FamilySearch on its way to make many more Ukrainian archive records digital

FamilySearch International has sealed a deal with the State Archival Services of Ukraine to scan records at Ukrainian archives. This is major news for anyone researching their ancestors from Ukraine.

What this really means for Ukrainian genealogy has been answered here by Sasha Sichkarenko, field relations manager of Ukraine for FamilySearch International.

“It is a huge day! It is fantastic news and a big step forward for modern-day Ukraine and its archives!,” he say. “… I’m happy that all components met in a perfect combination in the right place at the right time. This window of opportunity can bring a lot of positive and useful things to Ukraine, to the Ukrainian people, and to all who have Ukrainian ancestry and want to know their heritage.”

FamilySearch International has been working in Ukraine since 1994. That resulted in more than 20.5 million record scans from 16 regional archives being posted to the FamilySearch catalog, Sichkarenko says.

A break in FamilySearch International’s work occurred in 2011 due to political reasons. Then the situation started improving in 2013-14, he says.

“Society wanted to move away from the Soviet heritage and perverted cultural legacy of the communist regime. It demanded fundamental changes in governmental, economic, cultural directions, including dramatic renovation of the archival sphere,” Sichkarenko says. “Recent court decisions opened the opportunity to digitize historical records by individual researchers with their own smartphones and/or cameras. The archives felt the need to move into the digital era.”

The enthusiasm was heard from many directors at the regional archives who want to see the records digitized, he says.

That enthusiasm mixed with new State Archival Services of Ukraine leadership made the new agreement possible, Sichkarenko says.

Anatoly Khromov became the new director of State Archival Services of Ukraine in December 2019. He had served as deputy of the head of the Secret Service of Ukraine archive. Khromov was a speaker of FamilySearch’s “Family History Festival”.

Soon after Khromov took his position in February, FamilySearch International high-level leaders met with State Archival Services of Ukraine officials about cooperation and an agreement.

“As you can see, it took only 5 months to come from the intentions and goodwill to the announcement of the two signatures under the Memorandum,” Sichkarenko says. “This document will allow us to negotiate with regional archives for the digitization of their records.”

The ink is dried on the contract and FamilySearch International is ready to get busy with scanning archive records. Sichkarenko estimates the work will begin either in late summer or early autumn this year. The COVID-19 situation is delaying an immediate start on scanning, he says.

Sichkarenko has a list of all archive funds that focus on genealogical information that FamilySearch International wants to be included on its website.

That focus is well beyond just birth, marriage and death records. FamilySearch International wants to scan revisions, censuses, court and police records, 19th and 20th century newspapers with obituaries and other news, church prayer lists, Nazi occupation “card-indexes”, the “filtration documents” used to document Ukrainian forced laborers of Germany who were called Ostarbeiters and prisoners of WWII.

The other records of interest for FamilySearch International also include lists of orphans and widows of servicemen who died in WWI; personal files, career lists of employees with family information (late 19th to early 20th century), landownership materials; noble family records, books, maps, photos and gazetteers.

All these records that will be scanned will become available on the FamilySearch website at a time yet to be determined.  Once that happens, it will help complete so many family stories and family trees.

Follow this blog with the top right bottom to learn about news in Ukrainian and Russian genealogy.  

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Years of patience leads to an accumulation of discoveries

Olesia Fediushkina loves to show her adventures in travel and appreciation of nature through photos posted on Facebook. Her other love is genealogy.

“As far as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed looking through old photos and listening to my granny’s stories about her youth, her parents, etc.,” says the woman from Kaluga in western Russia. “But initially, I wasn’t interested in details – dates of birth, death, motives or reasons of actions and events that happened to my ancestors, relatives. That came much later, as I was about 23-25.”

It hasn’t been an easy journey to learn about her ancestors. When her interest had peaked, regional archives weren’t open to visitors and Internet sources “were not so well-developed as compared with nowadays,” she says.

That has not stopped Olesia’s determination to learn about her ancestors since her interest started about 15 years ago. She sends requests to archives, visits archives, gets advice on genealogy forums and uses search engines.

“I managed to turn back to my research just a year ago, and since then I found more than within all previous years,” Olesia says.

Now, she has traced her family tree back to the beginning of the 19th century. She knows her mothers’s ancestors came from Kaluga governorate, now modern day Tula and Bryansk regions, with some also coming from Poland or Baltic countries.

