Guide to requesting declassified records of the former USSR gulags

It’s a major step to search for records of relatives who were persecuted in the USSR. Being properly prepared is the most important part of the process.

Here’s how to increase the chances of success:

1. Collect all possible personal information on your relatives: full names, birth dates, birthplaces, parents’ names, marriage dates, names of spouses, old addresses, dates of arrests, professions or work titles, etc. If you don’t have exact dates, make sure to narrow down the time frames.

2. When writing your request, make sure to use non-aggressive wording such as “I would be grateful if your archive office could search for records on ___________________,” instead of “I am requesting a search of records on ______________.”.

3. Include the file names and numbers where you expect your relatives to be found in the archives. Once you know the Russian or Ukrainian regions or Soviet republics where they lived, you will see the files listed in example as “Institution for prisoners of war and interned Voroshilovgrad Region…F. 14P, depository unit 116, 1943 – 1953”.

Use the Russian version of the information by placing your cursor over the translated text and then copy the Russian text. A box will appear “Original Russian text:” in a mini-pop-up box.

4. Include in your letter that you found the files listed on  http://guides.rusarchives.ru/browse/guidebook.html?bid=123&sid=173787 or http://unsecret.rusarchives.ru/so the employee handling your request doesn’t mistaken the information as still classified.

5. Offer to provide proof of ancestry in a follow-up letter to finalize your inquiry. It shows you are making a serious effort to make the request.

6. Show a lot of appreciation for your request being accepted. Use sentences such as “I will be grateful for any information that can be found.” “Your efforts will be greatly appreciated.” “Thank you for considering my inquiry. I hope I have provided enough information to make the search successful.”

7. With the archives being in Moscow, requests can be sent in English. I highly recommend using very simple sentences. Google Translate can be used to have the letter written in Russian but Google Translate doesn’t do the greatest job. If you use Google Translate to send a letter in Russian, I recommend sending a copy in English.

8. Send your request to Russian State Military Archives, ul. Admirala Makarova, 29, Moscow, Russia, 125212. If you live in the USA, put the postal code to the left of Moscow on the envelope. The postal machines could try to send the letter in the USA by accident.

9. Requests can be sent by e-mail to rgvarchiv@mailfrom.ru. You must provide your postal address to have your request considered. You may quickly receive an e-mail message requesting that you send a statement in Russian that you will be financially responsible for the cost of the search.

10. Next is waiting for a response without pestering the archives about the status of your request. It could take weeks to months. Sometimes, Russian archives send their responses by postal mail through the Russian Embassy so don’t just wait for responses directly from archives.

Good luck! Post your questions below. It would be great to hear the results, positive or negative, in the comment area below.

 

4 thoughts on “Guide to requesting declassified records of the former USSR gulags

  1. Inna Saporoschetz

    Hi Vera , Your help to us in researching our families is greatly appreciated ,you are so resourceful and helpful . I am going to research the sites . Inna

  2. Lesley

    Hi Vera, Your tireless resilience to come up with all this information is amazing, thank you. I contacted you some years ago enquiring about the Uniatycki family in Lwow, since then I have found a mountain of information about my grandmothers family, but the paternal side escapes me. I have tried to look on your links here, but so far have failed, not least because of my lack of language skills. Can you point me in the right direction to find references to prisoners that lived in Lwow in the early 1940’s? Best regards, Lesley.

    1. Thanks so much! Sorry for the delay. Here is what I found. Copy and paste this into Google Translate so you know what you are looking at:
      Заголовок дела: Именные списки на военнопленных и интернированных.
      Крайние даты дела: 23.06.1945 г. – 31.12.1945 г.
      РГВА. Ф. 502/П. Оп. 1. Д. 1.
      Фонд: Учреждения по делам военнопленных и интернированных Львовской области
      Рассекречено в 2010 году.

      Заголовок дела: Именной список граждан СССР, содержащихся в лагере № 275.
      Крайние даты дела: 01.01.1945 г. – 31.12.1945 г.
      РГВА. Ф. 502/П. Оп. 1. Д. 2.
      Фонд: Учреждения по делам военнопленных и интернированных Львовской области
      Рассекречено в 2010 году.
      Заголовок дела: Списки на освобожденных, переданных и перемещенных в другие лагеря и спецгоспитали военнопленных и интернированных.
      Крайние даты дела: 20.11.1949 г. – 18.05.1949 г.
      РГВА. Ф. 502/П. Оп. 1. Д. 5.
      Фонд: Учреждения по делам военнопленных и интернированных Львовской области
      Рассекречено в 2010 году.
      Заголовок дела: Списки на освобожденных, переданных и перемещенных в другие лагеря и спецгоспитали военнопленных и интернированных.
      Крайние даты дела: 01.01.1946 г. – 30.12.1949 г.
      РГВА. Ф. 502/П. Оп. 1. Д. 9.
      Фонд: Учреждения по делам военнопленных и интернированных Львовской области
      Рассекречено в 2010 году.

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