Thanks for skimping on your taxes, great-grandpa

borkaIt’s been a challenge to document the life of my great-grandfather until recently. An acquaintance from a forum messaged me out of nowhere with a 1922 census record.

I had to laugh when I realized what I was looking at. My grandmother and mother told me stories of great-grandpa’s stinginess. He went even so far to hide his German marks under his mattress so the “bank couldn’t take his money.”

Luckily for me, he tried to pay as little as possible for his taxes as a tailor in a village outside of Kiev, Ukraine, in 1922.

That census record, showing great-grandpa not paying enough taxes, finally documented that my family really lived in the village where my grandmother was born. It wasn’t just that my great-grandmother was visiting the village when my grandmother was born.

In the last year, the acquaintance looked in the village’s cemetery and couldn’t find any relatives buried there, making me wonder if the family lived there for an extended time. Now that question is answered with the 1922 census record my great-grandpa never thought his great-granddaughter would see 94 years later.

Then the acquaintance poked around in archives and hit the jackpot. He found a document that details my great-grandfather as a leadership member of a Russian Baptist church in the village in 1922. Apparently, it didn’t matter to the Baptist church that great-grandpa wasn’t a loyal taxpayer.

My great-grandparents met in a Baptist church, according to a niece and other relatives. Now I am confident the document finally reveals the name of the church, which still exists in the village that has grown to a town.

By luck, a grand-niece of my grandfather (son-in-law of great-grandpa) lives near this church. I’m awaiting a photo of this church that brought my great-grandparents together.

Getting to this point wasn’t quick and easy. I first met the acquaintance on a forum for the family village, which is now bigger than the town where I live, five years ago. Now that forum is corrupt with malware, according to my computer firewall that blocks me from that forum.

I added the acquaintance as a friend on Russian social network Ok.ru 18 months ago after seeing that he was an active member on VGD.ru, the largest Russian language genealogy forum, and lives in my grandmother’s birthplace.

Then, I asked him to look at the cemeteries in his town for my relatives. Nothing was found but a month ago he sent me a scan of the 1922 census that mentioned my great-grandfather.

The art of success in genealogy is similar to making wine. Rush research in genealogy and the results will be as tasty as overripe grapes shoved in a bottle and poured too quickly.

Old electrical tower leads the way to family graves

blogphotoI was ready to give up hope in finding my great-grandparents’ grave. A friend unsuccessfully attempted three times to find it.

Luckily, a cousin gave me a photo of relatives visiting the grave of my great-grandfather soon after his death. My grandfather couldn’t even attend the funeral after escaping Soviet Ukraine in 1943.

Once my friend I’ll call Valentine analyzed the location of an electrical tower in the photo, he knew he was looking for the grave in the wrong location.

The office that maintains the cemetery in Kiev, Ukraine, was completely useless. With Valentine being an illegal immigrant of Ukraine thanks to him fleeing Russia for political reasons, office staff refused to help him.

Just recently Valentine told me that he temporarily relocated to Kiev. I asked him if he could try to find my great-grandparents’ grave in Baykova Cemetery. I knew their birth and death dates but not their grave’s location in the massive cemetery.

I wasn’t really expecting for Valentine to find the family grave. So many years have passed that I wasn’t sure whether my family maintained the grave.

Valentine realized how challenging the search would be on his first two visits. Then, the third visit brought concern that another family took over the grave site due to the years that have passed. An identical looking grave site with metal fencing and a tall metal cross was found near power lines.

Thanks to analyzing the old and new grave photos on Photoshop, Valentine determined that the discovered grave site was near new power lines but not near the electrical tower standing by my great-grandfather’s grave in the old photo.

That brought a drop of hope that the grave of my great-grandparents could be found under a pile of weeds. Valentine determined that the only possible location was an area of high grass, weeds and bushes. I worried what would be really found.

Just last summer, a granddaughter of my great-grandparents was buried in the cemetery. I assumed the family got another location for the newer family graves and I was making Valentine trek through an overgrown cemetery for a false hope.

With hesitation, I opened my Facebook account in the morning of the fourth visit. I saw Valentine messaged me. I was thinking, here we go again with nothing being found. But then I saw “Вера!!!!!!!!”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Вера я нашёл!!!!!!!!!” (Vera…Vera I found)

I was so excited. Valentine could hardly speak about his emotions on the video he made of the discovery. Not only were the graves of my great-grandparents found, five other relatives were buried at the family grave site, including my great-grandparents’ granddaughter who died last year.

My grandfather was deprived of the right to attend his parents’ funerals but at least I never gave up on finding their resting place. It took some old Soviet-era electrical tower that still stands today to lead me there.

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The aftermath of a house fire brings surprising joy

Just four months ago, I was upset to hear that my grandfather’s house burned down to the ground. There went any hope in contacting the current owner to find previous owners who could have known my grandfather, who died 5 years before I was born.

I can’t just jump on a plane and appear in the local property records office to look at records on my grandfather’s property. Grasping onto some hope, I posted a photo of his house on a Facebook page dedicated to his city asking anyone with memories of my grandfather’s house to contact me.

I got a bunch of likes to my post. I wanted to scream, “Stop liking my post. Someone please contact me!”

Three months later, I got more than I wished. A woman living in my grandfather’s city in southern Russia messaged me that her friend’s grandmother bought the house from my grandfather. That came to a complete shock.

He lived in the house until he died. It has been a mystery of what immediately happened to my grandfather’s house after his death. My father, his only child, was living in the USA and would have been arrested for just trying to visit his father. I don’t even want to think about what happened to all of my grandfather’s possessions after his death.

Now, it’s a shock that my grandfather sold his house to two different families in 1960 and stayed in the house as a tenant. Or maybe it shouldn’t be. He was single and 75 years old and most likely overwhelmed by taking care of the house himself.

The woman whose grandmother who was part owner of my grandfather’s house sent me scans of the property sales agreement. This was the last thing I thought I would ever see. Attempting to acquire this document from archives would give chuckles to office staff. Getting communist-era records from Russia is as easy as winning the lottery.

Then, the part owner’s granddaughter told me the truth about the condition of the house my grandfather had so much pride in. The house was so big that it was split into two properties. Only one half of the property burned to the ground.

A half of a house still standing sounds strange but that house has yet to be knocked down for some ugly, modern-looking apartment complex on the city’s main street, a fear of my grandfather.

I still don’t have one photo of this house from the inside. I’ll get my wish to see the inside in 10 days. The granddaughter will send me pictures her mother has been keeping in her home in Ukraine.

She also knows the other half owner of the property who bought it from my grandfather. The man still lives there 56 years later. My grandfather’s house must be quite the home.

With just searching his last name on a Russian online address book, I have found the other owner’s full name and birth date. He is almost 80 years old and will need to receive a charming letter to be inspired to pen me a letter.

This man is the only person alive who could tell me about my grandfather in detail. With the right letter, he could bring more life to my grandfather. Why give up now when I got surprised by just hoping?