Keeping alive some notable ancestors in a Russian family tree

Sonia Smirnova enjoys taking pictures of graves for BillionGraves. She especially appreciates the chance to photograph and transcribe graves of World War II veterans.

She is part of the growing trend of documenting graves online. What’s unique about her in this trend is that she lives in central Russia.

Sonia grew up with an appreciation of remembering people who have passed on in her family.

“The life of our ancestors has an influence on us, doesn’t it?,” she says. “They died but gave life to us. We may not forget them. I feel that I’m not alone. They help me to move forward.”

Sonia, who works in information technology, has plenty to be proud in her family. Her grandfather was notable hometown architect Nikolay Bespalov and her great-grandfather was Ivan Kulikov, who worked with renowned artist Ilya Yefimovich Repin.

“So, it was very interesting to know how they became who they were,” Sonia says. “They were both from absolutely different families, workers and merchants. Their ancestors lived all over Russia and abroad. I’ve learned about it after a long research of the family archives and gravestones.”

Ivan Kulikov paints in his garden as his wife Elizaveta serves him lunch.

In addition to having those men in her family, her father is second cousin to Vladimir Zworykin, noted as “a pioneer of television technology” on Wikipedia.

“He visited our place in the 1960s and my father remembers it,” Sonia says. “We keep his postcards and letters carefully in our archive…My grandparents were in touch with him and his wife.”

Zworykin came to the USA in 1918 for work and decided to stay in the USA permanently but Sonia’s family stayed in his hometown, Murom. Her parents live in the house built about 150 years ago by Ivan Kulikov’s father. Sonia still lives in Murom.

“He walked the same streets and watched the same river,” she says. “His life is an example of a talented man who couldn’t apply his knowledge to his motherland.”

Sonia, 38, has been interested in her family tree since she was a child. She researches her family tree by studying her family photos, documents and gravestones, talking to relatives and using Instagram and genealogy website Geni.

“There were periods of active doing and long pauses,” she says. “But the tree was on the rise permanently.”

So far, her family tree has about 1,500 people, including her husband’s relatives from Ukraine. Sonia has discovered her ancestors came from Vladimir Region, Moscow Region and Saint Petersburg in Russia.

“My parents always helped me to learn more info about my ancestors,” she says. “My father Alexey Bespalov researches and keeps our family archive. He keeps in touch with other relatives. Sometimes somebody gives me info on Instagram, etc.”

Sonia finds inspiration to research her family tree from her hometown.

“Our city is rather small, but very old,” she says. “We have a museum, a lot of churches, architecture of 19th century. There are always a lot of tourists annually. Merchant families lived here since the old days. Young people want to know their origins.”

This is the second installment of “Bending Curtain: A Changing Tide in Genealogy in the Former USSR,” where people of the former USSR have a chance to be candid about their genealogy journeys. The series will continue throughout 2020. Follow this blog with the top right button to catch all the articles in the series.

Related posts:
Coming back to Ukrainian roots through genealogy
Introducing “Bending Curtain: A Changing Tide in Genealogy in the Former USSR”