The cure for fearing Russian-language genealogy websites to make breakthroughs

Millions of records are available online for those researching their ancestors from the former Russian Empire. These records are completely free to access and download.

But still so many people won’t touch a link for a website in Russian. I’m trying to figure out why when Google Translate makes it so much easier to use these websites.

Using these Russian websites isn’t a computer safety issue. I only use Malwarebytes to protect my computer from malicious websites and my computer is completely safe.

So many of the best Russian websites have information never found on the subscription genealogy websites. Russian genealogy research online is possible even if you don’t know Russian.

I do have the advantage of having a father born in Russia and mother born in Ukraine. My father died when I was 10 years old. The pressure to know and speak Russian was released.

I was so horrible at learning Russian that I kept repeating first grade in Russian school. The teachers didn’t know how to get me to learn Russian like the other kids.

I still can’t have a simple conversation in Russian. My pronunciation is off and my knowledge of Russian grammar is embarrassing. I have relearned Russian from my childhood and  learned more Russian words from using Google Translate.

Thanks to Google Translate and my refusal to fear Russian-language genealogy websites, I am in contact with my grandfather’s family in Kiev, great-grandfather’s brother’s family in Moscow, my great-grandmother’s brother’s family in Saint Petersburg and some very distant cousins in Russia.

Not only that, I have found the best researchers in Russia to research my family tree back to the 1600s and obtained documents on my family I never thought could be found online and at archives.

All the success stories written on this blog could happen to anyone who follows these tips and does thorough research on their relatives and ancestors.

  1. Open Google Translate and one of the following websites: WWII casualties and MIA soldiers, WWII soldiers’ records, WWI soldiers’ records, or victims of political terror database.
  2. Copy and paste the link of the selected Russian website into  Google Translate into the empty left box. Click on Russian above that box, English above the right box and then the translate button.
  3. Now view the website in Russian and English. Does the Russian website in English seem less intimidating than its original form?

These websites can’t be searched in English but that problem can be solved quickly.

Visit Transliterating English to Russian in One Step to get several possible spellings of your family names. I highly recommend copying and pasting the translated names into a Microsoft Word document or a text document.

Once that is completed, searching Russian databases is easy as copying and pasting the Russian keywords. Then when the results appear, just copy and paste them into Google Translate.

If the results are too large for Google Translate, just copy and paste into Google Translate in chunks or use the find tool of your Internet browser. Copy and paste the Russian keywords into the find tool.

If nothing is found, start deleting one letter at a time due to the changing endings of words in Russian grammar (my struggle with Russian).

Genealogy research in the former Russian Empire involves lots of emotional sweat, especially for those who aren’t fluent in Russian. How much do you want to find your grandmother’s family never heard from again after WWII? What records on your relatives have been waiting to be found by you?

The Russian-language websites have the ability to knock down those strong brickwalls but it’s up to you whether you want to face the challenge of using Russian websites.

Related posts:
Secrets of searching the Internet in Russian and Ukrainian like a native speaker
Guide to finding family in Ukraine like a native expert
Guide to Using the Best & Largest Russian Language Genealogy Forum (with a video guide in English)

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Database of political terror victims in the USSR explodes past 3 million

A Russian organization is determined to remember the people who were political terror victims in the USSR. Its project, started in 1998, first was published on a CD in 2001 with only 130,000 victims.

Now, Memorial’s project has been moved to a searchable database with information on about 3.1 million political terror victims. The information in this free database cannot be found on any subscription genealogy website.

Some of the details found on political terror victims include full name, birth year, place of birth, nationality, education, place or type of work, place of residence, date of arrest, date of conviction, length of sentence and source where the information was found.

The website can be easily used, even without knowing Russian. Here are translations of the keyword boxes: фамилия is last name, имя is first name, отчество is patronymic middle name (i.e. Ivanovich, son of Ivan) год роджения is birth year and mесто рождения is place of birth. The green button saying искать is the search button.

To search for relatives in the database, follow these tips:

  1. Translate keywords into Russian by using Google Translate or Transliterating English to Russian in One Step in a browser window next to the database.
  2. Copy and paste the translated keywords into the search boxes.
  3. If results don’t appear, eliminate some search criteria until results appear. Also, try all possible surname spellings from Transliterating English to Russian in One Step.
  4. When results appear, click on each name to see the complete information on his or her persecution.
  5. Copy and paste the information into Google Translate to see it in English.

Here’s a sample result from the database:

Then Google Translate will switch the information into English:

The information does not end with this database. The region where the arrest took place has the “secret file” on the prosecution and the file can be opened to relatives to obtain additional information.

