Grandmother leaves behind a foundation for uncovering Baltic German roots

Vladislav Dominyak made one visit to archives and it sent him on an adventure that he had not planned.

He learned that Latvian archives placed birth records online after visiting the archives in Riga. Boom, there came the genealogy bug for the Russian man from Saint Petersburg.

“This defined my electronic habitat for the next year,” he says. “It is interesting that the awareness and structuring of information occurs in a spiral. As new information appears, I return to the already familiar photographs, compare people, places, etc.”

He takes advantage of his skills from his job, teacher of psychology at St. Petersburg State University, to study his family tree.

So far, he has 743 people in his family tree, dating back to 1722. Thanks to his grandmother with Baltic German ancestry, Vladislav, 48, had a great foundation to create his family tree for the past five years.

His grandmother kept the family documents highly organized, not knowing her grandson would one day create the family tree from her collection.

“The archive turned out to be very impressive: photos, metrics, letters, notes, diaries, even apartment bills,” Vladislav says.

He is enthusiastic about his genealogy hobby, but not his family.

“Mom is pretty skeptical. Father is positive, but without much interest,” Vladislav says. “When I start talking about what I have learned about one of my relatives, he quickly begins to get bored. But the closer the relatives, the more interest.”

He has met other people who share his excitement for genealogy but he has become accustomed to a certain reaction to his hobby.

“When people find out that I am engaged in genealogy, the most common response is a restrained, detached, respectful reaction: ‘Oh, yes, this is interesting.’ But there is usually no real interest,” Vladislav says.

As a child, he doesn’t remember people studying the family tree as a hobby. Relatives talked about family legends but that was it, Vladislav says.

His family’s focus is on yachting.  Vladislav prefers water-based tourism and kayaking.

Vladislav’s great-grandfather, Nikolai Alekseevich Podgornov, was a participant of the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. His crew on the Norman yacht didn’t taken any prizes. Vladislav found information on his great-grandfather’s participation in the Olympics from an online search.

The interest in yachting continued onto his grandparents’ generation. His maternal grandmother Olga Nikolaevna Simakova (Podgornova) was a master of sailing and Vladislav believes she was possibly the first female captain of a small yacht team in the former USSR. Her husband and Vladislav’s grandfather took boating to a professional level as a sea captain.

Grandma Olga

Meanwhile, his paternal grandma Karina Ivanovna Nelius, daughter of a bank clerk, worked as an artist who was a student of noted artist Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin. She married a graphic artist.

Karina’s work is displayed at Museum of Art of St. Petersburg. See her work here.

Grandma Karina

Vladislav knows the most about his Baltic German ancestry from Latvia. His ancestors lived in Valmiera, Gazenpot, in addition to Riga, and arrived in St. Petersburg in 1904. He has discovered a paternal great-great-grandmother from Lisice in western Poland and learned of Polish ancestry from his mother’s family.

“Knowing who the ancestors were makes you feel better. I have someone to be proud of,” Vladislav says. “There is someone to look up to…By the way, the more I learn about my relatives, the more alive they seem to me.”

Follow this blog with the top right button to catch the next post in the series that brings light to how people from Russia and Ukraine study genealogy.

Previous posts from the Bending Curtain series:
Years of patience leads to an accumulation of discoveries
Ukrainian native inspired to research family after discovery of “American” ancestor
Keeping alive some notable ancestors in a Russian family tree
Coming back to Ukrainian roots through genealogy
Introducing “Bending Curtain: A Changing Tide in Genealogy in the Former USSR”

Russian State Public Historical Library offers amazing free genealogy document scans

A lot more Russian genealogy documents are sitting online waiting to be discovered than can be imagined.

Russian State Public Historical Library, the country’s largest scientific library specialized in history, keeps busy by posting scanned old books and booklets that can’t be found easily elsewhere. The website doesn’t involve any fees or registration and offers simple downloading.

