Libraries are a gem in Russia

The history of Russia does not tell the story of freedom of expression in newspapers, magazines or books. So when I e-mailed the library in the city where my father and his mother were born, I was not sure whether the library would be very helpful.

I was surprised beyond words by how the staff responded to my request for information on my family. I sent an e-mail message asking whether the library had any information on my family. My e-mail message included names of my relatives and the street where they lived.

In response to my e-mail message, the library gave me several paragraphs from a book on the history of the house where my family lived. The history included the exact date and cause of death of my great-grandfather. This information was wonderful news, especially when it was free.

Originally, I was disappointed to learn the family house no longer stood. Then, I received a second message from the library. The author of the book that was the source of  information was not aware my family’s house number was changed to accommodate an apartment highrise.

The family home still stands. The library employee sent me a current picture of the house. I have all of my paternal grandmother’s family photos and none of them were of the family home. My grandmother’s nieces and nephews also did not have a photo.

I also had luck when I e-mailed another library a half hour from my father’s hometown. Wikipedia had little information on the village where my great-grandfather was born, so I sent an e-mail message to the local history department of the region’s main library.

I received a detailed history, historical census information and present conditions of the village. The library staff used several sources and provided a list of sources.

With the limited amount of information Russian and Ukrainian archives provide, libraries should be seriously considered as a source of information. Libraries in Russia and Ukraine have limited resources, so requests sent to libraries should not be too demanding. Some possible questions to send a local library- How common is my family name? Where can I find old pictures of the town/city? Is there a local genealogical society? Requests should be sent to the general e-mail address or the local history department.

Some libraries have a service where they scan pages of magazines, newspapers and books for a fee. This is a great resource to access. Many books in Russia and Ukraine have limited printings, so it is sometimes hard to buy the actual book. The easiest way to pay for the service is Western Union, which is popular in Russia and Ukraine.

To search for libraries where relatives lived, search библиотека (Russian) or бібліотека  (Ukrainian) and the name of the town or city in Russian or Ukrainian. Google Translate can be used to translate the town or city’s name into the appropriate language.