Top 10 things to never say to potential relatives in the former USSR

There is nothing as exciting as finding family lost after many years. In that excitement of finding relatives’ postal addresses, e-mail addresses or social network pages, it is important to think before typing away.

History and politics haven’t been fair in the former USSR. Sensitivity is required to make the first impression that sparks a response of excitement.

A simple comment that seems harmless could end dreams of reconnecting. Here is 10 things to never say when trying to reconnect with family in the former USSR.

  1. “Do you know what happened to Grand Uncle Sergey? We heard he was arrested and sent to Siberia.” It’s been 25 years since communism collapsed but many families still don’t want to talk about how communist persecution affected their lives.
  2. “I heard Grand Uncle Nikolai was captured by the Germans and held in a P.O.W. camp during the war.” People in the former USSR don’t want to be reminded of the pains from the Great Patriotic War (or World War II).
  3. “My grandmother wrote to the family in 1959 and she was upset that no one wrote back to her.” Receiving foreign mail or sending foreign mail was considered highly suspicious and some people were arrested for being foreign spies.
  4. “What happened to the beautiful family home on Red Army Street? The family had the home for many years.” Many families lost their family homes to the government and were moved to much smaller homes.
  5. “Do you have any photos of my grandfathers’ brothers from their service in the White Army?” Many families burned documents and photos proving service in the enemy army of the Red Army. Some families will have great pride in their Cossack ancestry while others don’t want to discuss it.
  6. “We hope the family isn’t still upset over the family fight between Uncle Dimitri and my mother.” After many years, the facts of family fights can become twisted so it is best to avoid mentioning these situations.
  7. “We heard Aunt Tatiana’s daughter worked briefly in the U.S.A. Why didn’t she contact us? She had our address and phone number.” Some USSR citizens were able to work briefly abroad but they knew contacting their families would bring lots of trouble.
  8. “You really should come for a visit. We would love to get to know you.” Many people from the former USSR were taught to be suspicious of strangers so it is best to hold these invitations until the families get much closer. Also, traveling abroad is beyond reality for many families.
  9. “Why can’t I find you on Facebook (or other social networks)?” Some people from the former USSR are suspicious of networks that track their activities, know their friends and store their personal photos. It’s a holdover from the Soviet era.
  10. “I am working on the family tree. Would you mind sharing family documents?” That sounds innocent but relatives who don’t know you could get leery of your interest in the family. Genealogy hasn’t caught on in the former USSR as it has in the English-speaking world. Wait to ask for documents until everyone knows each other better.

Related posts on finding long-lost family:
Memorial Website Opens Door to Find Living Russian Family
Build the best mousetrap to find long-lost family this holiday season
Guide to Using the Best & Largest Russian Language Genealogy Forum


Playing the waiting game to connect a Russian adoptee with her birth family

It took about a minute to find the family of a Russian adoptee on popular Russian social network Odnoklassniki. The struggle has been waiting for someone from the family to answer my message.

The situation has been a lucky break so far. Thanks to the adoptee knowing the name of the village where she was born in the 1990s, finding the family on Odnoklassniki was as simple as searching the village name and birth surname in Russian on Google.

Four people carrying the same surname in the same village appeared on the first page of search results as Odnoklassniki members. I immediately wrote to them about the adoptee’s situation and provided two photos of her when she was adopted by a U.S. couple.

The biggest advantage of using Odnoklassniki is that it can become the mousetrap for finding family in the former USSR. I know the exact time when one relative viewed my message, when she visited my profile and when she views the website with a blinking dot even without being friends with her.

I sent that woman a second message stating that the adoptee had a brother and his birth date. Hopefully, that woman will realize I mean business in trying to connect the adoptee with her birth family.

The rest of the family on Odnoklassniki will know I am determined to have the adoptee’s dream come true. If the four people identified as relatives won’t respond to my message, I will contact other relatives listed as friends in their profiles.

Someone in the family will eventually give in and respond to my message. I found another relative on another Russian social network, VK, giving my chances of a response higher.

It has been frustrating that I have not been able to find the birth mother nor father online. The adoption was finalized when the child was 5 years old so relatives had that time to connect with the child.

This adoption would be hard to hide. A relative in the village will recall this adoptee and have pictures of her hidden away. The brother was also adopted. A major event caused these adoptions.

All these factors hopefully will increase the chances someone will answer my plea for information so the adoptee can finally get answers about her birth family.

And no, I am not taking money to help the adoptee. It was my dream to adopt a Russian child. Due to finances, that will never happen for me. I am almost as happy to help Russian adoptees find their birth families.

