Unknown immigrant database completes family story of escape from WWII

Many of my relatives can tell me the story of how one brother of my grandmother got separated from his four brothers and a sister as they boarded trains during WWII.

The families got on any train that had breathing room but Grand Uncle Dimitri was the only one to not make it to Austria. He, his wife and four sons arrived in Italy.

Grand Uncle Dimitri told my family, who later escaped to the USA, that he spared his family from being repatriated to the USSR by crawling under the fence of a monastery to be converted as a Catholic. That would be a great story to confirm with documents.

But I only can confirm how he managed to arrive in Argentina from Italy, thanks to the unknown database Buscador. None of the subscription genealogy websites were of any help, even after searching different variations of  his last name.

I learned  from Buscador that Grand Uncle Dimitri departed from Genova, Italy, on the ship Sestriere and arrived in warmer Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 19, 1948. He described himself as a mechanic.

I know without a doubt this is my grand uncle because his age, first and last name and port of arrival are correct. The only incorrect information is that his last place of residence in Russia is listed as his birthplace. He is listed as Russian, even though he was born in Ukraine. His family had a long history in Russia.

This gem of a database has so many immigrants from throughout the world. It’s worth checking just for the curiosity on those brickwalls in the family tree. The best part is that it doesn’t require registration. Getting busy with searching is instant as clicking on buscar (search).

Here’s a sample of how results will appear:

The database from Center for Latin American Migration Studies is in Spanish. So here are English translations to make using the database smoother: apellido (last name); nombre (first name); edad (age); estado civil (marital status); nacionalidad (nationality); lugar de nacimiento (place of birth); profesión (profession); fecha de arribo (arrival date);  barco (passenger ship); puerto (port of departure), anterior (previous), siguiente (next) and nueva búsqueda (new search).

This database is worthwhile for anyone researching relatives who relocated from Europe, especially as World War II refugees. South America wasn’t damaged in World War II so it was the perfect place for refugees to find a safe and new home. So many refugees were already immigrating to the USA, Canada and Australia.

I found in my grandmother’s documents that my Ukrainian maternal grandfather unsuccessfully attempted to immigrate his family to Argentina. He waited awhile and got permission to immigrate to the USA, instead.

If relatives can’t be found in the South American database, check out these ship passenger lists from Australian archives for refugees of World War II.

Also check out, newly updated Free Databases.

Related posts:
Quiz: Can you guess how former USSR immigrants changed their names?
Best tips on uncovering U.S. documents on mysterious Soviet Union relatives


Quiz: Can you guess how former USSR immigrants changed their names?

The biggest struggle in researching relatives and ancestors from the former USSR is figuring out spellings of their various names. For so many reasons, their names changed after immigrating and trying to trace their lives is like a complicated maze.

So here is the challenge of the day. See how many of these questions below you can answer correctly. These name changes are based on people who listed their real surnames and Americanized names on their gravestones in a Russian Orthodox cemetery in New York state.

Get your pen and paper ready to write down your answers and check them against the correct answers below.

1. A woman was named Kureshova. She changed her name to:

a. Kuresh

b. Kourre

c. Korr

2.  A man named Okunev. He changed his name to:

a. Hay

b. Okin

c. Okner

3. A man was named Pukh. He changed his name to:

a. Puner

b. Pouch

c. Punerov

4.  A woman was named Kurekova. She changed her name to:

a. Koreka

b. Kurek

c. Kurenko

5. A man was named Minitsky. He changed his name to:

a. Minn

b. Minit

c. Munit

6. A man was named Kusakov. He changed his name to:

a. Kusak

b. Kusar

c. Kent

7. A man was named Lopuhovych. He changed his name to:

a. Loch

b. Lopuk

c. Lopov

8. A man was named Mikhalov. He changed his name to:

a. Michaels

b. Mikhalow

c. Mitchell

9. A man was named Masianoff. He changed his name to:

a. Mason

b. Martell

c. Massy

10. A woman was named Dukhovetskaya. She changed her name to:

a. Dukhovetsky

b. Doukhowetzky

c. Doherty

See all the correct answers below.

