The complete guide to charming Russian archives for church records

So many church records are posted online but those searching for Russian birth, marriage and death records always don’t get lucky to find them online.

Millions of birth, marriage and death records are sitting in Russian regional archives that could bring about happy dances but too many people are afraid to contact Russian archives.

Obtaining records from Russian archives isn’t as painful as learning the Waltz but the right steps are needed to get the records.

The most important step is to know the full name, village/town/city of birth, birth year and religion of the relatives or ancestors. It is very helpful to know the parents’ names, if possible.

Those who had relatives and ancestors who came to the USA and don’t know this information should read and follow through this post first.

Having all possible identifying information confirmed is the most important step. Once all the information is collected, getting the prized records is simple as following these steps:

  1. Determine the region where the ancestor lived in Russia. Search Wikipedia for the location. If there are several locations throughout Russia, check Google Maps to confirm the correct region.
  2. A very thorough list of the archives can be found in ENGLISH here. Try steps 3 and 4 if the link doesn’t include the needed archives.
  3. Once the region is known, write the region state archives into free Google Translate, for example Kursk State Archives. Copy the Russian text from Google Translate and then paste the text to search on Google.
  4. If Russian is unknown, make sure your browser has a translator app. Here’s an app from Google. Chrome users can download the application for their browser here. The text results of a search and webpage text also can be copied and pasted into Google Translate.
  5. Once the e-mail address is found for the archives, write the e-mail message into Google translate in simple English. Here is example message: Good morning! I am researching my great-grandfather Nikolai Ivanov. He was born in village Ivanovskoye in 1897. His family was Russian Orthodox. Would it be possible to search for his birth record? What would be the charge and how can payment be sent for the search? Your help would be greatly appreciated. Sincerely, Your name
  6. The subject line of the e-mail message should not be anything similar to “request from USA”. It would best to use something similar to”birth record inquiry- surname” in Russian.
  7. A quick response from the archive could be sent to state that the request was received or it could take weeks to receive an answer.
  8. It is highly recommended to check regularly the spam/junk mailbox for messages from Russian archives. Due to the messages being written in a foreign language, those messages have a higher chance landing there.
  9. If the response is sent as text in an e-mail message, copy and paste the text into Google Translate. If the archive sends an attached letter in the format of  .doc, .docx, .odf, .pdf, rtf or .txt, the file can be uploaded here for translation into English.
  10. Estimates for research fees will be quoted in the Russian dollar- ruble. Visit this website for converting rubles into your currency.
  11. Bills to Russian archives can be paid through Western Union, which allows money transfers to Russian bank accounts or Russian Western Union stores.
  12. No matter the results from the search, it is very important to send a polite thank you e-mail message for the archive’s work. More research may be needed later on at that archive so keep that relationship friendly.

This effort may seem like a lot to get records but it will be well worth it. Eight years ago, this is how I started out. Now, my family tree goes back to the 1600s from using researchers and Russian genealogy forums that have connected me with my distant cousins.

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When one detail proves a search is worthwhile

I had given up on finding the details for the marriage of my great-grandparents. Years of research uncovered so many records on them but not a clue about when was their special day.

Then I moved onto obtaining their death records from Germany. For years, I’ve worked on finding as much information as possible on their lives but I didn’t even have their death records nor any of my great-grandparents.

Starting with obtaining my maternal grandmother’s parents’ death records would be the easiest start. They are my only great-grandparents who died outside of Russia.

The process for getting records is so much easier in Germany. I have all the details of their deaths from family letters. So I started with my quiet great-grandfather Tikhon, who died in Berlin and was born in Russia.

Once I found the envelope in my mailbox from Berlin archives, I was so happy. Finally, I could say my collection of family records has a great-grandparent’s death record.

To my amazement, I got more than I bargained for when I started the process to get his death record. There on his sterbefallanzeige (death report from the hospital) were his marriage date of January 6, 1920, and place of marriage in Kyiv.

Only one other German immigration record (Einwanderungszentralstelle EWZ file) had the marriage year of 1920 but I just wanted to know the exact date. Obviously, it was my great-grandmother who provided the information because my great-grandparents didn’t have any relatives in Berlin to give that information.

Even though my Poland-born great-grandmother was 83 years when she provided the information, I think I can trust her memory due to the date. My great-grandparents were very  religious.

January 6 is Russian Christmas Eve. It makes me wonder whether their marriage date is a secret way of remembering Christmas. The communists shut down the churches but my great-grandparents weren’t going to be stopped in making that day special to them.

Now that I have the full marriage date, I am hoping that Ukrainian archives will get more organized so I can one day find the marriage record. Maybe the record was destroyed by the German bombing of Kyiv.

Whatever will happen in this journey to find that marriage record, the wedding date appeared in the last place that I expected. My great-grandmother’s sterbefallanzeige from Furth archives in Bavaria didn’t even have a line for the same information.

That date gives another detail to my great-grandparents’ story. This journey proves the importance of documenting the stories of our ancestors.

I assumed everything was already known on the death records and then the documents provided an awesome surprise, thanks to each community having their own ideas about what life facts are important.

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