Untraditional source reveals the death of a great-grandfather

I don’t give up easily to find records in archives. The known facts are checked several times before I send a researcher to search through records.

That wasn’t enough when a researcher looked in two areas of an archive for my great-grandfather’s death record. The joke was on us because someone else managed to find the record more than 15 years ago.

A man was so intrigued by the city where my great-grandfather lived in southern Russia that he wrote a book about people who lived on or near the main street.

Thanks to this book by Oleg Pavlovich Gavryushkin, I know my great-grandfather died of heart failure and had his funeral service in 1912 at the Assumption Cathedral in Taganrog, where archives had a record of my grandmother being christened 10 years earlier.

That book was published 15 years ago but the author died 10 years ago, a day after my first son was born. I was a bit too late to thank the author for his book and ask where he got his information.

Sadly, the church doesn’t stand anymore, thanks to the communist government that pillaged the valuables and later knocked down the church for a public restroom that no longer exists.

 Source: Wikipedia

Thankfully the history of this church is well-known, with the work of historian Pavel Petrovich Filevsky. It helps fill in the emptiness of not finding the death record in archives.

The history gives me more appreciation of the family church, where famous Russian author Anton Chekhov also was christened. The future Czar Nikolai II , Czar Alexander II and Czar Alexander III also visited this church.

This was a church of note and my family walked the same place as three czars and the family of Anton Chekhov, whose parents married in the church.

A further look into the book by Gavryushkin gave me an even fuller picture of the city that my father’s four grandparents picked as their final residence.

The same street as my great-grandparents lived was the locations for the last palace of Czar Alexander I and house of Russian composer Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s brother that was visited by the composer.

Now that I know this, I wish I had a chance to ask my father about how much he knew about the history and culture that surrounded him in Taganrog. Just like my grandmother, my own father died close to my 10th birthday.

A search for my great-grandfather’s death record didn’t result in finding the document but showed me the better and more important story that surrounded his life.

Related posts:
Old address book online breaks down brickwall on a family photo
A shocking surprise was waiting to be discovered for 6 years
Journey to find one record breaks down a brickwall on 3rd great-grandfather’s family
One detail completely changes the story of great-great-great-grandpa’s life


Amazing family reunion was hiding among e-mail messages

Over the years, I have been lucky on genealogy forums to find connections with people who have the same surnames from my family villages. Quite the surprise came two months ago in my e-mail but I didn’t realize it until recently.

A woman contacted me about her great-great-grandfather’s family from the village of my great-grandfather. She told me about the children of her great-great-grandfather, who had 19 children but only 8 children lived past infancy.

Her great-great-grandfather and my 5th great-grandmother had the same surname from the same village in central Russia. The great-grandfather’s name seemed so familiar as I have heard it before.

I searched my e-mail for messages with that name and an interesting connection appeared. Another woman who is researching the same great-great-grandfather contacted me two years ago.

I stopped writing to the other woman because our information didn’t connect our family trees. The woman promised to contact me if she found any new information.

It was quite a surprise to learn that these two women didn’t know each other. Apparently, family reunions come in the form of randomly sent e-mail messages.

But a connection was there two generations ago, as I learned from the woman who originally contacted me two years ago. I shared with her the information from the woman who e-mailed me two months ago.

Their grandmothers were close friends in my great-grandfather’s village but the following generations didn’t have an interest in keeping the connection alive.

That was until these two women e-mailed me. I e-mailed  both women whether they wanted to contact each other. Both are thrilled to reignite the connection their grandmothers had years ago.

These women are most likely my distant cousins. My great-grandmother whose great-great-grandmother had the same maiden name as their great-great-grandfather.

It is going to take some research to connect our family trees because a challenge lies ahead. The family was Old Believers and not as many documents exist in archives as the people who were Russian Orthodox.

Thanks to these women finding me on the largest Russian-language genealogy forum, there could be a second reconnection in this family. These two women may be gaining me as a distant cousin.

It took a stranger to reconnect them. Now, let’s hope documents still exist to confirm me as their cousin.