Related posts:
On a journey to connect Russian adoptees with their homeland family

A bonus find for the adopted Russian brother and sister

Families reveal stories of Soviet Army soldiers for the Great Patriotic War

b_polk_shapka_2The people of the former USSR will never forget the Great Patriotic War. A boundless amount of information has been finding its way onto the Internet. The only things lacking online have been faces and stories of the Red Army soldiers until now.

Бессмертного полка is filling in that gap to bring faces and stories of the average Soviet Army soldier. It’s easy to find this material on the soldiers who were most notable in the Great Patriotic War.

Now, the average and proud Soviet Army soldiers are being remembered with photos and stories by their living relatives on Бессмертного полка.  Maybe I should say LIVING RELATIVES one more time.

This is not just some website with a list of soldiers and their divisions. It’s an opportunity to find living relatives of family disconnected by the war.

So here’s how to use the website:

  1. First use Google Translate to put names and places of residence in Russian.
  2. Copy and paste the translated keywords into the search box here and click on искать. If results are not found, slowly reduce the number of keywords for the soldier being researched.
  3. When the results appear, copy and paste them into Google Translate to see which results would be most useful.
  4. If the website is intimidating in Russian, use this technique: translated name of solider and their place of residence into Google with site: For example: Иванов Кострома  site: Then follow step 3.
  5. To contact the person who posted a page, click on the name next to Координатор on the right that is above МЫ В СОЦСЕТЯХ (for the social network images). That person is the organizer for the region where that soldier lived.

Family also can be found by copying keywords from the soldier’s page such as full name, Родился (born) then date,  д. (abbreviation for village) then the village’s name, and медали (medals) and pasting those keywords into Google.

Make that extra effort and it could result in discovering an incredible amount of information on those long, lost relatives.

Related posts:
Massive Soviet Army WWII database tells the story of millions of soldiers
Time-killing Google search leads to massive WWI database

Memorial Website Opens Door to Find Living Russian Family

Finding long-lost family in the Russian-speaking world takes some creativity. I was thrilled to learn about a growing Russian-language website for remembering family and friends who have passed on.

This website- ПомниПро– is a perfect resource to see whether any information has been posted on long-lost family. Some memorial pages just have photos and others have detailed life stories of people who died.

Some will say “So what!” about this website. Then people need to remember that Russians don’t post obituaries and death notices online in the same fashion as the English-speaking world.

ПомниПро has grown to about 82,000 memorial pages in 4 years, not impressive but could become impressive in the next few years.

So if you want to give ПомниПро a try, here is how to search this website.

  1. First, translate last names of your Russian family on Google Translate.
  2. Copy and paste the translate names under Поиск по мемориалу on the right column.
  3. Once you have results, click on each memorial page and look for the words Владелец страницы on the right under the banners for the people being remembered. That link will give information on who posted the memorial page.
  4. If you are shy about using a Russian language website, use Google Translate to view this website in English but surnames must be written in Russian to search the database. Here is that link.
  5. The website also can be searched this way- translated Russian last name site: on Google or any search engine.

Happy searching!

Related posts:
One website could become the Russian version of Find A Grave

Find Russian and Ukrainian graves online

Build the best mousetrap to find long-lost family this holiday season

okrusThe number of websites to find long-lost family are everywhere, even for those searching in the former USSR. There are a few great social networking websites for the Russian-speaking world.

But only one I will call the great mousetrap. It has one automatic feature that Facebook doesn’t have for its users.

Everyone who visits personal pages of users on Odnoklassniki pops up as a visitor in the same way as notifications appear on Facebook. Big deal, some will say sarcastically.

Send a potential relative an e-mail message or postal letter with the address of your page on Odnoklassnik and that person views your page, the doors open.

Most members of the social network list their relatives who are their friends for everyone to view. Unlike Facebook, all open accounts will show which friends are actually family to anyone viewing Odnoklassniki. Messages from current friends and strangers also appear in the same mailbox, unlike Facebook.

I used my account a few months ago to connect with family of my grandfather’s sister who wouldn’t answer my postal letters. A younger member of the family viewed my page mentioned in the letter sent to Ukraine and I finally figured out their family tree from their page, which was revealed by her visit to my page.

More than 200 million people from the former USSR are registered with Odnoklassniki and more than 45 million people visit the website every day, according to Wikipedia.

So it was not a surprise to find people carrying my two great-grandparents’ surnames in the village where they were born in the 1880s on Odnoklassniki. The easy search engine to find people by surname and hometown is an incredible resource to find long-lost family among the millions of registered users.

