Weeding through the trash for the hidden gems

I have kept an open mind on where I get information on my family because I do not have much of a choice. Everyone who could answer my questions on my family is dead. The relatives who are still alive repeat the same stories I already have heard.

So when I found a large stash of cassette tapes of my now deceased father interviewing his mother, I was confident so many of my questions would be answered. I was so excited when I got each batch of tapes reproduced on CDs because I knew there had to be new information on the tapes. My mother and I listened to the tapes in Russian each time I visited her. I did not realize how much pointless and nasty gossip we would have to listen to before finding any useful information.

My grandmother had an obsessive with going on about a niece she claimed was not really her brother’s child. Then, she would tell elaborate stories that a brother’s wife was a prostitute and liked to dance on a table naked in her house for various men. Listening to this garbage was heart-breaking for my mother because it just reminded her how nasty her mother-in-law was to her.

When we finally heard information that appeared to be useful, we were so delighted. My grandmother gave some interesting details on my great-grandparents, my grandfather, her mother, her brothers and their life in Russia. Then we wondered if my grandmother was being dishonest again. I wrote down any information that seemed useful or interesting.

The most useful information I got from the tapes was that my great-grandfather had a brother Nikolai, who was a decorated Don Cossack. No one in my family knows about my great-grandfather’s siblings. I posted my family’s information on a surname list at forum.vgd.ru, hoping someone related to my great-grandfather’s siblings would see my post.

A few months later, a great-grandson of Nikolai e-mailed me. He first sent me a photo of my great-grandfather, who did not look like my grandmother nor her five brothers. Then he sent his family tree back to the 1700s, with accurate information on the families of my grandmother and her five brothers. I was floored and called the daughter of my grandmother’s brother at 6 a.m. on a Sunday.

Since then, my newly found cousins have e-mailed me three letters my great-parents wrote to Nikolai, a photo of my great-grandfather in his Don Cossack uniform and a photo of my great-grandfather with his father and five of his six children from the early 1900s and they have translated several family documents for me.

The tapes may help me find more information and relatives of my great-grandfather’s wife. My grandmother rattled off some names of her mother’s siblings and information about the family’s life in Kharkov, Ukraine.

I have been told several times to “consider the source” before I start believing something. It is really best to hear everyone’s stories so you don’t miss any gems of information.