Related posts:
Search for grandma’s childhood home reveals family secrets
Message left in a family painting solves a family mystery
A shocking surprise was waiting to be discovered for 6 years
Old address book online breaks down brickwall on a family photo

A broken promise gives inspiration to document an immigrant cemetery

It hit me hard when my mother’s cousin died in Kyiv  three years ago. I had promised to save my money to visit her but that plan didn’t work out.

Then, I got annoyed with myself that I spent so much time photographing the English language cemeteries in Pennsylvania for Find A Grave when I knew so many Russian cemeteries needed some attention.

So today I can finally say that I have put my Russian language skills to use to the benefit of the Russian-speaking community. Back in late April, I got into my car and drove 7 hours to Holy Trinity Monastery’s cemetery in Jordanville.

I was never so excited to see a hotel room. The drive must have passed through about every city of New York, other than Albany and New York City, to get to this cemetery. Below the hilltop where this cemetery stands is the monastery where my uncle served as a priest when I was very young.

I am very proud to have a mother born in Ukraine and father in Russia but I know my deceased family wouldn’t be thrilled that I haven’t tried to become more fluent in Russian.

My family tried to get me to learn fluent Russian by sending me to Holy Virgin Protection Church’s school in Nyack, New York, on Saturdays and Otrada Russian summer camp in Spring Valley, New York. I barely made it out of kindergarten and was stuck in first grade at Russian school for a while. At Russian camp, I had to stand in the middle of the dormitory during recess for speaking in English. I couldn’t speak Russian like the other kids.

So documenting a Russian Orthodox cemetery for Find A Grave has been my redemption for my failure to learn fluent Russian. At least, I can read and understand enough to translate gravestones for those researching their Russian Empire ancestors and relatives.

Thanks to a Russian keyboard website and Google Translate, anything I can’t understand is switched to English very easily.

I also have been lucky with the friendship of  Dimitri Salopoff, a Russian living in the USA, to help me when I can’t see information on markers and gravestones well. He has been a great cheerleader in my journey to document Russian Orthodox cemeteries for Find A Grave.

Dimitri saved the last portion of this project by finding a list of people buried at Holy Trinity online. About 200 of the 1,700 crosses and gravestones had some aging that made it challenging for indexing. The list in Russian made it a breeze to finish the project.

Sadly, not everyone who is buried at the cemetery isn’t on the Find A Grave page for Holy Trinity. Several crosses and gravestones have completely faded information. Others have prickly and overgrown bushes blocking their plots.

My goal is to correct this situation if the monastery chooses to help me. The cemetery is filled with determined dreamers, Russian nobility and Holy Trinity staff. Remembering their courage to come to America is what these people deserve.

I hope to announce completion of an another large Russian Orthodox cemetery later this year. Follow this blog on the top right to follow that news.

Related posts:
The User-Friendly Guide to Find A Grave for Russian and Ukrainian Genealogy
Old electrical tower leads the way to family graves
An unreal surprise on my birthday
Don’t blink in a cemetery
Going back to my Russian-American roots 30 years later just heartbreaking

Old address book online breaks down brickwall on a family photo

A family photo has been a mystery for years. It is known that my great-grandfather is standing in the center among his workers but where was his business located?

I have asked this question to cousins of my mother’s generation. No one could answer this question.

It took a stranger on a forum to help me answer this question. I asked for help on the largest Russian-speaking genealogy forum and my question was finally answered in two days.

Thanks to the address directory of Kiev from 1913, the mystery is solved- 91 Sovskaya Street.

Sadly, the address no longer exists but the street still stands. It is amazing that the some houses still look similar to when the photo was taken 105 years ago.

All I knew is that my great-grandfather had a successful construction business that employed about 100 men in Kiev. The name of the business is still a mystery.

There are rumors that my great-grandfather worked with a famous architect in Kiev but that has yet to be proven. My grandfather told his family that Joseph Stalin requested that my great-grandfather make him a statue. That’s another story that I can’t confirm yet.

