“As far as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed looking through old photos and listening to my granny’s stories about her youth, her parents, etc.,” says the woman from Kaluga in western Russia. “But initially, I wasn’t interested in details – dates of birth, death, motives or reasons of actions and events that happened to my ancestors, relatives. That came much later, as I was about 23-25.”
It hasn’t been an easy journey to learn about her ancestors. When her interest had peaked, regional archives weren’t open to visitors and Internet sources “were not so well-developed as compared with nowadays,” she says.
That has not stopped Olesia’s determination to learn about her ancestors since her interest started about 15 years ago. She sends requests to archives, visits archives, gets advice on genealogy forums and uses search engines.
“I managed to turn back to my research just a year ago, and since then I found more than within all previous years,” Olesia says.
Now, she has traced her family tree back to the beginning of the 19th century. She knows her mothers’s ancestors came from Kaluga governorate, now modern day Tula and Bryansk regions, with some also coming from Poland or Baltic countries.
Her father’s mother’s ancestors also came from Kaluga governorate, near Kaluga. On her father’s father’s line, she has discovered ancestors who were Terek Cossacks from the territory of modern Chechen Republic. One branch seems to lead her to Georgia.
“I believe it helps me to understand myself better, which is quite important to me, to see some patterns and to try to break them. It helps to see some events with different eyes, to forgive some things that seemed unforgivable, etc.,” Olesia says. “…Overall, that helps to get one little step closer to the internal harmony. I know that sounds like a cliché, but that’s how I really feel. I believe that our knowledge, experience and self-consciousness is the only thing we can take with us, when it will come our time to leave.”
This journey helps her learn more about history, which she admits she should have been more diligent to learn in school.
Her discoveries in the family’s history has brought mixed reaction from her family.
At first, her mother didn’t see the value of genealogy. Then Olesia’s mother saw the excited reactions of her relatives and her mother’s attitude has changed to supporting the research.
Meanwhile, her father’s family has questioned the research.
“My father’s mother used to tell that remembering the past hurt her and refused to share information, documents, memories,” Olesia says. “Besides, she couldn’t believe I need it just for myself, and she used to ask ‘Whom will you tell, show that?’”
Her father lacks any interest in his ancestors and doesn’t share stories with Olesia. His wife questions whether the research is about her searching for inheritances or something of value.
Meanwhile, her friends are neutral on the topic. She has a friend who is interested in genealogy as much or even more than her. Other friends are satisfied knowing about their grandparents and don’t see a purpose in knowing any more.
“Anyway, nobody of my relatives, friends knows how much money I spend on my hobby, except the above mentioned friend, who shares this hobby,” Olesia says. “Every one of them would say I’m crazy.”
This attitude about genealogy doesn’t surprise her because the word genealogy wasn’t used when she was growing up, she says.
“There was no ‘typical’ attitude about one’s family’s history. Generally, people kept memories about their parents and grandparents,” Olesia says. “But due to some reasons -repressions, war, etc.- some people preferred to ‘forget’ about some of their relatives, ancestors – it could be just dangerous sometimes to tell about them or to keep the evidences.”
That attitude doesn’t ruin Olesia’s excitement for her research, which has led to finding living relatives. Some are excited to find a new relative and others are not interested in the connection.
She also is trying to find her relatives through DNA testing. She started with MyHeritage and then uploaded her DNA file to Family Tree DNA and Gedmatch.
The office worker at an automotive factory originally was curious about her ethnic origins but was also hoping to find relatives. Time will only tell if she gets her wish.
This is the fourth article in the series “Bending Curtain: A Changing Tide in Genealogy in the Former USSR” that will continue throughout 2020. People from the various countries of the former USSR will share their experiences in uncovering their ancestry. Follow this blog with the top right button to catch these unforgettable stories.
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Coming back to Ukrainian roots through genealogy
Introducing “Bending Curtain: A Changing Tide in Genealogy in the Former USSR”