Before you start research in Russian archives

As mentioned before in the article about Russian census 1897 (click on the link), there were 125 million people living in Russia at the time of the first official census of Imperial Russia and there are no databases similar to and in Russia.

To find your ancestor among 125 million people by performing a manual search in 15 Federal and 84 Regional Russian archives is like locating “a needle in a haystack” unless you can gather as much information as you can in the country of immigration.

For you to continue the Russian ancestry research , you need to know:

  • The exact birth place of your ancestor, in order to pinpoint the Russian archive of interest.
  • The exact year of birth of your ancestor to minimise the search efforts for the archivists.  In most cases the Russian archives might have the vital records only for limited number of years.  Research for vital records might not be possible, if your ancestor was born outside of the archives inventories listing period.
  • The religion practiced by your ancestors – to locate the right fund
  • The exact surname of your ancestor in Russian.  I call this a GOLDEN RULE of the Russian ancestry research.
  • Knowing Patronymic name (learn about it in the link) will make the research easier.

Various genealogical sites, like and, and National archives are here to help you with finding the initial information.

  • Immigration record.  If your ancestor arrived to USA, Canada, Argentina, Australia or anywhere else in the world, you must obtain all relevant information about his/her immigration.  Most of the time place of birth is mentioned “Russia” but do not despair, pay attention to who else travelled with your ancestor on the same ship.
  • Naturalisation records are a must and are most often overlooked records.  The research in USA is covered in detail here Australian naturalisation records are located on National Archives of Australia database
  • Military records. For example, USA has United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 and United States World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942 on  Section 5 in 1914 form “Where you were born?”and section 6 in 1942 form “Place of birth” might reveal what you are looking for.  I strongly recommend to “de-branch” here, i.e. find military records for uncles, brothers and cousins.       Australian War Memorial site has the database of anyone who served in World War I and II as part of Australian troupe.
  • Marriage certificates, if married not in Russia
  • Death certificate has a section on place of birth
  • Grave stones might reveal the unknown details
  • Other personal records (work, education)

Remember to test various spellings of the surname.  Your ancestor, more likely, pronounced his name and surname with the accent upon his departure (when the records were compiled).  The surname may be spelled differently and incorrectly in earlier records, which were closer to your ancestor’s immigration date. Remember the first names usually changed (Americanised or Anglicised) after your ancestor stayed in a new country for a while.

Do not forget to compile the family timeline and correlate it with the Russian historical timeline (link).  It might reveal interesting facts and missing information.

Only once you have collected the above information on every member of the close family, who arrived to a new country, and the information is consistent across all documents, only then I recommend to proceed with the research in Russian archives and available databases.

If you need assistance with the above search and with making first genealogical “steps on Russian soil”, let me help you.

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