Archive records on money dispute uncovers family history in mining

I have been assuming that my great-grandfather was the only one in his family to pursue a life in mining. A search in archives uncovered a money dispute that opened the doors to giving a better picture of his father past the simple life details.

My grandmother told my father in a taped interview that her father sold a mine for 20,000 rubles. I asked my researcher at Russian State Historical Archives to find proof of this family story. She couldn’t prove that story true but the researcher found documents for an even better story.

My researcher uncovered that my Don Cossack great-great-grandfather owned a mine in southern Russia. Thanks to a dispute over 4,795 rubles in silver from 1861, I have the luck of learning about his mining background.

My great-great-grandfather borrowed the silver from a Don Cossack colonel who could have been his cousin, based on his last name being the same as his paternal grandmother. The colonel asked for the money back four months later, which was 8 days after the birth of my great-grandfather.

The money was gone and the infuriated colonel reported him to the police. An investigation started and determined that 2,500 rubles of coal was available at my great-great-grandfather’s mine.

The problem was that the mine was not operating at the time, was at least one mile from a railroad track and was not near any rivers to transport it as payment to the colonel. Great-great-grandpa didn’t have money for miners to dig up the coal or an army of horse wagons to transport all that coal for his debt.

The bickering over the mine escalated because my great-grandfather managed to quietly sell the mine in 1865 to another Don Cossack, who made it a working mine without official permission.

By 1873, the dispute ended with the mine being put up for public action and my great-great-grandfather’s debt accumulating to 7,000 rubles. That amount could have bought several houses at that time.

Sometime after my great-grandfather was born in 1864, his mother died and his mother’s family took him to Luhansk, now in the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic within eastern Ukraine.

That story from my grandmother makes more sense now. With my great-great-grandfather having financial troubles and losing his wife, he was a lost soul who was struggling to deal with family finances and his two children.

Later on, my great-grandfather learned how to assist engineers in the development of mines at a mining school in Lysychans’k, which also is Luhansk Region today. He became an engineer who developed chemicals for explosives used in mining. His choice of profession is no longer a strange mystery to me.

His brother became a doctor. Maybe not surprising when understanding the loss of his mother at a young age could have inspired him to become a doctor.

A search on Google with Russian keywords from my researcher’s transcription of the money dispute file helped me discover that my great-grandfather’s paternal uncle was manager for the Office of Mine Inspections for the Don Cossacks.

Probably even more searching could come up with more family history in mining. A search of where my great-great-grandfather owned a mine shows the area grew into a city of about 245,000 people and honors its past by calling it the city of miners.

the coat of arms for Shakhty, Russia (source:miningwiki.ru)

Learning more than the basic facts of my great-grandfather’s life has gotten me to this point. I have opened myself to any possible archive documents on my great-grandfather’s family so I can discover family stories that are well beyond my imagination.

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An empty-handed search shows the path to an even better discovery

So much time and money have been spent to find records of my great-grandfather’s service with the Don Cossacks. A family photo shows him in a decorated Don Cossack uniform but records searched in two archives can’t document the same story.

My great-grandfather started his career in mining in eastern Ukraine and moved into explosive inventing for mine exploration, a much different path from the Don Cossack service of his brother, father, uncles and ancestors. It didn’t make sense why his path was so different.

That was until I posted on the most popular Russian language genealogy forum, asking if anyone knew anything about the mother’s family of my great-grandfather. Two quick responses provided nothing useful.

Two months later, a man from the forum e-mailed me if I was still researching my great-grandfather’s mother’s family. He told me at least four files exist at Russian State Historical Archives in Saint Petersburg for people with the same surname from Luhansk, Ukraine, for mining.

The man’s enthusiasm to pursue these records was contagious. Still, I had thought a slim chance existed for the records to be helpful because I knew so little on the family.

Great-great-grandpa Nikolai Pershin was a captain and engineer, which was all I knew about his life that led to a trend of engineers in my family.

Thankfully, I already have a researcher who helps me review records at Russian State Historical Archives. My researcher took a look at the records noted by the guy who e-mailed me.

It was quite the surprise that my researcher discovered in the records. I was so excited after reading her report, I couldn’t sleep that night.

My researcher retyped 16 pages of records. After reviewing the suggested records for potential connection to my ancestors, she opened the Pershin family nobility file. The details in the nobility file confirmed that these were the records of my great-great-grandmother’s family.

