Introducing “Bending Curtain: A Changing Tide in Genealogy in the Former USSR”

For more than 8 years, I have focused on my journey to research my ancestors from Ukraine and Russia. My journey has made me wonder about what it’s like for people from the former USSR to do the same.

Now, you and I will have those answers. Several people from the former USSR have agreed to answer questions about their journey to research their ancestry.

Each of them have different and amazing stories to tell for my series, “Bending Curtain: A Changing Tide in Genealogy in the Former USSR”. My hope is to give inspiration from seeing the challenges and successes of people from the former USSR.

The series will continue throughout 2020, while I continue to write about my journey in genealogy and the latest databases and resources available in researching in the former USSR.

2020 on Find Lost Russian and Ukrainian Family will be a more thought provoking year for those researching in the former USSR. The other side of Russian and Ukrainian genealogy will be finally told here.

Remember to follow this blog with the top right button to catch all the stories from “Bending Curtain: A Changing Tide in Genealogy in the Former USSR”. I am hoping you will be as excited to read these stories as I am to tell these great stories.

Ancestry releases important database on WWII displaced persons

Researching relatives and ancestors who survived WWII is getting even more easier this summer, thanks to Ancestry.com.

The second newest WWII-related database is Africa, Asia and Europe, Passenger Lists of Displaced Persons, 1946-1971, a resource on 1.7 million people. Arolsen Archives (formerly the International Tracing Service) provided the document scans on Holocaust victims and survivors, Nazi forced laborers and refugees.

The documents in the database provide first and last name, nationality, country of birth, religion, martial status, gender, age or birth date, country of last residence, job title, departure date, departure place, resettlement camp, arrival place and destination on immigrants.

Here is a sample document from the database:

These documents cannot be found online elsewhere. Last week, Ancestry posted Europe, Registration of Foreigners and German Persecutees, 1939-1947 with 10.1 million records also from Arolsen Archives.

Just two months ago, Arolsen Archives added 10 million records to its own database, totaling the records to 13 million. That database doesn’t involve any fees nor registration.

Anyone who has relatives or ancestors who were displaced by WWII should search for records in these databases. It takes one new piece of information to make breakthroughs. Sometimes, the breakthrough could be a different spelling of a first name.

Related posts:
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Major updates to Cemetery Databases and Best Genealogy Forums pages

Thanks to the surge of interest in genealogy in Russia and Ukraine, more resources are appearing online. That results in many new additions to the Cemetery Databases and Best Genealogy Forums pages.

I really didn’t expect to find many new databases for the Cemetery Databases page but a trend is spreading in Russia and other former USSR countries. Cemetery databases are appearing more online to build up cemetery maintenance businesses as more interest develops in genealogy.

It is a complete blessing to be able to find cemeteries documented online in Russia, Ukraine and other former USSR countries. Death records cannot be obtained in Russia until 100 years have passed and in Ukraine until 75 years have passed.

Many of the databases are in Russian but I explain on the Cemetery Databases page on how to use the websites with browser translators such as Google Translate.

The same is the case for the Best Genealogy Forums page. Those who truly want to make breakthroughs in their genealogy research need to try to use these forums in Russian and Ukrainian. Apps for browser translation really open opportunities to find relatives in the former USSR and fellow genealogy enthusiasts who will be eager to help you.

I repeatedly say this on my blog because one major mistake I made. Sixteen years ago, I found the All Russia Family Tree forum. I refused to try to learn how to use the forum, the largest genealogy forum for the Russian-speaking world.

When I realized years later I could combine my basic Russian language skills from my childhood and Google Translate to use this forum, I found that my grandfather’s nephew in Kyiv, Ukraine, was looking for my family. By the time I found his phone number online and had a friend in Moscow call his house, he was dead for two years already.

Thankfully, I connected with his daughter and she is visiting my house in July. We already met two years ago in Washington, D.C., but had I not been so stubborn I could have met her family and an army of cousins in Kyiv, my mother’s and her parents’ birthplace, a long time ago.

Now a war between Russia and Ukraine is preventing me to see my paternal grandmother’s brothers’ birthplaces in Luhansk and fear of terrorism is stopping me from visiting other areas of Ukraine.

Jump on any chance to use the resources on this blog. Challenging yourself will put you on a journey that cannot be imagined as I have shown in my blog posts. Stubbornness in genealogy only solidifies the cement holding up the brickwalls.

Follow this blog with the top right button to learn about other major updates to resources.

Related posts:
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Guide to Using the Best & Largest Russian Language Genealogy Forum (with a video guide)

10 million records added to WWII victims database

Researching relatives and ancestors who were victims of WWII as concentration camp victims, forced laborers or displaced persons just got easier.

This week, Arolsen Archives (formerly known as International Tracing Service) posted 10 million records online for free downloading here. The database, which has more than 13 million records, doesn’t involve any registration so it is straight to searching.

The best part of this database is that it can be searched in English. Since the database had so many records uploaded quickly, the search abilities are limited to names and topics for now.

These records are in German but some records have English written along the German. Anyone who lacks German language skills could try Google Translate to switch the typed German into English.

Also, plenty of German genealogy groups on Facebook have members who are willing to translate documents. The Genealogy Translations group is a popular group for this type of help.

This database was last updated in November, when I found more documents on my grandparents. Three more important records were just posted on my grandparents, who were displaced persons from Soviet Ukraine living in southern Germany during the war.

I hope to post soon about the information the new records reveal about my grandparents. This update to the database will be one of many to come.

I will post here when Arolsen Archives has another major update to the database.

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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.

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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.

 

Database reveals names of secret agents for the Soviet Great Terror

Curiosity of relatives from the former Soviet Union is peaked when there is a silence about their life in the old country. What’s the big secret about their life?

More 41,000 men and women from the former Soviet Union had a big secret of their lives- working for the NKVD (precursor to the KGB) during the Soviet Great Terror from 1935 to 1939. Their secret is no longer that, thanks to an online database from Russian organization Memorial.

Anyone who is curious if their relatives served as NKVD agents during the terror years can do it quietly by using this database. Not surprisingly, some of these agents were executed after years of loyal service.

Information on each agent varies but some have their full name, birthdate, birthplace, death date and place of death, in addition to details on their service and awards.

Naturally, this database is in Russian but easy to use for those who don’t know Russian.

Here’s how to use the database without knowing Russian:

  1. Translate family names into Russian by using Google Translate or Transliterating English to Russian in One Step
  2. Click on the link for the correct letters that start the last name on this page.
  3. Once a possible match is found, click on the link, copy and paste the text into Google Translate  to read the material in English.

For those intimidated by using a Russian website, here is another way to search this database.

  1. Translate family names into Russian by using Google Translate or Transliterating English to Russian in One Step
  2. Copy the full name or last name into Google’s search bar and add site: http://nkvd.memo.ru/index.php. It should look like Иванов site: http://nkvd.memo.ru/index.php in the search bar.
  3. Then the results appear in Russian. Copy and paste each page of results into Google Translate to decide which links to click on.

Memorial, which posted this database onto its website, also has a database for victims of the Soviet Repression here. The database was updated in December 2016.

The organization is working on a database of Soviet Union citizens who were forced laborers of Germany. Follow this blog by clicking on the button in the top right corner to learn when that database becomes public.

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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.

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