A journey to a family village teaches the importance of returning to the homeland

Three years ago, a cousin from my great-grandmother’s family found my message, asking for anyone related to the family to contact me, on a genealogy forum. This week I learned about how important it was to leave that message five years ago.

I have been so curious about how the village of my great-grandmother looks like today. Thanks to the relationship I developed with my cousin whom I only have e-mailed and instant messaged, I finally have set my eyes on the village of my great-grandmother.

Sadly, I wasn’t there for the big reveal but my cousin took his family on the 500-mile journey from Saint Petersburg to our family’s ancestral village of Meledino in the Kostroma Region of Russia.

The visit to the village almost didn’t happen. The car from Saint Petersburg never would have made it through the Russian countryside. By luck, my cousin’s family found a man who had a tractor that looks like it came from WWII but it was built to make the family dream of touching the land of our ancestors happen that day.

 Photos taken or given by Andrey Kozyrev

Then the sight of what happened to the family village was sad, but peaceful.

The village has been completely abandoned by people and moved back to its natural state.

Then in the next village, my family saw some sad sights of an abandoned church and its cemetery. Once the church was a beautiful site, busy with weddings, baptisms and funerals, and now it is left in ruins.

Nearby, my family learned what happened to their family’s log cabin, after 60 years of emptiness.

 

But the 50-year-old graves of my great-grandmother’s brother’s grandson and wife were found in great condition. This couple was the great-grandparents of my cousin Andrey (3rd cousin, 2 times removed).

The best part of this journey is that Andrey travelled with the family tree, created by a researcher I hired. Andrey found distant cousins during his 4-day visit and the family tree will grow once again.

One of those cousins is this 95-year-old grandmother, who lives in the village next to where my great-grandmother was born. When talking to her family, Andrey said the family was very surprised that an American researched her ancestors and felt proud to know this.

It was hard to hold back the tears of joy when I saw the messages and photos from Andrey. “Thank you, Vera! Without your investigation of genealogy, I would not have known my ancestors! A low bow from our whole family!”

So many people tell me that they don’t know Russian and won’t try the Russian websites for genealogy. I have rediscovered my Russian from my childhood and use Google Translate daily to understand the Russian websites that make my journey happen.

If I never tried the Russian websites, I would not be witnessing the journey of my cousin’s trek to our family’s ancestral land. Genealogy isn’t a journey that affects one person; it’s a journey that changes an entire family.

Related posts:

Guide to Using the Best & Largest Russian Language Genealogy Forum

Secrets of searching the Internet in Russian and Ukrainian like a native speaker

Find Long-Lost Relatives from the Former USSR Simply in English

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Secret files help complete the life story of five brothers

The stories of my grandmother’s brothers’ lives have been incomplete since I began  researching them six years ago. Thanks to their “illegal political activity” in the 1930s, their arrest records are filled with gems of information that cannot be found in online databases nor at archives.

I have been wondering about the simple things about their lives such as their military service, work and education. Now, I have learned some stunning facts.

One brother earned the rank of second lieutenant in the Russian White Army. His voting privileges were taken away when Russia became the USSR, thanks to his service in the czar’s army.

Another brother was a volunteer with the Red Army, the army of the USSR, from 1919-1922. That makes me wonder whether he served in the Russian-Polish War.

My curiosity got me moving to contact Russian military archives to see whether his records can be obtained. His daughter didn’t even know he served in the army.

I also learned three brothers worked in the same factory together, while another brother worked at another factory before their arrests. One brother was unemployed.

Four brothers finished their secondary education. Another brother completed five years at a commercial school but didn’t finish his secondary education.

I could have obtained this information six years ago when I made my first request with the Federal Security Service in the Russian region where my grand uncles were arrested. Six years ago, I just asked to confirm whether the family story of all five brothers being arrest was true, which law they “violated” and  where they lived at the time of their arrests.

I knew there had to be more information in their files, beyond name, birthdate, birthplace and address. My curiosity was peaked about what else was sitting in those files when a genealogy researcher asked whether my family was persecuted during the communist era.