The records had a Nikolai Pershin who was a captain and engineer by the time by great-great-grandmother got married. He had a daughter Elizaveta, born in 1838, that was the perfect age to marry a Don Cossack leader in 1861. He had a son, Aleksei, likely the uncle of my great-grandfather whom is noted in another archive record. My great-grandfather also had a son, Aleksei, likely named in honor of his uncle. My grandmother told my father that her father’s mother died young and he was taken care by his mother’s family in Luhansk after her death.

source: https://mikul-a.livejournal.com/175620.html

A drawing of the Luhansk  Foundry, where my 4th great-grandfather lived and worked in 1796.

Not only did the records detail the birthplace of my great-great-grandmother’s brother and possibly her own, I learned about her family’s involvement as leaders of the famous Luhansk Foundry back to 1796 and Russian military service unrelated to the Cossacks for several generations.

The foundry was so important that it had a coat of arms. My great-great-grandmother’s brother, Aleksei, presented those coat of arms to Luhansk city duma and it became the city’s coat of arms in 1903. The current Luhansk coat of arms is based on the design Aleksei presented to the city more than 100 years ago.

My determination to find the story I wanted brought me to an even better story. Three years ago, a researcher discovered my great-great-grandmother’s maiden name and her father’s positions. Now, the maiden name of my great-great-grandmother’s mother has been discovered in a nobility file.

It took one person’s response to a 2-month-old forum post to break open this amazing family history. The Pershin family tree got pushed back to the 1730s and will open up a second female ancestor’s history to my family. It’s just amazing what can happen after a disappointment.

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Random database search uncovers information waiting to be found at archives

After so many years of doing research on my ancestors, it is hard to predict what else could come my way. My latest discovery proves that good things do come to those who wait.

Out of boredom, I posted during the holiday season on the biggest Russian-language genealogy forum to find anyone who is researching my great-great-grandmother’s surname in southern Russia.

The responses on the forum weren’t of any use. Then, messages came this week from a man who saw my post. He suggested I have a researcher look at files at Russian State Historical Archive, the largest archive in Europe.

I know my great-great-grandmother’s family had some kind of connection to Luhansk, Ukraine. My great-grandfather had an uncle living there in the 1880s from his mother’s family.

The guy who contacted me found files on men with the same surname of my great-great-grandmother in Luhansk on the database for Russian State Historical Archive. I know it will be hard to connect those people with her family because I know so little.

Just out of curosity, I searched the full name of my grandfather on the database. My grandfather wrote in a letter to my father that he worked for Russian-Asian Bank in the early 1900s. I had a researcher attempt to find archive records on his work several years ago.

She couldn’t find any records. I gave up on trying to find information on his work for the bank.

Yesterday, my curosity peaked again. I waited a few minutes for the results of my search for him on Russian State Historical Archive. Then the first result was my grandfather’s personnel file from that bank where he had worked.

I was stunned and continue to be stunned. This has been waiting online for me to be found. It took a forum post completely unrelated to my grandfather to make this discovery.

Also, this is thanks to using Google Chrome as my Internet browser. It has an automatic language translator app and I couldn’t search or use these Russian websites without it.

So much money has been spent looking at records at this archive. I assumed I was done with this archive. Now, my researcher has plenty of reason to return to the archive.

I didn’t bother searching the archive’s database until now because I still get intimidated by large Russian archive websites. Having USSR-born parents only comes with a slight advantage in Russian genealogy.

This is a fine example of why not to give up. It’s hard to predict how one search can zig-zag into a perfect brickwall crashing.

Follow this blog with the top right button to learn about how this story continues.

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Years of frustration ends with discovery of one key document

Assumptions in genealogy can lead to years of frustration. I had been annoyed for years that I couldn’t document my great-grandfather’s birthdate and birthplace. The why behind my years of frustrations was revealed this week.

Thanks to a member of a Russian genealogy group on Facebook, I learned about a file on my great-grandfather at Russian State Military Historical Archive in Saint Petersburg.

I didn’t know what could be in this file but I was hoping it wasn’t information already known to me. A researcher has found so much information on my great-grandfather in that archive.

Once, I saw scans from the file, I knew something important was right in front of me. My ability to read Russian cursive is limited so I was grateful for help from a member of my genealogy group on Facebook.

The file had my great-grandfather’s full birthdate, birthplace, place of baptism and parents’ address. Years of frustration finally switched to accomplishment.

I could finally put his full birthdate into the family tree but I had to change his birthplace to a city 92 kilometers from the family Don Cossack village.

