiness of not finding the death record in archives.

The history gives me more appreciation of the family church, where famous Russian author Anton Chekhov also was christened. The future Czar Nikolai II , Czar Alexander II and Czar Alexander III also visited this church.

This was a church of note and my family walked the same place as three czars and the family of Anton Chekhov, whose parents married in the church.

A further look into the book by Gavryushkin gave me an even fuller picture of the city that my father’s four grandparents picked as their final residence.

The same street as my great-grandparents lived was the locations for the last palace of Czar Alexander I and house of Russian composer Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s brother that was visited by the composer.

Now that I know this, I wish I had a chance to ask my father about how much he knew about the history and culture that surrounded him in Taganrog. Just like my grandmother, my own father died close to my 10th birthday.

A search for my great-grandfather’s death record didn’t result in finding the document but showed me the better and more important story that surrounded his life.

Related posts:
Old address book online breaks down brickwall on a family photo
A shocking surprise was waiting to be discovered for 6 years
Journey to find one record breaks down a brickwall on 3rd great-grandfather’s family
One detail completely changes the story of great-great-great-grandpa’s life

Amazing family reunion was hiding among e-mail messages

Over the years, I have been lucky on genealogy forums to find connections with people who have the same surnames from my family villages. Quite the surprise came two months ago in my e-mail but I didn’t realize it until recently.

A woman contacted me about her great-great-grandfather’s family from the village of my great-grandfather. She told me about the children of her great-great-grandfather, who had 19 children but only 8 children lived past infancy.

Her great-great-grandfather and my 5th great-grandmother had the same surname from the same village in central Russia. The great-grandfather’s name seemed so familiar as I have heard it before.

I searched my e-mail for messages with that name and an interesting connection appeared. Another woman who is researching the same great-great-grandfather contacted me two years ago.

I stopped writing to the other woman because our information didn’t connect our family trees. The woman promised to contact me if she found any new information.

It was quite a surprise to learn that these two women didn’t know each other. Apparently, family reunions come in the form of randomly sent e-mail messages.

But a connection was there two generations ago, as I learned from the woman who originally contacted me two years ago. I shared with her the information from the woman who e-mailed me two months ago.

Their grandmothers were close friends in my great-grandfather’s village but the following generations didn’t have an interest in keeping the connection alive.

That was until these two women e-mailed me. I e-mailed  both women whether they wanted to contact each other. Both are thrilled to reignite the connection their grandmothers had years ago.

These women are most likely my distant cousins. My great-grandmother whose great-great-grandmother had the same maiden name as their great-great-grandfather.

It is going to take some research to connect our family trees because a challenge lies ahead. The family was Old Believers and not as many documents exist in archives as the people who were Russian Orthodox.

Thanks to these women finding me on the largest Russian-language genealogy forum, there could be a second reconnection in this family. These two women may be gaining me as a distant cousin.

It took a stranger to reconnect them. Now, let’s hope documents still exist to confirm me as their cousin.

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A broken promise gives inspiration to document an immigrant cemetery

It hit me hard when my mother’s cousin died in Kyiv  three years ago. I had promised to save my money to visit her but that plan didn’t work out.

Then, I got annoyed with myself that I spent so much time photographing the English language cemeteries in Pennsylvania for Find A Grave when I knew so many Russian cemeteries needed some attention.

So today I can finally say that I have put my Russian language skills to use to the benefit of the Russian-speaking community. Back in late April, I got into my car and drove 7 hours to Holy Trinity Monastery’s cemetery in Jordanville.

I was never so excited to see a hotel room. The drive must have passed through about every city of New York, other than Albany and New York City, to get to this cemetery. Below the hilltop where this cemetery stands is the monastery where my uncle served as a priest when I was very young.

I am very proud to have a mother born in Ukraine and father in Russia but I know my deceased family wouldn’t be thrilled that I haven’t tried to become more fluent in Russian.

