‘Heirloom hunter’ tracks down descendants of long-lost photo album in Ukraine – and becomes pen pals with family in war zone

An influencer has shared how she tracked down a family in war-torn Ukraine after finding a photo album containing pictures of their ancestors.
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An influencer has shared how she tracked down a family in war-torn Ukraine after finding a photo album containing pictures of their ancestors.

Chelsey Brown, 28, from New York, finds diaries, letters, and family heirlooms and reunites them with the descendants of those behind them.

After the war broke out in Ukraine in February, she was looking online for Ukrainian businesses to support when she came across the album from a vintage reseller in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.

The green cloth-bound album has around 100 photos spanning from 1927-1970s, with descriptions of the photos in Russian.

The Ukrainian family’s photo album discovered by Chelsey Brown. (Picture: Jam Press)

“I saw it and immediately knew it was special and needed to get it back to its rightful family,” Chelsey told Jam Press.

“It took three weeks to be shipped to me. In the meantime, I started researching the album as best as I could in the meantime with photos.

“I was hoping the descendants of the ancestors in this album wouldn’t be in Ukraine anymore, due to the war.”

Chelsey could see one surname – Makeovetsky – and set about researching to try and track down the family members.

A picture of a younger Vadim in the Ukrainian family’s photo album discovered by Chelsey Brown. (Picture: Jam Press)

She said: “This is the longest research project I’ve worked on. I luckily had people on Instagram who offered to help me translate the names into their English variations.

“Not only was it difficult because of the language barrier, but there were virtually no tangible records online that could lead me to this family.

“I thought I had found the family using MyHeritage, but unfortunately, it was the wrong one.

“I was researching this day and night without any leads. I was even posting this in genealogy Facebook groups – I was desperate to find this family!

“In the album, there was a name Vadim Danylovych and Yuri Vadimovich. Because of patronymics, I assumed this was the son of Vadim and also assumed Vadim’s last name was Makeovetsky – the only surname in the album.

“Finally, I downloaded and used a Russian online keyboard to type out the names I found in the album on Google, and it lead me down a rabbit hole.

“A few days later, I finally found a contact in Ukraine who had the name that I was looking for.

“I spent days trying to find any contact I could for this family, and cold emailed/phoned as many people as I could. Finally, the family responded over email.”

Chelsey made contact with the son and grandson of the main person featured in the album, Vadim Danylovych.

Chelsey Brown. (Picture: Jam Press)

She said: “I finally found the family, who was unfortunately in Ukraine fighting in an unjust war.

“Their reaction was of joy and sadness. Joy because I found a photo album of their beloved father and grandfather, but sadness because I wouldn’t be able to ship this album to them.

“They are in a war zone, and parcels are not working in Ukraine.

“Their emails and communication to me are nothing but overwhelmingly appreciative and thankful. I’ve been in daily contact with the grandson, who happens to be my age! I feel as if I have a friend a half a world away – we have similar hobbies and love the same books.

“In the meantime, I felt like I had to do more for this family. After over a month of researching them, I felt a deep connection with them, and that’s probably because of how long I spent studying their ancestors.

“And losing their jobs and income due to a situation they cannot control was enough reason for me. In addition, Yuri, the son of Vadim, is seriously ill and is not receiving the treatment he needs due to the conditions in Ukraine.

“I have sent the family funds, and had friends, family, and my social following send direct support to them as well.

“Although this album is the first heirloom I physically can’t return, this album was the key for me to find this family, and create the connection I currently have with them.

“I can’t wait for the day when I can meet this family in person and finally return the album.”