The art of avoiding scams in Ukrainian and Russian genealogy

Nothing gets me more irritated than when I hear another person got scammed by “a researcher” in Ukraine or Russia.

Here’s the latest scam in Ukrainian research I learned about from a woman I’ll name Jessica: “Like many others, I fell for ******’s scam (though I wish I had done more research ahead of time, because I’m not the only one). **** has an extensive list on his website “*****************” It was during a set of years in which my great-grandfather was born. I found my great-grandfather on the list and contacted ****** about receiving the birth record, which he provided free of charge. Since I was looking for this birth record for over a year with no luck, I was thrilled to have finally found it and naturally, fell into ******’s trap of conducting paid research to investigate the line further. Before payment, ****** was extraordinarily responsive, emailing me at all hours and laying out a thorough plan. I will be honest, he does know his stuff, and that’s what makes it so easy to be swindled.”

“After payment, ***** sent a few emails: one that he couldn’t find a specific record I was looking for, but was checking a different area for it. The other email was to send records of individuals born in the same city I was researching with the same surname, though not the exact people I paid to find records of. He promised to work during the week and provide an update the following weekend. Since then, he has completely ghosted.***** does not respond to my emails and now I am working on filing various disputes/claims to get my money back.”

“Please be careful with researchers, especially the ones that seem too good to be true. Don’t let your emotions or excitement to ‘discover lost family’ get ahead of you. I believe the list my great-grandfather was on (among others) on ******’s website are there to lay a trap for people to fall into. I also believe he has an extensive collection of records that he’s scanned or photographed over the years, using them as a ‘ruse’ to provide semi-relevant updates to people who have paid for his services.”

Sadly, this is prime time for being scammed in genealogy. We are in the middle of a pandemic, which has led to financial problems around the world and people are looking for quick ways to make money.
So how is it possible to avoid these scams? Here are my tips:
1. Do not respond to private messages on social media from aggressive people claiming to be researchers. I found a great researcher who sent me a private message through Facebook. He wasn’t aggressive and offered reasonable rates.
2. Start with a small search with a new researcher.
3. Check out a researcher by searching their name on Facebook and Google. If there are too many complaints about the person, don’t fall for their charm even if he or she gives you free documents.
4. Send money using a money transfer service such as Western Union that will require the researcher to pick up the money using their government identification. Make sure that the name he or she is giving you is the same as the name on social media.
5. Check out his or her friend list on Facebook so you can see if any questionable researchers are listed as friends. You are the company you keep, as they say. Some researchers may not know their Facebook friends are scammers but scammers listed as friends are big warning flags.
6. If you can’t find a researcher in your area, message a known respected researcher from Ukraine or Russia and ask whether they know of any authentic researchers for your research area.
7. Don’t assume a researcher with a modern website in English is a legitimate researcher. People in Ukraine and Russia know that having English-language skills are a big asset in the business world.
8. Make it clear to the researcher that you want the exact location of each record that is found and the file name such as a church’s name. In Russian and Ukrainian archives, records can be found under Фонд, опись, дело or Ф., оп., д. This information is not classified or confidential. If a researcher says he or she can’t give the file locations, the researcher is questionable.
9. Do not hire a researcher who asks you to pay fees to two people, one to the “company” and another to the actual researcher. A guy unsuccessfully tried this trick on me on a Russian-language Facebook genealogy group and later he was booted off the group.
10. Ask for a list of fees (hourly rate, scanning fees and travel fees) and required deposit at the very beginning of communication. Any “researcher” who can’t give solid numbers should raise a warning flag, along with anyone demanding a large deposit.
Hopefully, these tips will lead people to the authentic researchers who help make breakthroughs and complete family trees. Genealogy research is opening up more in Ukraine and Russia so finding those real researchers will show some hope can exist in Russian and Ukrainian genealogy.
Related posts:

Ukrainian birth records from archives take down a brickwall on great-grandparents

After having success in getting my great-grandparents’ marriage record from Kharkiv archives earlier this year, I decided it was time to try my luck in Kyiv archives.

