Ukrainian birth records from archives take down a brickwall on great-grandparents

After having success in getting my great-grandparents’ marriage record from Kharkiv archives earlier this year, I decided it was time to try my luck in Kyiv archives.

Looking through my family tree, I determined the archive scans I would love to see: birth records of my grandfather’s younger brother and my grandmother’s brother and sister and marriage records of my grandparents and great-grandparents.

The process of requesting these records started three months ago. Part of me made the search requests out of curiosity to see what would be found in archives.

Thankfully, a Ukrainian researcher helped me create formal requests for the records. (Here is a sample letter to use for Ukrainian archive record searches. Remember to use Google Translate to switch the English to Russian and then the Russian to Ukrainian.)

A month after submitting my request and the archives accepting the request, I was informed that only records dated 1936 and earlier were available.

My grandparents’ marriage record from 1939 is still sitting in the Ministry of Justice office, even though it is supposed to be public record after 75 years.

That news also put my plans to request the death record of my great-grandfather from 1946 on hold. I am disappointed but grateful that Ukraine only has a 75-year rule, unlike Russia’s 100-year rule.

Another e-mail message from archives followed a week later that the search for the records would cost 1,300 hryvnias ($47 U.S. dollars/$39 Euros). My curiosity was worth $47.

I attempted to pay the bill with Western Union but couldn’t figure it out. Thanks to having a second cousin in Kyiv, she paid my bill and I promised to pay her back.

My cousin sent me a screenshot of her payment, which I e-mailed to archives. A six-week wait ended with free scans of three birth records. My great-grandparents’ marriage record from 1920 couldn’t be found, sadly.

The differences in how my grandparents’ siblings were documented for their births in Kyiv was quite interesting and a learning experience. My granduncle, son of a rich architect, had a bottom strip of a registry book, while my grand uncle and aunt, children of a poor tailor, have full-page birth records at archives.

I assumed that my grandfather’s brother was christened in a church in 1922 when I saw this:

This top strip looks like it’s from a church book but this is an old registry book. I was determined to find the church where my great-grandparents bravely christened their youngest child during Lenin’s reign of terror until I was informed of my misunderstanding.

Everything that was written on my grandfather’s brother’s birth record I had already known for years. However, I was thrilled to finally to see the address of my great-grandparents in an official record. Plus, I saw my great-grandfather’s perfect signature for the first time on a document.

The best surprises came from the birth records of my grandmother’s brother and sister. My grandmother had told my mother that her family lived near Khreshchatyk Street in the center of Kyiv. I have spent years trying to find this address.

Finally, I can say that I know the exact address. It is listed on the birth records of my grandmother’s brother and sister. I can’t believe all these years that it had been waiting for me on these records, plus a major shocker.

Once I posted for help to find old photos of the apartment building on the largest Russian genealogy forum, I was told about a blog that has this old postcard with my great-grandparents’ apartment house on the left:


I also posted for help on a popular Russian genealogy group on Facebook and I was directed to this photo of my great-grandparents’ apartment building’s rear streetview by Evgen Sokolovsky.

The biggest surprise on the birth record of my grand uncle, the youngest child, was that my great-grandfather admitted to being previously married and having another son. Thank you, nosy commies!

It makes me wonder whether my great-grandmother knew about her husband’s other family. My family didn’t know about it until my researcher in Kursk, Russia, accidently found the marriage and birth records a few years ago.

Now for less than $50 U.S. dollars,  I uncovered the address of my great-grandparents from the 1920s and the signed admittance that my great-grandfather had another family. Not too bad for my curiosity…

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Getting a marriage record from Ukrainian archives gives a surprising eye-opening view

I have been determined to get the marriage record of my paternal great-grandparents from an eastern Ukrainian archive office.

My journey was put on hold in 2013 for the 1890 record when the archives told me that the record was still in the registry office, which was only supposed to have records from the past 75 years. Records sitting in the registry offices are not available for public view with simple record requests.

Eight years ago, I found a researcher willing to help me with my situation. He also told me that the record was sitting at the registry office. I didn’t have the money to collect all my documents to prove ancestry to my great-grandparents and have those records translated to Ukrainian to get an official extraction of information.

For $100 the researcher could only get me an unofficial extraction of information from the marriage record. It came in the form of two computer screenshots but there wasn’t any new information. I felt ripped off for $100. I just wanted to see the actual record.

My stubbornness led me to try the Consulate General of Ukraine in New York to obtain a copy of the record a few months later. I collected all possible family documents to prove my relationship to my great-grandparents.

For the $75 I was charged, I got a newly minted and sealed document for the marriage of my great-grandparents. Still not the original marriage record I was determined to see from the church book.

Since then, I distracted myself with record searches that had higher chances of success. I finally had enough of this waiting game last month for obtaining a scan of this coveted marriage record.

This time, I came armed with a document created by Maria Golik, making my request formal and guaranteeing payment for services.

