Unimaginable breakthrough comes after years of hoping

Somethings I have refused to put on a wish list or as a goal because I know reality won’t bring fantasy to life no matter how much heart I put into it.

Recently, I got a message from a man I know from a forum for my grandmother’s hometown. Sometimes, his messages don’t provide much help. This time, it was a message with an unbelievable surprise that it felt as if it were Christmas again.

My immediate reaction was to call my mother with the shocking news that this man found the street where her mother lived as a baby in the early 1920s. It doesn’t sound as if it’s a big deal until I mention that my grandmother lived in Soviet Ukraine.

Getting records from Ukrainian archives past 1917 is quite a miracle. Ukraine won’t release its records online in the same way as the USA nor Canada does in my lifetime. Plus, the damage to Ukraine from WWII has resulted in many losses in archive records.

So, the countdown to mid-February begins. That is when my friend expects to get his hands on the records again. Two weeks ago, he told me that last week he would send me scans of the records he found. He wasn’t able to visit archives and he learned this week that archives will give him the records in mid-February.

I’m not going to complain about the wait. My friend has found where my grandmother lived as a baby and other things he hasn’t detailed. I’m not going to pester him with “so what is it?” Let a Christmas surprise come again in February.

This surprise will top his last from July, when he sent me a scan of the 1922 census of my grandmother’s birthplace that shows my great-grandfather was a tailor who skimped on paying his taxes and a scan from the local Russian Baptist church that shows he was a member and served in leadership. That is likely where my great-grandparents met.

The luck of having this guy help me for free is what I earned for getting out of my comfort zone and posting messages 6 years ago in a forum for my grandmother’s hometown near Kiev, Ukraine.

I used Google Translate to figure out how to register for the forum and posted messages looking for archive documents on my grandmother’s family and cousins from her father’s family. I never found family through the forum but the things that have landed on my lap were never on my radar.

That forum was deleted recently. It’s scary to think if I never got out of my comfort zone and never posted on the forum, I would have missed out on so much.

Previous related post:
Thanks for skimping on your taxes, great-grandpa

Get out of your comfort zone:
Secrets of searching the Internet in Russian and Ukrainian like a native speaker

Getting inspired in the New Year is as simple as filling jars

These days, jars are the thing. Fill jars with pretty things and put them on display. Leave out jars with gourmet spices for decoration. But jars can be put to even better use for genealogy.

It’s so easy to fall into negativity when dealing with genealogy. This record can’t be found, a relative refuses to help, a family village can’t be found on a map. Let’s have jars give a complete picture of how the adventure of genealogy is really going.

Here’s how to do that:

  1. Get 3 clear jars: one each for goals for the year, surprises and accomplished goals. Cheap jars can be found at Goodwill stores, craft stores, Big Lots, etc.
  2.  Make realistic goals to accomplish for the year, based on your budget and available time.
  3. Place the jars in convenient, but uncluttered areas, to keep your focus.
  4. Every time a goal is reached, date and move the goal into the accomplished goals jar.
  5. Every time, an unexpected success happens write it down, date it and put it in the surprises jar. Try to write down as many surprises, no matter how small (i.e. confirming an ancestor’s birth date with a document), to watch how those successes snowball into major brickwall breakers.
  6. On those days that it feels as if progress has stalled, open the surprises and accomplished goals jars to read all the successes so far.
  7. Then every three months, repeat step 6 to think about new goals to keep the success rolling and filling those jars.

On Dec. 31, pat yourself on the back for sticking with the plan for a year.

It’s time for the big reveal. Will you accomplish more than expected? Will there be more surprises than accomplished goals?

Need more inspiration for success in the New Year? Check out:
Say good-bye to frustration in the new year in 10 steps

Marching toward solving a WWII family mystery with Ancestry DNA

I never have been so anxious for DNA results until my mother’s cousin agreed to DNA testing. Finding the mystery WWII soldier who fathered my mother’s cousin and left behind so many questions for three generations is resting on one Ancestry DNA test.

The results came in much quicker than expected, one week after the DNA kit arrived at the lab. I was imagining weeks of staring and yelling at my computer screen, “Just come in! I can’t wait another minute!”

I was expecting two scenarios: all 5th-8th cousin matches who would be completely useless or closer matches who would not answer my messages. I never expected the scenario I am in today.

