belarus genealogy tours

Family history research near Mogilev

updated on 15/05/2012

A year passed after my Naliboki trip and the next family research mission took me to Mogilev area where Aina M. and her husband Terrence from Australia wanted to visit and take photos of the locality where her mother and her family lived until 1943. Aina's mother lived in the village of Galiny, Mogilev Region, attending a primary school in Petrovichy Village and a high school for one year in Chaussy before she had left Belarus for Germany in 1943.

The first day of our trip was occupied with a transfer from Minsk to Mogilev, the Mogilev Hotel check-in and a trip to Chaussy and the neighborhood. We soon discovered that little had remained of the historic buildings in Chaussy – our landmark – the prewar high school had been flattened to give way to the modern cottages. Although the buildings of treasury and hotel have been preserved, they probably would mean nothing for someone who attended a high school about seventy years ago. 

Travelling from different sites we (including myself actually) were amazed by the hospitality of the locals. Inna, the director of the area museum, took us to the school site and the river bridge and showed the Mogilev Highway. It turned out that Catherine the Great visited these lands in the 1780s soon after she had approved of the project for construction of the post highways through Belarus. Following that road we tried to find a settlement that was seven kilometers away from the town with a high school. 

By the way, the first stretch of the cobbled road was dismantled by the locals but later on the road was still in a good condition. Shame on the modern road construction people – the modern asphalt roads go into pieces three to five years after they’ve been commissioned and this one has been there for over two hundred years! Unfortunately there were neither existing nor dilapidated villages along the old Mogilev highway so we had to go back to Mogilev and get ready for the next day.

Day two of our Belarus family research trip took us to the villages of Galiny and Petrovichy and was the most fruitful one. Not only because we photographed the landmarks that hopefully would be recognized – a hundred-year-old church and some views over the river from the bridge in Galiny (unfortunately the priest could not have been interviewed since he was based in Mogilev and anyway all records are kept in National Archives in Minsk where they carry out family tree researches upon requests from relatives). 

When researching a family history in Belarus, especially when it comes to a field research - it is most important to visit the local graveyards to see the tombstones whose dates and names fit into the story. However, as in the case with the Hodyls of Naliboki we didn't succeed in the cemetery of Petrovichy - several tombstones of the family name in question didn't ring any bells. When in Galiny, talking to a local lady saved us a few hours of time - she was dead certain that there was no one buried there under such name.

Our most valuable asset was a 92-year-old retired school teacher who lives in Petrovichy. She was a most pleasant person to talk to apart from her clear memories of the names, locations and events. She was relocated from her grandfather’s home after the grandfather had been pronounced kulak and sent behind the Ural Mountains along with his closest relatives from where they never returned. His windmill (one of our landmarks) and other property were confiscated and the local school flattened only in 2011 was located just behind it. 

 
belarus family history research - school basements

The old school was closed down in 1975 but the buildings were pulled down only in 2011

 
Down there we discovered the basements of the school buildings overgrown with pretty tall trees… The teacher by the nature of her occupation must have been a person, well-known in the neighborhood - so we hoped that she would be recognized back in Australia.
Kulak – a term that the Communists designed and used to accuse wealthy peasants of discrimination and exploitation of their own fellow villagers in Soviet Russia after 1917. After being branded with such a term a man could have been sent to Siberia along with his family or just executed on site while his possessions were distributed (pillaged) among the village poor. Very often kulaks were just industrious people whose wealth had been accumulated by decades of honest labor and who didn’t wish to share the fruits of their labor by joining the kolkhoz (collective farm) with the poorer fellow villagers whose main occupation was drinking.
 
The new house of the old lady built in the 1920s and complete in 1938 is the first village building, so building number four (another tip based on the recollections) – now a clear patch instead of it – was the living place of Aina’s mother!
 
The retired teacher also told us about the location of the old village well remembered by Anna D. that had been flattened a few years before and about the century-old birches that had been cut down near the Orthodox church because of their poor condition.
 
Concluding our research, we arrived in Latroshcha Village that is three kilometers away from Petrovichy. A home to the Latvian community that came over from Latvia over a century ago when tsar was giving away the plots of land, Latroshcha Village today is mainly a dacha place. Only two prewar houses have been preserved while the original occupants are no longer there. The houses again were shown by a friendly local babushka on crutches who along with her dogs kindly looked after the car while we were taking pictures. 
 
belarus family history research - former house location

Anna D. recalls that the fourth building in the High Street was her home...

 
On the following day before breakfast we drove into Shchezher Village (reading these tongue breaking names in Belarusian is particularly hard for English speakers even with basic command of Russian) – a former location of a local high school – that might have been the one Anna D. attended. Again many thanks to our retired teacher!
 
Babushka – a Russian word that stands for an old lady. Since grandfathers in our parts tend to die much earlier an expression that stands for visiting one’s grandparents in the countryside (even when the grandfather is alive) includes babushkas only - go to visit babushka.
 
The locals showed us the location of the school cottages – different buildings for different classes – and after taking a few views we headed towards our Mogilev Hotel, breakfast and the return flight to Riga.

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