Free database on WWII soldiers grows by more than 5 million records

Anyone researching their relatives and ancestors who served in World War II for the Soviet Union has more hope to find military records online for free.

More than 5 million records recently have been added to the Memorial database for soldiers who died, went missing or became prisoners of war. The website doesn’t require any registration.

Each entry on soldiers can include their full name, birthdate or birth year, place of birth, date and place of recruitment, last place of service, military rank, and reason service ended. The records of soldiers can be saved as jpeg or pdf files. Directions are listed at the end of this post.

Yes, the database is in Russian but there are free online translator programs that can switch the Russian to English (keep on reading). The search page has the keyword box titles in English but the keywords must be in Russian. An English version of the database nor any database on USSR WWII veterans don’t exist anywhere.

Here is an example of results that will be missed for those who don’t want to try a Russian website:

Here’s how to use the database without knowing Russian:

  1. Download the Google Translate web browser application for Chrome here and Firefox here.
  2. If you don’t use that application, open the next browser window into Google Translate for easier switching between windows.
  3. Type your relative’s or ancestor’s name and birthplace into Google Translate and have it translated into Russian. If Google Translate doesn’t work, try this website instead.
  4. Copy and paste the keywords into the proper keyword boxes and then click on search.
  5. The results will appear in Russian for those not using the Google Translate web browser application. Copy and paste the results into Google Translate.
  6. Once you see a potential match, click on the link and then copy and paste the text into Google Translate.
  7. The document below the text providing details on the soldier can be saved as a jpeg file by clicking on the disk symbol or saved as a pdf file by clicking on the file symbol with PDF written in red. The link to the individual soldier’s page can be copied by clicking on the link symbol.

Once that information is downloaded, the next step is to search for relatives and ancestors in the Memory of the People database, which has information and records on recipients of WWII medals and other honors. The same steps taken on the Memorial database can be used for this database, in addition to free databases here.

This all takes some effort but it is well worth the effort when the documents are posted online for free. Getting used to combining language translator programs with Russian military websites is a great skill worth maintaining.

The Russian government is determined to post online as many WWII records and soldiers’ information as possible. The updates to WWII databases will continue on a regular basis to honor the soldiers who made the sacrifices for the USSR.

Follow this blog with the top right button to learn about new and updated databases.

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Unsealed records unveil the bigger story behind a family’s persecution

For years, relatives have repeated the story that my grandmother’s five brothers were sent to prison during the communist era for possessing a foreign technical journal on a train.

But that is so far from the possible truth. My grandmother’s brothers were really accused of making an invention that was possibly sold to the Germans, according to files removed from an archive’s volt.

A cell companion of my oldest grand-uncle said he repeatedly heard from other prisoners that my relative said the People’s Commissar of the Navy requested him to make the invention. The signed statement of the cell companion doesn’t say who sold the invention to the Germans.

An accusation that my grand-uncle made an invention worth selling isn’t far-fetched. My researcher carefully looked at the records that were fading and crumbling. The information is a bit shocking.

My researcher found drawings and documentation of nine inventions made by my three grand-uncles. All the writing was in German. These inventions could have helped the military in wartime.

The shocking part isn’t that my grand-uncles had the knowledge and ability to make these inventions. Their father had several inventions for explosives, which were used in mining.

It is hard to understand why they chose to write everything in German. Maybe that was the order from the People’s Commissar of the Navy. I wonder if my grand-uncles even had a choice when this order came to them.

But what is the real truth?  Did their invention really get into the hands of the Germans? Their 57-year-old widowed mother wasn’t afraid to stand up for her sons to Andrei Vyshinsky, the prosecutor of the USSR.

“I beg you to treat fairly the business of my sons. Do not allow certain careerists and overcautious persons to cast a black shadow on the great and awesome name of People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs which is not needing at all those actions which are applied to my sons, the gone too far careerists and actually the Trotskyists who addressed in great People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs for data of the personal scores and for commission of the dirty Trotskyist work,” she wrote to Vyshinsky in 1938.

She was inspired to write Vyshinsky because her oldest son sneaked out a letter written on toilet paper to her. My grand-uncle hid his letter in a saucepan to tell his mother that he and his brother haven’t eaten edible food in six months, were punished by being held in a hot cell for a month and have been beaten terribly for not signing confessions.