Her father’s mother’s ancestors also came from Kaluga governorate, near Kaluga. On her father’s father’s line, she has discovered ancestors who were Terek Cossacks from the territory of modern Chechen Republic. One branch seems to lead her to Georgia.

“I believe it helps me to understand myself better, which is quite important to me, to see some patterns and to try to break them. It helps to see some events with different eyes, to forgive some things that seemed unforgivable, etc.,” Olesia says. “…Overall, that helps to get one little step closer to the internal harmony. I know that sounds like a cliché, but that’s how I really feel. I believe that our knowledge, experience and self-consciousness is the only thing we can take with us, when it will come our time to leave.”

This journey helps her learn more about history, which she admits she should have been more diligent to learn in school.

 Olesia on her travels.

Her discoveries in the family’s history has brought mixed reaction from her family.

At first, her mother didn’t see the value of genealogy. Then Olesia’s mother saw the excited reactions of her relatives and her mother’s attitude has changed to supporting the research.

Meanwhile, her father’s family has questioned the research.

“My father’s mother used to tell that remembering the past hurt her and refused to share information, documents, memories,” Olesia says. “Besides, she couldn’t believe I need it just for myself, and she used to ask ‘Whom will you tell, show that?’”

Her father lacks any interest in his ancestors and doesn’t share stories with Olesia. His wife questions whether the research is about her searching for inheritances or something of value.

Meanwhile, her friends are neutral on the topic. She has a friend who is interested in genealogy as much or even more than her. Other friends are satisfied knowing about their grandparents and don’t see a purpose in knowing any more.

“Anyway, nobody of my relatives, friends knows how much money I spend on my hobby, except the above mentioned friend, who shares this hobby,” Olesia says. “Every one of them would say Im crazy.”

This attitude about genealogy doesn’t surprise her because the word genealogy wasn’t used when she was growing up, she says.

“There was no ‘typical’ attitude about one’s family’s history. Generally, people kept memories about their parents and grandparents,” Olesia says.  “But due to some reasons -repressions, war, etc.- some people preferred to ‘forget’ about some of their relatives, ancestors – it could be just dangerous sometimes to tell about them or to keep the evidences.”

That attitude doesn’t ruin Olesia’s excitement for her research, which has led to finding living relatives. Some are excited to find a new relative and others are not interested in the connection.

She also is trying to find her relatives through DNA testing. She started with MyHeritage and then uploaded her DNA file to Family Tree DNA and Gedmatch.

The office worker at an automotive factory originally was curious about her ethnic origins but was also hoping to find relatives. Time will only tell if she gets her wish.

This is the fourth article in the series “Bending Curtain: A Changing Tide in Genealogy in the Former USSR” that will continue throughout 2020. People from the various countries of the former USSR will share their experiences in uncovering their ancestry. Follow this blog with the top right button to catch these unforgettable stories.

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New WWII databases reveal amazing information, honoring 75th anniversary of victory

Coronavirus is not stopping the online celebration of the 75th anniversary of WWII’s victory.

Three databases have gone online, in addition to an explosion of soldier photos of men and women who served in the Soviet Army on a WWII database. Those who don’t know Russian are highly recommended to download a language translator app such as Google Translate and use this website or Google Translate  for translating keywords.

The information on these databases cannot be found in English anywhere. All websites are free of fees and registration requirements.

Saint Petersburg Archives has created a database of more than 67,000 civilian recipients of “For the Defense of Leningrad” medals. The database, searchable by last name, year of birth or place of employment, provides downloadable scans of award documents for each recipient.

“It (the medal) was awarded to active participants in the heroic defense of the city on the Neva – all those who, despite hunger and cold, shelling and bombing, stood by the machine, extinguished incendiary bombs, nursed the wounded, dug trenches, supported the urban economy, taught and cared for children, holding thereby personal victory in the battle for Leningrad,” says the website.

The Soviet government gave the award to 1.47 million recipients (according to Wikipedia) so the database is a work in progress.

That medal also was given to civilians in Odessa (Ukraine), Sevastopol, Stalingrad (now Volgograd), Caucasus, Transartic and Kyiv (Ukraine). My hope is databases for civilians who received the same medal in the other cities will appear online in the near future.

