Check it Out

When you ask your elderly parent or grandparent a question about their past or to identify a loved-one in a photo and they say, “I just don’t remember,” what do you do and how do you feel? For me, that was the moment I knew I made a terrible mistake in waiting so long to sit down and have a chat with my dad. I felt sick, and could blame no one but myself. I feared I would never know his story.  But I don’t give up easily!

After he died, I decided I owed it to him to try to learn the tale of his past. It took a lot of work and years of research, but I was able to find the answers to my questions by becoming a genealogist, snooping in my father’s dresser drawers, and visiting the National Archives.

I spoke to people who lived where he lived and followed a blog of a woman who was traveling a similar route as he did over seventy years ago (Bumblebee Trails). I read books covering the history of the time period in which he grew up, which helped me understand how his family was reacting to the current events of the time—The Great Depression, life under the regime of Joseph Stalin, World War II, and the era of McCarthyism here in the United States.

I assembled all this information together and was finally able to understand what made Dad tick—why he was satisfied living in a small house with our large family, why he had no interest in accompanying us on a family cruise, and why he was always writing letters or picking up the phone to voice a complaint of offer advice to anyone.

After assembling all this data, I decided to write it all down and was surprised to see I had written a book. When I began to tell my father’s story to people outside my family, I realized there was interest beyond just my relatives.

This is a story for amateur genealogists and lovers of history.  It is a tale of persistence and overcoming adversity again and again. As one of the reviewers of my book stated, it is a true account of a “family’s struggles to search for justice and freedom.”

If I have piqued your interest, I hope you will consider reading Do Svidanya Dad. Check out my new website for details:



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Seeking Genealogy Mystery Solutions

Don’t you just hate it when you cannot solve that genealogy mystery? We all have many, but one which just continually bubbles up and gnaws at me is regarding the sale of my grandfather’s house prior to the big move to Russia in 1931. The story has always been that my grandparents moved because of the difficulties they faced because of the Great Depression and the promises of jobs by Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union. While the decision had tragic consequences for several members of the family, I understand the reasoning behind the move—the great desperation they all felt. So what is the mystery?

My father always talked about the fact that his parents brought American dollars with them, which were invaluable as Stalin was trying to industrialize the nation. Residents with foreign currency (also known as “hard currency’) were able to buy food and miscellaneous goods at special stores known as “Torgsin stores.”

I assumed the money was from the sale of their home in New Jersey.  When I checked the records for the sale of the home, there was no mention of the transfer of a large sum of money—just “one dollar and other valuable considerations.”

That is the big mystery. Did they have a secret stash of emergency funds which they would not use for anything, even food? What exactly were “other valuable considerations?”

When I mentioned this to my genealogist-friend, Sally, she threw out the idea that it may have been a private mortgage between my grandfather and the purchaser, or a cash deal that they wanted to keep secret. She pointed out that banks were in crisis at that time, so people had withdrawn their money from their banks, if they were lucky. I guess they hid it under their mattresses.  Perhaps there were tax considerations. I just don’t know and no one, even at the hall of records where I saw the deed, had any thoughts.

So I am throwing this out to anyone reading this. Does anyone have their own ideas? I would love to hear from you.

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Just a Pat on the Back

Feedback is a wonderful thing. Whether it is a compliment for a new hairdo or a new outfit, it helps to enforce an action or a decision. I try to remember this when I interact with people. If the cashier at the supermarket has an unusual manicure, rather than just thinking it, I tell her and I always am rewarded with a smile.

When I was nominated for a Liebster Award for my blog, I was flattered. It made my day.

Now that I have written a book, I get excited when someone takes the time to review it. I don’t care how many stars I am given, because that is so subjective. It is the carefully chosen words that are so meaningful to me. While it nice when the reviewer compliments my writing, what is the most meaningful is the appreciation for the story, the research (particularly from fellow genealogists), and the understanding of the hardships experienced by my father and his family. Sharing the tale of my grandparents, aunts, and uncle, traveling nearly fifteen hundred miles on foot, boat, and unheated trains in snow and temperatures approaching forty degrees below zero is the point of writing the book.

When I have been told that my story brought the reader to tears, I feel I have accomplished my goal. Someone understood the unimaginable ordeal my family suffered. Now I am going to pay this forwarded by beginning to review the books I have read. I know it makes a difference.

Boarding Train

Boarding a Train


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Thanks Everyone!

I imagine that most writers of books did not do so by accident. Maybe they got up one morning and said, “Gee, it’s time to write that great American novel,” or maybe they were a celebrity or politician or inventor of something great who was encouraged to tell their story. Perhaps they were trained in creative writing in college.

Anyone who has been following my blog knows I did not set out to write a book. It just evolved so there was little preplanning involved regarding how to build the excitement before the publication and what to do once it was released. I feel as if I am out in the ocean frantically treading water and looking for a life raft, but that’s okay, because I believe in the uniqueness of the story and I have a lot of patience.