In the past month since the results have arrived and continue to come in regularly, the closest matches have the tiniest family trees and won’t logged into their Ancestry accounts, in addition to not answering my messages. Now, I am screaming in my head,”Just log into your account and answer my messages!”

zeesmatches

My cousin has one 3rd cousin match,  20 4th-6th cousin matches (one of these is listed as a very high match) and a massive list of 5th-8th cousins that ends on page 54.

Meanwhile, I have 36 pages of matches for the 4 years since I have tested with Ancestry and not one in common with my mother’s cousin. I have 6 in-common matches with her on Family Tree DNA.

Every day, I check for new matches more often than I want to admit and hoping to get more 2nd and 3rd cousin matches to go around matches who don’t have detailed family trees nor an interest in answering my messages.

Right now, I am putting my hope into the people who bought DNA kits for themselves and as gifts this holiday season. The chatter on Facebook sounds as if Ancestry did very well for selling its DNA this holiday.

The golden match will be on Ancestry DNA and that person hopefully will test soon. It is obvious that the mystery father was most likely an American or Canadian soldier. One look at this ethnicity breakdown definitely doesn’t point to a German nor Russian soldier as the father, when the mother is half Russian and East Prussian.

zeesbreakdown

My biggest fear is that an older man living in a nursing home, who is thinking that he never had children, will die not knowing about his daughter. He has two grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and a great-great-grandson.

My great-grandparents died, wondering what happened to their pregnant daughter. She left war-torn Berlin for Soviet Ukraine, hoping for more food and better living in her home country. Five years ago, the American Red Cross and International Tracing Service teamed up successfully to answer that question by finding her.

Now, all hope is on Ancestry DNA to help name the man who fathered my cousin to put in the final piece of this puzzle. It just takes the right person to take the DNA test and make time to answer my messages to make one woman’s dream of finding her father’s family to come true.

Remember to click on the follow button for this blog  on the top right to keep posted on this journey.

Previous posts on this story:
Countdown begins for AncestryDNA to solve a 71-year-old mystery from WWII

A shocking twist gets thrown into finding the mystery birth father from WWII

A DNA test and small paper trail face off to complete a WWII love story

Countdown begins for AncestryDNA to solve a 71-year-old mystery from WWII

I didn’t think I would ever get this close to finally solving a family mystery from WWII. My great-grandparents died in the 1970s, wondering whatever happened to their free-spirited daughter and unborn grandchild.

Five years ago, American Red Cross with the help of International Tracing Service found my missing grand aunt alive after vanishing for 66 years. The incredible news came days before my birthday, a great gift.

Now, I am waiting for Ancestry DNA to come through for my entire family and especially for the daughter of my grand aunt. She, her children and grandchildren don’t know anything about her father.

In the past year her matches on Family Tree DNA haven’t been close enough to answer the question on the mystery father from war-torn Berlin, Germany. Tired of waiting for the golden match, I finally gave into paying for a DNA test through Ancestry DNA.

It’s been an 11-month ordeal. The first Ancestry DNA kit was returned to my cousin. It’s illegal to send spit-filled test tubes through the Russian postal service abroad.

Thankfully, Ancestry DNA agreed to send me a second kit at no charge. I created a new plan to get around Russian laws. I found a contact to get the DNA kit out of Russia while they travelled abroad.

I told my cousin of the plan and the importance of immediately getting her mother to do the test so everything would line up properly. I started to sweat two weeks before my contact would travel.

My cousin didn’t answer my message about whether she mailed the DNA test until 6 days before my contact would travel. She told me she mailed the package that day. I got even more nervous.

The distance the package had to travel was close to the distance between Toronto, Canada, and New York City. How could the Russian postal service deliver the package in time?

I was devastated when I learned that the package arrived in my contact’s city a day after the traveling contact left Russia. Then, it took another 4 days to get through the city and into the local post office.

The next time the contact would travel abroad was scheduled months away. I was one step away from getting my hands on the package and done with waiting.

Thanks to a distant cousin from Russia on Ancestry DNA, I got advice for getting the package out of Russia. My contact followed my directions and I had the package in my hands 6 days later.

I couldn’t be happier to finally touch this package. I saw that U.S. customs cut open the package inside to inspect the contents. They didn’t care the customs form didn’t declare the actual object inside because DNA kits aren’t illegal in U.S. postal mail.

I immediately put the DNA test in the return shipping box at the post office. It took a week for Ancestry to list the kit as arrived.

