grandmother’s maiden name was Letova but when she married my grandfather, she took his last name and became Semenova. Our old family documents contain my grandfather’s handwritten notes stating that his father’s name was Semenov Mikhail Semenovich, born in 1871.
I began to restore our family tree by searching for any published information about Mikhail Semenov in libraries. In the Directory of Moscow merchants for 1914, on page 443 among the board members of Korkunov P.A. joint-stock company “Питательные консервы” (“Nutritious canned food”)
I found “Moscow guild master: Semenov Mikhail Semenovich.” That matched to what our family has already known about Mikhail Semenov whom my mother remembers calling “grandfather Misha.” My family knew that Mikhail Semenov was a close friend of Pavel Alekseevich Korkunov who co-owned the canned food company. In our family archive, we have many photos of the Korkunov family and the birth certificate of Mikhail Semenov’s sister Antonina lists P.A.Korkunov as her godfather.
In the white and yellow pages (“address book”) All Moscow for 1912 on page 466, I saw:" Semenov Michael Semenovich,
Director of P.A.Korkunov’s joint-stock company, Georgievskaya Ploschad’(George Square), Ilyin’s house, apt.23."
That was for sure my great grandfather because the job title, the place of employment and even his address were all familiar.
In fact, my mother was born in that house on George Square (or as she called it “house on Gruzinka”). In my childhood I happened to see that house; later it was demolished and the Polish Embassy was built in its place. "All Moscow" for 1911 (page 509) had the same information."All Moscow for 1907", page 316, - the same, only the owner of
the house was another - Building company. But the same
great-grandfather. "All Moscow for 1906", page 347,
"All Moscow" for 1907 (page 316) listed a different owner for that house; it was owned by some construction company. All Moscow for 1906 (page 347) and
"All Moscow for 1905" (page 417), also listed the same information. However, "All Moscow" for 1904 (page 395), listed Semenov M.S. residing at Dolgorukovskaya street in Korovina’s house and being an authorized representative of Korkunov P.A. That Semenov M.S. was definitely my great grandfather. His daughter, my great-aunt (up until her death n 1993 she was in sound mind and good memory) told us that after prisoners of Moscow famous Butyrskaya prison (also known as Butyrka) revolted in 1904 and a neighboring house was set on fire, her parents decided that it was too dangerous to live there and moved out to a house on Gruzinka, near George Square and Ogurtsovka. Although my great-aunt was only four years old when her family moved, she had vivid memories of that relocation. (Ogurtsovka, named for the land owner, was a local name for a small place behind the present Polish Embassy.)
I could have no doubts that the name of Michael Semenovich Semenov's father obviously had to be Simeon Semenov.
I could start right away researching my great grandfather Semen Semenov
But in order to assure the completeness of my research, I decided first to check a few more sources. In All Moscow for 1903, Semenov Mikhail Semenovich was not listed. was not listed. He disappeared!? I thumbed through the entire address book and on page 174 I discover: " Ivanov Michael Semenovich,
Voskresensky, house of Voskresensky monastery, authorized representative of P.A.Korkunov"! I could not believe my eyes: was it true, or a mistake or joke of some sort? Intrigued, I grabbed "All Moscow" for 1901 (page 392) and got even more confused with “Semenov M.S., Voskresensky, house of Voskresensky monastery." Who was really my great grandfather? The birth certificate of my grandfather did not survive and therefore we had no legal documents with his father’s name.
I took a new approach to my research. I went to the Moscow Central Historical Archive (TZAM in Russian) and search the archives of Komissarov Technical School, which my grandfather graduated from. Archive #182, inventory # 1, file #4440 provided: “The case of Komissarov technical school enrolling in the 1-st grade student Mikhajlov (2) Vladimir (1) Semenov, started on August 4, 1906". Page 1 of it was "the Application to Mister Director of Komissarov Technical School," a document written by the father of my grandfather, who was “Moscow guild master Mikhail Semenov (without a surname)"! Thus, the document makes it clear that Semenov was not a surname, but a patronymic!
Now we know that the great-grandfather’s given name was SEMEN and that his patronymic, most likely, was IVANOV (given the variants of Mikhail’s full name). Now it became possible to search in family registers for the Moscow guild master Semen Ivanov who had son Mikhail and wife Pelageya Alekseevna (the wife’s name was provided by the same great-aunt). Because, based on the family oral traditions, my great-grandfather was a personal chef for some "very rich" family, and Pelageya after his death stayed in that family as their house manager, I began searching in family registers for cooks/chefs. Thank God, there were only a few relevant documents in TZAM for me to search through: only a few cases in its archive #6 of the board of craftsmen and skilled workers. However, those cases were all very thick. Thanks to the very devoted and knowledgeable archivists- I ordered and received case file #12 which weighted about 16 kg (I do not exaggerate; it is a plain truth!). It was "The 1878 family register of Moscow cooks guild". Luckily for me, I was able to find in that enormous case file what I was looking for! On page 186 and its backside was listed Ivanov Simeon and all members of his family, including his wife Pelageya Alekseeva (sic!), his son - Mikhail Semenov, daughter-in-law Alexandra Petrovna (indeed, we knew that grandmother Sasha’s patronymic name was Petrovna), and grandson - my grandfather - Vladimir Mikhajlov Semenov.
Such family lists for various guilds were first created in the middle or end of the 19th century. When changes in the family structure of guild members happened, they were added into the family lists. Every new family member by birth (e.g., a guild member child) or by marriage (spouse and spouse’s children) of a guild member automatically became a member of that guild. Those guild lists of family members are invaluable because they also provide dates of weddings, births, death. For instance, the list provided me with the information that Semen Ivanov died on November 18, 1894; that he was a guild member since 1863 when he was 34 years of age (which means that he was more likely born in 1830) and his wife Pelageya was 38 years old; that someone named Mr. Weidenhammer petitioned for his acceptance to the guild; that his son Mikhail was born on October 24, 1871 (we did not know the date of his birth before); that Mikhail’s wife Alexandra Petrovna was accepted to the guild in January, 1894 (it means, Mikhail got married prior to that date but not too much before it); and that in 1913 Vladimir (Mikhail’s son) was listed as a warrior of 2-nd category. However, the most interesting and valuable information that I found in the document was that by the decree of the Moscow State Chamber in 1912 Mikhail Semenov was assigned the surname Semenov!
And that concludes the story of how my ancestors became known as the Semenovs.