Six years ago, I promised my newly found Ukrainian cousins that I would visit them. My cousins, nieces and nephews of my grandfather, wrote they would be excited to have us visit.
The time passed and got closer to when I promised to visit. Ticket prices were perfect but arrangements for care of my two kids needed to be smoother while I was gone for a week.
Hoping things would be easier to arrange in the next three summers, I wasn’t worried the trip to Kiev wouldn’t happen eventually. Then the ticket prices sky rocked and the fighting between Russia and Ukraine added a scenario never imagined.
Today, I am filled with regret when I learned the cousin who gave me so much information over the years died. She was a young 65 years old.
I wanted so bad to thank her in person for helping my family to learn about the relatives my family left behind in a nighttime WWII escape of Soviet Ukraine.
She is one of two regrets from my search of my maternal grandfather’s family. The other regret was the death of my grandfather’s nephew, who unsuccessfully tried to find us through the American Red Cross.
I listened to my maternal grandmother’s brother that the family with a common name would be too hard to find in such a large city. The fact that my grandfather had four sisters who wouldn’t carry the family name and only had one brother to carry the name was also against us. Maybe they weren’t living in Kiev anymore.
I was looking at a Russian genealogy forum for years and never bothered looking at the surname list.
Then I stopped listening to my grand uncle’s negativity years after he died, I discovered my grandfather’s nephew was looking for US. I breathlessly called my mother at 6 a.m. on a Sunday and sent e-mail messages to everyone who knew about my search.
I had a friend in Moscow call the cell phone number listed in the online advertisement for the sale of my cousin’s car. The line was disconnected, a sign of what was ahead. I found his home phone number. His wife was thrilled to receive our call but we were two years late. He had already died.
My grandfather’s nephew posted that message looking for us eight years ago when I could have skipped an unexciting visit to Delaware beaches.
His children have tried to decipher his notes on the family as much as they could and sent me family photos. Many times, they couldn’t answer questions because their father knew the answers.
If only I had found him earlier, things would be so much different today. My fearful grandmother even passed a letter to a friend visiting Kiev in the late 1990s to find her husband’s family. The family had already moved to another apartment.
If only I could have told my grandmother that I had found her nieces and nephews before she got dementia.
So if you have an invitation to visit family abroad, have the money and don’t have concerns about personal safety, please don’t repeat my mistake and get on that plane to visit your family. No one knows what could be ahead of us – job loss, a health crisis or death.
I’ve never heard of anyone regretting, dipping into savings to see their newly discovered family. Maybe relatives won’t be as exciting or inviting as expected but to walk the same ground as your ancestors cannot be regretted.