Now, the waiting game begins. Will the matches again be too distant to find the father’s family? Will close matches refuse to answer my messages?

Let’s hope for a holiday miracle and finally say mystery solved.

Read the previous posts on this journey:

A shocking twist gets thrown into finding the mystery birth father from WWII
A DNA test and small paper trail face off to complete a WWII love story

Trio of siblings reunite after overcoming the challenges of finding family in the Ukrainian countryside

Last week, I was so thrilled to start a search for the birth family of a Ukrainian adoptee named Sarah.

I thought this would be an easy case. Sarah gave me her mother’s full name and the village where her mother lived 18 years ago. Finding that village on Google Maps was easy with having the village’s region and neighborhood.

My challenge of bringing Sarah emotionally home to her family appeared when I only found one woman registered for the village on popular social network Odnoklassniki. That woman only accepts messages from friends so I messaged a woman in the next village for help.

It took 3 days to get a response. I explained the situation with Sarah and I was immediately given a phone number to a relative named Valentine. All she knew about this adoption was that there was a girl born 15-20 years ago.

My friend in Moscow, Katya, reached Valentine 3 days later on his cell phone. It was a quick call, due to the expense of international calling. Valentine confirmed that Sarah had 2 siblings and she had been left at the maternity hospital.

Even with Katya’s knowledge of Russian and Ukrainian, she could hardly understand Valentine. She asked him to message me on Odnoklassniki. We waited 48 hours and he never contacted me. Then I recruited my cousin, Tatyana, in Kiev to reach out to him.

Valentine didn’t answer his cell phone when Tatyana called three days later. She messaged him my profile page on Odnoklassniki. Sarah was feeling rejected again by her family but this was a language and lack of access to Internet problem. I was screaming in my head “Get on the freakin Internet and message me!”

With all this waiting, I was joking in my head whether I needed to contact a Moldovan on the other side of Ukraine. It has taken an American, a Russian and a Ukrainian to get this far.

Thankfully, it only took two more days to finally talk to Valentine on Odnoklassniki. He confirmed my suspicions from the database of all Ukrainians on nomer.org that the grandfather had lived in the village (but he died recently) and told me the family has lived 86 years in the village.

Valentine provided me with the names of Sarah’s four aunts and one uncle, but he doesn’t know anything about her father nor the whereabouts of her brother and sister. Much of what Valentine wrote I couldn’t understand even with using Google Translate.

Thanks to crafty searching , I found an aunt on  Vkontakte. I put the name of the family village in Russian and then site: http://www.vk.com in the Google search box and the aunt appeared as a result.

I had already tried to find anyone from the village on  Vkontakte, but “no one” existed. The aunt appeared through my crafty searching because she put the family village as her hometown, but not as her current location.

I messaged her immediately upon finding her and the waiting game restarted. It took 4 days to get a very excited message from the aunt. She provided me with the names of Sarah’s brother, Vladimir and sister, Svetlana, who is attending college.

Sarah jumped on finding her siblings on social networks after I didn’t have luck. She sent me a link to a girl, whose page I viewed before as a possible cousin. Once I went through her photos and saw she had a brother Vladimir and was friends with the aunt, I had some hope they were siblings.

Having problems sleeping at 5 a.m., I finally messaged the girl whether she had the same mother. She responded immediately and I informed her that she has an older sister. Svetlana is shocked, but overjoyed.

Yesterday, Sarah was wondering whether she would ever find her siblings. Today, she added a sister as a friend on  Vkontakte and saw a picture of her mother with the same nose and chin. She has some closure and a new beginning with her family.

* All names were changed for privacy. Search was done for free.

Related posts:
An early birthday present for a Russian adoptee- a sister
Love and Faith reconnect Russian adoptee with birth family after 16 years

The drama a DNA test brings to a family tree

Four years ago, I thought it only would be a dream to know the maiden name of my paternal grandfather’s mother. He didn’t even know her maiden name.

So I was beyond thrilled when a researcher solved the mystery by digging through census and birth records. She was successful with just having her first and middle names, birth year and general area where she was born.

I posted on genealogy forums looking for relatives of my great-grandmother. Some distant cousin must be out there researching the same family when she was one of 9 kids.

It took two years for a cousin to contact me after seeing my posts. His great-great-grandfather was brother of my great-grandmother.