Another great database added for researching WWII is Explosion of Partisan, based on documents from the Central Headquarters of the Partisan Movement at the Headquarters of the Supreme High Command.

Information on more than 8,500 people awarded for their involvement in the war’s partisan movement are detailed in the database, which also is a work on progress.

This database can be easily searched by surname. Information provided on award recipients can include full name, birth year, place for call of service, place of residence, partisan group name, award presented, presenter of award and file location of record.

Requests to obtain scans of records can be sent to It is highly recommended to write in Russian.

So far, most WWII databases from Russia have focused on soldiers of the Soviet Army. This is a great step toward recognizing all the people who helped in the war effort.

The other database comes from the Republic of Belarus- A Book of Memory, an effort by the Office to Perpetuate the Memory of Defenders of the Fatherland and Victims of Wars of the Armed Forces of Belarus.

The database provides information on people who died in Belarus during WWII and those who came from Belarus and died elsewhere during WWII. Users can find the following information in the database: full name, year of birth, place of birth, place of call of duty, place of service, position, date of death, cause of death, burial number and place of burial.

Those seeking information on their relatives or ancestors from Belarus will need to look page by page or know their full name- first, patronymic (name derived from father’s first name such as Ivanovich) and surname.

Some people on this database can be found on Memory of the People  but others are only found on A Book of Memory.

The other great news for WWII databases is the explosion of photos posted to Road of Memory, which has an estimated 2 million photos of men and women who served in the Soviet Army. Numerous photos are being posted everyday, with a noticeable amount of female soldier photos.

I wrote about Road of Memory back in October, when there were only 300,000 photos posted to the database. Users only can search by name. I search by surname and patronymic name or surname and first name to make the results more specific.

The photos on Road of Memory also can be found on Memory of the People, which is  much easier to search. It is very touching to see pictures of soldiers from the villages of my great-grandparents. (I explain how to search Memory of the People without knowing Russian in this post.)

These photos can be used to find facial similarities with known relatives or find potential relatives. I highly recommend bookmarking soldiers’ pages to regularly check for posted photos.

Last Sunday, a woman who posted her grandfather’s photo on Road of Memory e-mailed me. I saw that photo last Saturday while searching my 7th-great-grandfather’s surname in the database for soldiers from my great-grandfather’s village.

The Luxembourg woman saw my post on her grandfather’s surname on the largest Russian-language genealogy forum, All Russia Forum. Thanks to the database and forum, we will try to connect our family trees. Making the switch to Russian-language sites for genealogy really has its perks.

The news in WWII databases from the Russian-speaking world doesn’t end here. Last week, Germany handed over about 20,000 scans to Russian military archives on soldiers who were German POWs. The scans are expected to provide information on millions of soldiers, according to news reports.

It won’t be surprising if even more databases will go online this year, in addition to the new POW scans. The newest databases also will continue to grow.

The opportunities to make amazing discovers are available to those willing to try these Russian databases with language translators. Those who try will eventually have bragging rights.

Follow this blog with the top right button to learn about new databases posted online and important updates to WWII-related databases.

See more free databases here.

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Arolsen Archives quietly adds 13 million more WWII records…

It was only last summer when Arolsen Archives- International Center on Nazi Persecution expanded its database to 13 million records on displaced persons and Nazi persecution victims.

Now, the database has doubled in size with records on forced laborers and deportations to concentration camps. It is quite the gift to have these documents online at this time.

This free database is well-worth searching if you had relatives or ancestors who were displaced or persecuted during WWII. The records are available for downloading without requiring registration.

The English database only can be searched by names or topics. I recommend searching by names. The results can be filtered by religion, nationality and family status.

With the database being so large, it naturally will have some errors. My grandfather’s name is spelled as Sergej and Serzej and his birth date is listed as March 21 and April 21 on the database.

