Time-killing Google search leads to massive WWI database

Everyone has heard the saying that things will come to you when you are not looking. I was searching on Google about my paternal grandmother’s Don Cossack ancestry.

I didn’t find anything too exciting until one result was a database for Russian soldiers who were injured and/or died in World War I. Sometimes these databases can be complicated to use for those who don’t know Russian.

But this database can be searched in English! This website also has the original records for 1,068,811 men who served in the war.

Most soldiers have their full name (first, patronymic and surname); place of residence by region, neighborhood and village; military rank; religion; marital status and date of injury or death. Then, that information is listed with links to the original military records.

Here’s how to use this great resource: put the last name in the line for Фамилия, first and patronymic names in the line for Имя-отчеств, (You can’t just use patronymic name for this line.) and place of residence in the line for Место жительства. If you don’t get results when you include place of residence, remove the information.

If you can’t read Russian, copy and paste the results into Goggle Translate. The only material that can’t be translated into English is the military records linked next to Источник.

So go check out this wonderful resource. A wonderful discovery may be awaiting you.

Godparents are the fairy godmothers of genealogy

It is always a joy to find a direct ancestor’s birth record. The genealogy value for those records doubles in value when godparents are taken seriously.

Back in the day, godparents were most likely relatives for the children being baptized. I’ve lost track of all the times that godparents on baptism records have solved a family mystery or surprisingly expanded my family tree.

My great-grandfather wrote a letter to his children about his life and siblings. He either didn’t know his mother’s maiden name or thought it wasn’t that important. I got more curious about these people and had a researcher look up their birth records in archives.

I noticed a certain surname being very common for godparents. Then a few years later, I discovered the maiden name of my great-grandfather on German immigration records. The name was terribly written. I could see the immigration official struggled with writing the Russian name.

The scribbled named in English was very close to how the common surname for the godparents would be written in English. I quickly was able to confirm the suspected surname was the maiden name of my great-great-grandmother  Irina Petrovna by having a researcher look up records in archives.

Discovering the maiden names of women in Russian and Ukrainian church records is pretty lucky because typically women are identified by their first name and patronymic name (name based on their father’s first name) or their last name is their married surname.

Thankfully, the Russian records of my German evangelical Lutheran relatives in eastern Poland, formerly Russia, have the maiden names for women. Records from that area have sledge hammers for breaking down some brickwalls.

My maternal grandmother lost a page of a family tree and I could only see the name Otto Bleschke without his children’s information. I wondered whether this guy really existed because Bialystok archives didn’t find his birth or marriage record. Then I found him as the godfather of my great-grandmother.

Another relative claimed Otto, a great-great-grand uncle, had a sister named Agnes. Only relatives from one line in the family heard of this woman. So I looked at the translations for the family birth records. There I found Agnes as godmother of my great-grandmother’s oldest sister and later I found her birth record to officially confirm her as my great-great-grand aunt.

Godparents on baptism records came to the rescue another memorable time. My paternal grandmother had a horrible habit of telling stories hard to believe so I started to even question the names she gave my father on taped interviews.

I tried to use Google to connect a particular surname to my mystery paternal great-grandmother’s family. Nothing that came up was useful to confirm my grandmother’s information.

Then I finally got my grandmother’s brothers’ birth records. The godfather of my Grand Uncle Alex had the surname my grandmother mentioned as the family their maternal aunt married into. The godfather was the creator of the official symbol of Lugansk, Ukraine. I used this information to my advantage to knock down the price for the birth record of Alex’s oldest brother.

Other times I have noticed common surnames as godparents have appeared as direct ancestors a few generations before the birth of those children. I have made lists of godparents’ surnames and discovered the most common surnames were those I added as direct ancestors.

So if you are stuck with your research,  make the same list of godparents’ surnames. Are some of the most common surnames already on your family tree? Then, get to work and see if you can add the other surnames.


A simple archive search uncovers an unplanned thank you present

I was excited a year ago when a southern Russia archives office discovered a grand uncle’s high school records. Then curiosity got to me and made me wonder whether the same records were available on my grandmother and her other four brothers.

