The right approach to Russian and Ukrainian regional archives will decide how much information you will get on your relatives and ancestors.
After two years of interacting with Russian and Ukrainian regional archives, I think I almost have figured out the archives.
It is most important to know what you hope to gain from contacting archives and keep an open mind. I know a lot about my father’s mother’s family but I still have contacted regional archives to confirm family information.
You may already know when your grandfather was born or when he was married. But do you know who were his godparents or the four guarantors (the people who stand by the bride and groom) for his wedding? These people could be cousins, aunts or uncles you never knew about and their families could help you contact your missing relatives.
It is best to make a list of all the information you are seeking on your relatives and ancestors and decide what is most important. The first letter to archives should not be too demanding. Obviously, the letter needs to be written in Russian for Russian archives and Ukrainian for Ukrainian archives. I recommend Google Translate for Ukrainian and Promt for Russian.
I really do not recommend using e-mail for archives in Russia and Ukraine, unless you are writing to large cities like Kiev, Moscow, St. Petersburg or Lviv. It will take about two to three weeks for a letter to arrive in Russia and Ukraine outside of Europe.
I question whether some of my e-mail messages got read by the archives in Kostroma region. A few times when the archive office responded, the subject line for the message was RE: Spam. This also happened one time when I e-mailed an office in St. Petersburg.
So many times, e-mail messages written in Polish, Russia and Ukrainian land in my spam mailbox. Many e-mail programs assume if the e-mail message is not written in English, that it could be very likely spam. I am starting to get scam e-mail messages written in Polish and Russian. If the archive office does not look regularly at their spam inbox, your English-written message could be there and never be seen.
Here is a great webpage that explains how to write letters to Ukrainian archives. The text written in Ukrainian can be easily used for Russian archives. Just copy the Ukrainian text into Google Translate and have the Ukrainian translated into Russian.
The response time from Russian and Ukrainian archives can vary. Sometimes, it takes up to three months to get a response by postal mail. Some of my letters from archives have been sent through the Russian consulate in New York City. I usually receive a response to my e-mailed requests within one to two months.
I recommend waiting four months for letter requests and two months for e-mail requests before you contact the archives about the status of your request. Russian and Ukrainian archives are very busy now that genealogy has become so popular.
It takes a lot of patience to wait for responses from archives. Every day, I wait for the postal mail and check my e-mail too many times to see whether I have a response. It’s like Christmas when I finally get a response with the information I requested.