Minor traffic violation leads to a pile of immigration records

My grandfather wasn’t too thrilled when he was cited for riding his bike without a working light at night in 1947 when he lived in Germany. The pile of papers that accumulated due to this minor traffic violation is beyond words.

I contacted International Tracing Service last year to obtain records about my grandfather’s time as a POW of the German army during WWII. The agency maintains records of  persecution, forced labor and the Holocaust of Germany’s Nazi era. My luck was that ITS couldn’t find  his POW records.

Then yesterday, I got an e-mail message with “your grandfather” in the subject line. I was thinking this was a scam message until I recognized ITS’ e-mail address. The attached file had 43 pages of records that documented  my grandfather’s life in  Germany and his application process for immigration.

After I looked over these documents, a few mysteries were finally solved. Some of the records my grandmother had kept shows my grandfather was born in the same eastern Poland town as his mother-in-law. It didn’t make sense how the information could get so twisted.

Now, I understand my grandfather was trying to prevent his family from being forced back to the USSR. My grandmother was grabbed twice so she could be returned to the USSR but my grandfather got her back before her truck left. Claiming Polish citizenship in documents would keep my family safe from repatriation.

I also wondered whether my mom correctly remembered the path her family traveled when they escaped Kiev in 1943. The records from ITS confirms her information and completes the story by adding another German town to the journey.

These records also show the effort it took to get approved for immigration. I wondered how long it took for my grandfather to get that important yes.

My grandmother kept records showing Argentina rejected my family for immigration. From ITS’ records, I learned that my grandfather also applied for immigration to Canada months after the war ended. My grandfather must have applied for immigration to Argentina next.

His luck arrived in 1949 when he applied for immigration to the USA. My grandfather didn’t give up easily on his dream for his family to have a better life.

These documents also answered why my family was identified as Polish immigrants on a ship passenger list when they arrived in the USA. My grandfather had changed his wife’s and daughter’s birthplaces to Poland on some records while other records had the real birthplace of Kiev. My grandfather also made the same change to his marriage location. Placing the wrong nationality on the passenger list was an easy mistake to make when immigration officials had so many records to review.

The mistakes in birth dates and spelling of names show the imperfect science involved in documenting people during a world war. I was amazed by the number of spellings German officials used for my family’s Russian names. Luckily, I gave three versions of my grandfather’s full name and that probably helped in getting these documents, which were free.

Anyone who had foreign-born family living in Germany during the war should check whether ITS has any family records. ITS has provided me with more records than U.S. national archives on my grandfather.

Nothing like a 1930 gambling arrest to help solve a mystery

For three months, I have been stuck in how to help a woman find her great-grandfather’s brother who came to America in the early 1900s. Nothing I searched on Google nor ancestry.com would lead me to her relative.

Then, I noticed just this week that ancestry.com updated the 1920 U.S. Census records. Just out of curiosity, I searched for the man in the new records.

I hit the jackpot when I noticed an address for a man with the same name, birth year, birth place and arrival year as the man I am searching. The address was three blocks away from where my man got caught illegally gambling 10 years later. Personal details in the census record  for this man matched the information provided in the alien registration form I obtained from the USCIS Genealogy Program.

So I followed this man’s family to the 1930 Census. I finally found the family living at an address mentioned in the alien registration form.

That gambling arrest made it possible to find this man. He did not stand out among the other men with the same name and birth year who came from Russia in the early 1900s until I found the address near the place of his gambling arrest.

The mystery of where this family went after the 1940 Census is just that. The four children of my man have such common first names, along with a very common surname. I can’t find any of their birth records. Tracking down those children will involve more detective work.

I was stuck once again until I realized the oldest child was born in Russia. That means that she likely applied for American citizenship to make life easier. Or maybe the genealogy gods already know she avoided naturalization by marrying an American man.

So I searched every way possible to find her naturalization records. Nothing, of course, is available on ancestry.com. Then I searched for her mother and several women with the same name, birth year and birthplace were found.

Luckily, the mother applied for naturalization when she lived at one of the three addresses her husband listed on his alien  registration form. I am waiting for an answer from US national archives to see whether her naturalization records are available.

Thanks to the research I’ve done on my family, I know these records will likely have the birth dates, birthplaces and addresses of her adult children when she applied for naturalization.

I am crossing my fingers that a few more details on these children will lead me to living grandchildren of the married couple who came with so many dreams to America.

Here’s to another year of adventures

It’s been three years since I decided to share my journey of researching my Russian and Ukrainian family. I’ve had some incredible successes while I still face some major brick walls.

Just in this past year, I finally found the birthplace of my grandmother’s oldest brother, saw my grandfather’s grave in southern Russia on my birthday and met another paternal Russian cousin on Facebook.

This all happened because I forced myself outside of my comfort zone and started using Russian language forums a few years ago. I am daughter of a Russian and an Ukrainian but I cannot type a Russian sentence on my own. Russian is not an easy language to learn.

