Pavel Voronov, my Russian Grandfather

In this picture my maternal grandfather, Pavel Voronov (Paul Woronoff), is 13 years old. He is a naval cadet in Russia.

Years later he would be an officer on Tsar Nicholas II’s imperial yacht, Standart and the love interest of Grand Duchess Olga, eldest daughter of the Tsar.

I know very little about my grandfather. The documents I have of my mother’s family are in Russian and therefore incomprehensible to me. I know my grandfather was born in Kostroma, Russia and that he had at least one sister, Natasha. I have photos of his parents but none of him as a child, except the one above.

I know my grandfather joined the navy and, after graduating as a naval cadet, served on the cruiser Admiral Makarov. The Admiral Makarov was moored in the port of Messina, Italy when a powerful earthquake hit Sicily on December 15, 1908.The sailors on board the Admiral Makarov, including my grandfather, immediately went to the rescue and saved many of those affected. I’ve read that tens of thousands of Messina’s inhabitants were buried under rubble. Apparently, it was the bravery of my grandfather which caught the eye of the Tsar and had him promoted to Lieutenant on the Standart.

According to my grandmother’s book Upheaval, my grandparents first met at a dance given by Princess Bariatinsky. It is here in her book she tells of the legend attached to my grandfather’s name. “Voron” means raven in Russian; it was a nickname given in the fifteenth century to three brothers, Tartar princes, who settled along the Volga after the great Tartar invasion. It was said of these brothers that they “flew on their prey like ravens!” In time, this nickname became their Russian name and whatever was their Tartar name was never used by them again.

The young officer Pavel was to meet Olga Kleinmichel again at many parties and dances. By that time the Grand Duchess Olga had developed a crush on Pavel, writing in her diary about the times they saw each other. It is possible her affection for Pavel was noted by her parents, Nicholas and Alexandra. But it is only conjecture that the Tsar and Empress arranged the marriage between my grandparents as a way of ceasing the feelings their daughter had for Pavel. We will never know.

None of this romantic story was made known to me as I was growing up. I only knew my grandfather as a kind, loving grandfather who would always take the time to play with me. He died of stomach cancer when I was nine. Nearly fifty years later I still miss him.

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This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. Magdalena Morawiecka

    My name is Magda and l’m polish. I’ve read about your grandfather Pavel. I was wandering, how His life was. I’m so glad, that He had survived that so dangerous time in Russia…. Greetings

    1. Avatar photo

      Thank you Magda. I believe my grandfather had a good life but he died when I was quite young so I only have a few memories of him.

  2. Hans Jensen

    What a wonderful story. I
    am so glad your grandfather
    survived the revolution and
    had a fulfilling and happy life.

  3. Grace Hession David

    Thank you for sharing this amazing story about your Grandfather. I think Grand Duchess Olga was deeply in love with him. i have read her diaries. I feel so sad that she never got to marry him but in the end, if the Tsar and Tsarina arranged the marriage with your Grandpa and Princess Kleinmichel – then it likely saved his life. Even though the Bolsheviks tried to erase as many from the old order as possible. Did your grandparents have to flee Russia? You have so much more to tell us!!! Thanks again! Grace Hession

    1. Avatar photo

      Thank you for your comment Grace. Yes, my grandparents did flee Russia, my grandmother wrote a book about it called Upheaval. There is definitely more for me to tell. I hope you keep reading!

  4. Grace Hession

    Hi Alex – I found your Grandmother’s book – I bought it and read it. It is now in my collection as one of my favourite books ever. What a terrible thing the revolution was. Oh my goodness! Your poor Grandmother and all the families that were destroyed by those murdering scum. Thank you for this suggestion. I am very grateful!!! Grace Hession

    1. Avatar photo

      Hi Grace, I’m glad you enjoyed my grandmother’s book. It was a terrible time indeed. I’m working on updates to her book with the intention of republishing it eventually.

  5. Deborah Marotta

    Hi Alex,

    Do you happen to know if Pavel and Olga (the Czar’s daughter) had a daughter? I’m working on a family tree and a cousin of mine told me a fascinating, romantic, and well, utterly unbelievable story. My grandmother and her family were Ukrainian – a large family of seven siblings – they were farmers who raised, I believe, chickens. Her oldest brother Voika (Wolf or William) was married twice. He had two sons from his first marriage and his second wife had two daughters from her first marriage. I apologize for going into such detail, but I wanted to give you some background.

