Look into the past and learn a lesson on finding family

I was so eager to learn about the ancestry of my maternal grandfather. I only knew his ancestors were peasants from a Kursk Region village so I was curious what else could be uncovered on my “Tyunin” ancestors.

Evgeniy Karpuk researched my grandfather’s family back to 1655. The first surprise revealed was that the family name was originally Pligin. I did not think surnames changed unless a foreign ruler took over and the country’s borders changed. It turned out that a prince’s family owned my ancestors so the family could change the name as they pleased.

The researcher also learned the family came from another village than the one where my great-grandfather was born and the various cousins moved to many villages. I used to think that people stayed in a village generation after generation but that was not true for all families. Life was simpler back in the day so moving a family was not as complicated as it is today.

Then the amusing surprises came. My 8th-great-grandfather named three sons, Ivan. Also, a distant cousin named two daughters Martha. These people were not named after siblings who died young. Anyone who would do this now would be thought as crazy. With Russians having patronymic middle names, the only difference between the three Ivans and two Marthas were their birthdates.

The most interesting surprise was learning a distant cousin was born out-of-wedlock in 1784. Illegitimate children were common enough back in the day that their patronymic name was bogdanov, child of god. Who would ever think rolls in the hay occurred so much in the 18th century that the Russian Orthodox Church created a patronymic name for children of free-spirited parents?

So what can be learned from all of this? Plenty. Do not assume the distant family you are seeking carries the same surname. My discovery that the family name changed over time is not a rarity. I discovered the same situation when I helped a Russian woman find her family in the USA. See this post. I also found posts on forums for people named Pligin from the original family village. Not everyone changed their name.

Also, I do not recommend limiting searches for relatives to known family villages and towns. If you find posts online for the same surnames in the same neighborhoods for your family villages, be open to looking into whether  connections could be found. People find spouses from other places and leave the family for their new life.

I have learned to be open to any possibility because not everyone knows their entire family. I found a grand niece of my grandmother in the USA that only the oldest grandchild of my grand uncle knew had existed. The cousin was the only child of a first marriage that ended in divorce for my grandmother’s nephew. The other children of that nephew don’t know about their half-sister. This cousin has old family photos from Russia that my family had not seen before.

So if you are trying to find relatives straight from the family tree without an open mind, it will be really hard to find your family and you will miss some great connections.


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