Looking through my family tree, I determined the archive scans I would love to see: birth records of my grandfather’s younger brother and my grandmother’s brother and sister and marriage records of my grandparents and great-grandparents.

The process of requesting these records started three months ago. Part of me made the search requests out of curiosity to see what would be found in archives.

Thankfully, a Ukrainian researcher helped me create formal requests for the records. (Here is a sample letter to use for Ukrainian archive record searches. Remember to use Google Translate to switch the English to Russian and then the Russian to Ukrainian.)

A month after submitting my request and the archives accepting the request, I was informed that only records dated 1936 and earlier were available.

My grandparents’ marriage record from 1939 is still sitting in the Ministry of Justice office, even though it is supposed to be public record after 75 years.

That news also put my plans to request the death record of my great-grandfather from 1946 on hold. I am disappointed but grateful that Ukraine only has a 75-year rule, unlike Russia’s 100-year rule.

Another e-mail message from archives followed a week later that the search for the records would cost 1,300 hryvnias ($47 U.S. dollars/$39 Euros). My curiosity was worth $47.

I attempted to pay the bill with Western Union but couldn’t figure it out. Thanks to having a second cousin in Kyiv, she paid my bill and I promised to pay her back.

My cousin sent me a screenshot of her payment, which I e-mailed to archives. A six-week wait ended with free scans of three birth records. My great-grandparents’ marriage record from 1920 couldn’t be found, sadly.

The differences in how my grandparents’ siblings were documented for their births in Kyiv was quite interesting and a learning experience. My granduncle, son of a rich architect, had a bottom strip of a registry book, while my grand uncle and aunt, children of a poor tailor, have full-page birth records at archives.

I assumed that my grandfather’s brother was christened in a church in 1922 when I saw this:

This top strip looks like it’s from a church book but this is an old registry book. I was determined to find the church where my great-grandparents bravely christened their youngest child during Lenin’s reign of terror until I was informed of my misunderstanding.

Everything that was written on my grandfather’s brother’s birth record I had already known for years. However, I was thrilled to finally to see the address of my great-grandparents in an official record. Plus, I saw my great-grandfather’s perfect signature for the first time on a document.

The best surprises came from the birth records of my grandmother’s brother and sister. My grandmother had told my mother that her family lived near Khreshchatyk Street in the center of Kyiv. I have spent years trying to find this address.

Finally, I can say that I know the exact address. It is listed on the birth records of my grandmother’s brother and sister. I can’t believe all these years that it had been waiting for me on these records, plus a major shocker.

Once I posted for help to find old photos of the apartment building on the largest Russian genealogy forum, I was told about a blog that has this old postcard with my great-grandparents’ apartment house on the left:

Source: https://agritura.livejournal.com/207068.html

I also posted for help on a popular Russian genealogy group on Facebook and I was directed to this photo of my great-grandparents’ apartment building’s rear streetview by Evgen Sokolovsky.

The biggest surprise on the birth record of my grand uncle, the youngest child, was that my great-grandfather admitted to being previously married and having another son. Thank you, nosy commies!

It makes me wonder whether my great-grandmother knew about her husband’s other family. My family didn’t know about it until my researcher in Kursk, Russia, accidently found the marriage and birth records a few years ago.

Now for less than $50 U.S. dollars,  I uncovered the address of my great-grandparents from the 1920s and the signed admittance that my great-grandfather had another family. Not too bad for my curiosity…

Related posts:
Old address book online breaks down brickwall on a family photo
Search for grandma’s childhood home reveals family secrets
Thanks for skimping on your taxes, great-grandpa

Newly published Russian genealogy guide available on Amazon.com in USA and Canada

The big moment finally happened. “Genealogy at a Glance: Russian Genealogy Research, ” published by Genealogical Publishing Co. is available for purchase in the USA and Canada on Amazon.com. (The publication will be available again in July. It was sold out and a change with Amazon must be made. Follow this blog with the top right bottom to catch the announcement.)

