Vera Miller from Find Lost Russian & Ukrainian Family had given up hope on finding her great-grandparents’ graves due to the extreme difficulties in geography and bureaucracy in the former Soviet Empire. But a tiny clue from a treasured family photograph made all the difference for her. Here’s her story in today’s “How I Solved It” guest blog post:
I was ready to give up hope in finding my great-grandparents’ grave. A friend unsuccessfully attempted three times to find it.
Luckily, a cousin gave me a photo of relatives visiting the grave of my great-grandfather soon after his death. My grandfather couldn’t even attend the funeral after escaping Soviet Ukraine in 1943.
Once my friend I’ll call Valentine analyzed the location of an electrical tower in the photo, he knew he was looking for the grave in the wrong location.
The office that maintains the cemetery in Kiev, Ukraine, was completely useless. With Valentine being an illegal immigrant of Ukraine thanks to him fleeing Russia for political reasons, office staff refused to help him.
Just recently Valentine told me that he temporarily relocated to Kiev. I asked him if he could try to find my great-grandparents’ grave in Baykova Cemetery. I knew their birth and death dates but not their grave’s location in the massive cemetery.
I wasn’t really expecting for Valentine to find the family grave. So many years have passed that I wasn’t sure whether my family maintained the grave.
Valentine realized how challenging the search would be on his first two visits. Then, the third visit brought concern that another family took over the grave site due to the years that have passed. An identical looking grave site with metal fencing and a tall metal cross was found near power lines.
Thanks to analyzing the old and new grave photos on Photoshop, Valentine determined that the discovered grave site was near new power lines but not near the electrical tower standing by my great-grandfather’s grave in the old photo.
That brought a drop of hope that the grave of my great-grandparents could be found under a pile of weeds. Valentine determined that the only possible location was an area of high grass, weeds and bushes. I worried what would be really found.
Just last summer, a granddaughter of my great-grandparents was buried in the cemetery. I assumed the family got another location for the newer family graves and I was making Valentine trek through an overgrown cemetery for a false hope.
With hesitation, I opened my Facebook account in the morning of the fourth visit. I saw Valentine messaged me. I was thinking, here we go again with nothing being found. But then I saw “Вера!!!!!!!!”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Вера я нашёл!!!!!!!!!” (Vera…Vera I found)
I was so excited. Valentine could hardly speak about his emotions on the video he made of the discovery. Not only were the graves of my great-grandparents found, five other relatives were buried at the family grave site, including my great-grandparents’ granddaughter who died last year.
My grandfather was deprived of the right to attend his parents’ funerals but at least I never gave up on finding their resting place. It took some old Soviet-era electrical tower that still stands today to lead me there.
You can read Vera’s original post with comments at https://lostrussianfamily.wordpress.com/2016/07/15/old-electrical-tower-leads-the-way-to-family-graves/.
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