Unsolved: Mystery of Russian regional archives

I am still trying to figure out if I love or hate Russian archives. It’s just as complicated as the country’s politics.

I’ve had a mixed experience with Russian archives. The first Russian archives I contacted was Kursk regional archives. The office responded to some of my requests by e-mail. Once, the office promised to send me a copy of my great-grandfather’s birth registry in the postal mail. It still hasn’t arrived in the mail more than a year later.

Then, the staff gave me a wrong patronymic name (middle name that represents the father’s first name). My mother remembered hearing of a different patronymic name for her great-grandfather. I thought archives would confirm the information. Luckily, a professional researcher confirmed my mother’s information.

I have tried to get Kursk archives to respond to more requests by e-mail. My luck has run out. But luckily, the archives did not charge me anything for finding my great-grandfather’s birth registry or searching for other records that could not be found.

The archive office in Kostroma Region in central Russia has not been very helpful. But it is partly my fault. I gave the wrong information for my first requests sent by e-mail. By the time I had the right village name for my grandfather, the archive office stopped answering my e-mail messages. Thankfully, I was never charged for any searches.

Then my most interesting experience has been in southern Russia. The regional archive office has found some wonderful information for me, but also provided me with information I never requested. Half the time, I already had the information.

In the same region, I received some great information from an archive office in my father’s hometown. My brother visited the city out of curiosity and the archives to help me. I received Nazi-occupation period residency records, which listed all the homes’ occupants, their birthdate and birthplace. This is valuable information when so many records were destroyed in two world wars, tragic events and communist pillaging.

Right now, I want to smack someone at the regional office. I sent money by Western Union in early September. An employee still has not picked up the money. I sent three e-mail messages and then a letter by postal mail. I even had a local resident call the employee who told me to send the money by Western Union. She said it was not her responsibility.

I got an e-mail message earlier this month from an employee asking for the Western Union transfer number, even though it was on the letter. Still, the money has not been collected. Apparently, the archive office does not want my money. I thought it was bad when it took two weeks to pick up my Western Union money over the summer. I had a friend in Moscow call the office to tell the staff to pick up my Western Union money and a few days later the money was collected.

Russian archives prefer money be sent by bank transfers. That is not possible in my situation. My bills have ranged around 600 to 800 rubles, which equals to $19 to $25 American dollars. I cannot send that amount as a bank transfer because my bank requires a minimum of $100 American dollars to be sent abroad.

So, I use Western Union. The archives in southern Russia said they accepted money by Western Union but I never expected it would be so difficult. One time, I sent an extra 1,000 rubles so I would not need to send so many Western Union transfers. I was told to send only money to cover a bill. Dealing with Russian archives is like a novel with lots of twists and turns.

Next blog: What to expect from Russian archives. This blog will be posted  tomorrow.