FAQ: Understanding Russian regional archives

Some people assume Russian regional archives really do not have much to offer. Archives have suffered through damage from two world wars and a destructive communist government. But I somehow have archive records back to the 1700s on several family lines.  Contacting regional archives are well worth the effort to see if  family stories can be confirmed with documents and whether family trees can be developed from existing records.

What language should I use to contact archives?

First check whether the archives have a Web site. If the Web site offers versions in English and Russian, you can write in English. I highly recommend using simple English and short sentences.

What is the best way to contact regional archives in Russia?

Some archives have Web sites with e-mail addresses and others need to be contacted by a written letter. See this Web site for archive websites and addresses.

How long does it take to get a response?

Sometimes archives do not answer e-mail messages. Archives get a lot of impossible requests. So, if you have not received an answer within 6 months, send a letter by postal mail. Remember it can take more than a month for a letter to arrive in Russia and then it takes longer for archives’ letters to arrive in foreign countries. Some archives have automated systems that confirm your e-mail message was received. An e-mailed response can take a week to several months.

How can I improve the chances archives will answer my e-mail message?

Do not write “request from USA” in the subject line because that is just as annoying as someone posting “searching for missing family” on a genealogy forum. It is better to write something like “Smirnov, birth record, 1899” to stand out. The archives staff will see that you don’t have some broad request that will take lots of time to answer.

Also, it is important to provide your full name and home address.

What if I only know the family village and surname for my request?

I recommend researching the family village before contacting archives. Check whether the village name has changed over time and see if you can determine the neighborhood for the village. A region could have several villages with the same name. Knowing the neighborhood will save a lot of time for archives. Remember that family religion and status (peasant, merchant or nobility) also will be useful information.

Will archives search records for me if I do not have exact dates for birth, marriage and death?

Some archives will do the search for a charge but will not offer a refund if information is not found. Other archives require the detailed information to do a search. If an archive office will not search  records, you can ask for names of researchers.

What if archives cannot find birth, marriage or death records on my family?

You should then ask archives what type of records are available for your family’s village or town. Census, property and other records could be just as useful.

How much will searches and copies of documents cost?

There is not a standard fee. Some archives will do searches with exact dates for free and then require a fee for scans or copies of documents. The fees seem pretty cheap compared to what I have paid in the USA for records.

How can I pay bills from archives?

I highly recommend using Western Union. First ask, the archive office who is permitted to pick up money for archives. To send money by Western Union, you will need to know how to spell the archive employee’s name in English. Western Union sends an e-mail message when the money is picked up. Sometimes archives will ask money be sent by a bank transfer but check your bank’s minimum amount required for foreign transfers. The Russian ruble is so weak that the archive fees could be too low for bank transfers.

See also : Approaching regional archives for success

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