Thanks to knowing that the eldest sister of my grandfather was born in Kiev in 1905, I know an estimate of when my great-grandparents left Kursk Region, Russia. They married, had their first child and lost him in Kursk Region by 1904.

It is a shame that census records don’t exist for the early 20th century for Kiev. That’s why the old address books of Kiev can be gems of information.

They are online here on a Ukrainian website. Simply paste Весь Киев in the box next to Ключові слова, click on the second selection next to налаштування and press return to see all the old Kiev address books.

It has taken me several years to get used to searching keywords in Russian documents. Doing research this way hasn’t been easy and so much time passed when nothing useful was found.

The sad reality is that the best online genealogy information and help for Ukrainian genealogy is in Russian or Ukrainian. Too many people want to know about their ancestors but don’t even try the online translation tools such as Google Translate nor learn basic Ukrainian or Russian.

I was once one of those stubborn people even with knowing some basic Russian from my childhood. After I gave in to trying out the Russian and Ukrainian websites, I’ve had success after success.

That’s what it takes to get past the basic facts of our Russian Empire ancestors and bring their lives back into full color.

Related posts:
The cure for fearing Russian-language genealogy websites to make breakthroughs
Guide to Using the Best & Largest Russian Language Genealogy Forum (with a English video guide)
Secrets of searching the Internet in Russian and Ukrainian like a native speaker
Guide to finding family in Ukraine like a native expert

Millions of records added to WWII database

World War II ended 73 years ago and the Russian government is making sure the war stays fresh in people’s minds. That comes at a great advantage for those researching their relatives who served in the Soviet Army.

The latest update to Memory of the People adds 18 million service records, 1.3  million award records and 900,000 killed in action records to the database that has grown to about 70 million records.

To easily work through the website, here are some translations: фамилия: last name; имя: first name; отчество: patronymic name (middle name from the father, i.e. Ivanovich); год рождения: birth year; and воинское звание: military rank.

To view the search page in English, use this link. (Click on specify if the search boxes don’t appear.) The keywords still need to be in Russian. Keywords can translated from English to Russian by using Google Translate or Transliterating English to Russian in One Step.

Here’s a look at the search page:

This may seem like a lot of work but it will be a very long time before this information is posted in English, due to the politics and work involved.

This database allows researchers to avoid searching for the Russian military archives website, writing to the archives for information and waiting weeks for a response that will read that the information is posted free online.

Russian Military Archives provides a guide to this database in English here. The entire website can be used viewed in English through Google Translate, using this link.

For those ready to search this incredible database, here are some tips for more successful results.

  1. Open a Microsoft Word or text document for copying and pasting results. It is best to save the results somewhere so the search doesn’t have to be redone. Also, keep a list of people, surnames and villages/towns searched in a document.
  2. Start searching with all known information here. (Click on specify if the search boxes don’t appear.)
  3. If results don’t appear or good matches aren’t found, slowly eliminate keywords until more results appear.
  4. Copy and paste the results into Google Translate to see them in English.
  5. In case typos have occurred, it is recommended to search solely by village or town. Copy and paste the Russian translated village or town name into the place of birth search box to view everyone who is included in the database from that town or village.
  6. Keep a close eye on the results because names of places duplicate throughout the former USSR. You’ll need to know the neighborhood (rayon) and region (oblast) where your relatives lived.

Remember to keep trying. The joy of finding information in Russian databases is amazing. So much can be learned when facing challenges, even if it’s just the challenge of the Russian language.

Follow this blog by clicking on the top right button for more news on databases and other resources.

Check out more free databases here. The free information doesn’t end here.

Great-grandpa marks history with his love of making explosives

It wasn’t a secret in my family that my great-grandpa loved to work with explosives. He was the joke of the family at holiday gatherings.

Sadly, I don’t know much about my great-grandfather’s life as a child. But I know in college, he became a rebel. Great-grandpa was building bombs in an apartment during his college days to help the People’s Will Movement to kill government officials and the Russian Czar Alexander II to make reforms.

