Beginner’s Guide

Starting searches for lost relatives is a challenging and intimidating task. It is hard to know where to start.

The most important thing is obtaining the most accurate information and documents on your relatives. Incorrect information wastes time and misses possible connections with relatives. Here is the easiest way to begin your search.

(Consider purchasing “Genealogy at a Glance: Russian Genealogy Research”  for more inspiration, information and resources that are important for Russian genealogy. The guide is also available on here.) 

1. Interview relatives- grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and parents- about the family. Ask about cities/towns/villages relatives lived, type of work done, religious life, major family events and how the family got separated.

2. Look at old photos front to back. Ask relatives to identify people not recognized. The back of photos may have important information such as towns where photos were taken that would document the family’s movement.

3. Look for old family letters and documents that can provide some important details.

4. Get all known spellings of the family name. If your family lived in German-populated areas, the Ys were likely changed to Js and the Vs were likely changed to Ws. Ask relatives whether the family name was changed anytime during immigration or naturalization in the new country.

5. Research the family on under family trees, historical documents, stories & publications and photos & maps. Even if you think you have all the information you need on certain relatives, there is no harm in having more information.

6. Post your family tree on

6. Download Google Translate browser application to search Russian and Ukrainian language websites.

7. Post information on missing relatives on






All these websites require registration. Bookmark your posts to track responses to your messages.

8.  Post messages for help on finding family on the forums designated for the region where your relatives lived on

9. Network on listservs that focus on Russian and Ukrainian ancestry. You will be amazed by how helpful people are on these listservs. Check out these listservs.

10. Search for forums for the towns and cities where your relatives last lived. Use Google Translate to translate your family’s town or city into Russian or Ukrainian. Then, copy and paste the translated word for the town or city and the word форум into Google. Once you find appropriate forums, post your missing relative message in Russian or Ukrainian on the forums.

11. Make sure your e-mail program recognizes Russian and Ukrainian. Some e-mail programs translate Russian and Ukrainian into ÅÒÁ É äÍÉÔÒÉÊ! My Verizon e-mail program does not recognize Russian and Ukrainian in some messages. Also, make sure you check your spam mailbox every day for e-mails in Russian and Ukrainian. Many of my foreign language message are sent to the spam mailbox.

11. Search for your family’s surname in groups on Facebook. Genealogy groups are getting more popular on Facebook.

12. Make free tracing requests with American Red Cross Holocaust and War Victims Tracing Center or with your local Red Cross and International Tracing Service. The wait is about one or two years. My grand aunt was found this way after 66 years of separation.

13. Do not hire a researcher to find your relatives unless you have exhausted all options. Make sure to research the background of a researcher online in Russian/Ukrainian and English and find independent reviews of the researcher. E-mail me if you are considering a researcher so I can see if there are any other options available. Too many “researchers” take advantage of people anxious to find their long, lost relatives.

117 thoughts on “Beginner’s Guide

  1. les johnson

    Looking for Family names Kinzel , Dr Joseph and Joseph Jr. Louise Tiunka in the Ukraine
    also for Vladimer Urban Zdolbunna Ukraine Adella Kinzel,Dubnov , Ukraine
    les johnson


    1. Victor Lviv

      Zdolbuniv and Dubno records – most probably can be found in Lutsk archives, less probably – in Rivne archives, Zdolbuniv and Dubno RAHS (civil registry offices) – also are worth checking. I’m providing genealogy researches in that area – if interested – feel free to contact.


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    She changed her name and nationality to marry my grandfather and leave for the USA, which I now understand was commonplace for young women trying to flee in search of a better life. She has names, locations and approximate ages but other than that everything else is hit or miss. Any suggestions on where and how to start would be greatly appreciated. We are not certain that any survived or if they themselves changed their names, etc. or fleed to neighboring countries with adults.