Naturally, the regional Federal Security Service office needs the request for information in Russian. That’s easy as copying and pasting the information from the database and merging it into this statement “My relative (name and birth year) was arrested as enemy of the people in (town/city) in (year ) and was under investigation until (year, if known). Later he/she was justified. Please send me extracts from his/her criminal case to the above e-mail address. I’m especially interested in ………..(addresses, education, employer, relatives who lived with them, etc.)

This information would be greatly appreciated.

Yours faithfully,

Once you completed that step, copy and paste this statement into Google Translate to get your official request in Russian. The final step is translating “Federal Security Service” and the name of the region where the arrest took place into Russian on Google Translate to find the website for that particular Federal Security Service.

All of this seems like a lot of work, but it’s worth it in the end. Here’s the proof from my own experience-Secret files help complete the life story of five brothers.

Related posts:
SSSHHH!!! Detailed civilian records of Soviet persecution camps declassified………
A shocking sign that some people in the former USSR aren’t scared anymore

A shocking surprise was waiting to be discovered for 6 years

The genealogy gods had a good laugh at me last weekend. I have been so frustrated by being unable to “find” the marriage record of my 4th great-grandparents from Russian Poland.

After all the success I’ve had with researching my German ancestors who moved to Russian Poland in the late 19th century, I hired a researcher to find the record in Bialystok (formerly Russian Poland).

The researcher found the marriage record but I was shocked when I saw this record. It looked so familiar. Then I started swearing. The record has been on my computer for SIX YEARS.

With being a typical family researcher, I research multiple lines at the same time and get easily distracted.

Six years ago, I ordered a microfilm from the local Family History Center for my family’s village of Ciechanowiec (Tsekhanovets in Russian). I scanned a few documents that had Hoffman and Lamprecht in them while I kept my 2 year-old son distracted with toys next to me in his stroller.

I got excited that Hoffman and Lamprecht appeared within one document. Maybe there was a chance it was the marriage record of my 4th great-grandparents. I knew no one who read Polish and didn’t want to bother anyone for a translation in case I was wrong about the record.

It sat on my computer, ignored until last weekend. I’m beyond words!

Thankfully, the researcher found more than the marriage record. I finally have the birth record of my 3rd great-grandfather, their son.

The story of this family gets even more interesting with that birth record. My Catholic 4th great-grandmother wouldn’t declare her son’s father in the birth record. The child was born out-of-wedlock in 1835. (It wasn’t forgotten by the church community. His grandson married 51 years later and his name was originally put as Lamprecht in his marriage record and then changed to Hoffman. I had wondered if he was raised by a step-father named Lamprecht.)

A year later, the Lutheran father (my 4th great-grandfather) steps up to be an honorable man and the couple marries. Finally, I also have the parents’ names of both 4th great-grandparents.

I thought I already had my 4th great-grandfather’s parents’ names from their son’s second marriage record in 1861. I assumed that the wife of his father in that marriage record was my 5th great-grandmother, but the marriage record from 1836 gives another woman as the mother.

Then the mother’s name of my 4th great-grandmother was quite a surprise, Bozyna Berba. The last name is German but the first name is possibly Czech. I would have never guessed that I could have Czech ancestry.

All of this is quite a learning lesson about assumptions. I assumed I couldn’t find the marriage record myself, that I already knew the name of my 5th great-grandmother and I would only find German ancestors in Russian Poland.

The journey of researching my family’s history is more interesting than I have been assuming for the past 6 years.

Related posts:
One detail completely changes the story of great-great-great-grandpa’s life
Great-grandpa’s arrest record helps breakdown a brickwall
An overlooked record opens a door to finding long-lost family from WWII

Journey to find one record breaks down a brickwall on 3rd great-grandfather’s family

I thought I hit the jackpot when I found my great-great-great-grandfather’s death record on an Ancestry database. That was just the beginning of a journey to break down a brickwall I never expected to crumble.

I got the family tree of my ancestors who lived in Russian Poland 8 years ago from a German cousin. No one knew about siblings of my great-great-great-grandfather, Ferdinand Oswald Bleschke. Every effort to find records on his family failed until I creatively searched Ancestry’s recently updated database, Eastern Prussian Provinces, Germany [Poland], Selected Civil Vitals, 1874-1945.

Once I found Ferdinand’s death record from 1926, I got curious about what else could be found. It would be a pointless effort, I thought, to look for his brothers and sisters without knowing their names nor birth years. I took the easy route and looked for his mother’s death record from 1884.

I was thrilled to find it. Once I saw the maiden name of Littmann, I knew I found the death record of my 4th great-grandmother without a doubt.

Then, my unstoppable curiosity moved onto whether any records could be found on Ferdinand’s siblings. Once I played around with the database by searching through the mother’s first, middle and maiden names and father’s first and middle names, my luck continued.