Luckily, I only have found documentation that my great-grandpa’s bombs damaged a tree in Kharkov, Ukraine, and a government building. He got arrested and thrown in a tower, no joke. Great-grandpa sat in a cell in the Peter and Paul Tower in St. Petersburg for 4 months by orders of Czar Alexander III.

He eventually got married but his obsession with explosives didn’t end there. My  great-grandfather started a business for making explosives that were believed to be used for mining in 1899 while Czar Nicholas II (grandson of Alexander II) was reigning.

I don’t understand why the Russian government didn’t stop him from operating an explosives business and was encouraging him by approving his three explosive patents.

The story of his life got more interesting when I researched the location of the laboratory where my great-grandpa made his explosives. He opened his laboratory  in a datcha in the countryside of southern Russian city, Taganrog.

The property was previously occupied by Nestor Vasilievich Kukolnik, a famous Russian writer who taught the future Czar Nikolai I. Kukolnik also was a godson of Czar Alexander I.

 (The only available photo of the Kukolnik estate, uncovered by Ludmila Nikolaevna Mironova.)

Kukolnik probably has himself to thank for bringing a man who was involved in a movement to kill his godfather’s nephew to come to Taganrog. Kukolnik helped convince Czar Nicholas II to build the Azov Railway that started in Kharkov  (now eastern Ukraine) and ended in Taganrog.

My great-grandparents married in Kharkov (yes, where his bombs were used in an attack on the government) and stayed several years in the Lugansk area before they most likely hopped onto an Azov Railway train.

My great-grandfather’s business didn’t just have a laboratory. It had warehouses, too. The locations of these warehouses make me wonder about what great-grandpa’s explosives would have been used for if he hadn’t shut down the business in 1908, 9 years before the Russian Revolution.

The warehouses were located in Ekaterinburg (where Czar Nicholas II and his family were killed), Tiflis (capital of the Republic of Georgia),  Irkutsk in Siberia (where the October Revolution was very violent) and less notable Novorossiysk in Krasnodar Krai.

Sadly, my great-grandfather died in 1912 but his oldest son reopened the business in 1914 when he was just 23-year-old. So many questions remain unanswered about what my grand uncle was doing with his father’s explosives.

It all started with finding the patent documents tucked away at grandma’s apartment. The story is more interesting than the mad scientist talk at holiday gatherings and will continue with some luck at archives.

Related posts:
Great-grandpa’s arrest record helps breakdown a brickwall

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

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

Free database reveals information on Russian Imperial Army officers

Finding information on men who served in the Russian Imperial Army can be more than challenging. So many details are needed to search in Russian military archives.

A database has changed that search into an easy process. Information on more than 44,000 men who served in the Russian Imperial Army, also known as the czar’s army, Cossacks or White Army, during 1900-1917 can be found here.

Not only is the information on the men’s service available, more than 22,000 photos of these men are posted on the website. That is in addition to more than 58,000 scanned military documents.

I know a lot of people are going to run or be intimidated when I mention the website is only in Russian. This information will not be found on any subscription genealogy website but it is possible to be seen in English with Google Translate.

Here’s the website translated into English. It is well-worth checking out.

Here’s a sample of information found on a Russian Imperial officer:

For those who aren’t familiar with Russian, here’s how to use the website with ease.

  1. Translate names into Russian with Google Translate or Transliterating English to Russian in One Step.
  2. Copy and paste the text into the top center search box below Поиск here.
  3. Once the results appear, copy and paste them into Google Translate.
  4. Then you’ll see which links and images could be matches for your relatives.
  5. Remember to copy and paste the links where information is found and complete information in Russian and English into text or Word documents.

The website also can be viewed through Google Translate but the search abilities don’t work with Google Translate. Click on this link to view the website in English.

The next step after finding information is using the important Russian keywords on Google or other search engines. The free information doesn’t stop here.

The effort that is taken to research your ancestors is up to you and the results could be well beyond your imagination with the right type of effort.

Related posts:
Secrets of searching the Internet in Russian and Ukrainian like a native speaker
Discovering Don Cossack ancestry the easy way
Don’t forget to check out the Free Databases page to search more online records and follow this blog for more information on great online resources.