How to search for Russian birth certificate

Locating a birth certificate record for your ancestors is very important when researching your Russian ancestry.    Knowing the information below is just the beginning towards obtaining it.  But that’s hard – if you don’t know how to do it.

Russia today does not have a database similar to or where you can locate the birth certificate of your ancestor.  But you can still find the record in Russian archives.

Before 1917

If your ancestor was born before Revolution (1917), the record of birth was done in church books. The church performed the registering function in Imperial Russia.  However, many Russians lived for many years, if not centuries, without the paper record on hand. When searching for a birth certificate in archives, you need to know:

  • The exact place of birth. Even if you know the exact place of birth, archives might not have the records or have a limited number of records.
  • The exact name of the church in big towns like Moscow and St Petersburg- the archivists will not even accept the request if you do not know the name of the church.  Moscow in 1914 had nearly 450 churches.
  • The religion of your ancestor to correctly select the fund. There were many religions practised in pre-revolutionary Russia.  As a result, there were many Orthodox, Lutheran and Catholic churches and synagogues.

You can also locate the birth record in formulary files (employee files) or other official records for your ancestors.  Very often these personal files contain metrical records like birth and marriage certificates.

Online metrical records projects – Perm and Belgorod.

After 1917

If your ancestor was born after Revolution, then the birth was recorded in so-called ZAGS- “Departments of vital records”.  It is a body of executive power in Russia registering the facts of birth, paternity, adoption, marriage, divorce, death and name changes.

If your ancestor was born in a big city, then for ZAGS to produce the successful result you need to know at least the suburb where they lived.  Otherwise, ZAGS will not guarantee anything.  They may simply not to perform the search.  Knowing the last known address will make research possible.

In the case of a small village or town, you need to locate the nearest regional ZAGS office.

When writing or applying for a copy of a birth certificate, you need to have your passport, proof of you direct relationship (which is not required for pre-revolutionary birth records) with the ancestor and a document confirming the payment of fees (for example Moscow ZAGS charges 200 rubles for a copy of a certificate). If you are located overseas, the issue of the copy of the certificate will be handled through the Russian Embassy in your country.

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