A DNA test and small paper trail face off to complete a WWII love story

My second cousin was only told of her father’s name and military title during WWII. The mother is mum about the mystery father who served in the Soviet Army for the Battle of Berlin.

The daughter of my cousin asked me if I knew anything about her grandfather. Relatives of my grandmother’s generation repeated the same story about this war love story.

The grandmother of my younger cousin got pregnant by a Russian soldier. She disappeared soon afterwards. A Russian soldier came to my great-grandparents’ apartment, begging them to come to communist-controlled East Berlin to pick up their daughter. The soldier told them their daughter was not returned to the USSR by sheer luck.

Too fearful of being forced back to the USSR and killed in the gulags for escaping war-torn Kiev, my great-grandparents stayed home and died not knowing what happened to their daughter and unborn grandchild. Was that visiting soldier the father of my second cousin?

Not only is the grandfather a mystery, but I was quite the surprise for my cousin’s family. I appeared out of nowhere four years ago with the help of the Russian Red Cross. My older cousin didn’t know her mother had a brother and sister.

After getting to know my “new cousins” for a few years, I finally popped the question to my second cousin’s daughter: “Will your mother take a DNA test?” A few weeks later, my cousin said yes with enthusiasm.

The time involved to get the Family Tree DNA test back to the lab in Texas was quite long. The package took two months to arrive in western Russia. Apparently, the horses delivering the mail also were busy with a circus tour.

My cousin got busy with her family life and waited several weeks to mail back the test. Thankfully, it took only less than 3 weeks for the test to arrive at the lab. Family Tree DNA quickly processed the test in a mere 16 days.

I was so hopeful to get close matches for my cousin. Family Tree DNA is the only large company that sends DNA genealogy tests to Russia and Ukraine, making it the best choice for finding relatives living in the former USSR.

My cousin has 27 pages of matches, giving her almost 300 matches. Her closest matches are 18 2nd to 4th cousins and 39 4th to remote cousins. I immediately uploaded her DNA data to Gedmatch to find other matches from Ancestry DNA and 23andme for free.

None of the matches on Family Tree DNA nor Gedmatch are close enough to ask the awkward question: “Do you have a grandfather who served in WWII in Berlin in spring 1945?”

This mystery is going to take more than a DNA test to be solved.

Thanks to the crafty and knowledgeable forum members on All Russia Family Tree, I learned about the only man who could have been the mystery Russian soldier. More than two dozen men with the same name served in the war but only one served in the Battle of Berlin.

The main Russian military archives released a boatload of information on the soldier at no charge- the soldier’s birth year, birth place, place of residence in 1987,  wife’s name and her birth year and their daughters’ names and birth years.

So here starts my personal challenge to see whether the DNA test or the small paper trail will help find the birth father’s family 70 years later.

Related post:

Guide for making the best choices in DNA testing

An inside look into U.S. National Archives’ best research gem for WWII-era immigrants

For years, I have been glowing about the importance of Alien Case Files, possessed by the U.S. National Archives. There is nothing like a nice stack of documents filled with information on individual immigrants in one simple file.

Anyone wondering about relatives or ancestors who fled war-torn Europe during and after World War II should consider looking into obtaining Alien Case Files on their family. Only a small portion of records included in these files can be found on any online genealogy website, including Ancestry.com.

So here is a sneak peek into the life of Helen, my relative by marriage. Born in Ukraine, she fell in love in Russia, had her heart broken by her husband, escaped the USSR with her two children with her ex-husband and his new wife before a major battle between the Soviet Union and Germany occurred in her new hometown.

She was eventually captured by the German army and forced to fix the railroad damaged in the war. The American Army liberated her and she traveled through western Europe before coming abroad to live the American dream.

Her Alien Case File below shows how much can be discovered on WWII-era immigrants. Not all immigrants will have the same amount of records on them but Alien Case Files are the most complete records on immigrants in U.S. National Archives. I deleted several personal details in these scans for privacy reasons.

If you would like to find Alien Case Files on your family, read this FAQ on increasing chances of success in finding these records.

 

Guide for success in obtaining Alien Case Files

Hitting the jackpot on researching WWII-era immigrants takes a few simple steps. It will cost around $130 per immigrant being researched. That’s a price well below the value of the documents filled in the U.S. Alien Case Files.

Here’s answers to general questions on obtaining these files.

What information will I need to obtain the files on my relative?

It is most important to know the person’s full name, birth date or birth year, birth country or city and immigration year. Any extra information such as profession, old addresses, names of relatives living in the same household increases the chances of finding the correct file. Various known spellings of the immigrant’s name also are a great help.

It is highly recommended to first obtain the immigrant’s naturalization record from regional archives of U.S. National Archives. That record will likely include the immigrant’s Alien Number.

What is the importance of the Alien Number?

The number will determine where the Alien Case File can be found. In order to search for an Alien Case File through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Genealogy Program, the number must be below 8 million.

Files with numbers higher than 8 million must be requested with a Freedom of Information Act request, using this form. That form needs to be sent to National Records Center (NRC), FOIA/PA Office, P.O. Box 648010, Lee’s Summit, MO 64064-8010 or uscis.foia@uscis.dhs.gov. Do not mentioned genealogy as the reason for requesting file. Your request will be rejected and you will be referred to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Genealogy Program if you mention genealogy on the form.

Is there an online database for the Alien Case Files?

An index of available files for immigrants born no later than 1910 can be found on Ancestry.com here. If you don’t have an Ancestry.com paid account, visit FamilySearch.org, free and without a registration requirement, to search the index here.

If I find files of relatives in the index, where can I get the files?

Send an e-mail message to U.S. National Archives in Kansas City at Afiles.KansasCity@nara.gov. View this page for more information on the files at Kansas City.

If my relatives are not found in the index, where I can send my search request?

Visit this page for the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services Genealogy Program to see whether your relatives’ files would be eligible to be included in the genealogy program. If your relative’s file fall within the criteria, go here to make an index search request for $65. Results of the search will be sent by postal mail in a few weeks and then the located files must be ordered for $65 each.

My relatives were born after 1910 and are not eligible to be included in the genealogy program. How do I get their files?

Fill out this form and send it to National Records Center (NRC), FOIA/PA Office
P.O. Box 648010, Lee’s Summit, MO 64064-8010 or uscis.foia@uscis.dhs.gov . Don’t put down genealogy under Part 3 for 1. Purpose (Optional).

It is highly recommended to have the immigrant’s Alien Number, if possible.

You will receive a letter, stating your request number. That number can be used to check the status update page daily to see the placement of your requests. That website’s address will be listed in the letter.

The form is free to file. It could cost up to $25 for each file, which is sent on a CD in a PDF format. I have not paid once for Alien Case Files through the FOIA/PA office.

How long does it take to get the files?

It should take less than a month to get the files from Kansas City. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services Genealogy Program tries to send files within 90 days. Results of search requests using the Freedom of Information Act form take several weeks or months.

Do I have to prove ancestry to the immigrant whose file I am requesting?

No. The only requirements for requesting these files are the person whose file is being requested must be deceased and their death must be proven if they were born after 1916. Proof of death can be shown with copies or scans of obituaries, Social Security Death Index listings and death records.

Can living people get their own Alien Case Files?

Yes. They must prove their identity with their birth record, driver’s license or passport.

If you have more questions, post them in the comments section below or e-mail me at bepa.miller at mail.ru.