If you got all the answers right, you know name changes can be simple or random. If you got a few wrong, you know it’s hard to predict how names are changed. If you got all the answers wrong,  look at your answers versus the correct answers. I would hardly get any of the answers correct if I never saw the gravestones.

  1. b  2. a 3. b 4. c 5. a 6. c 7. a 8. c 9. b 10. b

If you are stuck on researching your relatives and ancestors from the former USSR, check out these posts:

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

Don’t let this easy mistake implode your family tree

Break open the “I don’t know anything” relatives for some genealogy gems (perfect for the upcoming holiday season when visiting older relatives)


Another gem for researching relatives who served in the Soviet Army during WWII

It takes some digging to uncover great finds for researching relatives from the former USSR. Genealogy research isn’t the commercial enterprise in Russia as it is in the English-speaking world.

So it’s a happy dance moment when one more gem is found. My latest find is Ветераны Великой Отечественной войны (Veterans of the Great Patriotic War).

This wonderful website has pages of photos and stories for more than 12,000 WWII veterans of the Soviet Union. Yes, this website is only in Russian but directions are given below on how to search and use the site for those unfamiliar with Russian.

This is the first website on WWII veterans of the Soviet Union that I have found with pictures of each veteran, plus stories of their lives. The people who contributed the photos and stories are mentioned by full name and place of residence.

For those familiar with Russian, the search box is above the first row of veterans with a button that says найти (find).

For those unfamiliar with Russian, go to this link to search. Then open Google Translate in the next browser window.

Here’s how to check whether any of the veterans included on the website are your relatives.

  1. Translate your last names and family villages/towns/cities using Google Translate or the Steve Morse website.
  2. If you are searching common Russian names such as Ivanov, Smirnov, Romanov, etc., I highly recommend searching the website with last names and family villages/towns/cities.
  3. Copy and pasta the Russian translations of last names and family villages/towns/cities into the long search box and then click on the button that says найти.
  4. If you use Google Chrome, the Russian may be automatically translated into English. If your browser doesn’t translate automatically into English, copy and paste each page of results into Google Translate.
  5. Please remember if you can’t find your last names and family villages/towns/cities after using Google Translate, the names translated into other words, i.e. last name Kapusta could translate from Russian into English as cabbage.
  6. If you didn’t get any results by using together last names and family villages/towns/cities, try only one type of keyword. Also, try using all possible spellings suggested on the Steve Morse website before giving up hope.

Now that you were brave enough to try searching in Russian on this website, try searching the whole Internet in Russian. Here’s my guide on taking that next step: Secrets of searching the Internet in Russian and Ukrainian like a native speaker.

Remember to follow this blog by clicking on the follow button on the top right of this page. Great free research resources are discussed on this blog throughout the year.


Discovery of a small genealogy forum leads to pushing family tree back to the 1600s

The best gifts really come in small packages. The discovery of a small forum that only spread over two pages can be credited to learning about my 3rd great-grandmother’s family back to the 1600s.

It’s pretty lucky to make this breakthrough. The forum was deleted a few months ago. Timing is everything, especially when things go poof on the Internet without warning.

Adding my 9th great-grandfather from this family onto my family tree was hardly a quick and easy process. I found the post by my 8th cousin, once removed, on our common surname from the same village on a Russian language genealogy forum in October 2012. Not a moment was spared to contact her.

It only was two weeks ago that I got the family tree that shows we are connected through my 7th great-grandfather, who was her 8th great-grandfather. This family line comes from her paternal grandmother and my 3rd great-grandmother. That’s what I call a distant cousin.

My cousin’s first e-mail message had the subject line- Здравствуйте двоюродный сестрa Кондрашeвa  (Hello cousin Kondrasheva) in October 2012. She was convinced we were related through an ancestor in the 1600s or 1700s. Her hunch was proven correct more than 4 years later.

