Return to closed and damaged church records leads to unreal success

Almost a year ago, I thought finding my maternal grandfather’s birth record, along with his siblings’, was only a fantasy from too much daydreaming. I didn’t know the exact address where my family lived nor the church they attended in the massive city of Kiev.

When my researcher, Nikita Kovalchuk,  gave me names of three churches that were near the long street where my family lived, I hoped I had picked the right church. I crossed my fingers Nikita would find my grandfather’s birth record.

My luck was that the church records for that year were damaged and closed to public viewing for at least six months.

Then, I asked Nikita to find the birth record of my grandfather’s youngest sister, a big mistake. My nervous eagerness to find the family church made me forget that she was born in a village west of Kiev.

The absence of my grand aunt’s birth record at that church was enough to convince me I picked the wrong church. I refused to give up on finding the family church.

I asked a granddaughter of the youngest grand aunt if she recalls her father mentioning any addresses where the family lived before WWII. She remembered another street where the family lived.

So I went back to Nikita and he suggested the same church that was researched eight months before. I didn’t realize he would research the same church until I looked at pictures of the church online.

Luckily, I didn’t see those photos again until my grandfather’s record was found. There was so much excitement over finding his birth record in the newly reopened church book but I wondered when my luck would run out.

Surprisingly, my luck stuck around every time Nikita looked up a birth record. He found records of three sisters.

Due to my persistence in contacting the families of my grandfather’s siblings, I had the birth dates of most siblings. I didn’t have the birth date of one sister. Three letters to her relative in Kiev never resulted in getting her birth date.

But my great-grandmother had a pattern to giving birth to her children. It seemed every two years she was having another child. Thanks to that pattern, I guessed the correct year of birth for her second daughter.

Once, I saw Nikita’s message- “Your luck is still great, so here is Nadezhda’s birth record.”, I had the biggest smile for accomplishing a goal I thought was unrealistic.

I keep a to-do list and never put this wish on the list because it seemed laughable that it could be accomplished. Now, I wish I had put it down on my to-do list. It would have been great to highlight and press delete on that goal.

With accurate research and persistence, even the wildest wish in genealogy research can come true. Negativity blocks the creativity of genealogy adventures.

Awaiting untold stories from recently opened Ukrainian Secret Service’s archives

I was taken aback when a woman posted on a Ukrainian genealogy Facebook page that the Secret Service of Ukraine has opened its communist-era archives.

The files are open on Ukrainians who were investigated for “crimes” or other “suspicious activities”. Back in the Soviet era, talking to a foreigner in the street was suspicious.

So I used Yandex Translate to read SSU’s website that announces most of its 1.5 million files are open to the public. It was shocking to read this:

“We are always happy to answer and queries to provide comprehensive information and useful advice on finding information about people who are trapped in the crucible of the Soviet repressive system security. After all, the basic principle of the archive is to share their treasures with the previous approval of the historical truth for the sake of a better future.”

I know it is 2015, almost 24 years since the Iron Curtain fell, but I thought Ukraine would need more time to open these records.

So I immediately scanned family documents on my Trunov family from Kiev to prove my ancestry.

Those documents included my grandmother’s official birth record, an EWZ record (German citizenship records for those who lived abroad and wanted to live in Germany during WWII) that shows my great-grandparents’ and their children’s names and birth dates, my great-grandmother’s German identification papers and my U.S. passport.

To make sending these documents secure online, I posted the images to an album on Picasa and e-mailed an invitation from Picasa to view the records to the SSU.

Then my e-mail message translated into Russian included my gratitude for the records being open and thankfulness for any information that could be provided. I included everything I knew about my Trunov family in Kiev and my postal address to show my request was not casual and lacked thoroughness.

My decision to move quickly on contacting SSU is based on my fear that restrictions could come any day such as complete proof of ancestry, limits on searches only of direct ancestors or requirement of using professional researchers to complete the searches. A future change in administration at SSU could easily make this process more complicated.

When I pressed the send button from my Russian e-mail account, I wondered how long would it take to receive a response. To my surprise, I got a response in 48 hours that my request was accepted and would be answered in the legally required time period.

I nervously await the response from SSU. The secret service archives could have records to answer so many questions for my family. Nothing also could be found but I cannot turn down or take an invitation to search these secret files casually.

