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.

 

 

8 thoughts on “Why some documents will never tell the full truth

  1. I just discovered your blog. It is very well written. I am a co-director of the Washington DC Family History Center and we have an Eastern European Interest Group woth several members researching in Russia/Ukraine. I will be sharing your blog with the group. I also have a blog, SpartanRoots.wordpress.com, for my personal research in the region of Sparta, Greece. I look forward to reading your blog and learning from you.
    Carol Kostakos Petranek

  2. Pingback: Recommended Reads | Empty Branches on the Family Tree

  3. How write family story having so many lies in documents? I have some people in Ukraina to ask of possible common roots, but it’s so difficult to get any info. They still afraid something.

    1. Have you tried talking to the younger generation? Maybe the family faced some persecution during the communist era. I know it’s hard. It is a shame that some are still fearful.

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