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)

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

Curiosity of an old family letter reconnects two families decades later

The curiosity about the contents of a Russian letter got to an Australian woman. She was hoping I could help her translate the letter. Neither I nor a close friend in Moscow could understand the handwritten letter.

With some teamwork on North America, Australia and Europe, the families in Australia and Russia are exchanging information and photos for the first time in 50 years.

The process of connecting the families took three months. Luckily, the letter filled with family information was written by the Australian’s great-grandfather’s sister only about 30 years ago, when it is most likely that the letter wasn’t given a response.

In that time, I had hoped a younger generation of the family would continue to live at the same address. That wasn’t my luck.

I found a woman on Odnoklassniki, a popular Russian social network, who carried the family surname and lived in the same town. She was not related to the family but she was kind enough to visit the address of the woman who wrote the letter.

The family living there today didn’t know the letter writer. So I had to rethink about how to find this family. Thankfully, I was not dealing with a very common surname.

I contacted most of the people with the same surname on Odnoklassniki and VKontakte, the most popular Russian social network, in the same region of Russia. Most people either didn’t answer my message or responded that they were unrelated.

One woman responded within 24 hours that her husband was son of a brother of the Australian woman’s great-grandfather. Luckily, I waited to send the “are you related” messages after the Russian letter was translated to ensure accurate information was used to find the family.

I revealed in the messages to random people only a few details that the Australian woman knew so anyone who is truly related to her family would provide the other undisclosed details. The first woman did provide other known details that ensured this wasn’t just a luck of in common first and last names.

That relative on Odnoklassniki got the Australian woman in contact with another Russian relative who sent a family photo that completely confirmed I matched the correct families together.

I am hoping they will stay in contact for a while. The Australian woman opened an account on Odnoklassniki, posted some friendly pictures of herself and some old family photos and posted her status on the search for her family.

With so many years that have passed since these families have been in contact, exchanging faceless e-mail messages will not keep the connection going for long. Russians, like many English-speaking people, connect on social networks.

Long lost family can be found in the former USSR when the right steps are taken. It takes time and patience but dreams of reconnecting with family can become a reality to anyone.

Nothing like a 1930 gambling arrest to help solve a mystery

For three months, I have been stuck in how to help a woman find her great-grandfather’s brother who came to America in the early 1900s. Nothing I searched on Google nor ancestry.com would lead me to her relative.

Then, I noticed just this week that ancestry.com updated the 1920 U.S. Census records. Just out of curiosity, I searched for the man in the new records.

I hit the jackpot when I noticed an address for a man with the same name, birth year, birth place and arrival year as the man I am searching. The address was three blocks away from where my man got caught illegally gambling 10 years later. Personal details in the census record  for this man matched the information provided in the alien registration form I obtained from the USCIS Genealogy Program.

So I followed this man’s family to the 1930 Census. I finally found the family living at an address mentioned in the alien registration form.

That gambling arrest made it possible to find this man. He did not stand out among the other men with the same name and birth year who came from Russia in the early 1900s until I found the address near the place of his gambling arrest.

The mystery of where this family went after the 1940 Census is just that. The four children of my man have such common first names, along with a very common surname. I can’t find any of their birth records. Tracking down those children will involve more detective work.

I was stuck once again until I realized the oldest child was born in Russia. That means that she likely applied for American citizenship to make life easier. Or maybe the genealogy gods already know she avoided naturalization by marrying an American man.

So I searched every way possible to find her naturalization records. Nothing, of course, is available on ancestry.com. Then I searched for her mother and several women with the same name, birth year and birthplace were found.

Luckily, the mother applied for naturalization when she lived at one of the three addresses her husband listed on his alien  registration form. I am waiting for an answer from US national archives to see whether her naturalization records are available.

Thanks to the research I’ve done on my family, I know these records will likely have the birth dates, birthplaces and addresses of her adult children when she applied for naturalization.

I am crossing my fingers that a few more details on these children will lead me to living grandchildren of the married couple who came with so many dreams to America.

New Russian cousins found again!

My best resource I’ve found for my family search has been Всероссийское Генеалогическое Древо (ВГД). The website’s name translates into All Russia Family Tree in English and it feels as if all Russians and Ukrainians who care about genealogy and family searches are on this forum.

I’ve found family not once, twice nor three times on this website. I can credit ВГД four times for helping me find my Russian cousins.

The man from St. Petersburg who contacted me about possibly being related to my paternal grandfather’s mother’s family finally got proof from archives that we are related.

His grandfather was a great-grand nephew of  my great-grandmother. Our common ancestors are great-great-grandparents. It will be interesting what I will learn about my great-grandmother’s family through this distant cousin.

I wouldn’t have any bragging rights about finding distant Russian cousins if I never gave in and forced myself to be comfortable on Russian language genealogy forums. I got irritated that it was “so hard” to use ВГД until I found Google Translate to make registering, reading and posting on the forum as easy as an English language forum.

I’m excited about who else I could find as I continue my journey looking for my  cousins and family who were never seen again after WWII.

Related post:

Wondering if my family tree is about to grow