The guide I wrote for three months before work, after work and on weekends can be found on Amazon here for $9.95 (U.S. dollars). Please excuse the non-splashy Amazon page for the guide.

Almost 3,000 words cover topics from archive records to the alphabet and patronymic names to communist-era databases.  It is a quick read but very thorough and handy to use on many topics involving Russian genealogy.

Learn more about the guide through this 2-minute video.

I am offering one free copy of the genealogy guide to a reader in the USA, with free shipping. Just post a comment to this blog post to enter into the drawing for the giveaway and I will contact the winner for her/his mailing address.

More than 100 copies of the guide have been sold so far. I am grateful to everyone who has bought a copy of the guide. This first generation Russian-American thanks you from bottom of her heart.

A big thank you also to everyone who has helped spread the news about the genealogy guide by sharing my posts on the publication through e-mail, social media and genealogy groups. This post can be shared with the buttons down below.

So far, I am aware of one review by Linda Stufflebean of Empty Branches of the Family Tree. Read her praises of the guide here. (Other bloggers and writers can obtain free review copies of the guide by contacting Joe Garonzik.)

I hope to slam Amazon with orders so Amazon knows there is a demand for Russian genealogy products. It is so hard to find comprehensive Russian genealogy publications on Amazon.

If you live outside of the USA and Canada and can’t get a copy from Amazon.com, post a comment below to make arrangements with me.

I have started a Facebook page for promoting the guide here.

In other news, I will be updating the Free Databases page this summer to cover all the databases mentioned in this blog over the years.

I also am working on a major project and hope to be finished this summer. I will announce what the big project is on this blog.

Follow this blog with the top right button to catch posts on important databases and guides for Russian and Ukrainian genealogy topics.

Related post:
Newly published genealogy guide will help get a better hold on Russian genealogy

New database documents 1 million WWII citizen heroes who defended Moscow

Russian archives have been busy posting WWII records online this year, in time for Russia’s celebration of the 76th anniversary of Victory Day on May 9.

The latest database is honoring citizens who helped with the defense of Moscow  during the war. A third of recipients were women and children. People who came from Yarolsav Region (north of Moscow Region) to construct defensive structures also received the medal.

More than one million people were awarded the For the Defense of Moscow medal. Those who received the medal can be found here, with scanned documents detailing their information. Personal details on these people can include their birth year, political party affiliation, nationality, employer and work title.

(Check out this video guide on using the database for those who are unfamiliar with Russian.)

The “For the Defense of Moscow” Medal database offers document scans for free and without registration. The scans can be downloaded in the same way as any English-language website. None of the subscription genealogy websites have this information or documents.

Award recipients can be searched just by last, first or patronymic name (such as Nikolaevich for a man whose father was Nikolai). A list of recipients appears when a Russian letter is clicked on but that is not the complete list of recipients for each letter.

So here are some tips on using the database without knowing Russian:

  • Have Google Translate in the next window for translating names. The results can be copied and pasted for translation.
  • Downloading the Google Translate app or another web browser translator for your device is highly recommended.
  • If Google Translate doesn’t work for certain names, try Transliterating English to Russian in One Step.
  • If results can’t be found on close relatives, try searching for cousins, no matter how distant. It sometimes takes a random cousin to bring new life to research.
  • Remember to swipe to the right to see all the documents on a person included in the database. The video guide shows how to do this.
  • Download any scans that could be on relatives or ancestors and save them in at least two places.

Once records are found, many Facebook genealogy groups for Russian and Eastern European genealogy are available to help with translating documents.

Here is a sample document from the database:

More ambitious souls can retype the Russian text with this online keyboard and copy and paste the text into Google Translate to read the information in English.

This database is just the beginning of documenting citizens’ efforts to help the Soviet Union win the war. Last year, a similar database was posted for the defense of Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg).

