An unreal surprise on my birthday

Yesterday, I was crying tears of joy. I have wanted for years to see the grave of my paternal grandfather. My oldest brother visited my father’s hometown three years ago and wasn’t brave enough to find our grandfather’s grave.

I made contact with a town official there and he said he would look into information on the grave. The local archive manager told him there wasn’t any information on his burial. Before I asked him, a friendly guy from the same town said it would be really hard to find the grave.

I was about to give up but then decided last week to post for some help on a forum for the town. Two people responded with questions and I thought this is hopeless again.

No one was offering to help me look for his grave on the forum. Then a guy sent me a private message that he was visiting the cemetery this week.

Luckily, I had my grandfather’s death date from the local registry office. That date determines where my grandfather’s grave would be located in the cemetery.

So, yesterday I casually checked my private messages for the forum and the guy sent me a message. I was nervous but relieved to not see the Russian negative words нет and не.

But I still was thinking he could be sending me random pictures of the cemetery. What were the chances of finding my grandfather’s grave on my birthday?

I could not understand what the guy was writing so I used Google Translate. It is hard to explain the excitement when I realized he pinpointed my grandfather’s grave on a map and posted 10 photos of the grave onto Dropbox.

This year has been the year of NO, NO and NO. I kept my expectations of finding the grave low because I’ve heard that cemeteries in Russia are not maintained in the same way as in the USA.

So, I cried on my birthday because I could finally see my grandfather’s grave. I gave my youngest son his middle name after his great-grandfather. Now, my grandfather does not feel forgotten in some Russian cemetery.

Here is his grave stone:

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I’m giving a translation as a free lesson in Russian gravestone reading: Ivanov Pavel Nikolaevich (patronymic name that states he is son of Nikolai), born December 5, 1885 (but he was really born on Dec. 15. Even gravestones have the wrong information. I know this as a fact because my father bragged he shared his birthday with his father) and died December 2, 1971. The г. in the gravestone means year.

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Here is the overgrown mess that surrounds my grandfather’s grave. Anyone who finds their relatives’ graves in Russia surrounded by beautiful flowers and nicely cut grass is lucky. This is the reality of cemeteries in Russia.

 

 

 

 

 

A bonus find for the adopted Russian brother and sister

I am crossing my fingers an orphanage director will answer my e-mail message to help the Russian-born brother and sister who are looking for their mother. Sadly, the father died soon after his kids were adopted in the USA.

The brother and sister have copies of their birth certificate but the maiden name of the mother is not mentioned. But it seems as if they have more information than American-born adoptees. I have several cousins who were adopted and it seems American-born adoptees have to do cartwheels to get their birth certificate.

While I wait for an e-mail message from the orphanage, I am so excited that I discovered online information on the brother and sister’s paternal grandfather. He was a decorated WWII veteran. I have tried so many ways to document my grandfather’s service in the Soviet Army so this success for the brother and sister is a bonus in this journey.

The grandfather’s service is so notable that his biography and photo are posted on the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation website. The biography includes his birthdate and birthplace so that opens the door to obtain his birth record for genealogy research. I am 100 percent confident that this man is the grandfather because a relative e-mailed the same picture as posted online.

I was even more thrilled when I found the five military award citations for the grandfather posted on Подвиг Народа. This wonderful website is such an asset for researching Russian WWII veterans. Such an online database does not exist for American WWII veterans.

Now, the joy I will have when the mother is found will be incredible. I never expected to find the father’s family so quickly. If only the maiden names of mothers were included on more civil records, I could find the mother much easier.

 

On a journey to connect Russian adoptees with their homeland family

Today, I am learning about what is involved for a Russian adoptee to connect with his/her birth family.

The journey started simple. The fiancée of a guy who was adopted from southern Russia in the 1980s asked for my help to find his birth parents. Luckily, the guy has an official birth certificate with the parents’ full names.

So I went onto Odnoklassniki, a Russian version of Facebook, and e-mailed a few people with the same surname who are living in the guy’s birthplace. I am grateful that the surname is not too common in the city of more than 1 million people.

Within four days, I got a response from a very excited man who called himself the guy’s uncle. Russians who are older cousins call themselves uncles/aunts to their younger cousins.

The Russian cousin knew the name of the American adoptee’s sister without me mentioning the sibling who was also adopted in the USA. For me, this is a good sign that he really is related to the American-raised brother and sister.

The amount of enthusiasm coming from the cousin and his wife makes me hopeful that this could be a successful reunion. There are a lot of questions to ask and more relatives to find.

It was quite a task to instant message two women on Facebook  in English and the cousin on Odnoklassniki in Russian at the same time. I was using Google Translate to write to the Russian cousin, then I had to translate his messages, pass on the information to the two women on Facebook and then I passed on their questions after using Google Translate to the Russian cousin. It was an intense two hours.

