Find Long-Lost Relatives from the Former USSR Simply in English

Most of the English-speaking world knows about Facebook but where are the social people of the former USSR? Don’t jump to answer Facebook because it ranks a shocking 4th for social networks in Russia.

The most popular network for Russians, Ukrainians and others from the former USSR has one great advantage for the English-speaking world: great search capabilities in English. I didn’t know this great resource existed until my newly discovered and long-lost family asked me to join the network.

I feel so lucky to know about this network simply called VK. Just a month ago, a Russian woman on VK from my father’s southern Russia birthplace found my paternal great-grandparents’ grave from the 1940s, hardly a simple task in the massive and overgrown cemetery. She is now looking for graves of my other great-grandparents and my father’s cousin’s brother, all out of the kindness of her heart.

The search capabilities are beyond what is offered on Facebook. Users of VK can be searched by country, city, town, village, gender, selected age bracket, political views, military service, universities attended and places lived.

The best search capability for those looking for long-lost family is being able to type names of small towns and villages and see the places pop up in Russian with their regions and neighborhoods. Names of towns and villages duplicate throughout the former USSR so it is great to know the right place is being searched.

Users can find everyone living in certain towns and villages with the results provided in English. Most users on VK have photos, status updates, and lists of their friends and family available to view by anyone on VK. Search results even tell whether the users are currently online.

If trying out this social network hasn’t tempted you, here are the numbers by country: Russia: 111,443,494; Ukraine: 30,393,517; Belarus: 5,762,155; Latvia: 407,229 people ;  Lithuania: 213,390; Estonia: 283,168;  and Moldova: 964,464.

In all, the social network has a total of 280 million accounts worldwide. VK has become so popular that it is the second most visited website in Russia.

Start your search here even without a VK account. Here’s to finding long-lost family from the former USSR in the easiest format online.

Google Translate helps reveal important communist-era records

I was ready to spend 250 Euros for research on my great-grandfather’s family until poor translations from Google Translate forced a researcher to reveal lesser known communist-era records.

The researcher sent me scans of a sample census record from World War II for my great-grandfather’s central Russian region. Then I noticed that the name of the record sounded familiar. That’s because a municipal archive already checked the same records for my relatives in their longtime family village.

Now, my 250 Euros are still sitting in my bank account because the researcher killed any chance I would need him to research my family. Being organized keeps you sane and financially wise in genealogy.

Now, I am getting another letter to municipal archives ready to research my family in a nearby small city. I recalled a granddaughter of my grandmother’s sister telling me that her grandmother and our great-grandfather visited our great-great-grandmother at her new residence.

So I am hoping that children of my great-great-grandmother moved with their mother to the same city. This family has been so difficult to research past the early 1900s that it is a perfect example of a brickwall.

Now, this frustrating and funny situation  with the researcher has inspired me. I have found an e-mail address for the registry office that should have the death record for my great-great-grandmother. I posted documents proving ancestry securely on a Google album.

It’s a miracle to find such a small Russian registry office with an e-mail account that works. So many times my messages to Russian archives have bounced back to me.

Now, my circus performance will be getting my letter to the municipal archives that has the World War II census records for my great-great-grandmother’s small city. The archive office’s address doesn’t have a street address.

Thanks to technology of the U.S. Postal Service, my letters to Russia that don’t have street addresses get returned to me. I have an e-mail address for a government office in that area that could help me but I’ll have to charm every inch of their soul.

I hope the story from my grand aunt’s granddaughter will help get information on my great-grandfather’s family. These census records called похозяйственной книги, which translates to household books, are the only Soviet Era records that could crumble this brickwall.

Other archives may have the same communist-era census records as переписи населения, which translates to backyard census. The communist government loved to track their citizens and that comes with great benefits for Russian genealogy.

These records are mostly at local archives, which report to the regional archives. Information on contacting these smaller archives are usually listed on regional archive websites.

Use the Russian phrases of похозяйственной книги and переписи населения and you will get the attention of archive staff. Then you may get surprised by what can be found in these records.

Last time, I got full names and birth dates of my great-grandfather’s favorite sister, husband and three children. Now, I am hoping to hit the jackpot one more time to avoid the restrictions at Russian registry offices for communist-era records.

