Newest database will turn brickwalls into dust

The biggest struggle in genealogy can be as simple as a name. Names get complicated as soon as people leave their homeland.

Immigrants change their name to assimilate in their new homeland or immigration officials misunderstand how to write foreign names and then give whatever letter combinations they see fit.

Then future generations pound their heads into genealogy brickwalls when trying to research their immigrant relatives. Immigrants who filled out form after form somehow vanish from the paper trails that were supposedly left behind.

Thanks to’s newdatabase-U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007, the mystery of name changes is solved if you have the right information. But if your family came from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, you are praying your family didn’t have name changes too impossible to figure out.

So here are some simple rules to follow. Many of these records include first and last names of parents, something that can’t be found on many Russian language birth and marriage records.

1. If you are not familiar with translating names into English, visit this website. Russian names are complicated to spell in English and this website is very detailed about figuring out names for English spellings.

2. The biggest changes in spelling names that will be noticed are switching v’s to w’s or ff’s and y’s to j’s and unnecessary use of iy combinations, i.e. Romanow for Romanov;  Borisoff  for Borisov; and Petrovskiy for Petrovsky. Even names of birthplaces will be found with strange English spellings.

3. If relatives cannot be found by using last names, use different spellings of first names with the birth years or spouses’ first names as keywords. Some Russian first names are not as common and will bring up fewer results to make the search easier.

4. If relatives are not found by using birthplaces by appropriate spellings, be open to misspelled places. My grand uncle’s birthplace of Kiev was spelled Kesin when he knew to spell it as Kiew from living briefly in Germany.

5. If good matches do not appear, reconsider the matches that have birthplaces of the closest city. Sometimes it was easier to spell the closest city for immigrants struggling to learn English than the actual village where they were born.

6. Remember that names of towns have changed over the years. Search for Leningrad, not Saint Petersburg or St. Petersburg; and Stalingrad, not Volgograd. Here is a Wikipedia page that lists town and city name changes in the former USSR.

7. If birth dates seem later than from what is known in the family, consider that your relatives may have changed their immigration records to appear younger and more attractive for employment and immigration approval.

Once you collect the information you need, I highly recommend reading this post- Nothing like a good chuckle from– on the U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 database. Information from that database and’s newest database are a great combination for trucking past the brickwalls and onto discovering new cousins.

Why some documents will never tell the full truth

Take a look at my family documents and I see so many lies. Not just accidental mistakes.

My father was “born” in Warsaw, Poland. His half-sister and brother were “born” in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Their mother was “born” in Reval, Estonia.

It is “documented” on birth and immigration records. The birth records look so real that it is hard to believe they are fake.

I don’t blame my grandmother for these lies. My family was born in Soviet Russia. In post WWII USSR, every brave soul wanted to immigrate. The United States limited how many immigrants were approved for each country  to come live the American dream.

With the massive population of the Soviet Union, the chances were lower to get approved for immigration, compared to Italy and Greece. So it was beneficial to make it appear as if immigrants were citizens of the smaller countries.

Not only were immigrants fighting to win slots for US immigration, they were dealing with the realities of a war in their backyard- lack of food, shelter and work. Identification documents got lost while constantly moving to safer locations and documents were destroyed in bombings.

That’s what happened to my cousin’s family. Their barracks with their identifying documents inside were bombed. They got a new life on paper with a new French surname, the same surname as friends from southern Russia.

Then came another lie. The mother of my cousin made herself 10 years younger. She feared being rejected for U.S. immigration for being close to 50 years old.

My relative was a newly divorced woman traveling with her daughter. They survived the experience of being forced laborers on the German railroad. Work as a nanny was the only job the mother could find and it was so demanding that she placed her young teen-age daughter in an orphanage.

Lying about her age to give herself and her daughter a new life in America was well worth it after all they experienced.  Later, the lie caused a mess when the mother was truly eligible to collect U.S. Social Security. It was quite the mess for a better life.

I know my family is not alone in lying on documents and buying falsified documents. So many buildings with civil records were destroyed in the war, opening doors for many people to move on with new identities without worries about being caught.

The methods for getting new identities were whatever could be made possible. Shock was my only reaction when I heard from a son of my grandfather’s friends  about how his parents’ got their Russian name.

His parents lost their records. They came across a flipped over car and found a couple who died in an accident. My grandfather’s friends went into their pockets and stole their identifying documents.

I feel bad for the couple who died nameless because their documents were stolen. My grandfather’s friends couldn’t have been the only ones who went to this extreme.

Soldiers stole clothing from dead soldiers to survive the cold and wetness, civilians sneaked onto farms to find food and others stole documents to replace the ones lost.