I asked my researcher in Kursk to look at her family tree and see if he could connect our families three years ago. Nothing he found in old census records showed we were related. His research was looking at my direct ancestors, but not siblings and their families.

We stayed in contact on Facebook, with hope of figuring out this mystery. My cousin got busy with her own researcher to find as many documents as possible on her paternal grandmother’s family from Kursk Region archives and Russian State Archives of Ancient Acts.

It was only a few weeks ago that documents confirmed the relationship to my cousin in Moscow.  Her researcher’s thorough look at census records for siblings of my direct ancestors was the key to solving the mystery of our relationship.

I’ve lost count of the number of people my cousin’s researcher put in the family tree. It took several days for me to translate the names from Russian to English and add my distant cousins to my family tree.

I’m starting to lose count of the relatives I’ve found online. Only one Russian family found me on an English language website and everyone else found me on Russian language genealogy forums.

All thanks to using Google Translate and forcing myself to get comfortable with Russian language genealogy forums, I’ve connected with family throughout Russia and Ukraine. It’s amazing what can happen when your comfort zone is left behind.

Related posts:
Guide to Using the Best & Largest Russian Language Genealogy Forum
Making the right connections on forums


Getting inspired in the New Year is as simple as filling jars

These days, jars are the thing. Fill jars with pretty things and put them on display. Leave out jars with gourmet spices for decoration. But jars can be put to even better use for genealogy.

It’s so easy to fall into negativity when dealing with genealogy. This record can’t be found, a relative refuses to help, a family village can’t be found on a map. Let’s have jars give a complete picture of how the adventure of genealogy is really going.

Here’s how to do that:

  1. Get 3 clear jars: one each for goals for the year, surprises and accomplished goals. Cheap jars can be found at Goodwill stores, craft stores, Big Lots, etc.
  2.  Make realistic goals to accomplish for the year, based on your budget and available time.
  3. Place the jars in convenient, but uncluttered areas, to keep your focus.
  4. Every time a goal is reached, date and move the goal into the accomplished goals jar.
  5. Every time, an unexpected success happens write it down, date it and put it in the surprises jar. Try to write down as many surprises, no matter how small (i.e. confirming an ancestor’s birth date with a document), to watch how those successes snowball into major brickwall breakers.
  6. On those days that it feels as if progress has stalled, open the surprises and accomplished goals jars to read all the successes so far.
  7. Then every three months, repeat step 6 to think about new goals to keep the success rolling and filling those jars.

On Dec. 31, pat yourself on the back for sticking with the plan for a year.

It’s time for the big reveal. Will you accomplish more than expected? Will there be more surprises than accomplished goals?

Need more inspiration for success in the New Year? Check out:
Say good-bye to frustration in the new year in 10 steps


When family letters about daily life are a cover for the truth

evdokiatyuinaletter10001Over the years, I have been handed letters my grandfather wrote to my father and letters my great-grandmother wrote to my grand uncle. I didn’t appreciate the importance of family letters until recently.

Two letters were overlooked from my grandmother’s house. My mother and I didn’t recognize the handwriting. I was about to throw out the letters because I could tell that there wasn’t “any useful” information for researching the family.

Once I read the names on the two letters, I knew I hit the jackpot. My two great-grandmothers from my mother’s family were writing letters to each other.

Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it was mid-1950s. One was living in Kiev, Soviet Ukraine, and the other in Berlin, Germany. Talk about a big no-no during Soviet times.

My mother read the two letters and learned her grandmothers were writing as if they were friends. It doesn’t make sense unless you understand restrictions of Soviet times.

The only way my great-grandmother could know about her son’s new life was through the “friends letters”. Soviet postal workers would have blocked these letters if my great-grandmothers wrote as relatives, exchanging family information.

My mother’s father was the only one in his family who left the Soviet Union. He was an escaped POW of the Germans. The worst thing a Soviet soldier could do was give in to the enemy. Soon after he returned home from the POW camp, he, his wife and my mom left for the quiet countryside of Germany.

