Amazing family reunion was hiding among e-mail messages

Over the years, I have been lucky on genealogy forums to find connections with people who have the same surnames from my family villages. Quite the surprise came two months ago in my e-mail but I didn’t realize it until recently.

A woman contacted me about her great-great-grandfather’s family from the village of my great-grandfather. She told me about the children of her great-great-grandfather, who had 19 children but only 8 children lived past infancy.

Her great-great-grandfather and my 5th great-grandmother had the same surname from the same village in central Russia. The great-grandfather’s name seemed so familiar as I have heard it before.

I searched my e-mail for messages with that name and an interesting connection appeared. Another woman who is researching the same great-great-grandfather contacted me two years ago.

I stopped writing to the other woman because our information didn’t connect our family trees. The woman promised to contact me if she found any new information.

It was quite a surprise to learn that these two women didn’t know each other. Apparently, family reunions come in the form of randomly sent e-mail messages.

But a connection was there two generations ago, as I learned from the woman who originally contacted me two years ago. I shared with her the information from the woman who e-mailed me two months ago.

Their grandmothers were close friends in my great-grandfather’s village but the following generations didn’t have an interest in keeping the connection alive.

That was until these two women e-mailed me. I e-mailed  both women whether they wanted to contact each other. Both are thrilled to reignite the connection their grandmothers had years ago.

These women are most likely my distant cousins. My great-grandmother whose great-great-grandmother had the same maiden name as their great-great-grandfather.

It is going to take some research to connect our family trees because a challenge lies ahead. The family was Old Believers and not as many documents exist in archives as the people who were Russian Orthodox.

Thanks to these women finding me on the largest Russian-language genealogy forum, there could be a second reconnection in this family. These two women may be gaining me as a distant cousin.

It took a stranger to reconnect them. Now, let’s hope documents still exist to confirm me as their cousin.

Related posts:
Search for grandma’s childhood home reveals family secrets
Message left in a family painting solves a family mystery
A shocking surprise was waiting to be discovered for 6 years
Old address book online breaks down brickwall on a family photo

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A broken promise gives inspiration to document an immigrant cemetery

It hit me hard when my mother’s cousin died in Kyiv  three years ago. I had promised to save my money to visit her but that plan didn’t work out.

Then, I got annoyed with myself that I spent so much time photographing the English language cemeteries in Pennsylvania for Find A Grave when I knew so many Russian cemeteries needed some attention.

So today I can finally say that I have put my Russian language skills to use to the benefit of the Russian-speaking community. Back in late April, I got into my car and drove 7 hours to Holy Trinity Monastery’s cemetery in Jordanville.

I was never so excited to see a hotel room. The drive must have passed through about every city of New York, other than Albany and New York City, to get to this cemetery. Below the hilltop where this cemetery stands is the monastery where my uncle served as a priest when I was very young.

I am very proud to have a mother born in Ukraine and father in Russia but I know my deceased family wouldn’t be thrilled that I haven’t tried to become more fluent in Russian.

My family tried to get me to learn fluent Russian by sending me to Holy Virgin Protection Church’s school in Nyack, New York, on Saturdays and Otrada Russian summer camp in Spring Valley, New York. I barely made it out of kindergarten and was stuck in first grade at Russian school for a while. At Russian camp, I had to stand in the middle of the dormitory during recess for speaking in English. I couldn’t speak Russian like the other kids.

So documenting a Russian Orthodox cemetery for Find A Grave has been my redemption for my failure to learn fluent Russian. At least, I can read and understand enough to translate gravestones for those researching their Russian Empire ancestors and relatives.

Thanks to a Russian keyboard website and Google Translate, anything I can’t understand is switched to English very easily.

I also have been lucky with the friendship of  Dimitri Salopoff, a Russian living in the USA, to help me when I can’t see information on markers and gravestones well. He has been a great cheerleader in my journey to document Russian Orthodox cemeteries for Find A Grave.

Dimitri saved the last portion of this project by finding a list of people buried at Holy Trinity online. About 200 of the 1,700 crosses and gravestones had some aging that made it challenging for indexing. The list in Russian made it a breeze to finish the project.

Sadly, not everyone who is buried at the cemetery isn’t on the Find A Grave page for Holy Trinity. Several crosses and gravestones have completely faded information. Others have prickly and overgrown bushes blocking their plots.

My goal is to correct this situation if the monastery chooses to help me. The cemetery is filled with determined dreamers, Russian nobility and Holy Trinity staff. Remembering their courage to come to America is what these people deserve.

I hope to announce completion of an another large Russian Orthodox cemetery later this year. Follow this blog on the top right to follow that news.

Related posts:
The User-Friendly Guide to Find A Grave for Russian and Ukrainian Genealogy
Old electrical tower leads the way to family graves
An unreal surprise on my birthday
Don’t blink in a cemetery
Going back to my Russian-American roots 30 years later just heartbreaking

Old address book online breaks down brickwall on a family photo

A family photo has been a mystery for years. It is known that my great-grandfather is standing in the center among his workers but where was his business located?

I have asked this question to cousins of my mother’s generation. No one could answer this question.

It took a stranger on a forum to help me answer this question. I asked for help on the largest Russian-speaking genealogy forum and my question was finally answered in two days.

Thanks to the address directory of Kiev from 1913, the mystery is solved- 91 Sovskaya Street.

Sadly, the address no longer exists but the street still stands. It is amazing that the some houses still look similar to when the photo was taken 105 years ago.

All I knew is that my great-grandfather had a successful construction business that employed about 100 men in Kiev. The name of the business is still a mystery.

There are rumors that my great-grandfather worked with a famous architect in Kiev but that has yet to be proven. My grandfather told his family that Joseph Stalin requested that my great-grandfather make him a statue. That’s another story that I can’t confirm yet.

Thanks to knowing that the eldest sister of my grandfather was born in Kiev in 1905, I know an estimate of when my great-grandparents left Kursk Region, Russia. They married, had their first child and lost him in Kursk Region by 1904.

It is a shame that census records don’t exist for the early 20th century for Kiev. That’s why the old address books of Kiev can be gems of information.

They are online here on a Ukrainian website. Simply paste Весь Киев in the box next to Ключові слова, click on the second selection next to налаштування and press return to see all the old Kiev address books.

It has taken me several years to get used to searching keywords in Russian documents. Doing research this way hasn’t been easy and so much time passed when nothing useful was found.

The sad reality is that the best online genealogy information and help for Ukrainian genealogy is in Russian or Ukrainian. Too many people want to know about their ancestors but don’t even try the online translation tools such as Google Translate nor learn basic Ukrainian or Russian.

I was once one of those stubborn people even with knowing some basic Russian from my childhood. After I gave in to trying out the Russian and Ukrainian websites, I’ve had success after success.

That’s what it takes to get past the basic facts of our Russian Empire ancestors and bring their lives back into full color.

Related posts:
The cure for fearing Russian-language genealogy websites to make breakthroughs
Guide to Using the Best & Largest Russian Language Genealogy Forum (with a English video guide)
Secrets of searching the Internet in Russian and Ukrainian like a native speaker
Guide to finding family in Ukraine like a native expert