DNA testing finally proves its value in finding 16th century documents

It’s been almost 4 years since I decided to try DNA testing for genealogy. Lately, it has been a bust of distant cousins who rarely share one common surname.

So out of boredom, I started e-mailing my supposed distant cousins who have common ethnicity. I totally forgot I already e-mailed one match my standard message asking whether he has ancestors from the same places by chance. That was the best mistake I could have made.

My fourth cousin reminded me that I sent the same message twice but offered me something I never got from my other thousands of DNA distant cousins. He acquired records from Russian State Archives of Ancient Documents on our common ancestors from the 1590s-1600s.

I forgot that we had a common surname from the same Russian region. My cousin researched his ancestry as far back as possible and determined existing records can only connect us back to the 1600s while I had given up hope on connecting our families.

A great researcher in Kursk, central Russia, Evgeniy Karpuk, researched my Trunov family back to Peter the Great time, leaving the door open a few years later for this cousin to unload records on me as far back as 1594.

Just 5 years ago, I discovered my great-grandfather’s birth village of the late 19th century written on a German immigration record. I found a great Russian genealogy forum to figure out where this village exists on a map. On that forum, a not-so-friendly man from Belarus who cursed me out for America’s involvement in the Bosnian War gave me Karpuk’s contact information.

All my genealogy ducks lined up and today I have seen records dated from 1594-1646 from a cousin living in Siberia. It did come at the price of $150 US dollars  for 22 scans but that is much less than Russian State Archives of Ancient Documents would have charged me.

Thanks to these scans, I know the names of my 11th- and 12-great-grandfathers and the village where they lived in the 1600s.

So, DNA testing is worth the cheap price of tests today. I paid $289 for my Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder test, which is now $99. Just one e-mail message to a cousin who seemed too distantly related helped me discover more ancestors because I made the effort to reach out.

Here is a sample of these old Russian records:

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SSSHHH!!! Detailed civilian records of Soviet persecution camps declassified………

There is nothing like another night of boredom and being determined to find an exciting Russian archives database. I knew I found something hot when the website’s address was unsecret.rusarchives.ru.

First, I thought it was just a boring list of declassified records of communist-era bureaucratic boards. Who really cares about that stuff unless your family served on those boards? Then, I found the search engine and the real “unsecrets” were sitting there in detail.

I copied and pasted four pages of declassified records’ details into Google Translate when I hit the phrase “Учреждения по делам военнопленных и интернированных”. This translates into institution for prisoners of war and interned.

I cautiously thought this must be just POW records of the USSR during World War II. Nope, it’s not possible. This possibly covers the POWs of WWII but why are the records dated from the 1940s to the early 1960s?

Then I realized the Russian government quietly declassified records of people who were persecuted for talking to foreigners, receiving letters from foreigners or “committing” crimes that never happened and sent to the infamous camps called gulags.

Here’s a sampling of what I found by searching Учреждения по делам военнопленных и интернированных УМВД on unsecret.rusarchives.ru/search.

Burial of prisoners of war in the camps number 190 and number 16; death certificates of prisoners of war; and lists of prisoners of war repatriated to their homeland.

There are already two great websites that list many of the persecuted people of the USSR on Жертвы политического террора в СССР and National database of repressed of Ukraine but the declassified records will answer questions about relatives’ experiences during their persecution.

The list of declassified records can be found on one page here. For the list translated into English, click here. (These two links are having problems right now. Sorry for the inconvenience.)

Unsecret.rusarchives.ru has many more records listed than the linked page above. For non-native Russian speakers, have your relatives’ regions translated into Russian by Google Translate, then copy and paste the translation and the phrase “Учреждения по делам военнопленных и интернированных” into the search box on unsecret.rusarchives.ru/search and click on поиск (search in Russian) for the results.

Have  Google Translate open in the next window so results can be copied and pasted for translation to see what records are available at Russian State Military Archives.

Anyone ready to learn about their relatives’ persecutions in files at Russian State Military Archives in Moscow, click here for the guide to make requests.

 

Guide to requesting declassified records of the former USSR gulags

It’s a major step to search for records of relatives who were persecuted in the USSR. Being properly prepared is the most important part of the process.

Here’s how to increase the chances of success:

1. Collect all possible personal information on your relatives: full names, birth dates, birthplaces, parents’ names, marriage dates, names of spouses, old addresses, dates of arrests, professions or work titles, etc. If you don’t have exact dates, make sure to narrow down the time frames.

2. When writing your request, make sure to use non-aggressive wording such as “I would be grateful if your archive office could search for records on ___________________,” instead of “I am requesting a search of records on ______________.”.

3. Include the file names and numbers where you expect your relatives to be found in the archives. Once you know the Russian or Ukrainian regions or Soviet republics where they lived, you will see the files listed in example as “Institution for prisoners of war and interned Voroshilovgrad Region…F. 14P, depository unit 116, 1943 – 1953”.

Use the Russian version of the information by placing your cursor over the translated text and then copy the Russian text. A box will appear “Original Russian text:” in a mini-pop-up box.

4. Include in your letter that you found the files listed on  http://guides.rusarchives.ru/browse/guidebook.html?bid=123&sid=173787 or http://unsecret.rusarchives.ru/so the employee handling your request doesn’t mistaken the information as still classified.

5. Offer to provide proof of ancestry in a follow-up letter to finalize your inquiry. It shows you are making a serious effort to make the request.

6. Show a lot of appreciation for your request being accepted. Use sentences such as “I will be grateful for any information that can be found.” “Your efforts will be greatly appreciated.” “Thank you for considering my inquiry. I hope I have provided enough information to make the search successful.”

7. With the archives being in Moscow, requests can be sent in English. I highly recommend using very simple sentences. Google Translate can be used to have the letter written in Russian but Google Translate doesn’t do the greatest job. If you use Google Translate to send a letter in Russian, I recommend sending a copy in English.

8. Send your request to Russian State Military Archives, ul. Admirala Makarova, 29, Moscow, Russia, 125212. If you live in the USA, put the postal code to the left of Moscow on the envelope. The postal machines could try to send the letter in the USA by accident.

9. Requests can be sent by e-mail to rgvarchiv@mailfrom.ru. You must provide your postal address to have your request considered. You may quickly receive an e-mail message requesting that you send a statement in Russian that you will be financially responsible for the cost of the search.

10. Next is waiting for a response without pestering the archives about the status of your request. It could take weeks to months. Sometimes, Russian archives send their responses by postal mail through the Russian Embassy so don’t just wait for responses directly from archives.

Good luck! Post your questions below. It would be great to hear the results, positive or negative, in the comment area below.