The curiosity about the contents of a Russian letter got to an Australian woman. She was hoping I could help her translate the letter. Neither I nor a close friend in Moscow could understand the handwritten letter.
With some teamwork on North America, Australia and Europe, the families in Australia and Russia are exchanging information and photos for the first time in 50 years.
The process of connecting the families took three months. Luckily, the letter filled with family information was written by the Australian’s great-grandfather’s sister only about 30 years ago, when it is most likely that the letter wasn’t given a response.
In that time, I had hoped a younger generation of the family would continue to live at the same address. That wasn’t my luck.
I found a woman on Odnoklassniki, a popular Russian social network, who carried the family surname and lived in the same town. She was not related to the family but she was kind enough to visit the address of the woman who wrote the letter.
The family living there today didn’t know the letter writer. So I had to rethink about how to find this family. Thankfully, I was not dealing with a very common surname.
I contacted most of the people with the same surname on Odnoklassniki and VKontakte, the most popular Russian social network, in the same region of Russia. Most people either didn’t answer my message or responded that they were unrelated.
One woman responded within 24 hours that her husband was son of a brother of the Australian woman’s great-grandfather. Luckily, I waited to send the “are you related” messages after the Russian letter was translated to ensure accurate information was used to find the family.
I revealed in the messages to random people only a few details that the Australian woman knew so anyone who is truly related to her family would provide the other undisclosed details. The first woman did provide other known details that ensured this wasn’t just a luck of in common first and last names.
That relative on Odnoklassniki got the Australian woman in contact with another Russian relative who sent a family photo that completely confirmed I matched the correct families together.
I am hoping they will stay in contact for a while. The Australian woman opened an account on Odnoklassniki, posted some friendly pictures of herself and some old family photos and posted her status on the search for her family.
With so many years that have passed since these families have been in contact, exchanging faceless e-mail messages will not keep the connection going for long. Russians, like many English-speaking people, connect on social networks.
Long lost family can be found in the former USSR when the right steps are taken. It takes time and patience but dreams of reconnecting with family can become a reality to anyone.