It gets exciting to discover an unknown Russian or Ukrainian relative but then the excitement turns into frustration when more information can’t be found.
The back of a photo may identify a man as Valya but trying to find information on Valya turns into a search into a man who doesn’t appear to ever have existed.
That’s why it’s so important to understand the differences between Russian and Ukrainian first names and nicknames.
This Useful English webpage gives a great list for spelling Russian first names with nicknames in English and Russian. The list starts at the middle of the page.
The challenge with Russian names continues when “middle names” are considered. Seeing a photo of a man identified as Valya Ivanovich doesn’t mean that is his full name. Ivanovich is a patronymic name, which is derived from the father’s first name, so his father was Ivan.
Useful English gives some examples of patronymic names under the men’s first names. It is very important to not confuse patronymic names with last names. Also, sons and daughters have patronymic names that are spelled differently, for example Nikolaevich for men and Nikolaevna for women.
Then when it comes to last names, the spellings in English can be complicated from translations of the Russian and Ukrainian alphabets.
The largest Russian genealogy website also has an extensive list of Russian surnames here in English and Russian. Each letter in English is linked to a page of surnames.
The link for each surname has posts for people searching for relatives. This is how I had found my distant cousins from several family lines. (The Russian text for the posts can be easily copied and pasted into Google Translate for English translations.)
Once the proper spellings of names can be determined, doors really open in Russian and Ukrainian genealogy. It can be challenging but the results from making the effort can be amazing.
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