Along the way, I have picked up a lot of unknowing riders. Some, such as my children and husband, did not have the right of refusal. They were stuck listening to my excitement, such as when I accidentally met a Russian translator at a party or sold my first book to someone who was not a friend or relative, and my frustration when I did not know how to move forward. But they encouraged me to keep on trucking, so I am grateful to them and hope they will someday read the final version—even though they think they know what is between the covers.

Then there are the strangers—some who have no idea that the questions I posed to them became part of a book. These include the librarians in London and the U.S., the archivists at the San Francisco and National Archives, the man at the courthouse in New Jersey, and the people at two N.J. historical societies.

Many friends (old and new) and relatives have been readers, cheerleaders, and editors along the way, and I am especially thankful to them because they have helped voluntarily. These people I knew about prior to publication so I could thank them in my acknowledgments. I just worry that I omitted someone!

Now as I attempt to learn the ropes of Twitter, Goodreads, and Facebook as a means of finding readers, I am thankful for the help of fellow writers who have been offering suggestions now, like Ellie Holmes across the pond.

          Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.               William Arthur Ward


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Our Cosmonaut Cousin

I have written of my famous inventor cousin Louis Brennan, whose life was commemorated in a ceremony in London in 2014. Louis’ leaf sprouted from my mother’s tree. My father’s family had their own legendary leaf—cosmonaut Gherman Titov.

Among his accomplishments were that he was the youngest person to have flown in space, traveling there just one month prior to his twenty-sixth birthday in 1961. His flight last a whopping twenty-four hours, which was much longer than his Russian predecessor, whose time in space lasted 108 minutes. He was also the first space photographer, the first to have slept in space, and the first to vomit in space. (Now that is impressive!)

When my father traveled to Russia with my sister, he spoke to a cousin who confirmed that Mr. Titov was related, and that cousin claimed that Gherman mentioned in a press interview that he did have relatives “abroad.” He just never mentioned the specifics.

I do know that my father’s grandmother was named Martha Titovna, but Russian genealogy records are quite pitiful, so I have been unable to verify this. Do I doubt this claim? My answer is a resounding “no,” because I have been unable to disprove a single one of my father’s seemingly crazy stories.

So I tell my children that we have a Russian astronaut in the family, and I am sticking by my story until I have reason to believe otherwise.

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Never Assume the Name is Correct!

What was my father’s intended first name? Did he even know? I remember watching him speak of being named Mark but then he said “I changed it to Martin.” He was so nonchalant about it. Why? When?

In my mother’s family, at least three of her siblings were always called by their middle names. The explanation was that they had to be named after a saint, so my grandparents chose a saint’s name as their first name, but then called them by their preferred name—their middle name. (This can explain why you may be unable to find a relative in a genealogy search.)

I researched saint’s names at the time of my father’s birth in 1919, and found that there were several saints by the name of Martin, so I am confused. If my father’s parents did not know that Martin was a saint’s name, why didn’t they do what my other grandparent’s did and give him the middle name of Martin?

I learned that does not conform to the Russian-naming convention, where a child’s middle name—referred to as the patronymic name—consisted of the first name of the father plus a suffix which means “son of” or “daughter of.” Since my grandfather was named Vasily, the middle name of my father and his two brothers should have been some form of “Vasilyovich.” This was confirmed by my Uncle Tony’s death certificate, whose name was stated as “Anton Vasilevich.” Aha! I rest my case.

Therefore, he should have been “Martin Vasilevich.” So I wonder, when did my grandparents begin calling him Martin? Was it after they left the church service when he was baptized, or was it his choice to be called Martin, and they just agreed?

After hearing him claim that his real name was Mark, I always assumed he was baptized with the name Mark, but that was not the case. I have the original baptismal certificate where the name was recorded as “Marek!” (What the heck?)

Martin Wardamasky-Baptism

I looked for the answer to when his name was changed by first looking for the 1920 Census, but after eight years of searching, including looking at all fifty-five pages of the Rockaway, New Jersey Census, I have not been able to locate his family during that census year. (Sometimes you need to look at every single page, but that did not help me.) By 1930, my father was called Martin, and on every other document during his entire life, his first name was always “Martin.” (His last name is a very different story.) So the change happened sometime between his birth and his eleventh birthday.

I then discovered that there was at least one time, while he was serving in the war and stationed at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, that another name (not Mark or Martin) popped up on a list which consisted of four officers who were escorting one hundred fifty enlisted men on a train to Florida.

I have a unique last name, and I know my father was on that train. The name on the list was not Mark or Martin or Marvin or Matthew. Any of those I could have accepted, but for the life of me, the name on the list was inexplicable. It was Walter. Really, Dad? Walter? I am speechless. This is why genealogy research is so frustrating! Sometimes, you need to throw the first name out the window when looking for someone!

