A shocking surprise was waiting to be discovered for 6 years

The genealogy gods had a good laugh at me last weekend. I have been so frustrated by being unable to “find” the marriage record of my 4th great-grandparents from Russian Poland.

After all the success I’ve had with researching my German ancestors who moved to Russian Poland in the late 19th century, I hired a researcher to find the record in Bialystok (formerly Russian Poland).

The researcher found the marriage record but I was shocked when I saw this record. It looked so familiar. Then I started swearing. The record has been on my computer for SIX YEARS.

With being a typical family researcher, I research multiple lines at the same time and get easily distracted.

Six years ago, I ordered a microfilm from the local Family History Center for my family’s village of Ciechanowiec (Tsekhanovets in Russian). I scanned a few documents that had Hoffman and Lamprecht in them while I kept my 2 year-old son distracted with toys next to me in his stroller.

I got excited that Hoffman and Lamprecht appeared within one document. Maybe there was a chance it was the marriage record of my 4th great-grandparents. I knew no one who read Polish and didn’t want to bother anyone for a translation in case I was wrong about the record.

It sat on my computer, ignored until last weekend. I’m beyond words!

Thankfully, the researcher found more than the marriage record. I finally have the birth record of my 3rd great-grandfather, their son.

The story of this family gets even more interesting with that birth record. My Catholic 4th great-grandmother wouldn’t declare her son’s father in the birth record. The child was born out-of-wedlock in 1835. (It wasn’t forgotten by the church community. His grandson married 51 years later and his name was originally put as Lamprecht in his marriage record and then changed to Hoffman. I had wondered if he was raised by a step-father named Lamprecht.)

A year later, the Lutheran father (my 4th great-grandfather) steps up to be an honorable man and the couple marries. Finally, I also have the parents’ names of both 4th great-grandparents.

I thought I already had my 4th great-grandfather’s parents’ names from their son’s second marriage record in 1861. I assumed that the wife of his father in that marriage record was my 5th great-grandmother, but the marriage record from 1836 gives another woman as the mother.

Then the mother’s name of my 4th great-grandmother was quite a surprise, Bozyna Berba. The last name is German but the first name is possibly Czech. I would have never guessed that I could have Czech ancestry.

All of this is quite a learning lesson about assumptions. I assumed I couldn’t find the marriage record myself, that I already knew the name of my 5th great-grandmother and I would only find German ancestors in Russian Poland.

The journey of researching my family’s history is more interesting than I have been assuming for the past 6 years.

Related posts:
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An overlooked record opens a door to finding long-lost family from WWII


Journey to find one record breaks down a brickwall on 3rd great-grandfather’s family

I thought I hit the jackpot when I found my great-great-great-grandfather’s death record on an Ancestry database. That was just the beginning of a journey to break down a brickwall I never expected to crumble.

I got the family tree of my ancestors who lived in Russian Poland 8 years ago from a German cousin. No one knew about siblings of my great-great-great-grandfather, Ferdinand Oswald Bleschke. Every effort to find records on his family failed until I creatively searched Ancestry’s recently updated database, Eastern Prussian Provinces, Germany [Poland], Selected Civil Vitals, 1874-1945.

Once I found Ferdinand’s death record from 1926, I got curious about what else could be found. It would be a pointless effort, I thought, to look for his brothers and sisters without knowing their names nor birth years. I took the easy route and looked for his mother’s death record from 1884.

I was thrilled to find it. Once I saw the maiden name of Littmann, I knew I found the death record of my 4th great-grandmother without a doubt.

Then, my unstoppable curiosity moved onto whether any records could be found on Ferdinand’s siblings. Once I played around with the database by searching through the mother’s first, middle and maiden names and father’s first and middle names, my luck continued.

Two brothers and a sister of my Ferdinand were found in marriage and death records. All three were born too early to have their birth records in the database.

Ferdinand also was born, married and had children before 1874. He already was in Russia (now eastern Poland) in 1870. The genealogy gods are determined to test my patience and push my determination.

Thankfully, Ferdinand’s siblings chose to stay in the family village, allowing me to find his 13 nieces and nephews and 4 grand nieces and nephews. The story of my great-great-great-grandfather is more complete by finding his siblings’ marriage and death records.

Ferdinand left the family village of Schwiebus (now Świebodzin, Poland) about 7 years after his father’s death, with his wife and four kids to live in Bialystok, Russia (now Poland). He lived there for about 60 years and came back to current-day western Poland, most likely due to the Polish-Soviet War (1919-1921).