Repeat of research leads to possible stash of US visa files

A few years ago, I tried to get my maternal grandparents’ visa records. I was told nothing was available from the 1950s.

Last week, I got a response from National Archives in College Park, Md., that a one-page immigration record was found. The archives employee sent me the record for free by postal mail.

It was disappointing to receive a record I already had in my files. But then the letter enclosed gave me new hope to find my grandparents’ visa records.

A chance exists that their visa records could be in Washington, D.C. The archives employee gave me an address for an office of the Department of State that could have them.

The search for my grandparents’ visa records should be simple if they still exist. My mother gave me her family’s records that included my grandmother’s tiny visa. My grandfather’s visa is missing but his number must be near my grandmother’s.

Visa records are a great source of information. They can give immigrant’s picture, name of arrival vessel, date of arrival, profession, parents’ names and addresses, towns lived since 14 years old with dates, names and birth dates of spouse and children, names of employer and close relatives in the USA, years of education and first address in USA.

There is a small chance that National Archives could have visa records for my grandparents. The archives employee will search for my grandparents’ records in College Park. With knowing the consulate city for when my grandparents applied for immigration, the employee can check the records.

National Archives doesn’t have visa files past 1940 but maybe my grandparents’ records were left with the earlier visa records. I can’t get the records from USCIS Genealogy Program because the program covers the period from 1924-1944.

So I am putting some hope on the notarized letter I sent to the Department of State will bring me some luck, in case the archives employee at College Park doesn’t find the visa records.

National Archives lost my grandparents’ Alien Files, which detail immigrants’ process for immigration and naturalization. So I am trying put my own alien files together on them piece by piece.

Three times the charm but almost 30 times the price

The most annoying part of researching my paternal grandmother’s family has been obtaining her oldest brother’s birth record.

Two and a half years ago I got her other four brothers’ birth records for a mere $6.80 US dollars. The oldest brother, of course, had to be born in a different village. Nothing comes uncomplicated in my genealogy research.

By the time I discovered the name of the village where Grand Uncle Nick was born, a new archive office director rolled in with restrictive rules for obtaining records.

The researcher who obtained four birth records needed me to send him a power of attorney agreement and documents proving ancestry to my grand uncle.

This all for an unmarried and childless man who died more than 40 years ago and was born in 1891. Then the researcher unloaded his price for getting one measly record- $125.

I was livid. I had to give enough documents to have my identity stolen in Ukraine. This researcher claimed the price included the cost of translating my power of attorney agreement.

So I sent all my documents to prove ancestry directly to archives to get this birth record on my own. Not one response from any Ukrainian agency. Sometimes the Consulate General of Ukraine sends responses from archives but not this time.

It felt hopeless again. I started itching for this record once again this fall. I e-mailed a member on the most popular Russian language genealogy forum when I saw he visits the same archives.

The e-mail exchanges started in November. Thanks to the first researcher, I had the exact file number to get the record from another researcher. Things started back to where I was before when the second researcher told me he needed a power attorney agreement and documents to prove ancestry.

Then somehow the second researcher made a deal with archives to by-pass the rules but for a price- $200. I immediately sent an e-mail message how much I’ve paid for records in Ukraine and St. Petersburg and the price was quickly lowered to $150 with a guarantee for photos of the record.

I was guaranteed the record exists in archives even with the recent invasion of this archive office by sticky-fingered Russians and reminded that prices are high for being in a war-torn area. The archives had to be moved away from the Ukrainian/Russian border.

I was told to agree to $150 that day because he got a special arrangement that wouldn’t last for long. I just wanted this ordeal over. Then the money couldn’t be sent to him directly but to some random woman in Russia because so many businesses are still shut down from the war.

I didn’t find this all suspicious because this man stuck around since November with my complaints and stress. The money was securely sent by Western Union last week and the researcher gave me the birth record scans even before his friend had a chance to pickup the money.

Western Union still has the money. That says a lot about the researcher. He could have run off with $150 American dollars, a lot of money in Ukraine and for me.

In the end, I wish that this record didn’t come at this price. But with the history of record destruction in the Soviet Union, I am not going to let this record vanish in some Russia versus Ukraine war.

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