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Liebster Award

Liebster Award-2

I was flattered when a fellow blogger nominated my blog for a Liebster Award, although I was not aware that awards were bestowed upon blogs. I learned that the Liebster Award was created to recognize and hopefully promote blogs with less than 200 followers. “Liebster” is a German word meaning beloved or dearest. I accepted the award, but I admit I am uncomfortable about publishing this post (although it was fun), particularly coming up with random facts about me because this is not why I am writing this blog.

Thank you Ellie Holmes of And Then What for believing in my blog enough to nominate me. Ellie is a “Writer, expert juggler and occasional lion tamer because that To Do List never gets any shorter, does it?” She just published her debut novel, “The Flower Seller.” I have read her book and thoroughly enjoyed it. Great job, Ellie!

Her blog describes the bumps along the way of writing and publishing her book and acts as a cheerleader for other writers maneuvering this challenging journey. She blogs twice a week, once “about a broad range of subjects and once on Thursdays on a writing related topic.”

My Answers:

  1. Why did you decide to start your blog? I always knew that my father had a very different childhood than the dads of my friends, so when I decided to research and write about it, I wanted to see if anyone other than my family agreed.
  2. What is the hardest thing about maintaining a blog? It is difficult for me to find a balance between writing and living my life. I know I spend too much time at my computer.
  3. What’s the best thing about blogging? Blogging has been a surprise. I never expected that so many strangers would continue to return to my site and want to learn more.
  4. What are your top tips for someone just starting a blog? I would definitely advise to set up a schedule. In the beginning, I blogged every day, which was too much for me and probably my readers—particularly my children!
  5. What’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given and did you follow it? The best advice was given to me recently by Ellie Holmes, the woman who nominated me for this award. Basically, she suggested I stop going in too many directions. I think, for my sanity, I need to listen to her.
  6. What are you passionate about? I am passionate about trying to convince people to sit down and talk to their older relatives before it’s too late.
  7. How would you spend a ‘perfect’ day? A perfect day would be spent with my daughters and two sisters —just talking and catching up with each other at my house.
  8. Do you ever suffer with writer’s block and if you do, how do you get over it? Since both my blogs revolve around my family, I find that taking out some old pictures helps to spark a few new ideas.
  9. Who is/are your favorite author(s)? I always enjoyed John Grisham’s legal thrillers, and for great summer fun reads, I love reading Janet Evanovich, perhaps because she writes about a Jersey girl named Stephanie Plum. My most recent favorite book was “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah. I never realized how much history could be learned outside the classroom.
  10.  Where do you hope to be in five years’ time? I would love it if my book became a mini success, and I am considering writing another book.
  11. What’s your favorite waste of time? My favorite waste of time is sitting on the sofa in my screened porch, having a cup of tea or a glass of wine, and reading a good book while soft music plays in the background.

11 Random Facts about Me

  1. I never ate Chinese food until I was twenty-one.
  2. I used to drink only White Zinfandel wine until I was shamed into expanding my wine horizons and now I have lost my taste for it.
  3. I was given a gift by the Prime Minister of Ireland.
  4. I have a distant cousin who is a cosmonaut.
  5. I overcame my fear of bridges after someone tried to unsuccessfully to drive off of one.
  6. I hate wearing nail polish on my fingers and toes.
  7. I am always playing the alphabetical license plate game, and am currently looking for Idaho.
  8. I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t like the music of Barry Manilow.
  9. I once fixed a vacuum cleaner by taking it apart—completely apart—and putting it back together correctly.
  10. My favorite candy is plain M&M’s.
  11. My maiden name will die out in the U.S. once my brothers are gone.

My List of Nominees

This was my problem in accepting this award because I discovered that my potential nominees:

  • Had too many followers
  • Were not interested in the award
  • Stopped blogging
  • Got nominated by someone else before I published this post, so I have only one nominee:


 My Questions

  1. What was your motivation to start a blog?
  2. What tips would you give to a new blogger?
  3. If you could go back in time who would you like to visit for one day?
  4. What moment in history, during your lifetime, is the most memorable?
  5. Who is the most influential person in your life?
  6. What is your favorite book(s)?
  7. Where in the world would you like to go if money was no object?
  8. Name three things that make you happy.
  9. What did you do for fun as a child?
  10. Do you, or did you, have a job where writing was part of your job description?
  11. What is your biggest fear?

2016 Liebster Award Rules:

  • Thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog. Try to include a little promotion for the person who nominated you.
  • Display the award on your blog — by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a “widget” or a “gadget”.  Images you can use for your 2016 Liebster Award can be found at .
  • List these rules in your post.
  • Answer your nominator’s questions.
  • Give 10 random facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 5 – 11 blogs that you feel deserve the award, who have a less than 200 followers.
  • Create 11 questions for your own nominees to answer.
  • Once you have written and published it, you then have to: Inform the people/blogs that you nominated that they have been nominated for the Liebster award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it.



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