Get a new view into your Russian and Ukrainian genealogy

086It’s hard to understand why genealogy is so challenging in the former USSR for many people. Anyone can piece together a few reasons by using Google but that won’t give the full picture.

I thought I knew enough just from the stories from my relatives who were born in Russia and Ukraine. Those stories made me wonder how common these experiences were and how much exaggeration was added into the family stories.

Then, I discovered that these stories weren’t exaggerations nor uncommon by moving away from technology and onto books.

So what is really worth the time and knowledge? Here’s the books I’ve refused to donate nor sell. (And yes, many of these books are available on Kindle.)

List updated on July 16, 2020

Soviet-era Life:

Do Svidanya Dad: Tracing the Story of an American Family Trapped in the USSR by Karen Wardamasky Bobrow

Stalin and the Scientists: A History of Triumph and Tragedy 1905-1953 by Simon Ings

Everything is Normal: The Life and Times of a Soviet Kid by Sergey Grechishkin

russiansThe Russians by Hendrick Smith

brokenRussia- Broken Idols, Solemn Dreams: A Provocative Look at the Russian People by David K. Shipler

whispThe Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia by Orlando Figes

Soviet Women: Walking the Tightrope by Francine Du Plessix Gray

World War II (or the Great Patriotic War):

Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 by Antony Beevor

moscowMoscow 1941: A City and Its People at War by Rodric Braithwaite

Soviet Persecution:

gulagGulag: A History by Anne Applebaum

The Diary of a Gulag Prison Guard by Ivan Chistyakov

Just Send Me Word by Orlando Figes

Two Lives, One Russia by Nicholas Daniloff

Stalin’s Children: Three Generations of Love and War by Owen Matthews

Russia Today:

The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen

Russians: The People Behind the Power by Gregory Feifer

jorneyRussia: A Journey to the Heart of a Land and its People by Jonathan Dimbleby

lostLost and Found in Russia: Lives in a Post-Soviet Landscape by Susan Richards

reelingReeling in Russia by Fen Montaigne

vodkaVodka, Tears, and Lenin’s Angel: A Young Journalist Discovers the Former Soviet Union by Jennifer Gould

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich



Bears in the Streets: Three Journeys Across a Changing Russia by Lisa Dickey

Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia by Peter Pomerantsev

Perception of Americans:

pizzaPizza in Pushkin Square: What Russians Think About Americans and the American Way of Life by Victor Ripp

Collapse of the Soviet Union:

leninLenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire by David Reminick


The Cossacks by Shane O’Rourke

The Russian Revolution:

Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 – A World on the Edge by Helen Rappaport

The Russian Revolution: A New History by Sean McMeekin

The Romanov family:

Comprehensive History:

russiaRussia: A 1,000-Year Chronicle of the Wild East by Martin Sixsmith

The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine by Serhii Plokhy

Dark History of Russia: Crime, Corruption and Murder in the Motherland by Michael Kerrigan

Russian leaders:

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie

The Return: Russia’s Journey from Gorbachev to Medvedev by Daniel Treisman

Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva by Rosemary Sullivan

Stalin and His Hangmen: The Tyrant and Those Who Killed for Him by Donald Rayfield

So what’s the point of reading these books? It will give a new understanding why it takes lots of charm to get information from archives, why former USSR-born relatives don’t like talking about the past nor know much about their relatives in the homeland, and why anyone with records saved from the former USSR should feel lucky.

Also, the best part of reading these books is learning how not to put foot in mouth when interacting with potential relatives from the former Soviet Union.

Related posts:

When family “wild stories” are nothing but reality

Top 10 things to never say to potential relatives in the former USSR