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  37. I have hit a dead end for my 3x great grandfather, Konrad Bechtold, who was born in 1789 in Torschau Batschka Hungary and migrated to Freudental Odessa, South Russia now the Ukraine where he died in 1855. He was married to Magdalena Ehly born 1789 in Niederhochstadt, Sudliche Weinstrasse, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany and died in 1855 in, I presume, Freudental, Odessa, South Russia. Do you have any advice on how to obtain their birth or death certificates? I do not speak German and deciphering the German language documents is hard for me if I can’t make out the writing. Also, do you know a good genealogist that has expertise in Germany, Hungary or Freudental that could do this research for me? You can contact me at

    Liked by 1 person

  38. Amos D

    Hi, great blog! Quite hooked :)! My Ukrainian grandfather has been a complete mystery to us for decades. Viktor Romanjuk/Romaniuk was born in Lutsk in 1912, and was then sent to an orphanage in his first few years. I’m close to putting the tracking of his backgroud in the ‘too hard’ basket, but wanted to ask you about the potential for district archives to store any details on children kept in state-run orphanages at that time? My family has no birth record, nor any other document pre-his emigrating to Australia in 1950 on him and I just wonder if, despite him having being a ward of the state, without legal guardians, would his birth document still exist… somewhere? Ok, many thanks and I’m glad I found this blog :)!


    1. Sorry for the delayed answer. Thanks for the compliments. I don’t know anything about orphanage archives. Do you know the village where he was born in 1912? Does Australia have more specific details in their immigration records on him?


      1. Amos D

        Thanks for the reply Vera! A couple of days ago my family found some old documents that put his birth at Pidhaitsi, Lutsk-Raion, Volyn Oblast. So we have miraculously narrowed down his town to a place of about 3100 people. I sent an archive request to both Lutsk archives and the bigger archives in Lviv. I am still a little skeptical that anything will be found as I read the suburbs around Lutsk saw a major battle in around 1915, when he would have been 3, so I can only imagine there would have been a fair amount of destruction associated with that. That said,
        I guess it’s a waiting game now. I’m going to follow your advice and give them 2 months to reply and then send snail mail copies of the same requests. Regarding payment to the archives, it doesn’t sound too standardised. Is there an archives bank account that people usually deposit money in, or is it a case of whoever found your records gets the coin? Many thanks again 😀


      2. I am not sure on the payment. Wait until you get an answer to worry about the payment. If you don’t get any answer by late July, I can recommend a good researcher to check for records on your family.


    2. Sofiya Shunkina

      Hello! My name is Sofiya Shunkina, and I’m a granddaughter of Zinaida Romaniuk! My granma told me that she has a sister Luba and Pawlina and also brother Viktor, who was born in Pidhaici, Volyn region in 1912, September 16. So, I think that Your grandfather is probably a brother of my granma. Please, contact me:, or on Facebook: Sofiya Shunkina-Prokip

      Liked by 1 person

  39. Sandra Campbell



    1. I will try to help you as much as I can. What documents do you have from Australian archives? I believe your family came from Chernivtsi Region of Ukraine. I know a great researcher for that area but tell me here or by e-mail bepa. miller at mail. ru about the research that you’ve done already.


  40. James Gardner

    I agree this is a daunting mission. I discovered my Great Grandfather was actually born in the Ukraine close to the boarder of what is now Moldovia. Their last name was Shvets. He moved with his family to Harbin China and was part of the groups that went to Hawaii in 1910. He attempted to relocate back to Russia and “join the military” around 1917 and was given a sum of money from the Russian diplomat sent to assist in repatriation efforts. His wife did not want to return to Russia so she got rid of the money. They stayed in Hawaii and the rest is history. I saw some old pictures of our family in Russia but they are now lost somewhere after my grandmother passed. I’m just starting this journey and am hoping for the best in locating lost family members.


    1. I have heard from a few people whose family lived in Harbin as Russians. I highly recommend collecting your relatives’ full names, birth dates and birth places and contact to research on Brem files. I heard the Brem files are filled with information. I have used this research firm and they are reasonably priced and know great English. Contact the regional office that cover Hawaii for US National archives for your family’s immigration records. E-mail me if you need any help!


      1. James Gardner

        I checked the page and it appears they do not cover anything during the time frame for my family. I have applied to the forum about 3 weeks ago but still am waiting for final approval to be able to post to the forum page. This is getting to be quite a job as I keep having to step back….take a deep couple of breaths as not to get flustered and dive back in.
        I have been able to find the area he came from, and found this on the web. Wholly cow…this is them.

        Any other ideas or if you know the folks at the forum that can get me posting access would be great.



      2. Hi James, I know at least 2 families who used successfully to research their Russian families in China for that time period. You will not be charged for inquirying If the forum has been so unfriendly, just use these two Facebook groups- and They are highly active and helpful groups. It’s great you found your family on the Hawaaiian university library website. Sorry for the delayed response. I’m the in the middle of a big adoption case and holiday things.