Once I told her yes, she gave me the wording needed to obtain the personal family information from their files that I can’t get elsewhere. “My relatives (names and birth years) were arrested as enemies of the people in (town/city) in (year ) and were under investigation until (year, if known). Later they were justified. Please send me extracts from their criminal cases to the above e-mail address. I’m especially interested in ………..(addresses, education, employer, relatives who lived with them, etc.)
Yours faithfully,

I got a response from the Federal Security Service by e-mail in 17 days and the information was free. Most of the personal information was never known by my family.

This is all thanks to false accusations of “participating in a counter-revolutionary organization and carrying out anti-Soviet agitation.” This proves that truth does come from lies.

Related posts:

Doors are open on “secret files

Awaiting untold stories from recently opened Ukrainian Secret Service’s archives

SSSHHH!!! Detailed civilian records of Soviet persecution camps declassified………

Guide to requesting declassified records of the former USSR gulags

Also, check under political terror victims on the Free Databases page to search for relatives.

Great-grandpa’s arrest record helps breakdown a brickwall

It’s been quite frustrating to not know the full name of my great-great-grandmother. No one passed on information more than her first and middle name and archives lost her marriage record.

I thought hope was lost in knowing who was my great-great-grandmother. Then luck again happened once again on the most popular Russian genealogy forum.

A woman who previously worked for the regional archives in the same area of my family village offered her services to research records. I didn’t have much hope records could be found but this woman would know archives better than anyone else I could hire to dig through archives.

By luck, she knew another resource for marriage information. My great-great-grandfather had to ask permission from a military board for his marriage to be approved, with him being a Don Cossack, soldier of the Russian czar’s army.

Thank you Don Cossacks for having such rules. The researcher found a document that revealed the month and year of marriage, the full name of my great-great-grandmother and her father’s title of captain and engineer.

The maiden surname sounded familiar. An investigation record of my great-grandfather’s arrest from his college days mentioned him staying with an uncle in Lugansk, Ukraine, with the same last name.

My grandmother gave my father an oral history of the family. That family surname was supposed to be connected to a maternal aunt’s husband, not her paternal grandmother.

Thanks to connecting my great-grandfather’s arrest document from St. Petersburg archives with his father’s marriage request record, the man in Lugansk is confirmed as my great-grandfather’s uncle, not just an older family friend. This explains why my great-grandfather attended college in Lugansk, so far away from the family Cossack village in southern Russia.

And thanks to Russian culture, I also know the first name of my great-great-great-grandfather. Once a full name is known of an ancestor such as given name, patronymic name (in honor of the father’s given name) and surname, the father’s first and last name are known. It’s a two-for-one deal in Russian genealogy.

The profession of my great-great-great-grandfather was hardly a surprise. His grandson, some great-grandsons and a great-great-grandson were engineers. After all these years of researching, I finally discovered a family profession comes from an ancestor.

Learning about my great-great-grandmother’s family didn’t seem realistic, with my past luck in southern Russian archives. My researcher got lucky with finding my great-grandfather’s death record so my curiosity was peaked whether his parents’ marriage record could be found.

The birth records of my great-grandfather and his brother vanished from archives. Thanks to connecting with my cousins from my great-grandfather’s brother on the most popular Russian genealogy forum, I guessed when the parents could have married, based on their great-grandfather’s birth year, and hit the jackpot.

In Russian genealogy, you can either be bitter about what can’t be found or be delighted with surprises after constant resilience.

For more inspiration:

An overlooked record opens a door to finding long-lost family from WWII
Guide to Using the Best & Largest Russian Language Genealogy Forum (includes a video guide in English)

The dream of three generations comes true on a rare chance

Eight years ago, I was filled with joy for finally finding my grandfather’s family who were left behind for dreams of a better life. It took until last weekend to comprehend what it really meant for this family to come back together face-to-face 74 years later in Washington, D.C.

My grandfather was the only child of six who left his family in Ukraine. His parents weren’t supposed to talk about their son who left Soviet Ukraine but his siblings never forgot him.

My cousin (granddaughter of an older sister of my grandfather) gave me the complete picture of what our reunion really meant to her family. Her grandmother agonized over finding my grandfather but she knew she couldn’t under communism.

She faced the death of three brothers and sisters and died before communism fell in Ukraine. The pain of not knowing about what happened to her little brother wasn’t hushed. One son made it a mission to find my grandfather’s family to fulfill his mother’s dream.

