Grandmother leaves behind a foundation for uncovering Baltic German roots

Vladislav Dominyak made one visit to archives and it sent him on an adventure that he had not planned.

He learned that Latvian archives placed birth records online after visiting the archives in Riga. Boom, there came the genealogy bug for the Russian man from Saint Petersburg.

“This defined my electronic habitat for the next year,” he says. “It is interesting that the awareness and structuring of information occurs in a spiral. As new information appears, I return to the already familiar photographs, compare people, places, etc.”

He takes advantage of his skills from his job, teacher of psychology at St. Petersburg State University, to study his family tree.

So far, he has 743 people in his family tree, dating back to 1722. Thanks to his grandmother with Baltic German ancestry, Vladislav, 48, had a great foundation to create his family tree for the past five years.

His grandmother kept the family documents highly organized, not knowing her grandson would one day create the family tree from her collection.

“The archive turned out to be very impressive: photos, metrics, letters, notes, diaries, even apartment bills,” Vladislav says.

He is enthusiastic about his genealogy hobby, but not his family.

“Mom is pretty skeptical. Father is positive, but without much interest,” Vladislav says. “When I start talking about what I have learned about one of my relatives, he quickly begins to get bored. But the closer the relatives, the more interest.”

He has met other people who share his excitement for genealogy but he has become accustomed to a certain reaction to his hobby.

“When people find out that I am engaged in genealogy, the most common response is a restrained, detached, respectful reaction: ‘Oh, yes, this is interesting.’ But there is usually no real interest,” Vladislav says.

As a child, he doesn’t remember people studying the family tree as a hobby. Relatives talked about family legends but that was it, Vladislav says.

His family’s focus is on yachting.  Vladislav prefers water-based tourism and kayaking.

Vladislav’s great-grandfather, Nikolai Alekseevich Podgornov, was a participant of the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. His crew on the Norman yacht didn’t taken any prizes. Vladislav found information on his great-grandfather’s participation in the Olympics from an online search.

The interest in yachting continued onto his grandparents’ generation. His maternal grandmother Olga Nikolaevna Simakova (Podgornova) was a master of sailing and Vladislav believes she was possibly the first female captain of a small yacht team in the former USSR. Her husband and Vladislav’s grandfather took boating to a professional level as a sea captain.

Grandma Olga

Meanwhile, his paternal grandma Karina Ivanovna Nelius, daughter of a bank clerk, worked as an artist who was a student of noted artist Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin. She married a graphic artist.

Karina’s work is displayed at Museum of Art of St. Petersburg. See her work here.

Grandma Karina

Vladislav knows the most about his Baltic German ancestry from Latvia. His ancestors lived in Valmiera, Gazenpot, in addition to Riga, and arrived in St. Petersburg in 1904. He has discovered a paternal great-great-grandmother from Lisice in western Poland and learned of Polish ancestry from his mother’s family.

“Knowing who the ancestors were makes you feel better. I have someone to be proud of,” Vladislav says. “There is someone to look up to…By the way, the more I learn about my relatives, the more alive they seem to me.”

Follow this blog with the top right button to catch the next post in the series that brings light to how people from Russia and Ukraine study genealogy.

Previous posts from the Bending Curtain series:
Years of patience leads to an accumulation of discoveries
Ukrainian native inspired to research family after discovery of “American” ancestor
Keeping alive some notable ancestors in a Russian family tree
Coming back to Ukrainian roots through genealogy
Introducing “Bending Curtain: A Changing Tide in Genealogy in the Former USSR”

Unsolved: Mystery of Russian regional archives

I am still trying to figure out if I love or hate Russian archives. It’s just as complicated as the country’s politics.

I’ve had a mixed experience with Russian archives. The first Russian archives I contacted was Kursk regional archives. The office responded to some of my requests by e-mail. Once, the office promised to send me a copy of my great-grandfather’s birth registry in the postal mail. It still hasn’t arrived in the mail more than a year later.

Then, the staff gave me a wrong patronymic name (middle name that represents the father’s first name). My mother remembered hearing of a different patronymic name for her great-grandfather. I thought archives would confirm the information. Luckily, a professional researcher confirmed my mother’s information.

I have tried to get Kursk archives to respond to more requests by e-mail. My luck has run out. But luckily, the archives did not charge me anything for finding my great-grandfather’s birth registry or searching for other records that could not be found.

The archive office in Kostroma Region in central Russia has not been very helpful. But it is partly my fault. I gave the wrong information for my first requests sent by e-mail. By the time I had the right village name for my grandfather, the archive office stopped answering my e-mail messages. Thankfully, I was never charged for any searches.

Then my most interesting experience has been in southern Russia. The regional archive office has found some wonderful information for me, but also provided me with information I never requested. Half the time, I already had the information.

In the same region, I received some great information from an archive office in my father’s hometown. My brother visited the city out of curiosity and the archives to help me. I received Nazi-occupation period residency records, which listed all the homes’ occupants, their birthdate and birthplace. This is valuable information when so many records were destroyed in two world wars, tragic events and communist pillaging.

Right now, I want to smack someone at the regional office. I sent money by Western Union in early September. An employee still has not picked up the money. I sent three e-mail messages and then a letter by postal mail. I even had a local resident call the employee who told me to send the money by Western Union. She said it was not her responsibility.

I got an e-mail message earlier this month from an employee asking for the Western Union transfer number, even though it was on the letter. Still, the money has not been collected. Apparently, the archive office does not want my money. I thought it was bad when it took two weeks to pick up my Western Union money over the summer. I had a friend in Moscow call the office to tell the staff to pick up my Western Union money and a few days later the money was collected.

Russian archives prefer money be sent by bank transfers. That is not possible in my situation. My bills have ranged around 600 to 800 rubles, which equals to $19 to $25 American dollars. I cannot send that amount as a bank transfer because my bank requires a minimum of $100 American dollars to be sent abroad.

So, I use Western Union. The archives in southern Russia said they accepted money by Western Union but I never expected it would be so difficult. One time, I sent an extra 1,000 rubles so I would not need to send so many Western Union transfers. I was told to send only money to cover a bill. Dealing with Russian archives is like a novel with lots of twists and turns.

Next blog: What to expect from Russian archives. This blog will be posted  tomorrow.