Soon after my great-grandmother sent this letter, her other three sons were charged with unknown crimes. This only left a daughter as her only child who was not in prison. Not until my researcher dove into these records, I didn’t understand why the grand-uncles were arrested at different times.

The five brothers were thrown into a stream after being severally beaten and aging much more than the three years that were taken away from them. They saved their lives by not signing any confessions. They returned to their families and made a successful plan to escape the USSR three years later.

The details of this story ends here because the archive is hesitating to release any more records on this case. But the fight to fully tell this story will continue at the archives of a regional Federal Security Service office, where my researcher will open more files on this case.

Follow this blog to see this story continue by clicking on the top right button.

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Determination to get one record leads to a pile of records on family mysteries

Once I learned that a burial record of my great-grandfather existed at archives, I was determined to see the record. But it wasn’t as simple as making a request to archives.

My great-grandfather died in 1946 in the former USSR. Getting Soviet-era records is a complicated process. A contact in the city was too shy to ask whether he could get a scan of the record.

Then I decided to have my researcher visit the city archives after checking for real estate records at another archive in the same city. Soon after my researcher arrived at the city archive to get a scan of the burial record, she had the luck of finding three files on three brothers of my grandmother from the communist-era. I am curious about how this all happened but I am more thrilled for one more miracle.

My father’s half-sister bragged that her favorite uncle was just like his father- an inventor with patents. Over 10 years, I hadn’t been able to figure out where records could exist to prove that story true. My aunt had a habit of telling grand stories. She inherited her uncle’s possessions but only documents of my great-grandfather’s inventions and patents were found in my aunt’s apartment.

The documents showing inventions of my grand uncle do exist as my researcher just found them at archives. A file with his technical drawings and correspondence with the agencies in Moscow and Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) about his inventions are sitting at city archives.

Then a burning question has been in my head for the 10 years that I have researched my paternal grandmother’s family, “Why was my grandmother’s family targeted for Soviet persecution?” My family tried to have quiet lives even though they were more financially comfortable than other families during the communist era.

Once my researcher discovered that the oldest brother of my grandmother made an appeal to the court for the return of his apartment taken by the communists, I realized that would be enough to get the communist government’s interest to track my family.

The file on my three grand uncles is dated 1918-1943, showing that my family was tracked by the communist government for 25 years. The tracking ended in 1943, when the three brothers and the rest of my grandmother’s family escaped the USSR.

I am so grateful that these files are finally being opened. The pages total to more than 350 pages on my family, making it the largest discovery of records in my 10-year genealogy journey into Russia.

It took the curiosity into one burial record to discover these files. This shows the importance of documenting research and staying determined on the genealogy journey.

Now, the researcher needs to open these files to review them page by page. What will be found? I don’t know what will be coming my way but it has been worth the wait.

Follow this blog to see this journey unfold by clicking on the top right button.

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10 Mythbusters for making breakthroughs in Russian genealogy

Too many people ignore the Russian side of their family tree due to myths about Russian genealogy. The biggest fear is all the efforts will result in nothing.

I once believed the myths but wanted to know whether discovering my Russian ancestry could be possible. Growing up first-generation American made me wonder about my ancestors and whether relatives could be found in Russia.

My family didn’t come to the USA until the 1950s so working on the family tree has been challenging with the limited amount of American records to start the research. But now I can brag about my family tree having more than 4,000 people, knowing several distant cousins in Russia and Ukraine and finding information never imagined when I started my journey.

Here are the myths that are discouraging people from beginning their incredible journeys.

MYTH 1: Too many records were destroyed during the communist era and two world wars to even consider looking for records.

Many archive records were destroyed during these time periods but the Russian Empire collected a vast amount of records on its people. The variety of records available at Russian archives is comparable to any modern country.

MYTH 2: Russian archives are too disorganized to even find much information.

Archives are getting more organized and ready for 21st century genealogy. Some archives are digitizing their records.

MYTH 3: It will take too long for Russian archives to receive a letter.

Many Russian archives have websites and respond to requests by e-mail.