Two brothers and a sister of my Ferdinand were found in marriage and death records. All three were born too early to have their birth records in the database.

Ferdinand also was born, married and had children before 1874. He already was in Russia (now eastern Poland) in 1870. The genealogy gods are determined to test my patience and push my determination.

Thankfully, Ferdinand’s siblings chose to stay in the family village, allowing me to find his 13 nieces and nephews and 4 grand nieces and nephews. The story of my great-great-great-grandfather is more complete by finding his siblings’ marriage and death records.

Ferdinand left the family village of Schwiebus (now Świebodzin, Poland) about 7 years after his father’s death, with his wife and four kids to live in Bialystok, Russia (now Poland). He lived there for about 60 years and came back to current-day western Poland, most likely due to the Polish-Soviet War (1919-1921).

He found a new home about 50 km from his family village in Schwerin an der Warth, Germany (now Skwierzyna) near 1919. His brother, Julius, had already died eight years earlier in the family village.

Then in 1926, the family deaths came in threes. First, Ferdinand’s baby sister, Emilie, died  in the family village. Then 15 days later, Ferdinand died 50 km away. Back where Ferdinand left to escape the Polish-Soviet War, his oldest-known child, my great-great-grandmother Marie, died less than 2 months later.

The search to find even more records on this family to expand this story continues, with hopes of finding living descendants of Ferdinand’s nieces and nephews.

It has taken me 8 years to get to this point. So many times patience and determination have been paid back well beyond my imagination. Here is to more waiting and hoping!

Related posts:

One detail completely changes the story of great-great-great-grandpa’s life
The mystery of a great-great-grand aunt gets solved (reconnection with family of Ferdinand’s daughter, Martha)
Reuniting of two families after 115 years teaches important life lessons (reunion with Martha’s descendants)

One detail completely changes the story of great-great-great-grandpa’s life

I thought the life of my great-great-great-grandfather Ferdinand Oswald Bleschke was completely researched. Obtaining his death record was on the side burner because I assumed it couldn’t offer anything new.

I was in for quite a surprise when I found the record on Ancestry.com’s new database,  Eastern Prussian Provinces, Germany [Poland], Selected Civil Vitals, 1874-1945.

In his 80s, my great-great-great-grandfather moved to Schwerin an der Warth, Germany (now Skwierzyna, western Poland) from Bialystok, Russian Poland (now eastern Poland). The death record didn’t make sense but it had the correct first and last name, age and birthplace.

My great-great-great-great-grandfather’s death place was partially correct. My distant cousin told me he died in Schwerin, Germany, not  Schwerin an der Warth. I assumed that he moved in with a grown child living in current-day Germany after his wife died in 1918.

That was far from the truth. I posted on genealogy groups on Facebook, asking about why would such an older man move so far away in his 80s. It turns out that I never bothered to look at the history of Bialystok at the time.

The city was in the middle of the Polish-Soviet War, a war I never heard of until now. The pain that my great-great-great-grandfather must have felt from this experience.

He recently lost his wife of 60 years in 1918. He had to leave the area and never be able to visit his wife’s grave ever again. My great-great-great-grandfather came to the area in the late 1860s with three young children to work in the growing cloth-making industry in the Bialystok area.

He had to leave behind his home, his church and his neighbors and see his large family scatter and separate from each other.

I wasn’t surprised where my great-great-great grandfather chose or was sent to live. Schwerin an der Warth was only 50 kilometers north of where he was born in 1834.

So many questions are still unanswered. Did he choose the location of Schwerin an der Warth? Did he move to Schwerin an der Warth with family from Bialystok? Did he know any family living in the town?

The research continues on these answers. Archives in Skwierzyna doesn’t have any records on my great-great-great-grandfather. The records possibly were given to German State Archives in Leipzig so I am waiting for an answer from the archives.

No matter where ancestors are being researched, this story shows every detail needs to be fully researched and documented to learn their complete stories. We all assume we know so much but surprise, surprise life is full of surprises no matter which time period is being researched.

Here are five tips to avoid my mistake and get the full story of your relatives and ancestors:

  1. Get and review all details of every possible document.
  2. When something is out-of-place or seems unusual, start asking questions. Did a fire destroy the factory where they worked? Did a drought put an end to a family farming business? Did a war force them to move? Did they move due to a backlash against their ethnicity or religion?
  3. What historical and political events were occurring where they lived and around them?
  4. Document who lived with your relatives and nearby neighbors with the same last name whenever possible.
  5.  And most importantly assume nothing. Ask who, what, when, where and why questions until they are answered.

