Belarus genealogy tours

Special guided Minsk tours aimed at the field Belarus family research.

Tynevichy - a place under the lindens

updated on 05/12/2014

The place called Tynevichy in Drogichyn Area is a very tiny hamlet in Western Belarus where the only peculiarity seems to be a huge number of lindens that envelope the whole place with an unforgettable scent during the summer months…

My US customer Diana Sloweiko contacted me with a request to have a look around several places in Belarus around Brest. These were Drogichyn, Tynevichy and Kobrin which are over 100 kilometers apart. So to make it doable and enjoyable I split the towns into two days and picked a hotel in Brest as an operational base, so to speak. When you start from Minsk which is 350 kilometers away from Brest and have to visit a place on the way it might take the whole day – especially with the discoveries that were ahead of us.

minsk city gates

Minsk City Gates welcome those coming by train

The Belarus tourist visa issues were handled quite swiftly although the visa agency in the States was a bit of a headache requesting my customer the papers by the book (their book turned out to be out of date) rather than trusting my past experience with the US applicants (I do recommend against visa agents!). One of the troubles to go through was buying a Kiev-Minsk train ticket which seemed to be available online with Ukrainian railways but it was fixed via a travel agent friend in Kiev.

In my opinion a train station is a particularly easy place to get lost and the best meeting site is the engine of the train that brings your party to the destination or the number of a train car. Though Diana missed that one and went directly to Minsk Central Railway station she found a lovely lady at the reception of the CIP lounge – or whatever they call it at the station – who summoned me via mobile.

Two good points here for those arriving to meet a guide – don’t leave your prearranged position unless the guide is terribly late and ask the locals for help – in Belarus, of course. (That was just the beginning of the Belarusian hospitality).

By the way, a recent experiment by our media people indicated that quite a lot of people in the crowd can allow you to use their mobile phone! A gentleman from the American Embassy in Minsk noted in an interview that several people called for his attention when he lost his wallet in a local food market)…

belarus ancestry tours - belarusian countryside

Belarusian vistas en-route

With over 200 kilometers covered mostly through M1 which is one of the country’s best roads we took our turn to the country’s not so good roads. Specifically the last 20 km to our destination Tynevichy were not conducive to speeding but, after all, our purpose was different.

It turned out to be a pretty hot day once we were out to take the mandatory photograph with the village name on it. The best way to do that is by driving the village through and doing the photo session on the other end. As you drive you spot the places of interest and in summer – a shady parking place which a village in Belarus offers plenty.

babushka in tynevichy

Babushka (Russian) or babcia (Polish) includes both the old lady and her scarf

One of the things to look for is a babushka – an old lady who will most likely be a local and through that invaluable with all the information she might spill. Another valuable intelligence source might be a local shop which regrettably does not exist in a small-caliber place like Tynevichy. The desired information might include names, addresses and directions and in most cases the babushkas are the most admirable people to interact with.

The first one we met guided us to a man who was about to cycle away to attend to some business and he made an introduction to another gentleman – Sergei Soloveiko. It so happened that my customer’s grandfather we were researching was Iosef Soloveiko (check the video at the bottom of the article).

belarus ancetry tours soloweiko

The man in white cap is Sergei Soloweiko, the couple were our hosts

Sergei explained that the only two men in the village went by family name Soloveiko and were not related. Diana’s grandfather was Jewish and had a range of skills like playing a violin, sewing and others. In the prewar times – of which our new guide learned from his uncle’s account – Iosef left for Argentina to earn some money. It was not uncommon for the 1930s for the people in Western Belarus (occupied by Poland) to take overseas trips to find a better fortune. Taxation was tough in Poland of the time and many felt uneasy about the European tensions caused by the Nazi Germany.

southern belarus house - ancestry tours

A Polesye (Southern Belarus) household with a well

The transatlantic journeys that don’t seem to be too demanding these days (once you’ve finished your business with charming consulate people) were quite dreadful in the past with the sea being the only way of getting there. Long trips tend to destroy families and our case wasn’t an exception. Iosef returned to divorce with his wife and two sons and remarry. After that he found his way to the US during the war and as he was fixing his paperwork the spelling was altered.

So the obvious solution to our troubles was finding the sons but alas, one of them had died in Poland a few years before while the other one was somewhere in Kobrin, a city a stone’s throw away from Tynevichy and 50 km away from Brest. But how do you find a man who’s somewhere there? Our guide offered us a brilliant solution by finding the man’s contacts in his thick dog-eared notepad. During a remarkable lunch in Sergei’s house he made a phone call – a most emotional moment for me as well – about us coming to pay a visit to Kobrin.

belarusian hospitality table

Belarusian hospitality will improve your calory count)

After that we were escorted to Iosef’s house that survived the war and after having served as a school and then as a club was converted into a corporate apartment of a local collective farm. The structure looked solid to my eye outside and inside where the farmer let us to have a look without any second thoughts of us willing to buy the thing and take it back to the States (we had no such intentions).  It still surprises me quite a little bit that most of the village houses there (10 according to an archive form) were burnt down by the retreating Germans as a retaliation for a partisan landmine while this one remained.

belarus ancestry tours village wooden house

The house that Iosef built...

We parted in the warmest spirit with pictures taken and a few bills planed between the cups and plates of the hospitable family. On the one hand, Diana decided to help the old folks whose government pension is far from the status “handsome”. On the other hand, the locals in Belarus, naturally, people with Soviet upbringing would seldom accept any money obstinately declaring they are doing more than well) In fact, Sergei tried to put the largest bill in Belarus into Diana’s hand but she very gently reassured him that he needed it more.

With Tynevichy behind the stern we were off to Brest where splendid Hermitage and not-so-splendid (a pretty acceptable place though) Pyat Kolets Hotel welcomed us in their rooms. Though Brest is a borderline city and tourism here is yet to boost it is improving its count of hotels and hostels by and by.

It was quite obvious that a visit to Drogichyn was obsolete so the next day brought us to Kobrin. Knocking on a few wrong doors first we finally found the one that was open to us and a lady in her seventies welcomed us inside. Vladimir – the other sun of Iosef was home but turned out to be too old for a fruitful conversation. His wife Maria filled the gaps while we were scrutinizing the contents of the photo album, or rather, a box. It is regrettable that the locals – no doubt busy with their own routine – don’t treat photos as a worthy genealogy material and mishandle them quite often. But in our particular case the reward was there – among the last pictures in that box was one whose copy existed across the ocean!

belarus ancestry tour iosef soloweiko

The mission's ultimate prize...

According to Maria, both brothers survived the war after which Victor left for Poland where he established a family while Vladimir stayed home and worked as a bus driver. A load of diplomas and certificates proved that the man was worth every penny. Trouble with the Soviet state was that it often supplied one with these laminated colorful papers with the images of the party leaders rather than actual pennies. When a huge construction site was nearby he made an informal arrangement (father’s genes, no doubt) with an operator of a giant transporter to relocate the whole house to its current location. The operation was executed most admirably.

Diana and Maria at the doorstep of Vladimir's house

Vladimir has his own pretty vast family with grandkids and the next grand operation we will have to give a though to with Diana – taking her father to the native place. That seems like a Babylon of a mission – the old folks in my experience are reluctant to discuss their often grim past, share any recollections or even speak their native language be that Polish or Russian or Ukrainian.

This mission of mine was remarkable in several ways – I was surprised to discover (again) that our countryside in summer was most charming, that Belarusian people are very hospitable and that looking for a proverbial needle one can actually find one or even two as long as the tools have been picked properly.


Blooming lindens are charming...


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Andrei Burdenkov - your personal guide in Belarus
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