He tried to find us through the American Red Cross’ Holocaust and War Victims Tracing Center. The program has a 79 percent success rate for finding information but our family wasn’t a success story. That was thanks to my grandfather changing his last name by one letter to avoid questions whether he was German.

As a last resort, the son of my grandfather’s sister posted information on his mother’s family on All Russia Family Tree (link translated into English) in 2005. That is the only place where he posted to find us and he didn’t have much hope we would find his message.

I was viewing this website at that time and even before. My Russian was so rusty that I didn’t know how to write my grandfather’s last name in Russian but I remembered some words and the alphabet. I called my mother that I found a Russian genealogy website but I couldn’t read it.

This was before I knew of the existence of Google Translate, my best friend of understanding Russian websites and searching the Internet in Russian. When I got “sophisticated” enough to use Google Translate to discover my grandfather’s nephew’s message in 2009, he already died from a heart attack.

He dreamed of writing a book, bringing his family together in a newly-bought datcha and finding his uncle’s family. He never had a chance to fulfill any of those dreams.

Thankfully, his two oldest children welcomed me with open arms. It took three generations to bring us back together, all thanks to one Russian genealogy website I randomly found.

Spending three days with my cousin, my mom and my two kids felt so natural. My grandfather loved his family he left behind and it’s amazing that love wasn’t forgotten over the years. That’s what family is all about.

Related posts:

The gift of patience becomes a gift of knowledge five years later

Guide to Using the Best & Largest Russian Language Genealogy Forum (All Russia Family Tree) Includes a video guide.

Secrets of searching the Internet in Russian and Ukrainian like a native speaker

Eight years of patience brings dreams of a family reunion to reality

I still remember very clearly the day when I discovered my grandfather’s nephew was looking for relatives of his mother’s family on a genealogy forum 8 years ago.

It didn’t make sense why he was looking for his mother’s family. My grandfather was the only sibling who left behind his family after World War II. It was supposed to be a secret.

With being a POW of the German army in WWII, my grandfather was an enemy of Soviet Ukraine. He gave into the enemy and later escaped the POW camp to come back to my grandmother and my newborn mother.

During winter 1943, he escaped Kiev during the night for Poland with my grandmother, my mother and my grandmother’s family. No one was to talk about him or the family would face harsh punishment.

When I finally reached my grandfather’s nephew’s family by phone in Kiev, I learned the nephew died three years earlier.

I was crushed but thrilled to learn he had a son and daughter. The family got me in contact with several cousins from my generation and my mother’s. I made a promise- I will be in Kiev in three years with my mother.

I thought that was enough time to save money for the trip. It was but my family situation wasn’t ideal for running off to Ukraine three years later. I hoped my situation would change each year and later realized I waited too long. The prices for flights to Kiev kept getting higher and higher.

Then, came the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution and the fighting between Russia and Ukraine. It was hard to see the two countries that fought together in WWII were fighting each other.

I kicked myself for breaking my promise to the family my mother never had a chance to know as a child. The cousin who gave the daughter of my grandfather’s nephew a lot of information on our relatives died of painful brain cancer in summer 2015.

My chances of thanking her in person vanished. I hope she understood how grateful I am for everything she told me through her goddaughter (and the daughter of my grandfather’s nephew).

Right now, flying off to Kiev is not a possibility for many reasons. My only option is waiting out to meet the daughter of my grandfather’s nephew in the USA. She travels a lot to the USA for work.

For almost two years, I have asked my cousin regularly “when are you coming to the USA?” Finally, my cousin e-mailed me that she was coming to the USA again and wanted to meet in Atlanta. I told her that my mother could meet her but it would be easier for us to meet in Washington, D.C., if possible.

Well, it’s happening in a week. Three generations of my family (me, my mother and two kids) will meet my cousin. I have my Ukrainian flag ready for the emotional airport reunion that I thought only happens to other people.

Related post:

Guide to Using the Best & Largest Russian Language Genealogy Forum (where I  found this family and several other relatives)

The gift of patience becomes a gift of knowledge five years later

I’m not one of the lucky people who can click and click on the popular genealogy websites to build my family tree and easily find distant cousins online.

