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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Family Reunion

My wife, aka Disgusted in Euclid, has turned into quite an accomplished genealogist. She traced one branch of her ancestors back to a woman who immigrated to the United States from what was then Galicia, a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1913. That part of the world was part of Poland between the World Wars, and then part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, and now part of Ukraine. She discovered that her family came from a little village not too far from modern Lwow, but is just across the border in modern Poland.

She wondered if any of her relatives who stayed there had survived. It was a good question, for that part of Ukraine was the site of several World War I battles, got sucked up into the Russian Civil War and the Russo-Polish War, and then was subjected to both Nazi and Stalinist rule, with all of the purges associated with both of those horrible regimes. In fact, she found that the little village her great-grandmother came from had been almost completely destroyed in a battle between German and Russian forces in 1944.

So she posted her, and her family’s information, on all sorts of genealogical websites, including a Ukrainian one posted by a guy in Lwow about his family tree. About two weeks ago, she got an email from the website advising her that a doctor  in Lwow, who had the same last name as her great-grandmother, wanted to communicate. It turns out they are descended from the same great-great grandparent, and are therefore distant cousins. Both my wife and her newfound relative were overjoyed, and began an email correspondence. Thanks to Google translation software, they could even mostly understand each other.  They corresponded back and forth on a daily basis writing about what they knew about different branches of the family. We even learned that one bunch had settled in Lyons, France. Then the funny thing happened.

A week ago, her cousin stopped emailing my wife. DIE was concerned. Had she offended him in some way? No, probably not, since all of his emails had been enthusiastically positive. His Facebook page was still active, so, at my suggestion,  she contacted him there. He promptly responded, and they quickly discovered that neither one of them had received several of each other’s  emails. They had just…disappeared.

Now, the Ukrainian cousin doesn’t read and write English, and my wife does not read and write Ukrainian, or Russian, both of which her cousin is fluent in. Translation software is used at each end. Politically, DIE’s cousin appears to be something of a Ukrainian nationalist, proud of his country and the strides it has made since independence, and highly suspicious of Russian imperial designs. He also thinks American imperial wars in the Middle East and elsewhere are just, well, stupid. So do we. No problem. That was about the extent of any political talk. Most of it was about who lived where when, how to make borscht, and how the respective family members were doing.

After the Facebook exchange, where each discovered that there were indeed missing emails, the emails suddenly started getting through again.

Neither DIE nor I are exactly tinfoil hat types. Hell, I believe John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, and that Al-Qaeda flew planes into tall buildings all on their own. However, in light of Edward Snowden’s revelations of National Security Agency spying, and the Obama Administration’s arrogant explanation that any email between an American and someone living in a foreign country is subject to monitoring, we cannot help but be suspicious. This was very strange indeed, and begs the question:

Is the NSA not only reading emails between Americans and foreigners, but intercepting some of them so they can be analyzed? Are the Russians? But why would they bother to do so in this case? The Ukrainians? Again, why would they bother? The NSA? Maybe just because they could? Did some contractor-analyst see that DIE and her cousin were getting suspicious and ask his or her supervisor what they should do, and were told to let it go, because all of this stuff was really innocent genealogical and cultural conversation?  Or was it just some technical glitch?

I don’t know.  But I damned well want to find out. Just in case, we will be contacting the American Civil Liberties Union tomorrow. If any of you have any ideas or suggestions as to what we should or can do, we would love to hear them.  If any of you have had any similar experiences, we would love to hear about them as well.

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