The historical library has more than 200 genealogical and biological references on topics ranging from coats of arms to lists of mischief people expelled from Moscow here. I have listed below more than 35 books/booklets that would have the most interest.

Here is a link to a Zoom video that simply explains using the historical library website.

Most of the below books/booklets are listing people in alphabetical order.

Here is the order of the Russian alphabet:

А Б В Г Д Е Ё Ж З И Й К Л М Н О П Р С Т У Ф Х Ц Ч Ш Щ Э Ю Я

Before panicking and closing this page, have your family surnames translated from English to Russian on Google Translate or here. Having the names in Russian is half the effort involved with using these books/booklets.

The next important step is downloading Google Translate browser app or any other similar app onto your desktop or laptop computer. The app will automatically put Russian State Public Historical Library’s website into English.

The last half of the effort involved is lots of clicking and comparing your Russian surnames to the text in front of you. Once you make it to a page with the starting letter of your surnames, it will be lots comparing to see if any information exists on your ancestors or relatives.

Here’s an example how the website looks like before becoming too intimidated by a Russian website:

Once you find your family surnames in these books/booklets for the first time even if it is nothing about your family, your confidence with Russian documents will boom. I promise.

Don’t panic if you are not sure whether you found anything of importance. Facebook is loaded with friendly genealogy enthusiasts to help with translations of your downloads.

Below these links are more important guides for Russian and Ukrainian genealogy. Remember to follow this blog with the top right button to catch more posts on free resources in Russian and Ukrainian genealogy.

Nobility:

Pedigree book of princes and noblemen of Russia and abroad. printed 1787

List of noblemen of the Kingdom of Poland, with a summary of the evidence of the nobility; Appendix II to the list of nobles of the Kingdom of Poland (in Polish) printed 1851

Yearbook of the Russian nobility (in French) printed 1899

An alphabetical index of persons who were granted privileges in 1901 printed 1901

A list of titled families and persons of the Russian Empire from 1894 to 1908 printed 1908

Genealogical information about Russian noblemen and noble families descended from extramarital unions printed 1915

Nobility by region:

An alphabetical list of the noble families of the Bessarabian province, included in the noble genealogy book printed 1901 (now Moldovia)

Alphabetical index of the noble families of the Kostroma province, included in the genealogy book, divided into six parts, from 1790 to 1899 printed 1900

Alphabetical list of noble families included in the genealogy of noble books of Mogilev province printed  1908 (now Belarus)

Moscow nobility: an alphabetical list of noble families with a brief indication of the most important documents in the genealogical files of the Archive of the Moscow noble deputy assembly printed 1910

List of noble families included in the genealogy book of the Penza province. printed 1900.

List of noble families of the Sedletsk province printed 1910 (now Poland)

The nobility of the Tula province. – Tula, 1899-1916. printed 1916

Coats of Arms:

The general coat of arms of the noble families of the All-Russian Empire, begun in 1797 printed 1836

The coat of arms of the noble families of the Kingdom of Poland, the highest approved (in Russian and Polish) printed 1853

Coats of arms of Little Russian noble families printed 1892

Merchants: 

An alphabetical index of the names and firms of merchants, industrialists. printed 1899

Kazan merchant assembly. List of honorary and full members of the Kazan merchant assembly for 1914/Kazan merchant assembly printed 1914

Reference book about the persons of the Petrograd merchants and other ranks, joint-stock and share companies and trading houses, who received from November 1, 1915 to January 1, 1916 class certificates for the 1st and 2nd guilds, trade certificates of 1 and 2 categories for commercial enterprises, 1-5 grades for industrial enterprises, 2 and 3 grades for personal fishing activities. printed 1916

Persecution:

Alphabetical list of persons expelled from Moscow by order of his Excellency Mr. Moscow military governor-general, from August 11, 1848 to January 1, 1853 printed 1853

