One of the biggest mistakes in genealogy is rushing to the next step without doing all your research. Too many times, I hear people rushing into finding their family’s village well before their research is done.
Rush into this major step, you could feel like a horse led into an empty barn at feeding time.
Too many people assume when they have family stories and a few documents, that will be enough to start research in the family village.
In genealogy, you can’t research too much, especially with the factors involved when dealing with immigrants. Not many immigrants understood immigration officials when they arrived in their new homeland. Maybe some immigrants understood the language of their new country but officials could have misunderstood them or been confused by the stress of processing immigrants.
Then, immigrants had to document their lives in their new homeland on documents in a new language. Sometimes it wasn’t easy or cheap to find help in properly filling out the forms.
I have different birthplaces and birth dates for some relatives. Luckily, I’ve done my research to confirm those details. In some cases, I spent money and time in researching records in the wrong place.
There is nothing like being annoyed at yourself that you should have known better or some know-it-all relative saying with a big grin, “Boy, you really screwed up. Hope it didn’t cost you too much money.”
So here’s how you can earn some bragging rights for uncovering the mysterious family village. Follow these suggestions and you can restart or start your search with more confidence and success.
1. Interview the oldest relatives in your family. If relatives say, “I don’t know much.” Then say, “Please tell me what you remember.” Even if relatives can’t remember very specific details, try getting details such as closeness to another country’s border, big city or another region. Someone else could help you knock down the not-so-specific details to more concise information.
2. Learn about the family’s religion, class and profession. Not all Russians and Ukrainians are Orthodox or Jewish. The other religions are Old Believers, Russian Baptist, Catholic and Lutherans (mainly Germans living in the Russian Empire).
2. Get all possible immigration documents. Here are the records you should consider obtaining if your relatives came to the USA: petition for naturalization, application for immigration visa and alien registration, ship passenger record, declaration of intention for naturalization and Alien Case File.
3. If your family came to the USA in the early 1900s to 1950, I highly suggest paying $20 for an index search request at https://genealogy.uscis.dhs.gov/ to see which immigration records are available on your family.
4. If your family was held in German concentration camps or labor camps during World War II, make a free search request with International Tracing Service.
5. If your family escaped the Soviet Union during World War II by using German ancestry to relocate to Germany, search for your family here under data category “war records”. This database will tell you whether there are Einwanderungszentralstelle files (goldmine for genealogy research) on your relatives that you can obtain at U.S. national archives in College Park, Maryland.
6. If your relatives married, served in the military or died outside of the Russian Empire or USSR, I would recommend obtaining their marriage, military and death records. Those records could have the family village.
Once you have attempted to collect this information, it is time to research the family village. It is important to remember that just like many other countries, too many names of towns and villages duplicate in Russia and Ukraine and some names for towns and villages change over time.
If you are not familiar with Russian or Ukrainian, use Google Translate to translate keywords for search engines. Information in Russian or Ukrainian are likely to be more bountiful than English.
This all seems a bit much for one piece of information, but the cost for researching family in Russia and Ukraine can run pricey. Investing hope and money on the right village will have great returns.