An incredible surprise of rediscovered old photos brings alive the family tree

I just was thinking about contacting my cousin from my great-grandfather’s brother’s family to see whether they have any more old family photos. They already shared some old photos, family letters and documents over the past seven years.

I am so grateful to find the family. They really found me on a genealogy forum. I didn’t want to bother them one more time to ask if they have any more photos. I have been so grateful for everything I have received over the years.

Then by luck my cousin from Moscow, Russia,  e-mailed me Friday that her sister found some old photos of my grandmother’s family. I hadn’t thought there could be any more photos because our families haven’t seen each other since the 1930s.

Then I saw the photos my cousin uploaded to Google Photos. I already have three of the photos, one of which I got from that cousin a few years ago. But I hit the jackpot in photos once again.

My cousin’s sister has a photo our great-great-grandfather with my great-grandmother and four of my grandmother’s brothers and another close up shot of my great-grandmother with three sons from the early 1900s. The woman or girl standing behind my great-grandmother is a mystery, along with the photo’s location.

My Russian cousins have given me more old photos of my grandmother’s family than I have found in my own family’s possessions. My grandmother had five brothers but I only have a handful of pre-World War II photos of the family.

Only one brother of my grandmother moved to the USA and had a child. Another two came to the USA but didn’t have children. The other two brothers immigrated to Germany and Argentina.

The kids in these photos were born between 1891-1899.  By the time I got my hands on the family photos from my grandmother’s apartment in 2006, I can imagine or don’t want to imagine how many old photos were thrown out.

Only one child is alive of the six children from this family. She didn’t have any old family photos. I had to send her photos of her great-grandfather and grandfather because she wasn’t lucky enough to have old photos.

Too many people fight over pieces of furniture, china sets and jewelry from their relatives when the priceless possessions are the photos. These photos bring to life  the people in family trees.

One day, those precious pieces of furniture will crumble, the china will break and the jewelry will lose its luster. Only photos can keep forever moments from long ago alive.

Related posts:
A journey to a family village teaches the importance of returning to the homeland
Eight years of patience brings dreams of a family reunion to reality
Great-grandpa thought his secrets would never see the light of day
DNA testing finally proves its value in finding 16th century documents

Unknown immigrant database completes family story of escape from WWII

Many of my relatives can tell me the story of how one brother of my grandmother got separated from his four brothers and a sister as they boarded trains during WWII.

The families got on any train that had breathing room but Grand Uncle Dimitri was the only one to not make it to Austria. He, his wife and four sons arrived in Italy.

Grand Uncle Dimitri told my family, who later escaped to the USA, that he spared his family from being repatriated to the USSR by crawling under the fence of a monastery to be converted as a Catholic. That would be a great story to confirm with documents.

But I only can confirm how he managed to arrive in Argentina from Italy, thanks to the unknown database CEMLA. None of the subscription genealogy websites were of any help, even after searching different variations of  his last name.

I learned  from CEMLA that Grand Uncle Dimitri departed from Genova, Italy, on the ship Sestriere and arrived in warmer Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 19, 1948. He described himself as a mechanic.

I know without a doubt this is my grand uncle because his age, first and last name and port of arrival are correct. The only incorrect information is that his last place of residence in Russia is listed as his birthplace. He is listed as Russian, even though he was born in Ukraine. His family had a long history in Russia.

This gem of a database has so many immigrants from throughout the world. It’s worth checking just for the curiosity on those brickwalls in the family tree. The best part is that it doesn’t require registration. Getting busy with searching is instant as clicking on buscar (search).

Here’s a sample of how results will appear:

The database from Center for Latin American Migration Studies is in Spanish. So here are English translations to make using the database smoother: apellido (last name); nombre (first name); edad (age); estado civil (marital status); nacionalidad (nationality); lugar de nacimiento (place of birth); profesión (profession); fecha de arribo (arrival date);  barco (passenger ship); puerto (port of departure), anterior (previous), siguiente (next) and nueva búsqueda (new search).

This database is worthwhile for anyone researching relatives who relocated from Europe, especially as World War II refugees. South America wasn’t damaged in World War II so it was the perfect place for refugees to find a safe and new home. So many refugees were already immigrating to the USA, Canada and Australia.

I found in my grandmother’s documents that my Ukrainian maternal grandfather unsuccessfully attempted to immigrate his family to Argentina. He waited awhile and got permission to immigrate to the USA, instead.

If relatives can’t be found in the South American database, check out these ship passenger lists from Australian archives for refugees of World War II.

Also check out, newly updated Free Databases.

Related posts:
Quiz: Can you guess how former USSR immigrants changed their names?
Best tips on uncovering U.S. documents on mysterious Soviet Union relatives