Interesting twists in the life of great-grandma

It is hard to think about my ancestors from old black and white formal photos without the romantic view that they only were proper people.

But I know better than that. A paternal great-grandfather was imprisoned in the famous Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg before he got married. He built a bomb for the People’s Will movement to kill Czar Alexander III. The assassination attempt was stopped before my great-grandfather’s bomb could be used.

I have wondered for a while about how my great-grandmother, who came from a wealthy noble family, could have married a felon. Did he hide the fact that he was imprisoned for four months? It turns out that my great-grandmother also was a felon.

A son of my great-grandmother wrote a letter to my half-aunt about my great-grandmother’s family. Great-grandma went to prison in her hometown of Kazan, now in the Republic of Tatarstan. She must have been a young felon because she attended schools in Ukraine as an older teenager.

I hope I can believe my grand uncle’s story. My great-grandmother had five sons and a daughter, my grandmother. I’ve heard plenty of stories about my great-grandmother, mainly stories of her family’s wealth from my grandmother. A stay in prison in her hometown has never been part of her lore. Of course, my grand uncle does not say a word about why my great-grandmother was imprisoned.

Then, the story of my great-grandmother’s family got worse. The mother of my great-grandmother was a prostitute. Her husband died and that is the work she chose to provide for her daughter, my great-grandmother. Later, my great-great-grandmother died violently, according to the letter.

Later in my grand uncle’s letter, he says my great-grandmother had a habit of lying and softening unpleasant stories. My grand uncle gave the name of the city on the Volga River where my great-great-grandmother worked as a prostitute. Did my great-grandmother make up this story because she was upset that her family turned on her when she was released from prison?

I will never know the answer because I threw out a large set of letters from the apartment of my half-aunt, a granddaughter of my great-grandmother. The brothers of my grandmother fought horribly and I didn’t want my mom to read horrible gossip in those letters. Maybe those letters had more information about  my great-grandmother and her mother.

I really didn’t expect to find anything about my family in my grand uncle’s letter. I thought he was writing about the history of communist times and the books he read. Thanks to, I was able to retype the letter and copy the text into Google Translate to learn what was written in the letter.

Hopefully one day, I will be able to find records in Kazan archives about my great-grandmother’s arrest and imprisonment and proof my great-great-grandmother and her daughter lived in a city on the Volga River. For now, I have more questions than answers. I will never again throw out letters before reading them thoroughly because there could have been more information on my mysterious great-grandmother’s family.


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