The enthusiasm for finding each other has hardly died down two years later. We continue to exchange family information and write to each other on a regular basis.

A few months ago, I finally asked the DNA test question. He wanted to do a test but couldn’t afford one. With the Russian ruble crashing, spending money on a DNA test was a luxury.

Thanks to the $69 Family Finder test sale at Family Tree DNA over the summer, it was the perfect time to confirm our relationship.  I counted down every day for a month until the results were expected.

The first day the results were expected, the status changed to a delay of two to four weeks. I checked the next day whether the status had changed again. The matches were available. I was excited and nervous.

My cousin had 259 matches, compared to my 209 I’ve accumulated over 5 years. I wasn’t sure about how our relationship would be identified.  I wasn’t the closest match as I had expected.

With that shock, I didn’t have the patience to scroll through 9 pages of matches. I searched for myself by my last name and our common surname.

I was nowhere to be found. This had to be a mistake. To my annoyance, it took until the next morning to get his raw data file. I immediately uploaded his file to Gedmatch to get a second opinion on this DNA testing disaster.

Not one pinch of us matched by DNA, disappointing on so many levels. But I should have known better with doing DNA genealogy for 5 years.

changes-of-finding-a-match

Image from Family Tree DNA

Family Tree Maker designates us as 3rd cousins 2 times removed. I could have increased the chances of matching with his family by having his father take the test.

The most annoying part of this experience was the message from Family Tree DNA that the results were available. The message was sent 27 times. Apparently, this is supposed to be the haha moment.

I am not worried that my cousin isn’t my cousin. A researcher documented the family tree and my cousin has an old family tree that is backed up by family documents.

DNA doesn’t have the precision of documents. As DNA data gets passed down to each generation, there isn’t a magical formula to guarantee certain DNA from each ancestor. Documents don’t change over time, just fade.

Previous related posts:
New Russian cousins found again!
Wondering if my family tree is about to grow

When family letters about daily life are a cover for the truth

evdokiatyuinaletter10001Over the years, I have been handed letters my grandfather wrote to my father and letters my great-grandmother wrote to my grand uncle. I didn’t appreciate the importance of family letters until recently.

Two letters were overlooked from my grandmother’s house. My mother and I didn’t recognize the handwriting. I was about to throw out the letters because I could tell that there wasn’t “any useful” information for researching the family.

Once I read the names on the two letters, I knew I hit the jackpot. My two great-grandmothers from my mother’s family were writing letters to each other.

Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it was mid-1950s. One was living in Kiev, Soviet Ukraine, and the other in Berlin, Germany. Talk about a big no-no during Soviet times.

My mother read the two letters and learned her grandmothers were writing as if they were friends. It doesn’t make sense unless you understand restrictions of Soviet times.

The only way my great-grandmother could know about her son’s new life was through the “friends letters”. Soviet postal workers would have blocked these letters if my great-grandmothers wrote as relatives, exchanging family information.

My mother’s father was the only one in his family who left the Soviet Union. He was an escaped POW of the Germans. The worst thing a Soviet soldier could do was give in to the enemy. Soon after he returned home from the POW camp, he, his wife and my mom left for the quiet countryside of Germany.

That meant my grandfather and his new family could never see, call nor write to his family in Kiev ever again. My great-grandfather died 4 years after my grandfather left and couldn’t come back for the funeral nor send condolences to his mom.

I later learned that my great-grandmother got pictures of my mother and uncle while they lived in Germany. She cried as she held the photos and wouldn’t say who were the children to the family with whom she lived.

I didn’t understand until now how it was possible that she could get the pictures because contact was “ended” after my grandfather left Ukraine.

It took two crafty grandmothers to come up with a plan to fake a friendship so they could tell each other about their families.

It was quite a risk for my mother’s paternal grandmother. Her husband was born a peasant, got trained as an architect and helped construct grand buildings in Kiev. That resulted in a very comfortable lifestyle in Soviet times, even with having six kids.

My other great-grandmother came from a modest family of German cloth makers, married a tailor and was living very simple in war-torn Berlin. But she was the lucky one who could get on a train to visit the grandchildren, whom the other grandmother would never see nor hear from ever again.

The simple gesture of writing letters gave one grandmother comfort that couldn’t be bought.

Related posts on Soviet life:
When family “wild stories” are nothing but reality
Meet your friendly Soviet repatriation officer