I grew up with hardly any cousins from my own generation. I know so many Americans who grew up with generations of cousins. I felt so alone.

Not many Americans can relate. I am Russian. That is the cause of my problem.

My father and mother immigrated to the USA in the early 1950s. Leaving a communist country means you can never contact your family again until the Iron Curtain is re-opened. Contact with a foreigner, especially family living in the USA, put a target on your back.

The Iron Curtain is gone, but it is hard to find the family left behind in the former USSR. It is hard but not impossible.

I hope to help others in their search to find family. I have learned some much about my family. I have found family I never expected to find. It has been an exciting experience, but it comes with a lot of patience and frustration. I hope to help you because there is hope to find family no matter how long it has been.

Why I have so much hope

I never expected to be so hopeful in finding my missing family.

Everything changed a few days before my birthday this June. I received a call from the local chapter of the American Red Cross. I had sent the chapter a tracing request for my grandmother’s sister, who had been missing for 66 years.

The excited woman on the other line said my grand aunt had been found alive in Russia. I was so shaken up that I almost had to sit down. My first reaction was “Are you sure you have the right person?”

The Red Cross employee was confident the agency found the right person. I gave her my e-mail address so she could e-mail me my grand aunt’s contact information.

I thanked the woman and immediately called my mother when I hung up. I called my mom- “Your aunt is alive in Russia!” My mother was shocked too. Her aunt had been missing since she was 3 years old.

I called the phone numbers the Red Cross gave. No one answered on one line. I got an answer on the other line. My Russian was so rusty and the woman who answered did not speak English. So I had to wait until the next day for my mother to call her aunt. My mother was at a store and it was already 10:30 p.m. in Russia when we got the news.

The next morning, my mother talked to her aunt.

Since then, it has felt so weird that I finally found this woman. I have her professional photo from the 1940s completely memorized- her hair, clothes and smile.

I am in regular contact with one of my grand aunt’s granddaughter. We have exchanged photos and information. I hope to visit the family in the next 10 years. I cannot visit now when I have two young kids.

I am so grateful to the American Red Cross Holocaust and War Victims Tracing Center. After several requests for tracing my grand aunt, the trace can be marked as a success.

Here is my advice on making your trace request as successful as possible.

1. Provide all possible names for your relative, even nicknames. My grand aunt changed her first name to her known nickname.

2. Ask relatives for any details they remember on the missing person. The old addresses of my grand aunt helped find her.

3. Make sure all the information you provide to the center is accurate.

4. Be patient. My request almost took two years to complete.

Patience needed every day

Some days, I wonder whether I will get further in finding more family.

Last week, information seemed to be flooding in. I received a letter from a Russian archives that provided birth dates and names of my great-grandfather’s sister’s family.

I thought my family’s memories of relatives could be accurate. Nope. The Russian archives that kindly gave records from the 1920s and 1930s provided names that did not match previous information. I know they gave information on the right family. The full name of my great-grand aunt matched, her husband’s name matched and so did the village where they lived.

Then, the next day I received photos of a cemetery in a village where my great-grandfather attended church. My contact for the region found three graves for people named Trunov.

I got excited when I saw the oldest grave. The middle name of the oldest man was Tikhonovich, meaning his father was Tikhon. I started to wonder whether his father was my great-grandfather.

The same day I received these photos a researcher who had studied my Trunov family gave me some background information on possible ancestors and phone numbers and addresses of people who live in the raiyon (neighborhood area) where my great-grandfather once lived.

An address and phone number were listed for the great-grandson of the oldest man in the cemetery. I had written a letter to this man before but the letter was returned. The Russian Postal Service refused to send the letter because it did not have a street address. So my contact for the region re-sent my letter from her city. Still no answer.

So, my mother and I tried to call the guy last weekend. We could not figure out how to call the guy with all the required codes. I tried so many versions and none worked.

I e-mailed my contact and she said the number is not working.

The only solution to this problem is possibly writing to the village elder where this man lives, with the hope that the man will write back. We will have to wait and see.