My family tried to get me to learn fluent Russian by sending me to Holy Virgin Protection Church’s school in Nyack, New York, on Saturdays and Otrada Russian summer camp in Spring Valley, New York. I barely made it out of kindergarten and was stuck in first grade at Russian school for a while. At Russian camp, I had to stand in the middle of the dormitory during recess for speaking in English. I couldn’t speak Russian like the other kids.

So documenting a Russian Orthodox cemetery for Find A Grave has been my redemption for my failure to learn fluent Russian. At least, I can read and understand enough to translate gravestones for those researching their Russian Empire ancestors and relatives.

Thanks to a Russian keyboard website and Google Translate, anything I can’t understand is switched to English very easily.

I also have been lucky with the friendship of  Dimitri Salopoff, a Russian living in the USA, to help me when I can’t see information on markers and gravestones well. He has been a great cheerleader in my journey to document Russian Orthodox cemeteries for Find A Grave.

Dimitri saved the last portion of this project by finding a list of people buried at Holy Trinity online. About 200 of the 1,700 crosses and gravestones had some aging that made it challenging for indexing. The list in Russian made it a breeze to finish the project.

Sadly, not everyone who is buried at the cemetery isn’t on the Find A Grave page for Holy Trinity. Several crosses and gravestones have completely faded information. Others have prickly and overgrown bushes blocking their plots.

My goal is to correct this situation if the monastery chooses to help me. The cemetery is filled with determined dreamers, Russian nobility and Holy Trinity staff. Remembering their courage to come to America is what these people deserve.

I hope to announce completion of an another large Russian Orthodox cemetery later this year. Follow this blog on the top right to follow that news.

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An unreal surprise on my birthday
Don’t blink in a cemetery
Going back to my Russian-American roots 30 years later just heartbreaking

Old address book online breaks down brickwall on a family photo

A family photo has been a mystery for years. It is known that my great-grandfather is standing in the center among his workers but where was his business located?

I have asked this question to cousins of my mother’s generation. No one could answer this question.

It took a stranger on a forum to help me answer this question. I asked for help on the largest Russian-speaking genealogy forum and my question was finally answered in two days.

Thanks to the address directory of Kiev from 1913, the mystery is solved- 91 Sovskaya Street.

Sadly, the address no longer exists but the street still stands. It is amazing that the some houses still look similar to when the photo was taken 105 years ago.

All I knew is that my great-grandfather had a successful construction business that employed about 100 men in Kiev. The name of the business is still a mystery.

There are rumors that my great-grandfather worked with a famous architect in Kiev but that has yet to be proven. My grandfather told his family that Joseph Stalin requested that my great-grandfather make him a statue. That’s another story that I can’t confirm yet.

Thanks to knowing that the eldest sister of my grandfather was born in Kiev in 1905, I know an estimate of when my great-grandparents left Kursk Region, Russia. They married, had their first child and lost him in Kursk Region by 1904.

It is a shame that census records don’t exist for the early 20th century for Kiev. That’s why the old address books of Kiev can be gems of information.

They are online here on a Ukrainian website. Simply paste Весь Киев in the box next to Ключові слова, click on the second selection next to налаштування and press return to see all the old Kiev address books.

It has taken me several years to get used to searching keywords in Russian documents. Doing research this way hasn’t been easy and so much time passed when nothing useful was found.

The sad reality is that the best online genealogy information and help for Ukrainian genealogy is in Russian or Ukrainian. Too many people want to know about their ancestors but don’t even try the online translation tools such as Google Translate nor learn basic Ukrainian or Russian.

I was once one of those stubborn people even with knowing some basic Russian from my childhood. After I gave in to trying out the Russian and Ukrainian websites, I’ve had success after success.

That’s what it takes to get past the basic facts of our Russian Empire ancestors and bring their lives back into full color.

Related posts:
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Guide to Using the Best & Largest Russian Language Genealogy Forum (with a English video guide)
Secrets of searching the Internet in Russian and Ukrainian like a native speaker
Guide to finding family in Ukraine like a native expert