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

Once many people learn their relatives came from the Soviet Union, the excitement of researching their past seems to be reduced to anxiety. The challenges feared chill the thrill of what can be learned.

But the thrill is allowing curiosity overtake the anxiety. The search is still possible even if relatives didn’t leave behind many documents from the old country.

Just knowing names, birth years and birth countries of Ukraine, Russia or Belarus, plenty of potential exists to research their lives. The approach just needs to be flipped with starting with what is known and collecting all possible records.

1. Obtain the death and marriage records.

2. If your relatives collected Social Security, search for them in the Social Security Death Index here. Don’t worry if they can’t be found in the database.

3. Apply for photocopies of their original Social Security applications here. The fee is $21. Proving death with death records, obituaries or Social Security Death Index listings is required for anyone who would be less than 120 years old today.

On an application of a friend’s great-grandfather who was born in the early 1900s, the man provided his birth date, birth village, both parents’ names, date
of arrival and previously used names.

4. Search for naturalization records. If they can’t be found online, go to the U.S. National Archives website and e-mail the regional office closest to their residence for the first 5 years in the USA. The office will typically search for their records for free.

5. Find the passenger records online or order reproductions here for $10. (If they arrived at Ellis Island, try this free database.) This may seem like duplicating information already found on other documents, but passenger records may include other unknown relatives. Every piece of information is important.

6. Search for Alien Case Files (the golden gem of information) on your relatives for free here. If your relatives’ surnames are uncommon, just search the surnames. The ordering information is listed on the bottom of the clicked link.

7. If your relatives weren’t found in that database and arrived between July 1, 1924 and 1975, the U.S. Department of Citizen and Immigration Services Genealogy Program may have files on them. Click here for more information on  its records. The search is $65 per person and each file costs another $65. If you can afford the fees, it’s worth checking whether records are available on your relatives.

8. Make sure to download or print out any new information. Even if a document says your relatives came from a different place than noted on other documents,  it’s important to keep that information. Your relatives may have struggled with spelling their birthplace in English.

Once you have collected all the documents, use the new information to search online databases.  If you weren’t as successful as hoped on one relative, try the first six steps on siblings. Don’t give up.

The final step is joining Facebook genealogy groups and be ready to be amazed by the amount of advice and resources that will come pouring in.

Related posts:
Top 13 tips for making Facebook the best genealogy networking tool
Break open the “I don’t know anything” relatives for some genealogy gems
Don’t let this easy mistake implode your family tree

Newest Ancestry.com database will turn brickwalls into dust

The biggest struggle in genealogy can be as simple as a name. Names get complicated as soon as people leave their homeland.

Immigrants change their name to assimilate in their new homeland or immigration officials misunderstand how to write foreign names and then give whatever letter combinations they see fit.

Then future generations pound their heads into genealogy brickwalls when trying to research their immigrant relatives. Immigrants who filled out form after form somehow vanish from the paper trails that were supposedly left behind.

Thanks to Ancestry.com’s newdatabase-U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007, the mystery of name changes is solved if you have the right information. But if your family came from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, you are praying your family didn’t have name changes too impossible to figure out.

So here are some simple rules to follow. Many of these records include first and last names of parents, something that can’t be found on many Russian language birth and marriage records.

1. If you are not familiar with translating names into English, visit this website. Russian names are complicated to spell in English and this website is very detailed about figuring out names for English spellings.

2. The biggest changes in spelling names that will be noticed are switching v’s to w’s or ff’s and y’s to j’s and unnecessary use of iy combinations, i.e. Romanow for Romanov;  Borisoff  for Borisov; and Petrovskiy for Petrovsky. Even names of birthplaces will be found with strange English spellings.

3. If relatives cannot be found by using last names, use different spellings of first names with the birth years or spouses’ first names as keywords. Some Russian first names are not as common and will bring up fewer results to make the search easier.

4. If relatives are not found by using birthplaces by appropriate spellings, be open to misspelled places. My grand uncle’s birthplace of Kiev was spelled Kesin when he knew to spell it as Kiew from living briefly in Germany.

5. If good matches do not appear, reconsider the matches that have birthplaces of the closest city. Sometimes it was easier to spell the closest city for immigrants struggling to learn English than the actual village where they were born.

6. Remember that names of towns have changed over the years. Search for Leningrad, not Saint Petersburg or St. Petersburg; and Stalingrad, not Volgograd. Here is a Wikipedia page that lists town and city name changes in the former USSR.

7. If birth dates seem later than from what is known in the family, consider that your relatives may have changed their immigration records to appear younger and more attractive for employment and immigration approval.

Once you collect the information you need, I highly recommend reading this post- Nothing like a good chuckle from ancestry.com– on the U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 database. Information from that database and ancestry.com’s newest database are a great combination for trucking past the brickwalls and onto discovering new cousins.

Try DNA testing for dirt cheap

I know DNA testing is a gamble at times. But AncestryDNA has an offer worth trying.

Use this link to get the test for $49. Then, use FREESHIPDNA for free shipping. I don’t know how long these coupon codes will work. DNA testing doesn’t get this cheap with Family Tree DNA nor 23andme.

The test will only ship within the USA for now. It is rumored the test will be available abroad in some countries next year.

Here is my FAQ on testing with AncestryDNA.

It has the best ethnicity breakdown among the three main DNA testing companies. AncestryDNA is well worth doing if you are looking for relatives in the USA, especially for adoptees.

If you are on Facebook, check out my Facebook group.

 

Find Russian and Ukrainian graves online

Thanks to my incredible luck of having a Russian man find my grandfather’s grave, I was inspired to add  a new page- Cemetery Database.

I hope to find many websites for photographed Russian and Ukrainian cemeteries so graves can be viewed online. Luckily, I also am finding databases for cemeteries.

Hopefully, the excitement of photographing graves brought on by Find A Grave also will spread to Russia and Ukraine.

Keep up-to-date with Find Lost Russian & Ukrainian Family by following on Facebook or e-mail by clicking on Follow this Blog button in the top right column.

Inspiring TV show returns in July

The best show for inspiring genealogy research will return this summer to US cable TV. “Who Do You Think You Are?” is returning to The Learning Channel (TLC) on July 23 at 9 p.m. eastern time.

The show starts with “Sex in the City” star Cynthia Nixon. Here is the promo video for the premiere. Some previous episodes also are posted here.

I am hoping that eastern Europe will be included somehow on this show again. But most episodes show how to use Ancestry.com to research family so the show could give some new tips.

Insider look at AncestryDNA, FamilyTree DNA and 23andme coming soon!

I am working on insider looks into the autosomal DNA tests (that look for matches from maternal and paternal lines) from AncestryDNA, FamilyTree DNA and 23andme. The posts will be in the question and answer format.

The first post will be on AncestryDNA and then I will post on FamilyTree DNA. My last post will be on 23andme. I have taken the autosomal DNA tests from these three companies.

After I have posted my three insider looks, I will have a post on which company’s test is best for various scenarios.

Please post your questions about these tests in the comment area below.