Roll in hay in 1830s adds a big gap to the family tree

I was so thrilled when I discovered my great-great-grandmother’s maiden name after piecing together information after a few years. But thanks to her grandfather’s indiscretion in a barn or a field when he was 50 years old, the family tree always will be incomplete.

A few years ago, I asked a researcher to study my great-great-grandmother’s surname in the family village from 1880-1919. Nothing exciting was discovered. Her siblings nor her father’s siblings were found in church records.

I just assumed records went missing and were damaged over the years. Now I finally have the answer why I will never know about my great-great-grandmother’s siblings and her paternal aunts and uncles.

The out-of-wedlock birth of her father in 1835 resulted in the Russian Orthodox Church not acknowledging his birth nor his children’s births. Don’t mess with the laws of the Russian Orthodox Church, which still looks down on women who wear pants to church.  Too bad great-great-great-great-grandpa wouldn’t marry the nameless woman he got pregnant.

Thanks to the open mind of the father of my great-great-grandmother, I was able to learn about her ancestors, sadly with the horrible two-generation gap of information. My great-great-grandmother inherited land of her paternal grandfather from her father, giving information to help connect the family tree back to the 1640s.

It is disappointing that I will not ever find descendants of my great-great-grandmother’s close relatives. But I am grateful for having a professional researcher in Kursk Region who knows how to get around the challenges of religious politics of Russian genealogy.

Another researcher would have laughed his way to the bank with my money after telling me the research couldn’t be completed with missing records.

The silver lining on this cloud was learning that my Korostelev family came from Voronezh. There goes another pin on the map of Russia for my ancestral roots.

Secrets of searching the Internet in Russian and Ukrainian like a native speaker

It has taken me years to figure out how to search the Internet in Russian and Ukrainian even though I grew up in a Russian-speaking home. Now, I finally feel I can search the Internet like a native speaker, of course with the help of Google Translate as my aid.

Here are some tips that will eliminate the aggravations of searching in Russian and Ukrainian for non-native speakers and maybe find the hidden gems.

1. If you are not getting good results by searching people in this format: Ivan Vasilievich Ivanov (Russian: Иван Васильевич Иванов and Ukrainian: Іван Васильович Іванов), then search for Ivanov Ivan Vasilievich (Russian: Иванов Иван Васильевич and Ukrainian: Іванов Іван Васильович). This doesn’t make any sense to most people but a lot of times Russians and Ukrainians are referred by their last name, then first name and patronymic name on websites.

2. The same reverse situation is true for addresses. Russians and Ukrainians put street and lane before the chosen street name. If you search for “Lenin Street, Smolensk” the results will be limited compared to “Street Lenin, Smolensk”.

3. Don’t assume you have found information on a family village unless you see the place referred as село or деревня (Ukrainian: селище, містечко and селище).  I assumed at times I was looking at information on my family village until I noticed the place was referred as a город (city). A lot of villages are written as c., м. or дер. and then the village name.

4. Don’t let Russian grammar confuse you. My family village of  Ивановское will be also written as ИвановскогоThe end spellings of peoples’ names and places will change depending on the grammar case. That’s why Moscow (Russian: Москвa) will be written as Москве sometimes.

5. Don’t ever use letters from English-language keyboards to search in Russian. My first name is written as Bepa in Russian. When I write this using my English-language keyboard, I get zero results in Russian. In the Russian language, the print letters e, y, o, p, a, k, x,c, E, T and M are very similar to Cyrillic letters but search engines will pick up that these are not Cyrillic letters.

6. If you have found a website that appears to have a lot of information on your family or topic, narrow down your searches to that website by using your “Russian keywords” site: http://_________________________.

7. If you would rather find information through pictures before clicking on link after link after link, search Google Images. Each picture is linked to the websites from where Google lifted them. This may be the easiest way to search if seeing everything in Cyrillic would make you crazy.

8. At times, the website you are viewing may turn into nonsense symbols. So read this post-  Say goodbye to Оплата получена– before you start getting aggressive in searching the Internet in Russian and Ukrainian.

9. If you click on the Google Translate link next to search results, don’t forget to edit webpage names when you bookmark. You’ll get a list of bookmarks named Google Translate, otherwise.

10. I highly suggest having a firewall and Malwarebytes Anti-Malware installed on your computer and/or devices before you go click crazy on Russian and Ukrainian websites. These websites seemed to be filled with malware and viruses.

I hope your searches are fun and filled with surprising gems of information.