This journey with this family will teach me a lot about what it takes for Russian adoptees to find their families and how helpful local and regional government will be in providing information to their former Russian citizens.

I am so excited to see to where this journey will lead me and the American-raised brother and sister.

The mystery of a great-great-grand aunt gets solved

I have been working on my German genealogy while I search for my distant Russian family and work on my Russian family tree. A big surprise came in e-mail last week. A woman related to my great-great-grandmother’s sister contacted me from St. Petersburg, Russia.

I never expected anyone from her family to find me. One distant relative apparently had  her  married name wrong but knew she had a son and daughter. Two years ago, a woman from Texas claimed her great-grandmother was niece of my great-great-great-grandfather. Her family documents did not prove that in the end.

This time, the woman who had contacted me had a birth record to prove she was related to my family. I have familysearch.org to thank for this match.

I submitted a portion of my family tree to the site. This is the second time I have found distant cousins through this website. A few years ago, I found a man related to my great-great-great-great-grandfather’s brother.

I learned last week my great-great-grand aunt Martha Bleschke married a Cossack and moved from the Bialystok area, once in Russia, and now in eastern Poland, moved around Ukraine and Russia. I have her birth certificate in Russian and German, several family photos and a family tree.

I paid for Bialystok archives to look for records on my Bleschke family, but only Martha’s birth record could be found. Archives found marriage, birth and death records for most of her siblings.

I have yet to find any distant Russian or Ukrainian relatives on the very popular Ancestry.com. But a few years ago, I found a man related to another 4th-great-grandmother’s brother from my German ancestry on Ancestry.com. He mailed me copies of family documents back from the 18th century.

So this newest connection is giving me hope that I should submit other portions of my family tree to familysearch.org. I have more German ancestry from current day eastern Poland that once was part of the Russian Empire. My ancestors lived so close to the Russian border that maybe more of my German relatives married Russians.

Thankfully, familysearch.org is a free website and easy to use. Anyone can register here. Then, when the account is confirmed, go to the trees link, scroll down and click on submit tree button to upload a gedcom file. I recommend submitting family trees that cover one family group each. I assume anyone can submit multiple trees.

100 years after immigration, a family reunites

Back in February, a woman from southern Russia e-mailed me for help to find family of her grandmother’s brother in the USA. I did not think it would be too hard.

Not this case. It seemed like an easy case at first. In addition to knowing her grand uncle’s full name, birthplace and birth date, she knew her grand uncle left Russia between 1909 and 1920, his son became a doctor, her grand uncle worked with unusual machinery in the USA and he left to follow a girlfriend.

The complication was the grand uncle’s Polish last name. Polish first and last names can have so many variations in spellings. I searched every variation of this man’s name ending in vich.

I followed a paper trail from a man matching information of the woman’s relative on a ship passenger record posted on ancestry.com. He came from the same region of Belarus, his birthdate was near the lady’s grand uncle, arrived in the USA in the same period of time, and his full name was the same, even the patronymic name.

I found a match in a family tree on ancestry.com but it turned out the man had a different mother than the man I was researching. I got too excited and told the Russian lady I had found the family before I confirmed information.

I was so annoyed with myself. I promised to find her relatives so I was determined to continue looking. Luckily, the Russian woman’s family also was known by another surname that is Russian. There are only two possible variations for this name.

I was very cautious when I found a man who appeared to be the right match on a private family tree on ancestry.com. The full Russian name was correct, his birthplace was the correct region of Belarus and the birth year was off by a year.

Luckily, a grandson of the match was open-minded about considering the Russian woman’s grandmother as his grand aunt. The family confirmed their Joe had the same parents as the Joe I was researching and sent me four family photos. One photo showed three people in a village and on the back was written in Russian the name of the same village where the Russian woman’s family lived. And Joe’s son did become a doctor, Joe did follow a girlfriend to the USA and Joe did work with interesting equipment as the Russian woman’s grandmother had recalled.

I waited impatiently to hear from the woman in Russia after I sent her an e-mail message that a match was confirmed.  She was so happy and grateful and I was happy I kept my promise to find her family.

I would have never found this family if I searched with a closed mind. Joe had changed his birthdate on all the documents I found on ancestry.com. One document even had the wrong birthplace.

Joe’s family did not know about his siblings or the village where he was born. He never talked about his life in the old country to his family. Joe did not live in the Soviet Union. He left Russia in 1912. His letters to his sister stopped at a certain point due to personal safety issues.

Now, I am helping the family find immigration documents on Joe. He immigrated from England, far from the place where other people from the same village had boarded ships to America. The story of this Joe will be complete once more immigration records are found.