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Genealogy Research in Russia

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BLITZ – Information Center
November 2005
St. Petersburg, Russia


The numerous archives found in Russia may be classified as local, departmental  and Federal. 

Local (or regional) Historic Archives include primary documents dated up to the year 1918.  Documents such as church parishes registers, family lists (census materials), documents of the draftee offices, documents of the Provincial Noble Assemblies, and so on, may be found in local archives. Unfortunately, documents in many local Archives have been poorly preserved.

Documents for the Soviet period are held in other, non-“Historic" regional Archives.

Federal Archives contain materials of the higher institutions such as Ministries, Departments, etc.

The Russian State Historic Archive (RGIA)
The actual situation is the same as previously. The Archive is closed for researchers, and the new building is not ready yet.  Packing the library and some archival materials has been started. Blitz has non-legal access, others may also have such a possibility. The archivists who help Blitz do not metnion this to other people. The same may be with others (the other archivists help private persons).  When access to files is not possible anymore, Blitz will be focusing on resources at libraries and also on regional archives to provide research to clients.

The Russian State Historic Military Archive (RGVIA)
Located in Moscow, this archive includes documents of the Highest Institutions of the army administration, as well as, documents of different military units, a collection of officer service lists, and other military documents. These materials are dated up to the year 1918.

The documents for the period after the 1917 Revolution are in two other Military Archives located in Moscow and in a suburb.

The Russian State Navy Archive (RGA VMF)
This is a similar situation to the Military Archive. Documents from 1696 to World War II are in the Central Navy Archive. The building located in the center of the city on #36 Millionnaia Street, was constructed for the Navy Archive. However, it will have to move to a new building and the current buildng will be used for other purposes.  The new location is apparently some distance from the city.  This past week, employees of the Russian State Navy Archives were informed that the archive will be closed starting this December to be moved.  Blitz may have an un-official access to some files before they are actually packed, as was the case with the RSHA, but we will have to wait and see.  The documents for the period after World War II are in a  Department located in the town of Gatchina, a suburb of St. Petersburg. 

There is a directory compiled by Mrs. Patricia Kennedy Grimsted and Vladimir Kozlov (Director of the "Russian Archive"), called “Archives of Russia. Moscow and St. Petersburg. A Directory and Bibliographic Guide.” This directory lists such Archives located in Moscow and St. Petersburg rather completely. (Moscow, 1997). It lists the Archives and other collections, including the following information about each of them: address, telephone, time of work of the readying hall and conditions of accessibility, number of files, time frames, history of foundation of the Archive and general content of documents.

In addition to the Russian State Historic Archive, Navy and Military, the following are just a few more Archives:

There are many other Federal Archives, as:

State Archive of the Russian Federation (located in Moscow). Documents for the years 1800-1993, include the collections of documents of the Gendarme and Police Administrations of the Russian Empire; personal Fonds of the members of Emperor’ Family; Military-Revolutionary Committees; many others.

Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts (in Moscow). Documents pertaining to all the Empire since 11th century up to the year 1917.

Russian State Archive of Literature and Arts. (in Moscow).  Documents since the 18th century up to the year 1994. The documents of different Art, Theatre, Literature organizations, Societies and Institutions; personal collections.

Russian State Archive of Science-Technical Documentation (in Moscow); of Cinema-Photo Documents  (in Moscow and the Department in the city of Vladimir); Russian Center of Preserving and Studying The Documents of the Newest History (Moscow – former Archive of Communist Party), and others.

In addition, there are many  archives of different institutions and departments such as; Archive of the Russian Science Academy (Departments in Moscow and St. Petersburg); of the Art Academy; of the Russian Geographic Society (St. Petersburg); Central State Archive of Literature and Art of St. Petersburg; Central State Archive of Cinema-Photo Documents of St. Petersburg; separate Archives of different institutions and organizations, such collections as the Manuscript Departments of the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg; of the Institute of Russian Literature (Pushkin House) in St. Petersburg.

The term of confidentiality for personal information is 75 years (so, 1930?). Any person may receive a file with documents dated before this term or order such a search to the Archive. It is necessary to list the goal of this search in the inquiry or in the petition concerning the admission to the work with the files.

To order delivering a file in the readying hall for a work, the researcher should find the title and the archival code (number of Fond, inventory, file, year). This is possible to do as a result of work with archival catalogues, card indexes and inventories. The files may be selected based on the institution, subject or the surname. Because of not perfect finding-aids system in the majority of the Archives, in some cases it is not possible to find out if a file is specific to a search before receiving the file and looking through the documents.  Often the researcher cannot order delivering more than a few files at one and the same time and the process of checking some files and ordering (then receiving) others may take quite a long time depending upon the archive.  So, the process of finding the correct source for information can be quite a lengthy process.       

There are also untitled files of a general nature, such as orders and correspondence of specific institutions or other miscellaneous documents held in the archives. The archives try to create an index for these documents, which allows a researcher to find out if a document which include necessary surname is available in this file before examining specific documents.  However, if no index is available, one must look thru a file page by page, a very labor intensive work.

Maybe it is worthy to tell about the numerous directories on different subjects which were published before 1917. They were compiled for different social classes and different subjects. Almost all of them were supplied with the indexes of names. The local newspapers of that time may give a good personal information as well since many different lists were published there. There are many genealogy publications as well, but we prefer to check such information since some include the important mistakes.

The files with the documents of the pseudo-criminal cases of the Stalin repressive era are kept in the Archives of the FSB office located in the same city where the person was arrested. See our article on FSB files.  The Main FSB Archive located in Moscow includes the general information and applies to the local Archives after receiving the inquiries from the relatives of repressed person. As a result they provide the relatives with a certificate compiled on base of information received from such local Archives.

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Research office : St. Petersburg, Russia
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