The priceless value of a sixth cousin

I have been eager to find the closest cousins as possible but the cousins with the most information have been those who needed to be identified by pulling out the family tree.

I was excited to seeing a posting by a distant cousin on a genealogy forum. The man’s paternal grandmother was born into the same family as my paternal grandmother. Our grandmothers were 4th cousins, leaving our common ancestor as our 5th great-grandpa.

The effort it took to track down my Russian-American 6th cousin was quite the feat. He posted his message on the most popular Russian genealogy forum 10  years ago so the postal and e-mail addresses he posted were out-of- date.

I had to research him on Google and find information on him on  Intellius before I called the right house. I knew this was worth all the effort when I uncovered he wrote a book on his southern Russian ancestry in ENGLISH.

Anytime I can find documented research on my Russian ancestors in English, it is a happy dance marathon. This is the first time ever that I had the luck of finding information on my ancestors in English.

The details that my sixth cousin found by visiting archives in St. Petersburg on my direct ancestors, starting from my great-grandfather’s generation, was beyond words. I never thought a sixth cousin would be so resourceful.

The cherry on top of this cake was that my cousin uncovered the full names of 3rd and 4th great-grandmothers, a task that is hardly easy to accomplish in Russian genealogy. Uncovering these surnames proved we are cousins twice, through our 5th great-grandfather and my 4th great-grandmother.

This all opened another door I never expected. Thanks to our Don Cossack ancestry, I was able to find information on my 4th great-grandmother’s family in  a genealogy book written by Sergei Koryagin.

So, now I have information on more than 30 relatives of my 4th great-grandmother. Koryagin details the service of the Don Cossacks in my 4th great-grandmother’s family in his genealogy book.

All due to the efforts of finding a 6th cousin, I have more than names and dates on relatives of my grandmother and 4th great-grandmother. This would have costed me thousands of dollars on my own.

Not all distant cousins are filled with family information but it is worth the effort to say hello to cousins who are connected to those great-great-great-great-great-grandparents. The information awaiting you to break down some brick walls could be just an e-mail message away.

Related post:

Discovering Don Cossack ancestry the easy way

A door opens wide after three tries

The struggle to research my Skibinsky ancestry has been stuck on the fact that I did not know where my great-grandparents married. Yesterday, I learned that information has been in my house for five years.

Three years ago, I asked a friend in Moscow to translate a hand-written paragraph on my great-grandmother’s high school diploma. I only knew the oldest brother of my grandmother wrote something about his parents’ marriage. My friend could not translate the paragraph because the writing was so small. My Ukrainian-born mother had the same problem.

This week, I asked a guy I met on All-Russia Family Tree’s forum to help me translate the paragraph after I was close to giving up on researching on my Skibinsky ancestry.

I received two upsetting e-mail messages in one day. The Taganrog archive office director told me her office did not have further information on the oldest son of my great-grandparents. I wanted to know his birthplace to determine where his parents married.

Then the guy from the forum said Lugansk archives in Ukraine changed its policy so that ancestry must be proven for any research done in its office. I probably cannot prove ancestry to my grand uncle under the archive office’s restrictions. Thankfully, the guy obtained scans of four other grand uncles’ birth records in May before the policy went into effect.

So I asked the guy  to translate the hand-written paragraph in case there was a chance that my grand uncle wrote more than the marriage date. Within a day, the guy sends me a message with the hand-written paragraph retyped.

My grand uncle wrote which church in Kharkiv where my great-grandparents married and listed the priest and altar server for the ceremony. So now, I am waiting for an answer from Kharkiv archives to see whether it has my great-grandparents’ marriage record.

My grandmother told my father that her mother’s family came from Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine. But that did not make sense. Her mother was born 858 miles away in Kazan, according to her high school diploma. My grandmother also enjoyed telling stories that weren’t true so I have been waiting for some undeniable evidence that my Skibinsky family came from Kharkiv.

If the archive office finds my great-grandparents’ marriage record, several doors may open. The record could have the maiden names of my great-grandparents’ mothers, information missing from my family tree. I know a respected researcher to study my Skibinsky family. About a month ago, a woman with Skibinsky ancestry from Kharkiv e-mailed me but I cannot connect our families together yet. If the mother of my great-grandfather has a Don Cossack surname, I can probably get extensive information on her family for $10 from a book by Sergei Koryagin.

My Russian and Ukrainian genealogy search involves a lot of frustration but I shouldn’t give up hope easily. I have to look under every rock for information because I never know where information will appear. I highly recommend never trashing any family documents even if they are faded or have horrible handwriting. A person who has the ability to read the documents may be out there.

Discovering Don Cossack ancestry the easy way

Now that the Soviet Union has been gone for two decades, the curiosity about Don Cossack ancestry is safe to pursue. The effort to find information can be complicated if genealogy research is done the traditional way of contacting regional archives.

If you don’t have full names, birthplaces and birth dates of your ancestors, some regional archives may not do paid research for you. Consistency in research services in Russian regional archives does not exist as I have painfully learned. Also, so many records of Don Cossacks were intentionally destroyed by government officials during the communist era.

Thankfully, the destruction of archives on Don Cossacks was not as severe in St. Petersburg, where so many valuable records exist on Don Cossacks. Hiring a professional researcher to look at records in St. Petersburg without knowing the file numbers is pricey.

That is why I am eternally grateful to Sergei Koryagin, a professional researcher in Moscow. He has published booklets on more than 60 surnames connected to Don Cossack ancestry. Each booklet costs $10 U.S. dollars.

Koryagin published 10 pages of material on the Don Cossack ancestry of my Kirsanov family. The booklet included a family tree with the name of my 6th great-grandfather, born in the 1720s. The information on my ancestors covers when they entered Cossack service, where they served, how they were promoted and how they were rewarded for their service.

A great-grandson of my great-grandfather’s brother purchased this booklet on our Kirsanov ancestors and found my post on looking for Kirsanov relatives on, the best forum for finding Russian relatives and ancestor information. I never expected to find relatives of my great-grandfather. But this third cousin had his great-grandfather’s family tree, which included information on my grandmother’s entire family and several preceding generations. It was undeniable that we were related.

Now, I have a picture of my great-grandfather with his father and five of his six children. It was touching to see my grandmother as a two-year-old with her big brothers. My cousin also gave me a picture of my great-grandmother with my great-grandfather’s brother. Another third cousin from my Kirsanov family gave me scans of three letters my great-grandfather wrote to his brother in the early 1900s and a photo of my great-grandfather in his Cossack uniform. I never heard that my great-grandfather was a Cossack. My family only discussed my grandmother’s uncles and earlier generations as Cossacks.

I am doing further research on my great-grandfather in St. Petersburg archives. I gave a wonderful researcher my great-grandfather’s nobility file numbers to see whether more information could be found on him. Koryagin only had Don Cossack information on my great-grandfather’s brother but Koryagin printed my great-grandfather’s nobility application file number and an American fifth cousin from my Kirsanov family had another file number in his book on our shared ancestry. I found the fifth cousin on after my third cousin e-mailed me an extensive Kirsanov family tree. The domino effect is just awesome.

I have posted two images below that show the surnames researched by Koryagin. If you see a family name, e-mail him at  in Russian and ask him from which villages your surname was researched. After you receive your booklet, read this post on translating your family information into English easily for free.

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