Expert guide to using Google Translate in Russian and Ukrainian genealogy

Staying stuck in Russian and Ukrainian genealogy is a temporary state if one change is made. Google Translate can truly transform research of Russian and Ukrainian ancestors and relatives to the land of discovery.

My research was stuck for years until I started using Google Translate. Many of my success stories on this blog are the result of taking advantage of Google Translate.

It has taken years to perfect using Google Translate. The free program has its kinks but here is how to avoid those kinks to use Google Translate like an expert.

Translating English to Russian or Ukrainian:

  1. Write in the simplest sentences.
  2. Avoid slang.
  3. Don’t use words with two meanings.
  4. Avoid the word excited. Google Translate made me look like an idiot when I used this word.
  5. Don’t use abbreviations, i.e. St. They can be confused. Is it street or saint?
  6. Remember that endings of Russian and Ukrainian surnames are different for men and women. (Here is a post that explains spelling Russian and Ukrainian first and last names.)
  7.  If Google Translate can’t translate names into Russian, use this website instead.

Working with Ukrainian:

  1. Ukrainian will translate so much better when it is translated into Russian first and then into English.
  2.  Make sure to get Ukrainian text from English text this way English-Russian-Ukrainian.

To move onto translating web pages from Russian or Ukrainian into English, download the Google Chrome web browser for computers. It comes with an translator app so the pages will appear in English with one click. Here is a video on using this app. (Check out this information on how to use the app on iPhones and iPads and Androids.)

Helpful reminders for using this app:

  1. Russians and Ukrainians write names in this order: surname, first name and then patronymic name (name derived from father’s first name such as Ivanovich/Ivanovna).
  2. Russian and Ukrainian grammar is complicated. The endings of names and places will change with the addition of a few letters. (see Ukrainian grammar and Russian grammar pages on Wikipedia)
  3. If the place or name being searched cannot be seen on a web page after the English translation, it is likely the name or place translated into an English word, instead of a letter-to-letter translation. To determine which surnames and places translate into English words from Russian, put the known keywords into Google Translate, have them translated to Russian and then translate them back to English to see if they translate into English words. For example, the surname Kapusta will translate from Russian to English as cabbage.
  4. If for any reason the Google Translate app on Chrome doesn’t switch websites into English, just copy and paste the link into Google Translate.

Here is a video that explains how to do the last two steps.

These guidelines and videos should give a great start to getting more comfortable with using Russian and Ukrainian websites. The amount of effort put into making this change can bring in return some great discoveries. It’s up to you how much you want to discover.

Related posts:
The cure for fearing Russian-language genealogy websites to make breakthroughs
Secrets of searching the Internet in Russian and Ukrainian like a native speaker
10 Mythbusters for making breakthroughs in Russian genealogy
Guide to Using the Best & Largest Russian Language Genealogy Forum (with a video guide)

4 thoughts on “Expert guide to using Google Translate in Russian and Ukrainian genealogy

  1. Thanks for this 🙂 I’ve tried translate Cyrillic and have so many issues just reading the script. Even Polish, with which I’m familiar, is difficult as the handwriting is so difficult. That said, I’ve also had problems reading old English records for the same reason.


  2. Michael Glowartz

    I have also tried Yandex to help translate and found it helpful as well besides Google translate – Yes the two are the ones that work best 😉


  3. Pingback: Friday’s Family History Finds | Empty Branches on the Family Tree

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