(Download this document to submit requests for record scans from Ukrainian archives. All text in bold needs to be replaced with the suggested text. Copy and paste the document text into Google Translate for Russian translation and then copy the Russian text for Ukrainian translation. Google Translate works better this way for Ukrainian. Make sure the request documents sent to archives are signed in cursive.)

The day after I submitted my  request using the above document, the archives accepted my request. A month later, the archives confirmed the record is FINALLY sitting in archives and available to be seen by my eager eyes in scanned form.

The bill was 47 hryvnia ($1.69 USA/2.14 Canadian/1.40 Euro), the equivalent of a cup of coffee on a Kyiv street. But paying the bill was not simple. Western Union was not accepting the bank account information to send the money.

So my second cousin in Kyiv came to the rescue. A unpaid bill equal to a cup of coffee was not going to make this a never-ending journey.

I sent the archives the receipt for payment from my cousin.  Ten days later, I finally saw the scan of my great-grandparents’ marriage. I was hoping to see my great-grandmother’s parents’ names and relatives of my great-grandparents as witnesses.

But that didn’t happen. As witnesses, I got a motley crew of a telegraph worker, soldier, merchant and some honorary citizen, none of whom can be identified as relatives. It’s as if my great-grandparents asked random people on the street to be witnesses a few days before their wedding. In addition, the record doesn’t have a word on the parents of my great-grandparents.

The biggest surprise was that the number associated with the request from the Consulate General of Ukraine was noted on the marriage record. It looked creepy as if the former Soviet Ukraine tracks people who request records. But that notation just proves the request was properly documented.

All of this was for one marriage record. This was quite the learning experience. Now, I have gained valuable knowledge in dealing with Ukrainian archives and a better understanding about how these records are managed in Ukraine. Let the next Ukrainian journey be more brief and enjoyable, please.

Remember to follow this blog with the top right button to catch informative posts on Ukrainian and Russian genealogy and news on important databases for researching relatives and ancestors from the former USSR.

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Archive records on money dispute uncovers family history in mining

I have been assuming that my great-grandfather was the only one in his family to pursue a life in mining. A search in archives uncovered a money dispute that opened the doors to giving a better picture of his father past the simple life details.

My grandmother told my father in a taped interview that her father sold a mine for 20,000 rubles. I asked my researcher at Russian State Historical Archives to find proof of this family story. She couldn’t prove that story true but the researcher found documents for an even better story.

My researcher uncovered that my Don Cossack great-great-grandfather owned a mine in southern Russia. Thanks to a dispute over 4,795 rubles in silver from 1861, I have the luck of learning about his mining background.

My great-great-grandfather borrowed the silver from a Don Cossack colonel who could have been his cousin, based on his last name being the same as his paternal grandmother. The colonel asked for the money back four months later, which was 8 days after the birth of my great-grandfather.

The money was gone and the infuriated colonel reported him to the police. An investigation started and determined that 2,500 rubles of coal was available at my great-great-grandfather’s mine.

The problem was that the mine was not operating at the time, was at least one mile from a railroad track and was not near any rivers to transport it as payment to the colonel. Great-great-grandpa didn’t have money for miners to dig up the coal or an army of horse wagons to transport all that coal for his debt.

The bickering over the mine escalated because my great-grandfather managed to quietly sell the mine in 1865 to another Don Cossack, who made it a working mine without official permission.

By 1873, the dispute ended with the mine being put up for public action and my great-great-grandfather’s debt accumulating to 7,000 rubles. That amount could have bought several houses at that time.

Sometime after my great-grandfather was born in 1864, his mother died and his mother’s family took him to Luhansk, now in the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic within eastern Ukraine.

That story from my grandmother makes more sense now. With my great-great-grandfather having financial troubles and losing his wife, he was a lost soul who was struggling to deal with family finances and his two children.

Later on, my great-grandfather learned how to assist engineers in the development of mines at a mining school in Lysychans’k, which also is Luhansk Region today. He became an engineer who developed chemicals for explosives used in mining. His choice of profession is no longer a strange mystery to me.

His brother became a doctor. Maybe not surprising when understanding the loss of his mother at a young age could have inspired him to become a doctor.

A search on Google with Russian keywords from my researcher’s transcription of the money dispute file helped me discover that my great-grandfather’s paternal uncle was manager for the Office of Mine Inspections for the Don Cossacks.

Probably even more searching could come up with more family history in mining. A search of where my great-great-grandfather owned a mine shows the area grew into a city of about 245,000 people and honors its past by calling it the city of miners.

the coat of arms for Shakhty, Russia (

Learning more than the basic facts of my great-grandfather’s life has gotten me to this point. I have opened myself to any possible archive documents on my great-grandfather’s family so I can discover family stories that are well beyond my imagination.

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An empty-handed search shows the path to an even better discovery

So much time and money have been spent to find records of my great-grandfather’s service with the Don Cossacks. A family photo shows him in a decorated Don Cossack uniform but records searched in two archives can’t document the same story.