MYTH 4: Russian archives will ask for proof of ancestry to release documents.

Archives will not ask for documents to prove ancestry to obtain records dated 1917 and earlier.

MYTH 5: I will have to pay bribes to get records.

I have never paid one in 8 years. Russian archives are monitored government offices. I pay bills through Western Union, which allows money to be sent directly to Russian bank accounts or stores where archive staff pick up the money. Western Union sends e-mail messages when money has been picked up.

MYTH 6: I don’t know Russian so I can’t write to archives nor read the letters from archives.

Google Translate does a sufficient job of translating English to Russian and the reverse. If the archives sends a letter as an attachment, it can be uploaded here for a free translation. If archives sends a response as text in an e-mail message, the text can be copied and pasted for translation here.

MYTH 7: If I don’t have enough information, archives won’t do a search and it’s too hard to find researchers. Genealogy isn’t popular in Russia.

Genealogy is a growing hobby in Russia. It’s not as popular as it is in the English-speaking world but it is still possible to find researchers when archives cannot complete research requests.

MYTH 8: Once I get the records from archives, it will be expensive to have the records translated.

There are plenty of eager helpers who can translate Russian documents. Just check out these Facebook genealogy groups for help with translations.

MYTH 9: There aren’t any websites comparable to Ancestry to post my Russian family tree that could be seen by other Russians.

MyHeritage and Geni are popular among Russians.

MYTH 10: There isn’t a comprehensive forum for Russian genealogy. It will be hard to go far in Russian genealogy.

The most comprehensive forum is Всероссийское генеалогическое древо. It is in Russian but can be easily translated into English with Google Translate. Here is a look at the forum in English. This is the forum where I had found Russian and Ukrainian relatives several times and received lots of help to research my family tree. Those who are not brave enough to try this Russian forum, can try these Facebook genealogy groups.

Anyone excited to move forward in their Russian genealogy can read these posts to get ready for their journey:

Best tips on uncovering U.S. documents on mysterious Soviet Union relatives
The complete guide to charming Russian archives for church records
The cure for fearing Russian-language genealogy websites to make breakthroughs
Find my family village. Hold your genealogy horses!

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:
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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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The best surprises come when hope is almost lost

*

I had given up hope that I would ever know about the death of my great-grandfather. With him living under German occupation, I assumed the records couldn’t be found after the severe damage done to his city from World War II.

Then came a message from a contact where my great-grandfather had died. By sheer luck, the contact (my half-aunt’s uncle’s great-grandson) had discovered the burial record in the southern Russian city archives.

It was even lucky that he noticed the burial record, with my great-grandfather having the very common last name of Ivanov. Thanks to my contact and I exchanging addresses where our ancestors lived, the address of my great-grandfather got  my contact’s immediate attention.

Now I have the death date of September 11, 1946 and know he died of stomach cancer. My grandfather also died of cancer so it is important to know when these fatal illnesses run in the family.

My grandfather wrote in a letter to my father that his father had died in 1946. Nothing else was written about the death when my grandfather penned this letter at 73 years old. It has been hard to confirm the information on my own.

I tried on my own to obtain the death record of my great-grandfather from the registry office, which has birth, marriage and death records for the communist era. Each time I asked for information on my great-grandfather’s death, the office staff told me the record didn’t exist.

My great-grandfather was buried in the biggest cemetery in the city. Some office had to keep record of the burials but I assumed the communist-era records were closed to the public.

This discovery brings more hope that the burial records could be found for my great-grandfather’s wife and my grandmother’s mother. Thanks to census records during the German occupation, I know one great-grandmother died before the Nov. 27, 1941 census. The other great-grandmother died between the Nov. 27, 1941 and Jan. 2, 1943 censuses.

The burial records are available for 1941 and 1943. I will be a lucky woman if either of their records could be found. Higher chances are that they died when the records aren’t available.

The search for these records are about more than death dates and causes of death. The burial records would complete their life stories. These women lived through a rough war and German occupation so did they die naturally from old age or as victims of a war?

Follow this blog with the top right button to see how this story ends and stay updated on news regarding important research resources.

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*Photo credit- http://talesofwar.tumblr.com from the war zone where my father’s family lived in southern Russia.