Alphabetical list of political criminals, deprived of the rights of state by court, whose property is subject to confiscation to the treasury, until October 1, 1864  printed 1865

Alphabetical index to books and pamphlets, as well as numbers of timed editions, the arrest of which was approved by court orders on April 15, 1914 printed 1915

Political Persecution:

Named and systematic index [to the historical-revolutionary bulletin “Hard labor and exile” for 1921-1925. printed 1928

Named and systematic index to the historical-revolutionary bulletin “Hard labor and exile” for 1926-1928. printed 1930

Political penal servitude and exile: biographical directory of members of the Society of Political Prisoners and Exiled Settlers printed 1929

Name index to the historical-revolutionary bulletin “Hard labor and exile” for 1929-1930. printed 1932

Political penal servitude and exile: biographical directory of members of the Society of Political Prisoners and Exiled Settlers. printed 1934

Military:

List of lieutenant colonels by seniority for Russian Imperial Army [1838, 1840, 1843-1844, 1848, 1842, 1855-1857, 1859, 1861-1881, 1883-1914]  Information about the passage of service, awards, and since 1887 – year of birth, religion, marital status, education. 

Alphabetical list of settlements in the Don Cossack Region. printed 1915.

Civil War:

Red heroes: a list of participants in the Civil War, awarded the Order of the Red Banner. printed 1920

A personal list of casualties at the front in the personnel of the workers ‘and peasants’ Red Army during the civil war. printed 1926

World War I

The second list of the killed, wounded, missing lower ranks of this war. printed 1915

Named list of wounded and sick soldiers in hospitals and infirmaries. – Pg., 1915-1916. printed 1916

Lists of Russian prisoners of war delivered from Germany. printed 1917

List of Russian subjects caught in the war abroad. printed 1914

List of addresses of refugees. printed 1916

List of Refugees Wanted by American Migrants printed 1916

Related posts:

An inside look at three generations of DNA matching to Russian and Ukrainian cousins

The new lifestyle of staying at home as much as possible is perfect for taking a second look at DNA matches. My DNA journey started almost 10 years ago and thankfully, so many close relatives and cousins have agreed to test.

This gives a great opportunity to share information from my DNA matches on Family Tree DNA that could help others figure out those not so strong matches.

Father’s mother’s family

My cousin Sveta’s family in Moscow has gotten into DNA by testing several relatives, helping give insight for DNA matching. She is my third cousin, whose great-grandfather was brother to my great-grandfather.

My father’s first cousin Eugenia, myself and I match to her. As you can see in the first image, I am the strongest match to her at 94 cms (total DNA strands). My son  only matches her at 79 cms.

Eugenia is a weaker match to my third cousin, whose great-grandfather was brother to Eugenia’s grandfather. She only shares 58 cms with Sveta.

Ten relatives of Sveta’s family have tested on Family Tree DNA. Eugenia matches closer with Sveta’s sister, 75 cms. Then, a little closer with Sveta’s two first cousins, 81 cms and 83 cms.

Children of Sveta’s first cousins also tested. Eugenia matches 65 cms and 31 cms with two of Sveta’s first cousin’s children.

When the DNA matching was moved up to Sveta’s mother, granddaughter of my great-grandfather’s brother, the shared DNA became interesting.

I matched the mother at 116 cms, Eugenia matched her at 124 cms and my son at 103 cms. The amount of DNA I shared with Sveta’s mother was about the same as Eugenia even though we are a generation apart.

Mother’s father’s family

Now, we move onto my second cousin, Tatiana, from my grandfather’s family in Kyiv, Ukraine. Our grandparents were siblings.

My mother is her strongest match at 442 cms. Her youngest sibling is pretty close at 426 cms. The family’s middle child is sharing DNA at 376 cms.

My shared DNA with Tatiana is close to my uncle at 300 cms but my son’s match to Tatiana drops much lower to 95 cms.

