Eight years ago, I was filled with joy for finally finding my grandfather’s family who were left behind for dreams of a better life. It took until last weekend to comprehend what it really meant for this family to come back together face-to-face 74 years later in Washington, D.C.
My grandfather was the only child of six who left his family in Ukraine. His parents weren’t supposed to talk about their son who left Soviet Ukraine but his siblings never forgot him.
My cousin (granddaughter of an older sister of my grandfather) gave me the complete picture of what our reunion really meant to her family. Her grandmother agonized over finding my grandfather but she knew she couldn’t under communism.
She faced the death of three brothers and sisters and died before communism fell in Ukraine. The pain of not knowing about what happened to her little brother wasn’t hushed. One son made it a mission to find my grandfather’s family to fulfill his mother’s dream.
He tried to find us through the American Red Cross’ Holocaust and War Victims Tracing Center. The program has a 79 percent success rate for finding information but our family wasn’t a success story. That was thanks to my grandfather changing his last name by one letter to avoid questions whether he was German.
As a last resort, the son of my grandfather’s sister posted information on his mother’s family on All Russia Family Tree (link translated into English) in 2005. That is the only place where he posted to find us and he didn’t have much hope we would find his message.
I was viewing this website at that time and even before. My Russian was so rusty that I didn’t know how to write my grandfather’s last name in Russian but I remembered some words and the alphabet. I called my mother that I found a Russian genealogy website but I couldn’t read it.
This was before I knew of the existence of Google Translate, my best friend of understanding Russian websites and searching the Internet in Russian. When I got “sophisticated” enough to use Google Translate to discover my grandfather’s nephew’s message in 2009, he already died from a heart attack.
He dreamed of writing a book, bringing his family together in a newly-bought datcha and finding his uncle’s family. He never had a chance to fulfill any of those dreams.
Thankfully, his two oldest children welcomed me with open arms. It took three generations to bring us back together, all thanks to one Russian genealogy website I randomly found.
Spending three days with my cousin, my mom and my two kids felt so natural. My grandfather loved his family he left behind and it’s amazing that love wasn’t forgotten over the years. That’s what family is all about.
Guide to Using the Best & Largest Russian Language Genealogy Forum (All Russia Family Tree) Includes a video guide.