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    This is so helpful. Can you tell me what the photo is of Russia? Ukraine?
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  42. (Mostly)Norwegian_Nicole

    I know this post is old, so I’m not sure I will get an answer… but I’m looking for more information on my Grandmother’s family. They moved from Russia to Louvain/Biggar, Sonningdale, and Spinney Hill areas in Saskatchewan, Canada. Her birth certificate says that her mother, Stepenida Hydomako, was born in Ekaterinoslav, Russia in 1903. (On another travel document, Stepenida says she was born in Bahkmut, Russia.) We don’t know who her father was, but a likely Anglicized name spelled “Zayths” was on the birth certificate – which came as a complete surprise. I’d expected to maybe find more information about her mother, and I thought all information about the father would be hidden. Since then, I found a person in the same area at the right time named “Zaets” or “Zaetz” or “Zaitz”. I’ve found him on a few voter’s lists and land in the area, but he’s pretty much a ghost. If anyone has any idea about these names, I would appreciate the help!


  43. LUIZ

    Hi, Vera. Your blog is really inspiring. I’m from Brazil and I’ve recently discovered the name of the village where my great grandfather Pyotr Stepanovich Durachenkov was from. I searched at vgd forum for the village (Кочетовская, KOCHETOVSKAYA). Then I’ve fortunately found your comment. Have you ever researched this area? My ancestors were Durachenkov family from 1st Don district of Kochetovskaya village, khutor Krymsky. The only info I have about them is Pyotr marriage record. He married in Kaunas, Lithuania, when was 30 years old in Feb 12th 1922. How could I get more info? Thanks in advance


    1. So sorry for the delayed response. I would recommend contacting the archives for that region. They are very good with records. Here is the link to the archive website- You will need to write in Russian. I write in very simple English into Google Translate to write them in Russian. Good luck!


      1. Luiz
      2. I am impressed with your efforts. Too many people are afraid to use the Russian websites. BTW, your great-grandfather comes from the same Cossack village of my great-great-grandfather. We are probably distant cousins. My family has been documented in that village since the 1700s.


      3. Luiz

        Since the 1700s… Wow! I wrote to M. Koryagin but he doesn’t have records about Durachenkov family. I haven’t found any other surnames yet. What would be the next step? To hire a researcher? A service from GARO?

        My current search:


  44. Anna

    My mother (who is 85!) was born in the US, but both of her parents were from Siberia. Her parents fled Russia during the Civil War nearly 100 years ago (amazing how long ago that was). I want to perform DNA testing on my mother, but want to use whichever service will give the most in-depth info about someone who is 100% Russian by blood. In other words, if the results end up being 98% Russian, 2% Swedish– without any detail about where in Russia she has origins — well, that seems not very informative.

    Do you know which DNA test is the best for this situation — to trace Siberian family roots?
    Also do you know which websites might have info about the families my grandparents left behind (near Barnaul and near Verkhne Udinsk aka Ulan Ude).

    They ended up living in Harbin, China for a few years, where I know so many Russians lived. There must be interesting sources about Russians in Harbin as well.

    I do speak/read/write Russian so can use any Russian language site easily.
    Thank you!


    1. Hi Anna, I have tested with all four big companies. If your mother can spit, I would suggest 23andme and then transfer to Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, Gedmatch and Living DNA. If she can’t spit, she will have to use Family Tree DNA. 23andme has ethnicity split in specific regions of Russia. I recommend MyHeritage for genealogy research to find relatives and ancestors in family trees. I would recommend my Facebook group to find resources on Harbin. Members of my group knows the resources for Harbin- There are some great books about Russians who lived in Harbin. Hope this is helpful. Good luck on your research! Vera


      1. Anna

        Thank you, Vera! I failed to point out that my mother’s name is also Vera! Her full Russian name, which she used as a child/young adult among the Russian expats in Los Angeles, California, was Vera Nikolayevna Snegiryova.
        Her parents lived in Harbin, then took boats from Japan to Vancouver Canada. Then they entered the US via Washington state, and eventually ended up in Los Angeles, which is where my mother and I were born.
        My mother’s parents changed their name legally to Snow, mainly so my grandfather could be ‘more of an American.” He used the name Nick Snow when dealing with non-Russians, which was his work world.


      2. Hi Anna! I love hearing about other Veras. I hardly ever meet people with my name. I have met only a handful of Veras in my 44 years of life. I am also Nikolavena. That is quite the immigration story. I hope you will be able to document all of that. I am not surprised your grandparents changed the name to snow when sneg is the start of the Russian surname.


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