Photo database of more than 20,000 Russian churches brings new life to genealogy

The tragic history of destroying churches in Russia cannot be forgotten. Thankfully, volunteers in Russia are photographing the churches still standing throughout the massive country.

So far, the Temples of Russia project has more than 26,000 photos of Russian Orthodox and Old Believers churches and chapels in its database. The amazing database has churches that are functioning, closed and forgotten. Photos were even added today.

Thanks to this database, I have seen four churches of my ancestors. The value of these photos are priceless. The ability to imagine my ancestors entering the churches for christenings, weddings, funerals or regular services is just beyond what I imagined could be possible when I started working on my family tree.

In addition to the photos, churches and chapels are listed with historical information, descriptions, locations by coordinates, current statuses, addresses and available websites.

The Temples of Russia project has a search engine and listing of all churches and chapels included in the database. Monasteries also are included in the photo database here.

Naturally, the database is in Russian. I have a video guide on how to use this database here without knowing Russian.

The photos of Russian churches are listed under the regions and republics of Russia on this page.

Here’s some tips on how to take advantage of this database.

  1. As with any Russian database, I recommend using a desktop or laptop computer and downloading Google Translate’s web browser app or any comparable app to maneuver around the website easier in English.
  2. Make sure to research the birthplaces of ancestors. The region (oblast) and district (rayon) should be known.
  3. Don’t assume churches were located in the family villages so check photos listed for villages and towns near your relatives’ and ancestors’ birthplaces.
  4. It is helpful to look through all old family photos to check for any photos that could include Russian churches.
  5. Even check old family letters to see whether family churches were mentioned.
  6. Make sure to review all family documents to see whether any church records are hiding among family archives.
  7. Copy and paste all the information into documents on churches that are found and download the photos.
  8. If nothing is found, check for the newest additions here. The database is regularly updated.
  9. Take a look at the forum for any helpful information. The forum isn’t active anymore but worth a look.

Don’t give up if nothing is found today. Remember to bookmark this database. It  has been growing online for more than 20 years. Checking this database is so much easier than trying to search for photos on Google for specific family churches.

Remember to follow this blog with the top right button to catch posts on important databases for research in Russian and Ukrainian genealogy.

Related posts:

Expert guide to using Google Translate in Russian and Ukrainian genealogy
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)

The art of researching Ukrainian ancestors on Ancestry.com

Documenting Ukrainian cemeteries for FindAGrave has been quite the boot camp for me. I never imagined it would be so complicated to find information on these immigrants on Ancestry.com.

Thankfully, I have learned so much about how to find these people on Ancestry.com with my determination. Hopefully, this knowledge will finally help others in their journey to research on Ancestry.com.

Here are the surprising facts I learned about researching Ukrainian immigrants, many of whom were from western Ukraine and Galicia:

  1. The last names of husbands, wives and children sometimes are not always spelled the same.
  2. The tradition of spelling surnames by gender doesn’t always continue in the USA such as Dobrovolska for women and Dobrovolsky for men.
  3. Surnames are sometimes written in English with random vowel changes from the original transliterated spelling of the Ukrainian name.
  4. The birth date on gravestones sometimes doesn’t match information mentioned on documents on Ancestry.com. The birth year has been off by 5 years for some people. So don’t automatically eliminate a possible document match without further digging.
  5. First names are sometimes an English name that starts with a similar starting letter sound as the original Ukrainian first name.

So how can Ukrainian relatives and ancestors be found on Ancestry.com with so many complications? The best tool for researching Ukrainian immigrants on Ancestry.com has been the * (shift and 8 together on pc’s and mac’s).

To search Ukrainians with complicated names, spell with as many letters as possible and use an * at the end for the unsure endings. See the image below for an example. This method really helped me to confirm name spellings for people buried at Ukrainian-American cemeteries I was documenting on FindAGrave.

When this doesn’t work, it’s time to switch the suspected vowels to every possible vowel. The use of i,y,j also make the searches complicated so switch the order of those letters in every possible combination.

If too many results appear, here are some tips to narrow them down:

  1.  Select a gender.
  2. Click on United States or their chosen country under Collection Focus.
  3. Add the state in the place your ancestor might have lived box and click on exact under the box.
  4. Tweak with the Search Filters box on the top right to move between exact, sounds like and similar.

Here are some other important reminders:

  1. Anyone who came from Galicia could be listed on Ancestry.com as being born in Ukraine, Poland and Austria. Those people also could be listed from Carpathian Mountains or Malopolskie.
  2. If a US immigrant on Ancestry.com appears as a good match for your family tree, consider searching for them in this database or getting their Social Security application if they lived past 1936. The amount of information on the application is amazing and could confirm or deny suspicions.
  3. Research matches completely: spouses, children, siblings, parents, etc. before moving on. Those who came to the new country without knowing English couldn’t perfectly fill out documents. (My grand uncle is listed as coming from Kesin, Soviet Union, when he came from Kyiv.)
  4. Keep track of different spellings for the surnames you are researching on paper or a text file. It can really make the difference when doing further research on the families.
  5. Change the box on the bottom left to show 50 results per page so important patterns could be seen on the same page.
  6. Remember these important endings to last names: ycz/icz;  zyn; jy/yj, czuk/tschuk/juk; chenko/czenko and czyj.