Lately, it’s been feeling as if it has been easy to find those distant cousins if I forget about the number of years I’ve waited to make these connections.

A month ago, a woman from Far East Russia whose great-grandparents carried the same surname as my great-grandfather in the same village contacted me. I looked up her family on my list of 380 relatives on that line and couldn’t find her family.

Timing was everything in this situation. My researcher in Kursk was close to completing his study of records for another line in a nearby village. I immediately contacted him with the woman’s information on her great-grandparents to see whether he could find a connection.

About a month later, I had my answer. Yes, we are cousins. My 9th great-grandfather is her 8th great-grandfather. Apparently, I only can find cousins lately if it involves our ancestors knowing each other centuries ago.

I just had the big thrill of learning earlier this month a woman in Moscow is my 8th cousin, once removed. She gave me a massive tree in Russian that took several days to translate into English and add into my family tree.

Now, it was my turn to be the gift-bearing cousin. The woman in Far East Russia was thrilled to get a scan of her great-great-grandfather’s first marriage and birth records for two sisters of her great-grandfather.

Then, I added her family’s info to my tree to figure out her direct ancestors. She only had names of her great-grandparents a few days ago but now she has information for every generation, including siblings’ families, back to her 8th great-grandfather.

We would have never connected if it weren’t for Всероссийское генеалогическое древо, the most popular genealogy forum for the Russian-speaking world. So far, I have found cousins 5 times from my mother’s and father’s families on this website over the past 7 years.

Being patient after posting information on my ancestors has proven worth the wait.

Related posts:

Discovery of a small genealogy forum leads to pushing family tree back to the 1600s
Guide to Using the Best & Largest Russian Language Genealogy Forum (with a video guide linked)
New Russian cousins found again!

An overlooked record opens a door to finding long-lost family from WWII

My search to find relatives of my maternal great-grandfather has been a slow knockdown of a brickwall. Every few years, I feel as if I have chipped away at some cement holding up the brickwall but it’s still standing strong.

This time, I finally believe I will be chipping away enough cement to push out some bricks to find my family. I’ve attempted to find my family through letters, social networking sites and genealogy forum posts.

Nothing was working until I was bored after this holiday season. I started to get curious about my great-grandfather’s brothers’ service during World War II. At least, I could learn about their service during the war while I figured out a plan to find the family.

I was thrilled to learn on Подвиг Народа that the youngest brother of my great-grandfather received a 40th anniversary award for his participation in the war.

And thank goodness for Russia for posting the information online. I found a woman who lives near Central Archive of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation on Всероссийское генеалогическое древо, the most popular Russian genealogy forum, to obtain the record for my curiosity.

The woman said the record wouldn’t offer much more information than what was already posted online, JUST his address from 1985,  military registration number and the enlistment office that gave the award.

An address from 1985 was enough to make me feel as if I got my chisel back on breaking down this brickwall. The researcher looked up the address on Yandex Maps (Russian version of Google Maps) and sent me links to photos of the address.

Another happy moment was to learn that it wasn’t an abandoned building. I still didn’t have the name of the person currently living at the home, thanks to an online address book for Kursk being removed a few years ago.

Whenever I’m stuck in getting information, I know posting on Всероссийское генеалогическое древо will get me some help. A man on the forum gave me the last name of the man living at the address of my great-grandfather’s brother and then I found the man’s initials for his first and middle names through some crafty searching on Yandex.

I tried to find the man who lives at the address on two Russian social networks (Odnoklassniki and VKontakte), but the name is too common.

Thanks to finding several relatives online in Russia, I sent the letter with an old family photo to a cousin in Saint Petersburg and he will send my letter to Kursk. The hope is that the man will be more eager to answer my letter when it was sent by another Russian.

I included in the letter my address on Odnoklassniki. Once he views my page on Odnoklassniki, I will know he received my letter. (Odnoklassniki reveals the identity of registered users who view members’ page.)

It’s been 74 years since my mother’s family has had contact with my great-grandfather’s family. Time will tell if an address of a baby brother from 1985 is all it takes to find this family and complete the story of how my family survived WWII.

Previous posts on this long search:
Putting some hope on military records to solve a family mystery
Getting some hope from the word “calculator”