Here are some tips to take full advantage of this wonderful database:

  • Remember that people during WWII lied on records to survive so be open-minded when viewing records. My grandfather lied that he was born in Bialystok, Poland, instead of Kyiv, Ukraine.
  • Use a text document to keep track of which relatives and ancestors you have searched.
  • Consider every possible relative and ancestor who was affected by WWII. A document on a distant cousin could have information that can breakdown a brickwall.
  • Don’t ignore matches that seem off by a month, day or year for birth dates. The dates may have been mistyped for the database.
  • Another date issue is the switching of Julian calendar dates to the current Gregorian calendar. It can affect dates involving immigrants from the former USSR. Check out this page for more information.
  • Use every known spelling of your relatives or ancestors before giving up searches on them.
  • Remember village, town and city names can change over time. Before eliminating matches by location, research the locations for name changes.
  • Germans switch y’s to j’s and v’s to w’s. Also vowels may be switched, too.
  • Make sure to view all the results for your searches, even matches with limited information. Check out the records for each match to confirm whether they are connected to your family.
  • Remember to download records, even those that are not definite matches.
  • When you find different spellings for your relatives and ancestors, consider using those spellings when searching for them in other databases.

If searches come up empty, requests to Arolsen Archives can be made here. It could take up to 2 years to receive a response by e-mail.

Arolsen Archives still has about 4 million records to post online. Follow this blog with the top right button to learn about the next update to this database.

Related posts:

Massive database reveals priceless information on rebels of the Russian Revolution

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Major update to WWII database honors 75th victory anniversary

New WWII Soviet Army database gives faces to veterans

Major update to WWII database honors 75th victory anniversary

This is a major year to remember the victorious end of World War II. Russian military archives are not forgetting the importance of this year.

The amount of information Russian military archives have added to their database, Memory of the People: 1941-1945, is worth celebrating. Here is more information on the project in English on the millions of records scanned and uploaded to this database to document the soldiers of WWII from the former USSR.

About 25 million more records have been added to the database. The newest update covers:

  • 8 million records from military personnel listings,
  • 6.9 million records on war veterans from the officer’s record-keeping file,
  • 1.7 million records from navy files,
  • 5 million records of conscription and demobilization from military registration and enlistment office documents,
  • 1.39 million entries from burial records and documents of losses and prisoners of war and
  • 2 million records of the passage of military personnel through reserve regiments.

The search page for this database can be seen in English but Google Translate is needed for copying and pasting the keywords in Russian. Not one English-language website has this information so it is well worth the effort for anyone who had relatives or ancestors in the USSR’s military.

The type of information that can be found on soldiers includes full name, date of birth, place of birth, location for call of duty, map of the individual’s battle route and awards received, with photos of awards and scans of original documents. The website allows documents to be saved by clicking on the disk button on the bottom right.

Check out the search page in English.

Here’s how to take advantage of this database.

  • Have Google Translate in the next window for translating names and places. The results can be copied and pasted for translation. Downloading Google Translate for your device is highly recommended.
  • If Google Translate doesn’t work for certain names, try Transliterating English to Russian in One Step.
  • Start the search with as much information as possible. If results don’t appear, take away one search keyword at a time.
  • Remember that towns and villages can be spelled different than personally known. The birthplace of my great-grandfather is listed in two different neighborhoods and spelled randomly with an o and a on the end in results.
  • Open a Microsoft Word or text document for copying and pasting results. It is best to save the results somewhere so the search doesn’t have to be redone. Also, keep a list of people, surnames and villages/towns searched in a document.
  • If results can’t be found on direct relatives, try searching for cousins, no matter how distant. It sometimes takes a random cousin to open up research doors.
  • Remember the importance of patronymic names (Slavic middle names in honor of the father). If particular people can’t be found, look for people with the same surnames and patronymic names from the same village and town. Those people could be unknown siblings of relatives or close cousins.
  • Keep a close eye on the results because names of places duplicate throughout the former USSR. You’ll need to know the neighborhood (rayon) and region (oblast) where your relatives lived.
  • In case typos have occurred, it is recommended to search solely by village or town. Copy and paste the village or town name translated in Russian into the place of birth search box to view everyone who is included in the database from that place.
  • Make screen shots of positive and potential results.

No matter the results you found or didn’t, it is worth trying. Getting used to searching Russian websites is an important skill for anyone researching in the former USSR.

It took me several years to gain the skills to search these sites and understand Russian and Ukrainian websites. All that effort has returned into the gift of many success stories I never imagined could ever happen in my journey.

Russian military archives have been updating their WWII databases for several years now. Remember to click on follow this blog on the top right to learn about the latest database updates and new guides on improving success in Russian and Ukrainian genealogy.

Related posts:
New WWII Soviet Army database gives faces to veterans
Free database on WWII soldiers grows by more than 5 million records quietly adds incredible WWII database
Ancestry releases important database on WWII displaced persons