If none of these suggestions work, it will likely take 20th century research to find records on Ukrainian immigrants. It will be time to call the Ukrainian churches near where they lived.

I have been stunned by the number of Ukrainian immigrants buried in an American cemetery who don’t have records on Ancestry.com or were noted in only one record. It takes determination to research Ukrainian immigrants but the knowledge gained will be worth a pricey genealogy class.

Related posts:
Guide to finding the mystery family villages of Russia and Ukraine
Guide for spelling Russian and Ukrainian names to break those solid brickwalls
Best tips on uncovering U.S. documents on mysterious Soviet Union relatives

Guide to finding the mystery family villages of Russia and Ukraine

The moment that the name of a family village is uncovered the excitement builds. Then, searching for that village on a 21st century map can seem as challenging as if the village never existed.

Before rushing to find the village or town on a map, it’s time to do some more research. Maybe the village or town still exists but the name has changed over time. Or the village switched borders within the former USSR countries.

Here are some web pages (all in English) that will help uncover the locations of mystery family villages and towns.

Russia:

  1. List of renamed cities and towns in Russia
  2. List of cities and towns in Russia

  3. List of cities of the Russian Empire in 1897

Ukraine:

  1. List of renamed cities in Ukraine

  2. List of Ukrainian toponyms that were changed as part of decommunization in 2016

  3. List of villages and towns depopulated of Jews during the Holocaust

  4.  JewishGen’s database on Ukrainian villages

Russia & Ukraine:

  1. List of ghost towns by country (Russia is listed under Asia.)

Galicia:

  1. Galician Town Locator

East Prussian towns now in Russia:

  1. List of cities and towns in East Prussia

Ruthenian (Grand Duchy of Lithuania and later in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth):

  1. List of villages now in Zakarpatska Oblast, Ukraine (formerly the Kingdom of Hungary)

Carpatho-Rusyn (also known as Dolinyans,  Boykos,  Hutsuls  and Lemkos):

Root Seekers Guide To The Homeland

German settlements in Russia:

  1. Germans from Russia Settlement Locations

View this website on Germans from Russia for more information on these location.

If luck isn’t struck with these web pages, try posting for help on these Facebook genealogy groups. Those who had luck should search online for any additional information to help find the correct village or town on a 21st century map.

Feel free to post more useful web pages in the comments section.

Related posts:
Guide to interviewing relatives like a true detective
Break open the “I don’t know anything” relatives for some genealogy gems
Secrets of searching the Internet in Russian and Ukrainian like a native speaker

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!

Guide to interviewing relatives like a true detective

Too many times a good source of information can’t been seen when the person being interviewed keeps saying “I don’t know”.  The problem may not be the person not knowing anything but how they are being questioned.

That’s what I learned during my years as a newspaper reporter. The knowledge I have gained as a newspaper reporter really does help in genealogy.

Here’s how to get around the “I don’t know” scenario.

Example 1: When was he or she was born?

Instead ask:

How close was this to the birth of his brother or sister?

Was the day close to a holiday or family special event (such as someone’s wedding, baptism or funeral)?

Did you go to school that day? What grade were you in?

What was going on in your life? (to get answers like “I just graduated from junior high school.” I got my first job.”

Example 2: What village did you (or your parents) live in the old country?

Instead ask:

Was there anything in the village that attracted a lot of attention (such as monuments, famous churches, historical buildings, etc.)

What were your favorite places in the village? Did you visit a particular store regularly?

Did you have to go far to get to the next town or city? What was the closest city or town?

What do you remember the most about the village? (to get a unique feature of the village)

Was there a train station nearby and where could you go?

Example 3: When did your grandmother die?

Instead ask:

What was the weather like for the funeral? Was that cold or hot for that time of the year? What did you wear to the funeral?

Was the day close to a holiday or family special event (such as someone’s wedding, baptism or funeral)?

Was he or she (the person who died or being interviewed) about to have a birthday?

Did he or she (the person who died or being interviewed) recently have a wedding anniversary or celebrate a child’s birthday?

Example 4: When did you immigrate to this country?

Instead ask:

Did you start school already? What grade did you finish in school?

Was this close to when another relative had left for immigration?

What was the weather like when you got on the ship or plane?

Was there a major political event or war-related event that happened near that time?

Was there a delay in leaving due to weather or a war-related event?

Example 5: What is the name of the church where your parents got married?

Instead ask:

Was the church old or newer?

Was it near any other churches?

What street was it on or near?

What did the church look like? (in case, the person had seen the church before)

Did any other relatives get married there?

These types of questions should get memories flowing and bringing out some great stories. It’s so easy to give up but finding the right source by asking the right questions are truly worth the effort.

Related posts:
Break open the “I don’t know anything” relatives for some genealogy gems
Find my family village. Hold your genealogy horses!
Secrets of searching the Internet in Russian and Ukrainian like a native speaker
Best tips on uncovering U.S. documents on mysterious Soviet Union relatives