Grandmother creates brickwall with weak mortar, thanks to one detail

For five years, I have been trying to find any information on a friend’s great-grandfather on The name is very simple and my friend believed he had accurate information from his family.

I searched every possible version of his first and last name with his birth and death dates on Ancestry. The man didn’t exist or something was wrong.

It turned out almost everything my friend knew about his great-grandfather was wrong, except for his name. His grandmother wasn’t thrilled that he was researching her father, an enemy of the Soviet Union for being a Kuban Cossack who escaped during WWII.

My suspicions are probably true that she gave him incorrect information to make the search impossible. But thankfully, her father was buried in the same Russian Orthodox cemetery as was my maternal grandparents, just a few rows away from each other.

My Ukrainian-born mother called the cemetery office, which still doesn’t have staff who speak English. She learned that we had the birth and death dates incorrect by several years.

As soon as I had the correct information, I immediately found the man in the Social Security Death Index on Ancestry but nothing else. Then, I knew I had to apply for a copy of his Social Security application here.

The application confirmed his birth date known by the cemetery office and his father’s first name. My friend already knew his great-great-grandfather’s first name from the patronymic name of the great-grandfather.

Three great pieces of information came from this one-page document, the first and maiden name of the great-great-grandmother, the birth village and an address from 1957. My friend didn’t know the name of his great-great-grandmother and had another village as the birthplace, which is in the same Ukrainian region where my paternal grandmother’s brothers were born.

The address where the great-grandfather lived when he applied for a Social Security card opened another door for information. He was living near New York City at the Tolstoy Foundation, an organization that helped many Soviet Union escapees.

I called the Tolstoy Foundation and was thrilled the staff spoke English. The file at Tolstoy Foundation gave me the man’s arrival flight information, several old addresses, a place where he worked and the retirement home where he died. One address was within the same city where my paternal grandmother lived.

The great-grandson assumed that his great-grandfather came to America before WWII ended. However, he immigrated to the U.S.A. in 1957. That 12-year gap between the ending of WWII and his arrival brings up more questions about his life.

The new details from Tolstoy Foundation helped find his passenger record on Ancestry but nothing else. Somehow, the man avoided having his life documented on Ancestry.

With all this information, I had enough personal details to submit a Freedom of Information Act request for the great-grandfather’s Alien File, the golden gem of researching mid-20th century immigrants to America.

Getting that file will take about three months and land in my mailbox just in time for my friend’s birthday. That is the best gift I can give him after he sweated through an overgrown cemetery in Kiev to find the graves of my great-grandparents near my birthday.

Related posts:
Old electrical tower leads the way to family graves
Documents that open doors to information
Guide for success in obtaining Alien Case Files

13 thoughts on “Grandmother creates brickwall with weak mortar, thanks to one detail

    1. My friend’s grandmother was raised during the worst of Soviet times. If you had a relative escape the Soviet Union, that person no longer exists to that family. My grandfather escaped the Soviet Union during WWII and couldn’t call nor see his family again. His return would send him to Siberia.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Shaun

    Vera, I wish I had your success at finding information. I believe my grandmother fled around the same time(born in Poltava) and made her way to south Africa where she passed away (Taybe Meler). My mom was too little so we have no info on her family.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. Have you tried obtaining your grandmother’s death record to see whether there is information on it? I would recommend DNA testing with Family Tree DNA. The test is reduced down to $79. I paid $289 for the same test 5 1/2 years ago.


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

  3. Roman Kovbasyuk

    >>However, he immigrated to the U.S.A. in 1957. That 12-year gap between the ending of WWII and his arrival brings up more questions about his life.

    If he was Kuban Cossack during WWII, that means he was probably fighting on Nazi’s side, and therefore most likely was detained by Allies for all that time, because if he was captured by Red Army, he’d have likely ended up with long sentence in GULAG without chance to escape the USSR even after serving that sentence. In fact, Allies had a policy to give up any captured Cossacks to USSR for prosecution (see, so it’may be some miracle that he’d escaped that fate.


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