That meant my grandfather and his new family could never see, call nor write to his family in Kiev ever again. My great-grandfather died 4 years after my grandfather left and couldn’t come back for the funeral nor send condolences to his mom.

I later learned that my great-grandmother got pictures of my mother and uncle while they lived in Germany. She cried as she held the photos and wouldn’t say who were the children to the family with whom she lived.

I didn’t understand until now how it was possible that she could get the pictures because contact was “ended” after my grandfather left Ukraine.

It took two crafty grandmothers to come up with a plan to fake a friendship so they could tell each other about their families.

It was quite a risk for my mother’s paternal grandmother. Her husband was born a peasant, got trained as an architect and helped construct grand buildings in Kiev. That resulted in a very comfortable lifestyle in Soviet times, even with having six kids.

My other great-grandmother came from a modest family of German cloth makers, married a tailor and was living very simple in war-torn Berlin. But she was the lucky one who could get on a train to visit the grandchildren, whom the other grandmother would never see nor hear from ever again.

The simple gesture of writing letters gave one grandmother comfort that couldn’t be bought.

Related posts on Soviet life:
When family “wild stories” are nothing but reality
Meet your friendly Soviet repatriation officer


Grandmother creates brickwall with weak mortar, thanks to one detail

For five years, I have been trying to find any information on a friend’s great-grandfather on Ancestry.com. The name is very simple and my friend believed he had accurate information from his family.

I searched every possible version of his first and last name with his birth and death dates on Ancestry. The man didn’t exist or something was wrong.

It turned out almost everything my friend knew about his great-grandfather was wrong, except for his name. His grandmother wasn’t thrilled that he was researching her father, an enemy of the Soviet Union for being a Kuban Cossack who escaped during WWII.

My suspicions are probably true that she gave him incorrect information to make the search impossible. But thankfully, her father was buried in the same Russian Orthodox cemetery as was my maternal grandparents, just a few rows away from each other.

My Ukrainian-born mother called the cemetery office, which still doesn’t have staff who speak English. She learned that we had the birth and death dates incorrect by several years.

As soon as I had the correct information, I immediately found the man in the Social Security Death Index on Ancestry but nothing else. Then, I knew I had to apply for a copy of his Social Security application here.

The application confirmed his birth date known by the cemetery office and his father’s first name. My friend already knew his great-great-grandfather’s first name from the patronymic name of the great-grandfather.

Three great pieces of information came from this one-page document, the first and maiden name of the great-great-grandmother, the birth village and an address from 1957. My friend didn’t know the name of his great-great-grandmother and had another village as the birthplace, which is in the same Ukrainian region where my paternal grandmother’s brothers were born.

The address where the great-grandfather lived when he applied for a Social Security card opened another door for information. He was living near New York City at the Tolstoy Foundation, an organization that helped many Soviet Union escapees.

I called the Tolstoy Foundation and was thrilled the staff spoke English. The file at Tolstoy Foundation gave me the man’s arrival flight information, several old addresses, a place where he worked and the retirement home where he died. One address was within the same city where my paternal grandmother lived.

The great-grandson assumed that his great-grandfather came to America before WWII ended. However, he immigrated to the U.S.A. in 1957. That 12-year gap between the ending of WWII and his arrival brings up more questions about his life.

The new details from Tolstoy Foundation helped find his passenger record on Ancestry but nothing else. Somehow, the man avoided having his life documented on Ancestry.

With all this information, I had enough personal details to submit a Freedom of Information Act request for the great-grandfather’s Alien File, the golden gem of researching mid-20th century immigrants to America.

Getting that file will take about three months and land in my mailbox just in time for my friend’s birthday. That is the best gift I can give him after he sweated through an overgrown cemetery in Kiev to find the graves of my great-grandparents near my birthday.

Related posts:
Old electrical tower leads the way to family graves
Documents that open doors to information
Guide for success in obtaining Alien Case Files