He found a new home about 50 km from his family village in Schwerin an der Warth, Germany (now Skwierzyna) near 1919. His brother, Julius, had already died eight years earlier in the family village.

Then in 1926, the family deaths came in threes. First, Ferdinand’s baby sister, Emilie, died  in the family village. Then 15 days later, Ferdinand died 50 km away. Back where Ferdinand left to escape the Polish-Soviet War, his oldest-known child, my great-great-grandmother Marie, died less than 2 months later.

The search to find even more records on this family to expand this story continues, with hopes of finding living descendants of Ferdinand’s nieces and nephews.

It has taken me 8 years to get to this point. So many times patience and determination have been paid back well beyond my imagination. Here is to more waiting and hoping!

Related posts:

One detail completely changes the story of great-great-great-grandpa’s life
The mystery of a great-great-grand aunt gets solved (reconnection with family of Ferdinand’s daughter, Martha)
Reuniting of two families after 115 years teaches important life lessons (reunion with Martha’s descendants)

One detail completely changes the story of great-great-great-grandpa’s life

I thought the life of my great-great-great-grandfather Ferdinand Oswald Bleschke was completely researched. Obtaining his death record was on the side burner because I assumed it couldn’t offer anything new.

I was in for quite a surprise when I found the record on Ancestry.com’s new database,  Eastern Prussian Provinces, Germany [Poland], Selected Civil Vitals, 1874-1945.

In his 80s, my great-great-great-grandfather moved to Schwerin an der Warth, Germany (now Skwierzyna, western Poland) from Bialystok, Russian Poland (now eastern Poland). The death record didn’t make sense but it had the correct first and last name, age and birthplace.

My great-great-great-great-grandfather’s death place was partially correct. My distant cousin told me he died in Schwerin, Germany, not  Schwerin an der Warth. I assumed that he moved in with a grown child living in current-day Germany after his wife died in 1918.

That was far from the truth. I posted on genealogy groups on Facebook, asking about why would such an older man move so far away in his 80s. It turns out that I never bothered to look at the history of Bialystok at the time.

The city was in the middle of the Polish-Soviet War, a war I never heard of until now. The pain that my great-great-great-grandfather must have felt from this experience.

He recently lost his wife of 60 years in 1918. He had to leave the area and never be able to visit his wife’s grave ever again. My great-great-great-grandfather came to the area in the late 1860s with three young children to work in the growing cloth-making industry in the Bialystok area.

He had to leave behind his home, his church and his neighbors and see his large family scatter and separate from each other.

I wasn’t surprised where my great-great-great grandfather chose or was sent to live. Schwerin an der Warth was only 50 kilometers north of where he was born in 1834.

So many questions are still unanswered. Did he choose the location of Schwerin an der Warth? Did he move to Schwerin an der Warth with family from Bialystok? Did he know any family living in the town?

The research continues on these answers. Archives in Skwierzyna doesn’t have any records on my great-great-great-grandfather. The records possibly were given to German State Archives in Leipzig so I am waiting for an answer from the archives.

No matter where ancestors are being researched, this story shows every detail needs to be fully researched and documented to learn their complete stories. We all assume we know so much but surprise, surprise life is full of surprises no matter which time period is being researched.

Here are five tips to avoid my mistake and get the full story of your relatives and ancestors:

  1. Get and review all details of every possible document.
  2. When something is out-of-place or seems unusual, start asking questions. Did a fire destroy the factory where they worked? Did a drought put an end to a family farming business? Did a war force them to move? Did they move due to a backlash against their ethnicity or religion?
  3. What historical and political events were occurring where they lived and around them?
  4. Document who lived with your relatives and nearby neighbors with the same last name whenever possible.
  5.  And most importantly assume nothing. Ask who, what, when, where and why questions until they are answered.

An incredible surprise of rediscovered old photos brings alive the family tree

I just was thinking about contacting my cousin from my great-grandfather’s brother’s family to see whether they have any more old family photos. They already shared some old photos, family letters and documents over the past seven years.

I am so grateful to find the family. They really found me on a genealogy forum. I didn’t want to bother them one more time to ask if they have any more photos. I have been so grateful for everything I have received over the years.

Then by luck my cousin from Moscow, Russia,  e-mailed me Friday that her sister found some old photos of my grandmother’s family. I hadn’t thought there could be any more photos because our families haven’t seen each other since the 1930s.

Then I saw the photos my cousin uploaded to Google Photos. I already have three of the photos, one of which I got from that cousin a few years ago. But I hit the jackpot in photos once again.

