FAQ about trouble with finding information on family

Why can’t I find anyone with my family’s surname in online documents or on websites?

Try spelling the name in its original language -Russian or Ukrainian- by pronunciation using this cyrillic keyboard. If the surname has y’s and v’s, try changing those letters to j’s and w’s in English. Also search for people with the same surname on www.ellisisland.org. The website gives a large list of other possible spellings when no one with the same last name can be found.

Why can’t I find anything about my family’s village or town? I know I spelled it right.

The names of towns and villages change over time. During German occupation, the Nazis changed the names of towns. The city of Lodz, Prussia (now Poland) was called Litzmannstadt during Nazi occupation. I had a relative born in Ciechanowiec, Russia (now Poland). The town’s name has been spelled  Tshekhanovits, Tsekhanovets, Chechanovitz, Chekhanovits, Chekhanovitse, Rudelstadt and Tsikhanovits over the years. Search for the village or town on Wikipedia to see whether its name changed over time. It may be helpful to also search for the community in Russian or Ukrainian.

I found people with the same names as my relatives in immigration records, but their nationality is different from my family’s information.

Many immigrants from the USSR lied about their nationality to get permission to immigrate to the USA. The number of immigrants were limited by native country. With the USSR being the largest country in the world, it was harder to get into the USA as a Russian or Ukrainian immigrant. I recently found my mother’s family’s ship passenger records and relatives were listed as Polish, not Ukrainian. I’ve seen other family immigration records list relatives as Estonian and Czechoslovakian.

Also, the borders of countries have changed over time. My great-grandmother was born in Russia, but the city was in Prussia before her birth. Now the city is in Poland. She claimed her nationality as German. Here is a map of Europe from 1911 and after World War I and World War II.

I found people with the same names as my relatives online, but their biographical information is somewhat different from mine. Could they really be related?

These people could be relatives or not. During World War II, so much damage was done to church and civil records that family information could not be confirmed. Also, a lot of church records were destroyed by the communist government so people would not know information about their relatives. Family documents were recreated for the immigration process without question and sometimes immigrants were not honest about details of their birth, marriage and places of residence to make immigration easier. Some immigrants bought fake documents to make sure they did not have trouble immigrating. The younger generation of these people may not know the family has falsified documents. Also, the writing on family records given during immigration and naturalization could have been misread or had typos.

I found a family tree that almost matches mine but the tree has a different spouse and has children my family never discussed.

The spouse could be from a first marriage and children from that marriage. Your relatives could be from a second marriage. My brother discovered another son from a grandmother’s brother in archive records. The mother was a woman unknown to the family. The child was nine years older than the first-born son and 21 years older than the last born son from the second marriage. Divorce and remarriage were very easy during communist times. It just involved registering with the local government office. If you find relatives of a step-sibling, they could be helpful in your search for your birth relatives. It is amazing who knows what in families. A great-grandson of my great-grandfather’s brother had a family tree that my grandmother had a sister, but no one in my family talked about the sibling. She probably died young.