Mother’s mother’s family

On to my grandmother’s family through her niece, my first cousin once removed, Irina, in Smolensk, Russia. Her niece’s grandmother’s is my great-grandmother.

My aunt shares the most DNA with Irina at 921 cms. My mom only shares 796 cms with Irina. The family’s middle child is in the middle at 909 cms.

My shared DNA is 309 cms. (Yes, I made myself a twin on Family DNA. Read about why in the linked post below.) The shared DNA between my son and Irina is 113 cms.

Hopefully, sharing this information has reinforced the importance of seeing the value of the weaker DNA matches. Thorough family tree research on siblings of direct ancestors makes the biggest difference for DNA testing.

Have some DNA success stories? Post your comments below.

This Fall: Effective communication with Russian and Ukrainian DNA matches. Follow this blog with the top right button to catch that post.

Related posts:
DNA testing finally proves its value in finding 16th century documents
Interesting results with making myself a twin on Family Tree DNA
Three siblings go on a DNA test journey
A Russian-American’s insider view of the 23andme Autosomal Test
A Russian-American’s inside view of the new AncestryDNA test
A Russian-American’s insider view of the MyHeritage DNA test
A Russian-American’s insider view of the Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder Test

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

Major German forced laborer database on Ostarbeiters goes online

One important online database has been missing for the WWII era until now. Finally, I can say a major database on the Ostarbeiters (forced laborers of Germany) is online.

Memorial, a Russian international historical and civil rights society, has posted information on more than 320,000 people taken from central and eastern Europe to become forced laborers for Germany. Many more people were Ostarbeiters but this database is the largest online.

Those who truly want to find information on their Ostarbeiter relatives and ancestors will need to make an extra effort to view this database. I will explain how to use this database without knowing Russian.

Memorial has posted a list of Ostarbeiters who were taken from or forced to work in these countries: Russia, current day Republic of Crimea, Poland, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Lithuania, France, Norway, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland.

The list of Ostarbeiters comes from State Archive of the Russian Federation: Fund-7021, “Extraordinary State Commission for the Establishment and Investigation of the Crimes of the Nazi Invaders”.

Important video on using this database

Memorial has created a video on using this database, with English subtitles here. I highly recommend viewing this video so this database is easier to use.

How to use this database

The easiest way to use this database without knowing Russian is to download the Google Translate app or another preferred language translator to your browser. Once that is downloaded, the database listings of countries, regions and towns/villages can be viewed in English.

Under the search area, the database is split up by country, regions of each country and towns/villages affected by the forced laborer movement of Germany. It will be helpful for users to know the region, district and town/village where their relatives and ancestors were taken from or had been forced to work. If this not known, I suggest looking at each possible area on the database.

Once a link is clicked for a village or town, a spreadsheet will be downloaded to your computer or device that gives the name and location of forced labor of the Ostarbeiters. If that does not happen, look for the green and white Excel spreadsheet icon and click on it.

Simply write relatives’ and ancestors’ names into Google Translate or this website and paste the last name into the find text box in the top right. Some spreadsheets could be short enough to scan for the names being researched.

Those who know how to read script Russian can search here for the towns where their relatives or ancestors were taken from or forced to work. Once that search is done, scans of documents related to that area will appear.

In addition to this database, Memorial created this database (click here for the English translated version) of documents (mainly in German) and personal photos provided by Ostarbeiters. This collection provides information on 170,000 people.

I know this seems like a lot of work for those accustomed to doing research in English. But 75 years have passed since WWII’s victory. These people in the database deserve to have their story discovered so this never happens again.

Remember to follow this blog with the top right button to learn about the latest news in Russian and Ukrainian genealogy. The news on databases has been amazing for 2020.

Posts on Memorial’s other important databases and projects:
Database of political terror victims in the USSR explodes past 3 million
Database reveals names of secret agents for the Soviet Great Terror
A shocking sign that some people in the former USSR aren’t scared anymore