Are we related?

Truth is stranger than fiction. Once again.

It started off innocuously, with an email from The Economist.

Dear Armet Amochaev,

Welcome to The Economist. You can now look forward to independent thinking and a distinctive world view, every week. Your first print issue is on its way

Except I hadn’t ordered a subscription to The Economist and my name is not Armet.

I decided to ignore it, but the next email included Armet's address and a requested confirmation for the credit card charge. 

Having just spent days researching my father’s background in Russia, I was intrigued by this rare reference to our last name and forwarded the note to my brother Alex:

ME: 6/2
Thought you might enjoy this. Do you think I should tell them they have the wrong email address?

ALEX: 6/2
Sure. But maybe he’s related us. Can we get his email?

ME: 6/3
I doubt it — but we could find his house! It’s near Moscow. And I have figured out that there’s a train stop at the village father was born in, on the line from Volgograd to Moscow. Want to go next summer?

ALEX: 6/4
Maybe. Let’s see what develops. 

I then told The Economist about the error and in return got a robot who didn’t want to discuss the subject with me.

This is an automated response ...

That inspired me to check on Facebook, where I found an Armet Amochaev from the correct town and sent him a message asking if he had subscribed to The Economist.

He had, and had misspelled his last name in the email address. I did not find this surprising as transliteration from the Cyrillic is not an exact science. So we had an email exchange.

ME: 6/9
By the way, my family were Don Cossacks from near Urupinsk. I don’t suppose we’re related?

My uncle's hand-drawn map from 1977.

My uncle's hand-drawn map from 1977.

ARMET: 6/9
Dear Tania, thank your a lot for the letter! It was my mistake, I wrote my email in a wrong way :) 

You know, I think that we're related. My grandfather was born in a khutor (a small village farm) near Urupinsk in 1935 and my ancestors also were  Don Cossacks. 

Tania, I've visited your website and will definitely read all your literary works and I'm going to start with the story of your first trip to your father's homeland. It must be very exciting! 

A few words about myself. I'm 28-years-old. I live in a suburb of Moscow and work in a road-construction business. I am very pleased to meet you!

ME: 6/9
Lovely to hear from you. My brother suggested I write you on the theory that we might be related. Our family are the only Amochaevs in America. 

I actually want to write a book about my father. I don’t suppose your grandfather is still alive or that you know what village they came from?

And I am impressed that a 28-year-old in Russia wants to read The Economist. I used to read it in my career as a business executive. 

ARMET: 6/12
Dear Tania,

I read your story in one breath. It made me excited and sad simultaneously. I'm excited because you mentioned some familiar places in the story. My grandfather was born in the collective farm "Serp i Molot" right near khutor Kulikov and stanitsa Jarizhenskaya (Ярыженская). I attached a piece of the map. Cossaks weren't allowed to live in their family khutors and villages because of the collectivization. 

But your story also reminds me about very dark times in our history. A civil war is the most disgusting thing that can be. My grandfather lived after those events, but there were rough times too: The great famine in the region in the '30s and WWII later. None of his siblings survived  and he didn't know much about his father. My grandfather was a very stubborn person. He managed to leave that place, worked and studied hard and become a major in the engineering troops. He served in many places in the Soviet Union and retired in Kharkov, Ukraine where he died eight years ago. I wish I could ask him more about the family story. Tania, I think we're related, but just from different branches. 

By the way, last September I was traveling to Urupinsk for a business purpose. I work in a company that supplies high-end equipment and technologies for construction. This region is getting more attractive for the agriculture business and the local road network is being renovated. Now there were none of my relatives there, but I visited khutor Amochaev. Now it's just two farms with no Amochaevs there. I also attached some photos from my trip. 

I think that writing a book about your father is a great idea! 

Now I'm  getting my executive master degree at the Moscow Higher School of Economics. I already have the engineering one and I do believe it will be useful for my further career. That's why I'm reading the Economist. Besides, I try to get information from different sources. 

ME: 6/13
I’m afraid your note brought tears to my eyes. I would definitely like to meet you someday, and it would be fun to find out how closely related we are. If you’re interested, I could get you a DNA test on ‘23 and me’. My brother and cousin and I have all done it, and we could see how closely linked we might be.

I was happy that he responded to say that he would be happy to see if the DNA test showed a family link. 

You never know what you might find in the junk email in your inbox! 

Read my latest book, Mother Tongue, to learn about Croatia, the Balkans, and my family history — following three generations of strong women.