Genealogy Research in Russia
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The Russian-Baltic Information Center - BLITZ works with the historic archives in St. Petersburg and Moscow and provides genealogy research, document retrieval and translations. BLITZ is located in St. Petersburg and also maintains an office in California. BLITZ provides a preliminary genealogy search for US$80.00
At the conclusion of this preliminary search, we will be able to give you our assessment as to the existence of records of your family and the direction of further research. Hopefully we will find some information which we will report to you. We will also tell you if there are some documents which you should order. On the other hand, if we believe that further research will be unproductive, we will let you know along with our reasons. Although we cannot guarantee results, our researchers are very experienced and we have had good success for many of our clients. See the Genealogy Order Form
The present genealogy search situation in Russia and the kind of information we have found for our clients is described below.
GENEALOGY RESEARCH IN RUSSIA
There are many government archives in Russia as well as in the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union. These archives contain a rich assortment of materials for the genealogist tracing families in the Russian Empire. However, the archives do not communicate with each other and information on similar subjects is not coordinated. Each archive will provide specific information on subjects sought if they are found within their archive. They may recommend another archive if they are unable to provide such a work.
Information in the archives can now be accessed by contacting the archives directly or by contacting a commercial research service such as BLITZ. However, unlike research in many western countries, it is not possible to simply request a birth, marriage or death certificate. Archives in the former Soviet Union were not organized to respond to this kind of straight forward request or to provide such information or documentation.
In general, the archives in the former Soviet Union are poorly organized, poorly indexed and in poor physical condition. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the budgets from the central government for maintaining the many archives have been drastically cut or are non-existent. Archives must now pay for their own electricity, heating and fire protection services.
Unfortunately, a great many records have been lost during wars and by fire. Some records were discarded after they were thought not to be useful any longer and some records have simply not been catalogued so their existence is not known even to the Archive. Blitz researchers have become very skilled and resourceful at locating existing records.
Efforts are now being made to systematize the records and publish catalogues for the various archives. The problem remains that many of these records are handwritten in the old Russian alphabet. Needless to say, these records are very difficult to read and translate. Unless you are skilled in reading old Russian, this is a good reason to use a local research service.
Some of the types of records that can be accessed in the archives of the former Soviet Union are listed below:
Civilian service records - Civilian service records are very detailed records of a person's government work record and usually list the spouse, children, vital dates, places of work and types of civilian service. Civilian service records are very good sources of genealogy information.
Military Service records - Military service records are similar in detail to civilian service records and are found in the Military Historic Archive in Moscow and in the Naval Historic Archives in St. Petersburg. A military service record is more likely to exist if the person was an officer. It is useful to know which branch of service the person served in.
A photograph of the person in uniform is most helpful. Military service medals, even those shown in a photograph, can often be identified as to the campaign. If the service medal is available, it should have a serial number on the back, which can be traced. Records of trials and courts-marshal are also kept. These records often contain much personal family information.
Protestant Church Registers - In pre-revolutionary Russia, each year the non-Russian orthodox churches were required to make a copy of their register and send it to St. Petersburg. These records are kept in the Russian State Historic Archives in some 300 large volumes called "Metrical" books. These books are very time consuming to search because they are not indexed and are organized by year and parish.
It is therefore essential to first know the parish name, which can have both a German and a Russian name. Parish boundaries often changed as the population increased or as colonists established new settlements. Sometimes parishes disappeared as they were absorbed into adjoining parishes.
Business Records - The St. Petersburg archives often have records of Foreign companies who did business in Russia. These records can include lists of local workers, letters from individuals, contracts, etc.
Heraldry and coats of arms of noble families - Genealogy charts and coats of arms for noble families are kept in the main archives. Members of each generation of noble families were required to confirm their noble origin (their right to be attached to the nobility of their family) according to the Russian Law of that time. These files can contain valuable information on each noble family extending back many generations. In conquered lands, such as Poland and Lithuania, local families often applied to the Russian authorities and provided detailed genealogy information to try to become registered as nobility in Russia.
Adoption records - Records of adoption proceedings may be in the Russian archives. In some cases, couples would apply to adopt their children born out of wedlock. During the 19th century (Victorian era) it was against the law to legitimize illegitimate children. Illegitimate children had no right of inheritance and gaining a good position in the government was practically impossible. However, the parents could petition the Tsar and he might (rarely) grant an exception to these laws on the basis of the parents' social standing and good character.
Land ownership records - In some cases, land ownership records are available. These records may indicate the number of serfs owned by the landowner. In the Russian State Historic Archives there is a collection of documents of the Main Redemption Office. This institution was responsible for redeeming land plots after the Emancipation Reform of 1861. As a result of this reform serfs were liberated and received a right to have own land plots. It was permitted to them to redeem land plots of their masters. The documents of this institution list the former and present landowners - that is former serfs and their masters. These files are also interesting for examining because they not only describe real estate property of a particular family, but include information how a particular manor was succeeded, for example from whom it was inherited. Another source for information about real estate property is the files about pawning the manors available in the collections of the Banks documents.
Apartment records - Some cities have local archives with the listing of apartment residents, the date they moved in, the date they left for an extended period of time, where they went, when they returned, where they returned from and when they moved out for good. In some cases, the records will indicate that a person was arrested.
KGB records - During the Lenin and Stalin era many people were arrested, tried and executed as traitors. Sometimes these same people were later rehabilitated. The records of the trial and rehabilitation proceedings are in the archives of the FSB (former KGB) offices located in the same city (or region) in which the person was arrested. These files can only be accessed by members of the immediate family.
For researchers, these files can only be ordered and viewed 75 years after the date of the original records. The main information center located in Moscow may provide the relatives with such information. Accessing the KGB records is not easy and you should use a local research service such as Blitz.
Library Sources - A large number of published sources for genealogy information are available in libraries including many directories compiled according to the rank or institutions where people served, schools, addresses, and other information published in Pre-Revolutionary Russia as well as, old newspapers.
Genealogy Search Order Form
Kristin Nute, Coordinator
Russian-Baltic Information Center - BLITZ
907 Mission Ave, San Rafael, California, 94901-2910, USA
eMail address: firstname.lastname@example.org