My cousin’s sister has a photo our great-great-grandfather with my great-grandmother and four of my grandmother’s brothers and another close up shot of my great-grandmother with three sons from the early 1900s. The woman or girl standing behind my great-grandmother is a mystery, along with the photo’s location.

My Russian cousins have given me more old photos of my grandmother’s family than I have found in my own family’s possessions. My grandmother had five brothers but I only have a handful of pre-World War II photos of the family.

Only one brother of my grandmother moved to the USA and had a child. Another two came to the USA but didn’t have children. The other two brothers immigrated to Germany and Argentina.

The kids in these photos were born between 1891-1899.  By the time I got my hands on the family photos from my grandmother’s apartment in 2006, I can imagine or don’t want to imagine how many old photos were thrown out.

Only one child is alive of the six children from this family. She didn’t have any old family photos. I had to send her photos of her great-grandfather and grandfather because she wasn’t lucky enough to have old photos.

Too many people fight over pieces of furniture, china sets and jewelry from their relatives when the priceless possessions are the photos. These photos bring to life  the people in family trees.

One day, those precious pieces of furniture will crumble, the china will break and the jewelry will lose its luster. Only photos can keep forever moments from long ago alive.

Related posts:
A journey to a family village teaches the importance of returning to the homeland
Eight years of patience brings dreams of a family reunion to reality
Great-grandpa thought his secrets would never see the light of day
DNA testing finally proves its value in finding 16th century documents


Unknown immigrant database completes family story of escape from WWII

Many of my relatives can tell me the story of how one brother of my grandmother got separated from his four brothers and a sister as they boarded trains during WWII.

The families got on any train that had breathing room but Grand Uncle Dimitri was the only one to not make it to Austria. He, his wife and four sons arrived in Italy.

Grand Uncle Dimitri told my family, who later escaped to the USA, that he spared his family from being repatriated to the USSR by crawling under the fence of a monastery to be converted as a Catholic. That would be a great story to confirm with documents.

But I only can confirm how he managed to arrive in Argentina from Italy, thanks to the unknown database Buscador. None of the subscription genealogy websites were of any help, even after searching different variations of  his last name.

I learned  from Buscador that Grand Uncle Dimitri departed from Genova, Italy, on the ship Sestriere and arrived in warmer Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 19, 1948. He described himself as a mechanic.

I know without a doubt this is my grand uncle because his age, first and last name and port of arrival are correct. The only incorrect information is that his last place of residence in Russia is listed as his birthplace. He is listed as Russian, even though he was born in Ukraine. His family had a long history in Russia.

This gem of a database has so many immigrants from throughout the world. It’s worth checking just for the curiosity on those brickwalls in the family tree. The best part is that it doesn’t require registration. Getting busy with searching is instant as clicking on buscar (search).

Here’s a sample of how results will appear:

The database from Center for Latin American Migration Studies is in Spanish. So here are English translations to make using the database smoother: apellido (last name); nombre (first name); edad (age); estado civil (marital status); nacionalidad (nationality); lugar de nacimiento (place of birth); profesión (profession); fecha de arribo (arrival date);  barco (passenger ship); puerto (port of departure), anterior (previous), siguiente (next) and nueva búsqueda (new search).

This database is worthwhile for anyone researching relatives who relocated from Europe, especially as World War II refugees. South America wasn’t damaged in World War II so it was the perfect place for refugees to find a safe and new home. So many refugees were already immigrating to the USA, Canada and Australia.

I found in my grandmother’s documents that my Ukrainian maternal grandfather unsuccessfully attempted to immigrate his family to Argentina. He waited awhile and got permission to immigrate to the USA, instead.

If relatives can’t be found in the South American database, check out these ship passenger lists from Australian archives for refugees of World War II.

Also check out, newly updated Free Databases.

Related posts:
Quiz: Can you guess how former USSR immigrants changed their names?
Best tips on uncovering U.S. documents on mysterious Soviet Union relatives


A shocking sign that some people in the former USSR aren’t scared anymore

I have wondered for years when will people in the former USSR stop being scared of talking openly about life under communism. I have read several books of people talking about the repression their families faced but they hide their identities or withhold their last names.

The latest development on this topic is beyond shocking and something I never imagined would ever happen in the former USSR.

Memorial, the Russian-based organization that researches the atrocities of Soviet times, is pounding in signs on houses in Russia and Ukraine that announce residents who faced death for fake crimes during the Soviet Era. This is the choice of relatives who aren’t afraid to speak up about the family secrets.