    Ok, here’s where the story gets very strange. The two, Voika and his second wife, Rose, had a child together, Jerry (a female, probably short for Geraldine or Genevieve, no one is sure). Years later, she apparently changed her name to Riva. So Jerry/Riva, as an adult, tells this story to my cousin. Her parents were NOT Voika and Rose. Her mother was Olga (Czar’s daughter) and someone else, who after reading about how she loved Pavel, was probably him. Jerry/Riva was born in 1915 – which jives with the love story of Olga being in love with Pavel in 1913.

    So, apparently, Olga wanted the baby to escape from the Bolsheviks. Russian guards gave the baby to my family (the surname was something like Gaison – in America it became Gerson). I don’t believe this story because my family was Jewish, and I can’t imagine Russian guards giving a baby to a Jewish family. The reason was that Jews were given free passage to get out of Russia, and they wanted the baby to get out of Russia. My cousin told me that he researched and found that some non Jewish families adopted Jewish names to take advantage of the free passage out of Russia offer, but I’m not sure that was the case with my family. I really don’t know.

    Fast-forward to Jerry/Riva’s son and his conversation with my cousin – that Jerry’s original last name began with a V.

    Crazy? True? Do you know anything about this?

    I don’t mean to take anything away from your loving story about your grandfather. I wish I’d known my grandfathers. I’ve heard about them and was born years after they died. Bless you!

    1. Mark Goldberg

      I have to say, that just because a researcher could not find the information does not make it untrue. I have this same story in the history of my family. My father’s mother was Sima Voronovsky. She had 7 sisters and a brother. They were a Ukrainian Jewish family who owned land as beet farmers. The family lore is that they were unusually well situated for a Jewish family and they were treated differently due to the family’s secret connection to the Czar involving an illegitimate child. My grandmother worked for the government and secured the exit visas for the whole family when the Bolsheviks came to seize their land. My great uncle Nathan was apparently an imperial guard for the Czar. The family homestead was in Tsybaliv Ukraine, and they supplied beets to a sugar factory, the building of which still stands today, which was one of the largest sources of beet sugar in Ukraine. Half the family migrated to America, but in their rush to escape quickly, there wasn’t enough room on the one boat for everyone, so 2 or 3 of the sisters instead sailed to Argentina. Upon arriving in America they changed their name to Warren. My great grandfather was Peter Warren (Pesach Voronovsky). This story has been handed down 3 generations, and this is the first time I’ve seen a record of a similar story with overlapping details. Coincidence? Perhaps; but it sure seems like there may be elements of truth that lend at least some possibility of credibility to the story we may share.

  6. Deborah Marotta

    Hi Again,

    I think I got my answer to my earlier note to you. Olga (daughter of Nicolai II) and Pavel did NOT have a child. A Romanov researcher confirmed my doubts. I hope I didn’t bother you with my long, involved note. The story was so intriguing, and as I said to the other researcher, it’s a pleasant fantasy to think you’re descended from royalty and hidden from enemies. I think that this relative was living a fantasy.

    I love what you wrote because I love Russian history and what you wrote brings it alive for me.

    1. Avatar photo

      Hi Deborah
      Your story would make a great book! But, as you have already discovered, it is untrue.
      Thank you for reading my blog!

  7. Albert

    Gracias por contar tus interesantes historias y continúa haciéndolo. Aprecio mucho la verdadera cultura rusa.

    1. Avatar photo

      Thank you Albert for reading my blog!

  8. Aubrey

    Hi Alex. It’s a shame your grandfather never left any memoirs of his time with the Romanov family for posterity. I guess such stories are best forgotten. But for what it’s worth, I’m glad your grandfather did not join the communists and survived the revolution. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Avatar photo

      Hi Aubrey – thank you for reading! I’m pretty happy my grandfather survived the revolution too! 🙂

      1. Aubrey

        Forgot to add. If you happen to come across any photographs of the Romanov family in your collection, particlarly the grand duchesses, it would be great if you could share it. Hard to believe your grandfather didn’t keep one as a memento, seeing as he often appears in their photo albums. Cheers!

        1. Avatar photo

          Aubrey – it is not difficult to believe when you remember he was fighting in the Civil War, cut off from everything he owned as well as family and friends. My grandparents took very little with them when they escaped. I have a couple of photos but most of the ones which show my grandfather with the grand duchesses I have from other people.

  9. Christoph Speenburgh

    Alex, thank you for this interesting account of your grandfather, and please pass on to your family my deepest heartfelt appreciation for all your grandfather did for my cousins. God bless him, and I’m quite sure they are all happily reunited in Heaven.

    1. Avatar photo

      Thank you Christoph for your lovely comment. I’m interested to hear what my grandfather did for your cousins!

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