Journal of a Russian Grand Duchess and how it connects with my family history

When I began my journey into my maternal family history I had practically no knowledge of my maternal ancestors. I was no different to many other family historians when I took the first step back in time by Googling my maternal grandparents. I was definitely not prepared for what I found.

It would not be wrong to say I was taken aback and even shocked to discover there were rumours of a romantic connection between my grandfather Lt Paul Woronoff (Pavel Alexievich Voronov) and the eldest daughter of the last Tsar of Russia, the Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna. My grandfather was mentioned in several online forums, Facebook pages and Instagram posts. I read everything I could find about this time in my grandfather’s life which I knew nothing about.

Not long after I discovered my grandfather’s past and his links to the Russian Imperial Family, I was gifted a wonderful book which gave me further insights. Journal of a Russian Grand Duchess: the Complete Annotated 1913 Diary of Olga Romanov, Eldest Daughter of the Last Tsar, by Helen Azar was an eyeopener for me.

Beginning with a helpful introduction to the Grand Duchess, her family, and her upbringing, the story then unfolds as we travel through 1913 with the young girl. Olga details her daily activities, who was present at meals, the games and sports they played, where the family went, and their official duties. Quite often Olga mentions the fragile health of her mother, Empress Alexandra. She also regularly notes the weather of the day. For historians and anyone interested in that time in history, Olga’s diary entries are a mine of information. Some might think she and her siblings led boring lives, but I
enjoyed reading about the minutiae of her days.

Of course, the most surprising thing for me were the many mentions of my grandfather! The first mention of him was in January where he is noted as P.A. Voronov, and in April Olga even mentioned having tea with my grandmother and great aunt! By June Olga has shortened my grandfather’s name to
Pavl. Al and he begins to feature more and more in her diary entries. By August, we can see she is developing a crush on him and he is mentioned as “S”, her sweet one. Later that year Olga will be devastated when she discovers her “S” has become engaged to another Olga – my grandmother, Countess Olga Kleinmichel.

Helen Azar, who has become a friend of mine, has done an excellent job with this book, a comprehensive translation of the Grand Duchess’s 1913 journal, with informative annotations and deciphered codes. I found this book extremely useful for getting to know my grandfather through the eyes of the young Grand Duchess who was so obviously taken with him. I can highly recommend this book for anyone interested in Russia and its history, the Romanovs and the family of the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II. You can find it here.

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