I have relatives from Russia in their 40s who were upset that I talked about a relative who was killed during the communist era over e-mail. The idea of someone nailing down plaques and announcing former residents of a particular house died from communist persecution is a bit shocking.

I can imagine elderly neighbors seeing these plaques, gasping at the sight of these plaques and muttering, “What the hell are they thinking? Keep these matters within the family, not within the community and for everyone who walks by.”

This project, started in March 2017, already has had about 40 signs put on homes. It doesn’t look like much but this is a sign of change in the former USSR. (Watch this project grow each month here. Copy and paste text into Google Translate if you don’t know Russian.)

Researchers disagree about how many people died from persecution in Soviet times but about 2.5 million persecution deaths have been documented during Stalin’s reign, according to this Wikipedia article.

These signs that show people aren’t afraid to speak openly about their family’s persecutions could lead to larger online databases on the repressed and more people posting online about their family’s secrets. Finding long-lost family could become easier soon as people talk more about their “secret” relatives.

Too many people who have relatives from the former Soviet Union know how hard it is to have their family talk about life in the former homeland. More information will be coming as the fear of talking about the past decreases in the former USSR.

Memorial has already posted an online database of people from the former USSR who were persecuted during Soviet times here. The database can be searched here.  (Use this website to translate names into Russian.)

The organization is working on a database of USSR citizens who were forced labors of Germany during WWII. I can’t imagine the closure so many people will have when this information is revealed, giving them a new understanding as to why some relatives want to keep the past secret. (Follow this blog with the top black right button to learn when the database is available.)

Related posts:

Secret files help complete the life story of five brothers

Doors are open on “secret files”

Database reveals names of secret agents for the Soviet Great Terror

Best tips on uncovering U.S. documents on mysterious Soviet Union relatives


An inside look into a FBI investigation of a Soviet immigrant

Many people who have relatives who escaped the USSR know the feeling of having closed-off relatives. Making them talk about their lives in the USSR and how they managed to escape the USSR is a conversation that goes nowhere.

After getting my hands on a FBI file on a Soviet immigrant who came to the USA after WWII, I have a better understanding of why some Soviet immigrants are so reclusive.

A friend of mine, who left Russia for Ukraine, asked me to find information on his Ukrainian great-grandfather. I obtained his great-grandfather’s Alien File (see below for more information) from the U.S. Department of Citizen and Immigration Services. For some reason, several pages were blank and stamped with CONFIDENTIAL.

That got my curiosity peaked. I appealed the USCIS’ decision to deny me access to the pages by sending an appeal in the form of a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI. (My personal file at the FBI must be growing from my curiosity.)

A few weeks later, an envelope from the FBI came in the mail. The “secrets” of a man I’ll call Vladimir Ivanov were revealed.

He got the attention of the FBI for visiting the Soviet Mission to the United Nations in New York City. In simple terms, Vladimir visited the office representing the Soviet Union for the United Nations.

Like in the movies, they detailed in the FBI file Vladimir’s appearance from his hair to clothes. Obviously, a FBI agent was watching who was visiting this office. The report goes on “Upon departing the SMUN this unknown male boarded an IRT subway train and repeatedly asked directions of other individuals in the car. He was observed to speak in a heavy accent and on one occasion was overheard to advise another subway passenger that he was from Lithuania.”

I can imagine a FBI agent in a trench coat, sitting in the subway train with his newspaper covering his face. Then the agent followed Vladimir onto a bus to Patterson, N.J., where Vladimir visited Manpower to look for temp jobs. The agent gets a Manpower employee to reveal his identity and activities as an employee.

The FBI agent contacts the Immigration and Naturalization Service to learn more about Vladimir’s immigration process and life in the USA and then a bank for his credit records, which didn’t exist. The final stop was the Patterson Police Department to check for any criminal activity. Vladimir only had paid a $100 fine for drunkenness.

Even though there isn’t any evidence that he could be a Soviet spy, the investigation runs from February to June 1966, all because he visited that office.

All of this makes me wonder about how many Soviet immigrants were investigated and documented by the FBI. The fear of Soviet immigrants must have spread from FBI agents doing these investigations.

Soviet immigrants came to this country for freedom and a better life, but who was being watched as if they were still in the Soviet Union? Only the FBI knows.

Related posts:
Guide for success in obtaining Alien Case Files

Meet your friendly Soviet repatriation officer

60 years later, a family story starts to come together