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Introduction to Russian Genealogy
By Mikhail Kroutikhin, Researching Russian Roots
  More of This Feature
• Part 2: How to Begin
 Related Resources
• Russian Genealogy Links
 From Other Guides
• Russian History
• Russian Names
• Russian Translation
• Russia Travel Planner

The astonishing thing about Russian genealogy is the fact that it is possible at all. Wars, revolutions and ignorance have destroyed a significant part of written records. Persecution, and even massacres, of people belonging to “wrong” classes discouraged the transition of family memories to young generations. Only a decade ago Russian genealogists started to come out in the open.

Now it has become evident that archives in Moscow and provinces have managed to keep many of their files in good shape. Sometimes, a research of family roots is stonewalled by the dearth of records, but in many cases these archives yield wonderful results. My personal experience is a good example. Starting with even the surnames of both my grandmothers unknown, three years later I have accumulated a 3,000-strong database of ancestors and living relatives and discovered that some of the direct lines go as far back as 1615, the date of the earliest written records for that area. Other lines, alas, can be traced for only three or four generations.   

I can assure you that it is still well worth trying. Writing letters to archives, directly or through an assistant in Russia, is not cumbersome, and the expenses, relatively low. A research could set you back some $100 to $500 depending on the difficulty and the volume of the records to be translated and explained.

Direct genealogical research is still a problem in Russia, due to several negative factors:

  1. Very few attempts have been made at translating archival records into a digital form. Official statistics claim that the data on some 2.5 billion people can be found in Russian archives, but no comprehensive databases exist, and none is available online. Even telephone directories are officially a taboo in most Russian regions, starting with Moscow and St. Petersburg. People use outdated directories stolen from law-enforcement agencies.

  2. Only about 2 percent of Russians have an Internet access. Most of this category is young people who could not care less about their ancestors.


  3. Russian names spelled in Cyrillic letters have various, and sometimes very peculiar, versions when spelled by Germans, English-speakers or the French. V easily becomes W or FF, for example.

  4. Russian archives accept payment by postal or bank transfers, and in the local currency only. It is not possible in most cases to pay from abroad. This is why an intermediary is recommended, who can accept payments by Western Union or through other channels and do the Russian side of the finance himself.


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