My great-grandfather started his career in mining in eastern Ukraine and moved into explosive inventing for mine exploration, a much different path from the Don Cossack service of his brother, father, uncles and ancestors. It didn’t make sense why his path was so different.

That was until I posted on the most popular Russian language genealogy forum, asking if anyone knew anything about the mother’s family of my great-grandfather. Two quick responses provided nothing useful.

Two months later, a man from the forum e-mailed me if I was still researching my great-grandfather’s mother’s family. He told me at least four files exist at Russian State Historical Archives in Saint Petersburg for people with the same surname from Luhansk, Ukraine, for mining.

The man’s enthusiasm to pursue these records was contagious. Still, I had thought a slim chance existed for the records to be helpful because I knew so little on the family.

Great-great-grandpa Nikolai Pershin was a captain and engineer, which was all I knew about his life that led to a trend of engineers in my family.

Thankfully, I already have a researcher who helps me review records at Russian State Historical Archives. My researcher took a look at the records noted by the guy who e-mailed me.

It was quite the surprise that my researcher discovered in the records. I was so excited after reading her report, I couldn’t sleep that night.

My researcher retyped 16 pages of records. After reviewing the suggested records for potential connection to my ancestors, she opened the Pershin family nobility file. The details in the nobility file confirmed that these were the records of my great-great-grandmother’s family.

The records had a Nikolai Pershin who was a captain and engineer by the time by great-great-grandmother got married. He had a daughter Elizaveta, born in 1838, that was the perfect age to marry a Don Cossack leader in 1861. He had a son, Aleksei, likely the uncle of my great-grandfather whom is noted in another archive record. My great-grandfather also had a son, Aleksei, likely named in honor of his uncle. My grandmother told my father that her father’s mother died young and he was taken care by his mother’s family in Luhansk after her death.


A drawing of the Luhansk  Foundry, where my 4th great-grandfather lived and worked in 1796.

Not only did the records detail the birthplace of my great-great-grandmother’s brother and possibly her own, I learned about her family’s involvement as leaders of the famous Luhansk Foundry back to 1796 and Russian military service unrelated to the Cossacks for several generations.

The foundry was so important that it had a coat of arms. My great-great-grandmother’s brother, Aleksei, presented those coat of arms to Luhansk city duma and it became the city’s coat of arms in 1903. The current Luhansk coat of arms is based on the design Aleksei presented to the city more than 100 years ago.

My determination to find the story I wanted brought me to an even better story. Three years ago, a researcher discovered my great-great-grandmother’s maiden name and her father’s positions. Now, the maiden name of my great-great-grandmother’s mother has been discovered in a nobility file.

It took one person’s response to a 2-month-old forum post to break open this amazing family history. The Pershin family tree got pushed back to the 1730s and will open up a second female ancestor’s history to my family. It’s just amazing what can happen after a disappointment.

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Random database search uncovers information waiting to be found at archives

After so many years of doing research on my ancestors, it is hard to predict what else could come my way. My latest discovery proves that good things do come to those who wait.

Out of boredom, I posted during the holiday season on the biggest Russian-language genealogy forum to find anyone who is researching my great-great-grandmother’s surname in southern Russia.

The responses on the forum weren’t of any use. Then, messages came this week from a man who saw my post. He suggested I have a researcher look at files at Russian State Historical Archive, the largest archive in Europe.

I know my great-great-grandmother’s family had some kind of connection to Luhansk, Ukraine. My great-grandfather had an uncle living there in the 1880s from his mother’s family.

The guy who contacted me found files on men with the same surname of my great-great-grandmother in Luhansk on the database for Russian State Historical Archive. I know it will be hard to connect those people with her family because I know so little.

Just out of curosity, I searched the full name of my grandfather on the database. My grandfather wrote in a letter to my father that he worked for Russian-Asian Bank in the early 1900s. I had a researcher attempt to find archive records on his work several years ago.

She couldn’t find any records. I gave up on trying to find information on his work for the bank.

Yesterday, my curosity peaked again. I waited a few minutes for the results of my search for him on Russian State Historical Archive. Then the first result was my grandfather’s personnel file from that bank where he had worked.

I was stunned and continue to be stunned. This has been waiting online for me to be found. It took a forum post completely unrelated to my grandfather to make this discovery.

Also, this is thanks to using Google Chrome as my Internet browser. It has an automatic language translator app and I couldn’t search or use these Russian websites without it.

So much money has been spent looking at records at this archive. I assumed I was done with this archive. Now, my researcher has plenty of reason to return to the archive.

I didn’t bother searching the archive’s database until now because I still get intimidated by large Russian archive websites. Having USSR-born parents only comes with a slight advantage in Russian genealogy.

This is a fine example of why not to give up. It’s hard to predict how one search can zig-zag into a perfect brickwall crashing.

Follow this blog with the top right button to learn about how this story continues.

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