For years, I tried to prove he was born in the family Cossack village. The records for his birth year for that village are missing from archives. I still assumed he was born there. I even tried to find proof his parents married in the Cossack village but the village’s records for that year also are missing from archives.

Thanks to this getting scans of the latest file, I finally have pictures and postcards of my great-grandfather’s churches for his baptism, wedding and funeral. That is a first for any of my great-grandparents.

Once I calmed down from the excitement of finding all this information, I contacted my researcher for the area where my great-grandfather was born. She quickly wrote back that records for that decade are missing at archives for his actual birthplace.

This is the second genealogy joke on me for researching my great-grandfather. A local author wrote a book about my father’s hometown that included information extracted from the death record of his grandfather (the same great-grandfather) 10 years ago. My researcher can’t find the record in archives. Now, my great-grandfather’s baptism record is missing from archives but Russian State Military Historical Archive has it extracted in a file from 1879, when he was 15 years old.

This journey shows assuming facts can lead to years of frustration and the importance of never giving up on documenting ancestors.

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An unreal surprise appears when research on a great-grandfather seems stalled

I thought I had uncovered everything possible on my great-grandfather Vasil. So much money has been spent researching his short 48-year life. What else could possibly be discovered after eight intensive years of research?

Just out of curiosity, I started searching for more information on his technical college in eastern Ukraine on Google. Quickly I found old photos of the school where he learned about mining.

One website had a great photo of the school property and then I scrolled down to discover graduation photos. Then there he was in the class of 1884 with his long beard and receding hairline.

I couldn’t stop smiling and immediately called the only living grandchild of my great-grandfather. She really needed the good news as she is dealing with an infection affecting her health and mood.

It’s hard to believe that I found the college graduation photo of my great-grandfather from 1884. This is all thanks to a museum that has been taking care of the album of graduation photos.

The photo has been online for two years, waiting for me to discover it. I never even thought to pursue graduation photos of my ancestors. Years of research in Ukraine never made me think that this could even be available online.

It took nothing special to find this photo of my great-grandfather at age 20. I only searched the school’s name and the word museum in Russian on Google, thanks to help from Google Translate. My basic Russian skills from my childhood have been built up through years of researching my ancestors from Ukraine and Russia.

Discovery genealogy gems didn’t start until I began using Google Translate to maneuver around Russian and Ukrainian websites. First, there was a lot of copying and pasting into Google Translate. Now, I also use Google Translate’s browser app to see websites automatically in English.

This latest discovery makes me wonder about what else is waiting for me. Genealogy is growing in popularity in the former USSR. More information and records will become available online as time goes on.

Those who switch their research from English to Russian and Ukrainian can turn their genealogy research from a never-ending brick wall to the yellow brick road. It just takes a small brave step to try Russian and Ukrainian websites.

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Declassified file reveals relative’s full story on journey to the gulags

So far, I’ve had a general idea about the experience of my grandmother’s first husband being sent to the gulag from family stories, books on the gulag and an extraction of information from the regional Office of the Federal Security Service.

A researcher who has been visiting archives in southern Russia told me so much more can be uncovered on his case since 75 years have passed. The researcher herself viewed her own relatives’ cases and was willing to do the same for me.

Nothing shocks me after what I have read about the gulag but the file read as if it came from Gulag: A History” by Anne Applebaum. The first husband of my grandmother, Vladimir, was arrested with his half-brother, Ivan, in 1932.

Here’s how the investigators got the husband’s confession:

Vladimir: I did not conduct anti-Soviet activities.
Ivan: My brother is hostile to the Soviets and, like me, conducted anti-Soviet agitation.
Vladimir: My brother is lying.
Ivan: Vladimir, I am your half-brother and I have confessed everything. I am your brother and cannot lie to you and you must confess everything.
Vladimir: Yes, now I plead guilty. I conducted anti-Soviet agitation. I was in a counter-revolutionary organization. Before, I gave false testimony, but now I will tell the truth.
Letters from abroad really came to me. In 1926, there was a letter from Bulgaria from a former white officer with the rank of ensign, Stefan Ivanovich Stublienko. He wrote that he lives badly, where his brother and father are missing.

The crimes of these brothers were being possession of 1,000 rubles of the gold currency from tsarist minting, expressing to acquaintances their intention to flee abroad and communicating through the postal mail to a foreign-living relative.

