Russians in China– the Harbin files

Have you seen the book by Mara Moustafine “Secrets and Spies. The Harbin files”.  I knew about the book but did not read it until last week.Secrets and spies

I am currently doing research for a descendant of Harbintsy (“people from Harbin”).  The descendant contacted me after I posted an article on BREM files, where she has found her family, including her mother’s and grandmother’s files. The life story of the family is complicated as pretty much every Russian family’s life in 20th century.  I decided to learn more about Harbin and the possible research about Harbintsy from genealogical point of view.

There is a lot of information on Russian genealogical forums, but the book by Mara Moustafine opened my eyes.  It has the best genealogical research approach possible.  The book is not only about her family’s life in Hailar and Harbin and the overall history of Russians in China but the detailed re-count of how she searched for any records in Russia about her ancestors.

In this book I learn more about BREM files.

BREM stands for the Bureau of Russian Émigré Affairs in Manchukuo (collectively known as Manchuria).  The organisation was established by Japanese in 1934 to administer the Russian population.  The registration was compulsory, unless the person had a Soviet citizenship or was less than 18 years old.  Today there are 56,472 entries in BREM database. The size of each file varies anywhere between 2 pages to 94.

The file should contain the 77-question biographical questionnaire completed on registration and other various documents. The questions cover the year by year life in China since 1910 up to 1945 and most importantly provide the biographical information before the arrival to China.  As Mara states in her book “the BREM files of my father’s family provide me with a goldmine of information about a history I would otherwise never know”.

But not everyone’s file is in this database.  From the book and research on Russian websites I learn that, when Soviet army arrived in 1945, the BREM files were captured intact but sorted out in a way that all intelligence information was either deleted from files or some files were destructed from the archive or more likely kept by NKVD.

In addition to BREM files, Mara’s research led her to organising the receipt of files from FSB (Federal Security Service) and DOB (Public Security Bureau) files in Harbin archives.

At the end of the book, Mara list references to various books and resources, which helped her in her search for Harbintsy ancestors.

I have also learned from Russian genealogical forums, that there are more interesting files in Khabarovsk archive in addition to BREM files.  For example, Harbin society of landowners and homeowners (1910-1945), Harbin Committee for support of Russian refugees (1923-1945) and the Union of Cossacks in the Far East (1922-1945).

There is also a statement on a forum that ZAGS (read about it here) of Primorskiy region have the vital records for South Manchuria from 1899-1921 and somehow ZAGS in Moscow region received the vital records for Manchuria for period 1930-1955 and for Hailar for 1926-1930.  The process of getting the documents from ZAGS is very complicated and the proof of the relationship is a must.

“Jews of China” is a great website for any one, whose Jewish ancestors lived in China. The website has a listing of 515 people buried on Jewish cemetery in Harbin.

And the last resource, which I will give in this article, cannot be missed. If you read about the history of Russians in China, you will know that the arrival of Russians to China coincided with the beginning of the construction of the East China Railway in 1898.

Fund 323 “East China Railway administration” at Russian State Historical archive in St Petersburg has everything you need on the construction of the railroad, including the personal files of everyone employed in any capacity at the East China railway:

Materials on personnel – lists of officers in control the road; personnel on the line; personnel of the veterinary and sanitary control on the territory of railroad; personnel of the security guards; of admission of civil service engineers to road operation; the appointment and dismissal of employees; personal composition of the technical department; the board of the Company, military personnel of the department; pensioners, police surveillance personnel.  (years 1895-1918)

Inventories of this fund are in a scanned format on the archive’s website and are manually searchable.

Happy searching.

3 thoughts on “Russians in China– the Harbin files

  1. Pingback: Sing. Dance. Fight. » White Russians in China

    • Tana Post authorReply

      Hi David The files are located in Khabarovk archives and are not online. I will contact you shortly. I can organise the files easily for you. The archival cost depends on number of files and number of pages in each files.

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