The database documented about 67,000 people in May 2020 and now the database has grown to almost 180,000 documented medal recipients.

These medals also were given to civilians in Odessa (Ukraine), Sevastopol, Stalingrad (now Volgograd), Caucasus, Transartic and Kyiv (Ukraine). Hopefully, databases for civilians who received the medal in these cities will appear online in the near future.

Follow this blog with the top right button to hear about the latest news in Russian and Ukrainian genealogy research, including new databases and updates to important databases.

Related posts:
Database reveals details on citizens, evacuees and soldiers from the Siege of Leningrad
New Soviet Era database releases free documents on more than 1 million citizens
New WWII databases reveal amazing information, honoring 75th anniversary of victory
The cure for fearing Russian-language genealogy websites to make breakthroughs
Secrets of searching the Internet in Russian and Ukrainian like a native speaker
Expert guide to using Google Translate in Russian and Ukrainian genealogy

More than 8 million records posted to massive World War II soldier database for the former USSR

The amount of information on soldiers who served in the Soviet Army during World War II being posted online doesn’t seem to have an end.

This week, Memory of the People announced another update that brings almost 8.5 million more records to the database, the largest database for documenting former USSR soldiers.

The new collection adds:

  • 6.2 million records from casualty cards and disease certificates
  • 720,000 records of conscription and demobilization from the documents of military enlistment offices
  • 154,000 records from name lists
  • 338,000 records for soldier awards
  • 267,000 entries from lists of buried soldiers and funeral notices
  • 780,000 documents from military registration and enlistment offices regarding soldier losses.

The records and information on Memory of the People cannot be found on any paid subscription genealogy website.

A video guide can be viewed here for those unfamiliar with Russian to make the database less intimidating.

The database provides detailed information on soldiers that includes full name, date of birth, place of birth, location for call of duty, map of the individual’s battle route and awards received, with photos of awards and scans of original documents. Documents can be saved by clicking on the disk button on the bottom right.

(Download a cheatsheet for Russian and Ukrainian words found on databases- flruf-database-cheatsheet.pdf)

Here’s how to take advantage of this database without knowing Russian.

  • Have Google Translate in the next window for translating names and places. The results can be copied and pasted for translation. Downloading the Google Translate app or another web browser translator for your device is highly recommended.
  • If Google Translate doesn’t work for certain names, try Transliterating English to Russian in One Step.
  • Start the search with as much information as possible. If results don’t appear, take away one search keyword at a time.
  • Remember that towns and villages can be spelled different than personally known. The birthplace of my great-grandfather is listed in two different neighborhoods and spelled randomly with an o and a on the end.
  • Open a document for copying and pasting results. Also, keep a list of people, surnames and villages/towns searched in a document.
  • If results can’t be found on direct relatives, try searching for cousins, no matter how distant. It sometimes takes a random cousin to bring new life to research.
  • Remember the importance of patronymic names (middle names based on the father’s first name). If particular people can’t be found, look for people with the same surnames and patronymic names from the same village and town. Those people could be unknown siblings of relatives.
  • Keep a close eye on the results because names of places duplicate throughout the former USSR. You’ll need to know the neighborhood (raiyon) and region (oblast) where your relatives lived.
  • In case typos have occurred, it is recommended to search solely by village or town. Copy and paste the village or town name translated in Russian into the place of birth search box to view everyone who is included in the database from that place.
  • Make screen shots of positive and potential results.

If nothing is found in this update, maybe information will be found in the next one. The Russian government acquired POW records from Germany last year and hopefully those records will be online sometime this year or next year.

Follow this blog with the top right button to catch the news on that new database and other important databases.

Related posts:
Newly published genealogy guide will help get a better hold on Russian genealogy
New WWII Soviet Army database gives faces to veterans
New database documents fighters of independence of Ukraine from 1917-1924
Arolsen Archives quietly adds 13 million more WWII records…