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.

Related posts:
Guide for spelling Russian and Ukrainian names to break those solid brickwalls
The cure for fearing Russian-language genealogy websites to make breakthroughs
Don’t let this easy mistake implode your family tree

21 thoughts on “The complete guide to charming Russian archives for church records

  1. Judy Tchir

    These articles are valuable sources of information, however, what if the part of Ukraine that your father’s family came from no longer exists and hasn’t since the Second World War? This is the case with my dad; when he and Mama went to Ukraine in 1981 and he wanted to show her the village he came from all that was left was the church footings.

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    1. Thanks so much. My father’s birthplace changed from Ukraine to Russia, due to border issues. I would still check with the archives for that region to see if records are available. My best discoveries have been things I thought didn’t exist. So sorry about your father’s village. I just can’t imagine seeing that.

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  2. George Stez

    Hi Vera. Do you recommend inquiring about only one relative at a time? Would this be the case of a married couple or a child, since the information may be uncovered at the same time by the researcher in Russia? Thank you!

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      1. George Stez

        Makes sense. I will do that. Interesting how finding a few bits of info typically leads to new mysteries. I had a photo of a family gravestone in a Moscow cemetery. A more recent online photo showed a newer gravestone including also a with a woman none of us had heard of. Same patronymic, but a different surname — probably through marriage. Genealogy is anything but boring!

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  3. David

    Dear Vera: The articles are most interesting. I am still searching for info on Mr. Bruno Petkevich (Petkevitch..sp ? ) The only thing that I have is the document which you so kindly sent to me. I’ve written to the Facebook pages for the Russian Archives, etc….no response from them. I’m wondering why it is so difficult to find info about this man. He held a very high-level position…so surwly somebody knows something ! Any help would be appreciated. Thank you. David

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    1. It sounds as if you’ll need to contact someone in state archives where the business was occuring. Even contacting business or history professors at a nearby university would be helpful. Your search is very specific and hard to do without more information. I can’t find any evidence my great-grandfather had a construction business that did work for Stalin in Kiev.

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      1. David

        Hello Vera: Thank you for replying. How do I learn in which state archive the business was occurring? How would I determine which state university to contact ? I thought that the information which I do have would have been sufficient to lead me in the right direction….but not so far. That man was responsible for the shipments of millions of tons of what was called ” Russian Clear Blue Coal”. He was important enough to have been sent to live in the USA for over a year during this exportation. How can any and all evidence of such an enormous transaction with the USA have simply vanished?

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      2. I have no idea how to research this man, sadly. You will have to contact your state archive to see what records they have on the coal industry. You can also contact your largest university in your state to find an expert in the coal industry. Professors become experts in areas so there must be an expert in your state on the coal industry. Since this man didn’t stay in the USA, I don’t know how to help you.

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  6. Leslie Wolff

    From: Wolff, Leslie

    I wish someone would help me find my husband’s family, he was given for adoption back in 1972 in Moscow, apparently his birth mother couldn’t keep him because she was a single mother and had already two children, there are no adoption records available, his adoptive mother does not recall any details, the only thing she knows for sure is his birth date, he doesn’t even know if he was ever given a name buy his biological mother. He only found out he was adopted when he was 37 years old, he’s now 46, he was brought to the U.S when he was about 6 years old. He did his DNA test with Ancestry.com years ago, but so far no matches, we’ve put a biography on adopted.com, and nothing. I know he would really want to find if anything, his siblings. Can someone please advise?

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      1. David

        Vera: Mr Petkevitch was a war veteran, wounded in action and was in a field hospital for months. He was NOT a Communist…(he despised the Communists , Stalin and the others). He fought to save the Tsar and his family. and to reinstall the monarchy. He was married 3 times. Surely there are grandchildren today in existence. Might you have any suggestions as to how to find descendants ? Thank you.

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      2. Since I don’t have his patronymic name, I cannot find him in the WWI Russian database. Patronymic names are middle names that come from the father’s first name. Due to the strict laws of Russia, you cannot get any records from archives on him until a 100 years have passed. I won’t live long enough to see my grandfather’s death record from 1971. You need to research as much as you can in your state and make a Freedom of Information Act request on him and his business with the FBI. You can’t research him in Russia until you know his full name, birthdate or birth year and place of birth. Russia doesn’t have databases online on people that are comparable to Ancestry. I have been busy with illnesses and death in my family.

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      3. David

        Just a quick question. You had mentioned that no archive records are available until after 100 years have passed ? Does this mean that all of the suggestions about research on this blog are of no use until after 100 years? Am I misunderstanding something?

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      4. Yes, you are misunderstanding a lot. Records dated from 1917 and earlier are open record. Anything after 1917 is mostly closed. So I have to wait until 2046 to get the death record of my great-grandfather from 1946. You are not being polite.

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  7. David

    Thank you for the reply. I’m sorry that I do not know his patronymic name. 100 years has already passed since WW1…so that should not be an issue. He did not own a business. He was the liaison between the Russian Coal department and the United States. FBI did not exist at that time and besides, he was not a criminal so FBI would have nothing to do with it.

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