Even if a user can’t find relatives right away, the social network has a great area for groups that include many for genealogy. Some groups are based on surnames and backgrounds of ancestors- Cossacks, nobility, Germans living in Russia, etc.

Another great feature of Odnoklassniki is that status notifications are separated by responses to your status posts, friend’s posts and your group posts. There isn’t a need to dig around the status notifications to find the responses you’ve been awaiting in your genealogy groups, again unlike Facebook.

If you are convinced or tempted to use Odnoklassnik, here’s the best part. The website is available in English! Here is the link to register using the English version of Odnoklassniki, which is also available in Russian, Ukrainian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Georgian, Romanian, Tajik ans Uzbek.

Anyone ready to build the best mousetrap on Odnoklassniki, click here for my guide. I’ve been a member for 4 years so this is the best advice from my experience on finally finding those relatives mentioned in dusty letters or talks by older relatives.

Here’s the finest cheese for the best mousetrap to find long-lost family

First impressions are everything, even on social networks. Citizens of the former USSR have been raised to be suspicious of foreigners so building the right profile on Odnoklassniki is important.

Here’s what it takes to attract people to your profile on Odnoklassniki, with hopes that long-lost family will find you through your profile.

  1. Your first status post should be about the family you are seeking. Make the post simple and mention that older photos of your relatives are posted in your photo album.
  2. Try to post your status updates in English and Russian, using Google Translate or any online translating program.
  3. Don’t post photos of homes and cars that make it appear as if you’re rich in the view of former USSR citizens. You don’t want to attract the wrong attention and people who will falsely claim to be family.
  4. Post only in Russian when interacting in the groups.
  5. Show pride in your ancestry from the former USSR. Post pictures of your activities with Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian community groups.
  6. Don’t discuss current or past politics of the former USSR in any of your posts. The conflict between Russia and Ukraine is very touch among the Russian-speaking world. Just leave it alone.
  7. Make sure to keep track of responses to your group posts. Even if the responses aren’t helpful, acknowledge them and be thankful.
  8. Join some groups unrelated to genealogy to bring attention to yourself. Maybe someone in fishing or traveling groups will click on your profile link and realize you two have a family connection.
  9. When posting in genealogy groups about the family you are seeking or researching, make sure to include any older photos and documents you have in the posts. It brings more interest so your posts aren’t scrolled past as much.
  10. Most importantly, don’t announce you are a foreigner in your status updates or group posts. Hello from America! or Hello from Australia! may be taken the wrong way. People from the former USSR have been taught to hate foreigners for generations. It’s hard to tell which members are excited about interacting with foreigners and those who are leery.

Please post comments about the successes and struggles of using Odnoklassniki. Any additional suggestions on using Odnoklassniki are welcome!

Guide to Using the Best & Largest Russian Language Genealogy Forum

So where are all the Russians and Ukrainians excited to find their long-lost family and discover the stories of their ancestors? There are lots of forums online but only one forum can claim to be the best and most popular in the Russian-speaking world- All Russia Family Tree.

For the English-speaking world, the fact that the forum is in Russian doesn’t mean it is impossible to use. I’ve posted a video here on how to use this forum with Google Translate.

I highly encourage everyone at least to visit All Russia Family Tree in English. Thanks to this forum, I have found cousins on four different lines. Two cousins sought ME out.

So if you are brave enough to challenge yourself to register as a user on this forum, here’s my top 10 tips to make this forum the jackhammer for your Russian and Ukrainian genealogy brickwalls.

  1. Use very simple English and translate it into Russian, using Google Translate, when posting to the forum.
  2. Bookmark all your posts and check daily for responses to your posts. The forum doesn’t send update messages when someone responds to your posts.
  3. Look for forum members searching for family here. The English translation is provided for each name. The newer listings can be found here. Both lists are translated into English and are very useful.
  4. Provide links to genealogy blogs and photo albums at the bottom of each post.
  5. Be cautious if you get a private message from a researcher. Check out their profile and posts to see whether they are legit.
  6. Look through the forum to find all the areas where you can get help and find useful resources.
  7. Do not post the same message on various areas of the forums to increase your chances of getting responses. It will only increase your chances of being removed as a spammer.
  8. Thank anyone who responds to your posts, even when the responses don’t provide the information or help you were seeking.
  9. Take advantage of the search engine for the forum. It is a great resource for finding forum members researching the same surname or villages.
  10. Make sure to have your profile as friendly and complete as possible.

Any questions? Post them below or join the Facebook group for this blog.

Related posts:
New Russian cousins found again!
The priceless value of a sixth cousin