My luck was that only high school records of one other grand uncle was found. It was disappointing to read the letter from archives until I realized the archives had found high school records of my great-grandfather’s brother.

This is an incredible find. I have been so lucky that the great-grandchildren of my great-grand uncle found me four years ago. They have helped me find records in Russia national archives, submit my requests to Russia national archives, translate records for me and share photos of my great-great-grandfather,  my great-grandfather and my grandmother and her brothers.

Now, I can show my appreciation for all their help by sending them their great-grandfather’s high school records. I never thought these records would exist for my great-grandfather’s generation.

This wonderful discovery opens a new door for me again. I can check whether the same records can found for my great-grandfather.

It’s been quite a struggle to find personal records of my great-grandfather. His birth and death records are missing. His marriage record is almost impossible to obtain from difficult eastern Ukraine. Also, I have yet to discover one document on his Don Cossack service.

So having his high school records would be wonderful. It may not be found but maybe archives will stumble across another family record.

My luck with this archive to make an extra effort to find records for me can be credited to my gratitude. Any time they find records for me or my requested records are not found, I express my appreciation for their efforts.

So my thankfulness is finally being returned to me as a gift. It’s going to be such a thrill when my cousins in Moscow discover their great-grandfather’s high school records in their mailbox.

Connect and click with long lost family in Russia and Ukraine

Several years ago, I didn’t have contact with any cousins in Ukraine or Russia. Now, I need all my fingers and toes to count all my “new” cousins.

It takes an art to connect with family you never grew up with and possibly will never meet. Your connection will not magically happen by announcing “Here I am! Our great-grandmothers were sisters.”

So here are my Top 10 tips for connecting with people who you have confirmed as  long-lost family or could be related to your family.

1. Create a photo album of your relatives on Picasa. Make sure to post descriptions in Russian using Yandex Translate. It’s not enough to send distant relatives an e-mail message that you are related through a certain ancestor. Offer that person something they can connect with and appreciate. If you are concerned about privacy, you can change the access to anyone with a link to the album on the far right.

2. Open an account on Oдноклассник, a popular Russian-language social network. Use Google Translate for registration if you are not comfortable with Russian. Post friendly and non-political pictures. Put in the green-bordered box on the top middle “looking for relatives of ______________ “in Russian for your status.

3. Put your genealogy research into nicely organized Word documents. Your research can be translated into Russian and Ukrainian best on Yandex Translate. Offer to share your research with your relative if they are interested.

4. Learn about as many relatives as possible from your newly found relative. It is best to find relatives with whom you have similar interests,  professions, and life stage, such as travel, technology, new motherhood or grandparenthood, etc. I am closest with cousins who have young children because I am in the same life stage. It’s not enough to be related to someone who lived decades ago.

5. Open an account with mail.ru, which is connected with Oдноклассник. You’ll see how many notifications you have from Oдноклассник when you are logged into mail.ru. I have stopped using my American-based e-mail accounts for interacting with Russian-language cousins because my account put the messages in my spam box or their messages turned into random letters and symbols due to Cyrillic confusing the e-mail program’s platform.

6. Upload a family tree onto My Heritage. There is no point in inviting relatives from Russia and Ukraine to a family tree on Ancestry.com because they need to have paid memberships to view the trees. My Heritage trees can be reviewed by anyone.

7. Collect postal addresses of a few relatives so you can send them birthday and Christmas cards. The simple effort to send cards gives a personal touch to the relationship.

8. If you are writing letters to people in Ukraine or Russia who are much older, provide your e-mail address on mail.ru and address on Oдноклассник. Sometimes older people are not open to answering letters from strangers. Open the door to be in contact with younger relatives by offering your online information.

9. Don’t push too hard to receive family photos or information for the family tree from your newly found relative. It is hard enough to find relatives in the former USSR while it’s also so easy to scare them away.

10. Don’t talk about touchy topics, especially family disputes no matter how long ago they happened and communist-era persecutions. I have cousins who are upset about what their aunts, uncles and cousins did 50 years ago. Some Russians and Ukrainians still avoid discussing relatives who were imprisoned in communist labor camps or killed during the communist era. Leave those topics alone unless your relative brings them up.