It didn’t help Vladimir that my grandmother didn’t support him, a typical situation during the Stalin era, when he was father of her two kids.

“I can hide the ends in the water. I have always secretly told my bank director, Vasiliy, about upcoming strikes, meetings among bank employees, and the latter was always warned about it in due time and, however, no one until this day knows anything about it,” my grandmother told investigators about an alleged conversation with her then ex-husband (who isn’t my grandfather).

For their crimes, the brothers were sentenced to three years at Lodeynoye Pole in St. Petersburg Region, one of the worst camps. Luckily, Vladimir was released a year early at age 56 after spending two years chopping trees down for firewood and other products. He made the hall of fame for productivity in the camp.

Then three years later, he was arrested again. This time, he confessed: “I carried on my counter-revolutionary activities more actively, spreading rumors about a quick war and the destruction of Soviet power.”

Vladimir also confessed that he expressed regret about the Soviet government killing of Chief of General Staff Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky.

Those confessions cost Vladimir another 10 years of his life to a gulag in Siberia  near the border of China. He was forced to build the Baikal–Amur Mainline of the Trans-Siberian Railway. A year later, he wrote a letter, begging to review his case, but a confession was a confession.

Sadly, nothing in Vladimir’s file reveals whether he survived his last sentence. He would have been 68 years old if he served the full sentence.

My researcher contacted the Federal Penitentiary Service in Moscow for more information. The office responded only relatives who can prove ancestry with documents can receive the information. That means I can’t learn more about him until the law changes.

His story is not forgotten for his family. I found Sergey, a great-grandson of Vladimir and Ivan’s brother, Vasiliy, on social network ok.ru. Sergey is thrilled to learn the details of the cases and all the biographical information collected by the NKVD on his great-great-uncles.

Thanks to this project for the photo of the Lodeynoye Pole gulag.

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Unsealed records unveil the bigger story behind a family’s persecution

For years, relatives have repeated the story that my grandmother’s five brothers were sent to prison during the communist era for possessing a foreign technical journal on a train.

But that is so far from the possible truth. My grandmother’s brothers were really accused of making an invention that was possibly sold to the Germans, according to files removed from an archive’s volt.

A cell companion of my oldest grand-uncle said he repeatedly heard from other prisoners that my relative said the People’s Commissar of the Navy requested him to make the invention. The signed statement of the cell companion doesn’t say who sold the invention to the Germans.

An accusation that my grand-uncle made an invention worth selling isn’t far-fetched. My researcher carefully looked at the records that were fading and crumbling. The information is a bit shocking.

My researcher found drawings and documentation of nine inventions made by my three grand-uncles. All the writing was in German. These inventions could have helped the military in wartime.

The shocking part isn’t that my grand-uncles had the knowledge and ability to make these inventions. Their father had several inventions for explosives, which were used in mining.

It is hard to understand why they chose to write everything in German. Maybe that was the order from the People’s Commissar of the Navy. I wonder if my grand-uncles even had a choice when this order came to them.

But what is the real truth?  Did their invention really get into the hands of the Germans? Their 57-year-old widowed mother wasn’t afraid to stand up for her sons to Andrei Vyshinsky, the prosecutor of the USSR.

“I beg you to treat fairly the business of my sons. Do not allow certain careerists and overcautious persons to cast a black shadow on the great and awesome name of People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs which is not needing at all those actions which are applied to my sons, the gone too far careerists and actually the Trotskyists who addressed in great People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs for data of the personal scores and for commission of the dirty Trotskyist work,” she wrote to Vyshinsky in 1938.

She was inspired to write Vyshinsky because her oldest son sneaked out a letter written on toilet paper to her. My grand-uncle hid his letter in a saucepan to tell his mother that he and his brother haven’t eaten edible food in six months, were punished by being held in a hot cell for a month and have been beaten terribly for not signing confessions.

Soon after my great-grandmother sent this letter, her other three sons were charged with unknown crimes. This only left a daughter as her only child who was not in prison. Not until my researcher dove into these records, I didn’t understand why the grand-uncles were arrested at different times.

The five brothers were thrown into a stream after being severally beaten and aging much more than the three years that were taken away from them. They saved their lives by not signing any confessions. They returned to their families and made a successful plan to escape the USSR three years later.

The details of this story ends here because the archive is hesitating to release any more records on this case. But the fight to fully tell this story will continue at the archives of a regional Federal Security Service office, where my researcher will open more files on this case.

Follow this blog to see this story continue by clicking on the top right button.

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