Documents carried by relatives during WWII aren’t guarantees of accurate information. Untold stories and possibly shocking tales may come from simple looking family documents.



One website could become the Russian version of Find A Grave

“Every person is endowed with an immortal soul and deserves to remain forever in the memory of future generations. We all have dreamed about their business and accomplishments remain for centuries. But living memory is short and selective. It remains only a few great, the rest into oblivion.”

These are great words I didn’t expect to read now in Russian when the Soviet era taught citizens for generations to think only the “great few” should be respected and remembered. I am gaining more hope that the brick walls I am facing in the Russian-speaking world will crumble quicker as time passes.

The great words come from, a website I had hoped would exist in the near future. This website is trying to become the Russian language version of, where anyone can see pictures of graves and biographical information of deceased people mostly in the USA.

So what is great about a website with photos of Russian language graves? Try getting information on people who died after 1917 from registry offices in the former USSR can be exhausting as Russian full-length dance performances.

Not only is getting information hard for foreigners, my distance cousin in St. Petersburg, Russia, had to prove ancestry to her great-grandmother, who died almost 40 years ago, in order to receive information on the location of her ancestor’s grave. A relative usually led the way to the grave but she wanted to visit the grave on her own.

Once grows to the popularity of, the bureaucrats at registry offices can’t read off federal law to state why information on someone’s dates of birth and death and places of birth and death cannot be provided on those already dead.

The website claims to have 1.1 million graves documented but I can only figure out how to view a few thousand. Whatever the true number, the website is worth checking out and following as it grows.

To give this website a try the easiest way, get your Russian surnames translated into Russian on Google Translate, then copy each surname with  site: into a search engine keyword box.

If you cannot read Russian, copy and paste the results into Google Translate to see which results are worth viewing. It would be best to keep Google Translate open in the window next to the search results to make it a smoother experience.

To search directly on, go to the search page. Then click on the box marked as поиск могилы slightly down the page and the search criteria boxes will appear underneath.

Фамилия is surname; Имя is first name; Отчество is patronymic name (middle name from father); Мужской is male; Женский is female; Дата рождения is birth date; День is day; Месяц is month; Год is year; Дата смерти is date of death; Страна is country; Область is region, Город is city and Кладбище is cemetery.

Remember to click on поиск on the bottom left to get the search results.

I recommend keeping the searches simple to leave the door open to find unexpected information.

Please share this post with as many people as possible so can grow into the Russian version of, where I am a regular contributor. This website can help bring the former USSR into the world of unlimited information if it grows in popularity.

6th-great-grandma’s family reveals a massive load of information to explode the family tree

I’ve been waiting for my family tree to explode past 2,000 people. has so many  family trees with thousands of people and I wondered when I could ring in my 2,000th person on my family tree.

While on vacation, I got quite the surprise from a professional researcher I hired a few months ago. The amount of information he found by researching my 6th-great-grandma’s family was unreal.

It took several days to plug in all the direct ancestors and distant cousins into my family tree. It grew to 2,664 people from the original 1,962 people, all thanks to detailed census records from central Russia.

I was hoping this family line would be the jackpot. Two of my great-grandpa’s sisters married men with my 6th-great-grandma’s maiden name. His godfather also carried the same last name.

So it seemed as if this would be the name to research. Not only did my family tree blossom as if it were a tree shot with Miracle Grow, I learned about two female lines of my great-grandfather. That is hardly a simple task in Russian genealogy.

It takes a lot of work to discover maiden names of women. In many Russian records, women are identified by their given name (first name) and patronymic name (middle name from the father’s first name such as Ivanovna or Vasilievna).

So it’s hard to understand the thrill of my researcher finding the full name of another 6th great-grandmother, especially one from a different village when the village name and her maiden name match. Sounds as if another interesting story will come my way when I research that line.

The other discovered maiden name of another female direct ancestor brought the family tree closer in time. The research of my 6th-great-grandma uncovered the full name of a 3rd-great-grandmother, leaving only one grandparent of my great-grandpa as a mystery.

In the end, research of my 6th-great-grandma exploded my family tree and pushed my family tree back to the early 17th and late 16th centuries for three family lines. I also learned my 10th-great-grandfather served in the great sovereign policeman service in central Russia during the 17th century.

Now, I am waiting to discover cousins online who could make the names in my family tree more complete with stories. It took four years to reach this point. My cautious way of researching won’t ever make me wonder whether growing my family tree came at the price of being filled with mistakes.

Related posts:
Don’t let this easy mistake implode your family tree
Piecing together puzzles for one name