Thanks to Google Translate, I have gone farther than I expected in my research from the convenience of my home. A lot of my information on my family I have uncovered through strangers in Russia and Ukraine has been free. Even more information was obtained at prices much lower than would be charged in the English-speaking world.

I am excited by what this coming year has awaiting for me. I have spread numerous posts on many Russian forums that will be discovered by the right people at unexpected times.

Results in Russian and Ukrainian genealogy research doesn’t all come from fancy professional researchers. It’s mostly about the effort you put in and how much you challenge yourself.

I thank you for being interested in my journey. I wish you success in your journey and encourage you to contact me at bepa.miller at mail.ru when you get stuck.


Don’t let this easy mistake implode your family tree

Anyone researching their Russian and Ukrainian roots can make a major mistake when putting together their family tree.

So let me test you. This name- Svetlana Vladimirovna Krasnikova- is written on a document. What is Svetlana’s maiden name?

If you guessed Vladimirovna, you are wrong.

This is the easiest mistake that could make your family tree a pile of shallow branches that will collapse onto themselves. Vladimirovna is Svetlana’s patronymic name.

What is a patronymic name? This is something I had to learn when I was a teenager and had to give my full name to work for the first time. Thanks to being born to former USSR citizens, I have a patronymic name after my first name.

So, now you have guessed this is a “middle name”. It is special middle name that isn’t picked from a book nor given in honor of a favorite relative or friend. My middle name- Nikolaevna- tells people that I am daughter of Nikolai.

I still get too excited at times that I have found maiden names to add to my family tree. It takes time to understand the difference between patronymic names and surnames.

Just a few years ago, I had to call my mother to ask her whether my great-grandmother’s middle name on the back of a professional photo was her patronymic or maiden name.

It’s hard to contain the excitement that you’ve found a maiden name in Russian or Ukrainian records. Too many times on church records women are only identified by given and patronymic names. So finding maiden names is quite the thrill.

Here are the main rules for identifying patronymic names. For women, the name ends with evna, yevna,  ovna or ichna. For men, the name finishes off with ovich, yevich or yich, according to Wikipedia’s page on patronymic names.

The difference between surnames and patronymic names also can be seen in these examples: Ivanovna (female patronymic) and Ivanova (female surname), Matveyevna (female patronymic) and Matveyeva (female surname), and Nikolayevich (male patronymic) and Nikolayev (male surname).

I have learned over the years about the perks of having patronymic names even when surnames are missing. A crafty Russian researcher found my great-grandmother’s maiden just on her given and patronymic names. That resulted in a Moscow man finding me on Russian forums and confirming us as relatives through a great-great-grandfather.

A patronymic name is not as great as a surname on the family tree but the gift of this unique name is knowing the father’s name just from a “middle name”.

Top 13 tips for making Facebook the best genealogy networking tool

Facebook is more than people posting food, vacation and kids photos lately. It is pretty amazing by the amount of friendly people on Facebook who are willing to help strangers on their genealogy and family searches. I am starting to think that Facebook is the best tool for genealogy networking on the Internet.

Here are my  top 13 tips for getting the best results from Facebook:

1. Search all possible keywords to find the best Facebook groups available. My list of best Facebook groups can be found here.

2. Respect the language of the groups you join. Use Google Translate if the common language isn’t English.

3. Before you post, search the group’s posts in the top right box that says “Search this group.” Maybe you will find someone researching the same family or looking for the same information.

4. Make sure your post fits the theme of the group or you’ll get a taste of Facebook’s instant flow of sarcasm.

5. Include all known information to attract the attention of the group’s members. Providing all the information you’ve collected shows you are serious about your search.

6. Don’t post an excessive amount of requests for help or information in one group nor post the same request in several groups. If you need help with several searches, spread your posts in various groups. Posting the same requests everywhere will get you ignored.

7. Try to be active in the groups you join. It is appreciated when people who post for help also help or show support to other members.

8. Keep track of responses to your posts so you don’t miss any great opportunities for help or new information.

9.  Don’t ignore general genealogy groups. They can be just as helpful as Russian or Ukrainian specific genealogy groups. The general groups have many more members, which increases the number of people who could help you.

10. Don’t turn down information that doesn’t sound accurate at a quick glance. Surnames change, siblings are born in different villages, families change religions so anything is possible when researching the family. Families have been always complicated and confusing.

11. Be polite and always say thank you. It is easy to misunderstand intent and emotion on Facebook. You don’t want to turn off the eager helpers in these groups.

12. Be patient about getting the responses you were expecting from your posts. Sometimes posts don’t get good responses until they are noticed later.

13. Make sure your profile photo or image looks friendly. It sounds vain but a friendly or happy profile photo or image can be an advantage.

This blog has an active Facebook group page here.