The art of researching Ukrainian ancestors on Ancestry.com

Documenting Ukrainian cemeteries for FindAGrave has been quite the boot camp for me. I never imagined it would be so complicated to find information on these immigrants on Ancestry.com.

Thankfully, I have learned so much about how to find these people on Ancestry.com with my determination. Hopefully, this knowledge will finally help others in their journey to research on Ancestry.com.

Here are the surprising facts I learned about researching Ukrainian immigrants, many of whom were from western Ukraine and Galicia:

  1. The last names of husbands, wives and children sometimes are not always spelled the same.
  2. The tradition of spelling surnames by gender doesn’t always continue in the USA such as Dobrovolska for women and Dobrovolsky for men.
  3. Surnames are sometimes written in English with random vowel changes from the original transliterated spelling of the Ukrainian name.
  4. The birth date on gravestones sometimes doesn’t match information mentioned on documents on Ancestry.com. The birth year has been off by 5 years for some people. So don’t automatically eliminate a possible document match without further digging.
  5. First names are sometimes an English name that starts with a similar starting letter sound as the original Ukrainian first name.

So how can Ukrainian relatives and ancestors be found on Ancestry.com with so many complications? The best tool for researching Ukrainian immigrants on Ancestry.com has been the * (shift and 8 together on pc’s and mac’s).

To search Ukrainians with complicated names, spell with as many letters as possible and use an * at the end for the unsure endings. See the image below for an example. This method really helped me to confirm name spellings for people buried at Ukrainian-American cemeteries I was documenting on FindAGrave.

When this doesn’t work, it’s time to switch the suspected vowels to every possible vowel. The use of i,y,j also make the searches complicated so switch the order of those letters in every possible combination.

If too many results appear, here are some tips to narrow them down:

  1.  Select a gender.
  2. Click on United States or their chosen country under Collection Focus.
  3. Add the state in the place your ancestor might have lived box and click on exact under the box.
  4. Tweak with the Search Filters box on the top right to move between exact, sounds like and similar.

Here are some other important reminders:

  1. Anyone who came from Galicia could be listed on Ancestry.com as being born in Ukraine, Poland and Austria. Those people also could be listed from Carpathian Mountains or Malopolskie.
  2. If a US immigrant on Ancestry.com appears as a good match for your family tree, consider searching for them in this database or getting their Social Security application if they lived past 1936. The amount of information on the application is amazing and could confirm or deny suspicions.
  3. Research matches completely: spouses, children, siblings, parents, etc. before moving on. Those who came to the new country without knowing English couldn’t perfectly fill out documents. (My grand uncle is listed as coming from Kesin, Soviet Union, when he came from Kyiv.)
  4. Keep track of different spellings for the surnames you are researching on paper or a text file. It can really make the difference when doing further research on the families.
  5. Change the box on the bottom left to show 50 results per page so important patterns could be seen on the same page.
  6. Remember these important endings to last names: ycz/icz;  zyn; jy/yj, czuk/tschuk/juk; chenko/czenko and czyj.

If none of these suggestions work, it will likely take 20th century research to find records on Ukrainian immigrants. It will be time to call the Ukrainian churches near where they lived.

I have been stunned by the number of Ukrainian immigrants buried in an American cemetery who don’t have records on Ancestry.com or were noted in only one record. It takes determination to research Ukrainian immigrants but the knowledge gained will be worth a pricey genealogy class.

Related posts:
Guide to finding the mystery family villages of Russia and Ukraine
Guide for spelling Russian and Ukrainian names to break those solid brickwalls
Best tips on uncovering U.S. documents on mysterious Soviet Union relatives