articles edited in
November 2007 to show information most useful for Molokan and Jumper genealogy.
Summary: A comprehensive
guide, with loads of links, for getting started searching for your
A Dictionary of Surnames. Hanks, Patrick
Flavia Hodges. David L. Gold, special consultant for Jewish names. New
York: Oxford University Press, 1988. This reference work includes
a large number of Jewish, Russian and German names. Especially useful
is the index which links the variants, equivalents, derivatives and
cognates of names to surnames cited in the text. The introduction
includes information on Jewish family names, surnames in the Soviet
Union, surnames of Eastern Europe outside Russia, and surnames in
German-speaking countries. [See
3 book reviews.]
Be sure to see the Origin and Meaning of
Molokan and Jumper Surnames, on the Doukhobor
Genealogy Website, by Jonathan Kalmakoff.
International Vital Records Handbook. 4th ed. Kemp, Thomas J. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing, 2000. Russia, pp. 515-520. This work refers to The Russian-American Genealogical Archival Service as a source for vital records in Russia. It seems that this service went out of business about a year or so after the Handbook was published. The form provided may still prove useful for sorting the information you have on an individual and showing what you may still need to find.
The Library: A Guide to the LDS Family History Library.
Edited by Johni Cerny and Wendy Elliott. Salt Lake City, UT:
Despite the publication date, this work is an excellent resource. The
book has introductory information about each country, it's archival
records and resources, and what the LDS Family History Library has
available on microfilm (up to 1988). Chapter 20 covers the Soviet
Union, as well as the Eastern European countries of Romania,
Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Albania, and Poland. You may be able to update
this material by going into LDS online catalog at http://www.familysearch.com and
clicking on the tab labeled Library. [Buy
from Amazon.com for less than $1.]
You can request that copies of relevant microfilms be sent to a local branch of the LDS Library. To find the branch nearest you, go to the above web address. Click on the box that says “Library” and scroll to the bottom of the page. In Massachusetts the New England Historic Genealogical Society on Newbury Street in Boston can order the LDS microfilms for patrons. The NEHGS has much longer hours than the local LDS Family History Library branches.
In Their Words: A Genealogist's Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents. Shea, Jonathan D. vol. 2. Russian. New Britain, CT: Language & Lineage Press, 2002. This book is a must when you are dealing with unfamiliar languages.
Archives of Russia: A Directory and Bibliographic
Guide to the Holdings in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Edited
by Patricia Kennedy Grimsted. 2 vols. M. E. Sharpe: Armonk, NY, 2000.
Consulting Grimsted's work may prove useful for tracking the location
of various types of records. [This book is at most major university
These two articles are critical if you are beginning the search for your Russian ancestors.
"Digging Up Your Russian Roots" Richardson, Paul E. Russian Life. June 1997. pp. 35+.
"Discovering Your Russian Roots." Krasner-Khait, Barbara. Russian Life. Year 44, No. 4. July/August 2001. pp. 57 - 61.
Many of the web sites that follow were originally listed in the above article by Barbara Krasner-Khait. Some of these web addresses have changed since 2001. The updated addresses are given below.
The two additional articles listed below deal specifically with Russian Archives.
Patricia Kennedy. “Increasing Reference
Post-1991 Russian Archives.”[1,009K PDF] Slavic Review, vol. 56,
no. 4 (Winter 1997), pp. 718-759.
Mehr, Kahlile. “Genealogical Sources in Soviet Archives.” Genealogical Journal, No. 2, June 1978, pp. 65-76.
Copies of these last two articles can be requested from Interlibrary Loan. The Grimsted article can also be found on the JStore database available at various libraries. Check the public and academic libraries closest to you to see if this database is available.
Useful Internet SitesMolokan and Jumper Genealogy. Links to most all the on-line information about Molokans and Jumpers. Contribute your information, or send in your questions.
Molokan and Jumper Genealogy board/forum. Thousands of messages, obituaries, lists, links, and questions.
Origin and Meaning of Molokan and Jumper Surnames, by Jonathan Kalmakoff. Lists 100s of last names, including nearly all who migrated to America.
Russia Family Database
Russian roots: The Gateway to Genealogy in Russia
of East European Family History Societies
Family Immigration Center
of Congress Catalog
NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION (Federal Records including Immigration, Naturalization, Military, and Census) Washington, DC | Waltham, MA Look for and click on links to genealogical topics on the archives home pages.
Texas at Austin
York Public Library
Family History Libary, Salt Lake
Getting Professional Help
Individual ResearchersNancy Poppin-Posey. Speicalizes in Molokan and Jumper genealogy. Find over a 1000 of her informative posts on the Molokan and Jumper Genealogy board/forum. E-mail: email@example.com
Jonathan Kalmakoff. Hosts the Doukhobor Genealogy Website, with the informative Origin and Meaning of Molokan and Jumper Surnames and Molokan and Jumper Immigration Via Canada. He has research contacts in the Former Soviet Union. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Website for the Association of Professional Genealogists In Moscow. If you do not read Russian, click on the Association name in English. It will bring you to a list of professional genealogists.
A list of individual researchers at the website Researching Russian Roots: The Gateway to Genealogy in Russia.
Professional Service Firms
Blitz Information Center. This is a small part of the larger website sponsored by the Federation of Eastern European Family History Societies.
Miriam Weiner's Routes
Tracing Jewish Roots in Poland, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus. Routes to
Roots is located in Seacaucus, New Jersey. The e-mail address is
email@example.com. Weiner offers both archival research and
tours to the areas listed above.
Summary: How to trace your family roots from Russia, with resource listings and interesting facts on the "waves" of Russian immigration to the US.
If you have family roots in Russia, you are in good company. Between 1820 and 1992, according to INS data, some 3,512,332 individuals immigrated to the United States from Russia, most of them around the turn of the century (2.5 mn between 1897 and WWI).
The largest component (over 50% by one estimate) of this emigration during tsarist times was Jews leaving the Pale of Settlement in the late 1800s and during WWI. This was supplemented by Jewish emigration from the USSR in the 1970s and 1980s (some 200,000 persons). Gary Mokotoff, publisher of Avotaynu: The International Review of Jewish Genealogy, said it is estimated that 95% of all Jews in America have family roots in the territory of Russia and the former USSR.
A second important ethnic emigration from Russia in the past century has been Germans who were invited to settle on the Volga and the Black Sea by Catherine the Great in 1763. The 1897 Russian Census showed some 1.7 mn Germans residing in Russia. In 1979 the number had risen little, to 1.9 mn, indicating significant emigration in the interim.
Most all Germans in Russia were deported from their original homes on the Volga or Black Sea to Kazakhstan or Siberia during WWII. Many left during WWI and WWII — some 1.4 mn emigrating to Germany; still others left after some freedom of emigration was introduced in 1987. Many Germans from Russia ended up in the US, mainly in Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and the Dakotas. Indeed, the Germans from Russia Historical Society has estimated that over half the current residents of North Dakota are Germans from Russia and/or their descendants.
Finally, during the Russian Civil War (1918-1922), there was a large exodus from Russia by those opposed to or threatened by the new Bolshevik regime. During this period, some 2 mn persons emigrated from Russia to Western Europe and the United States.
The Paper Trail
Tracing one's roots back into Russia can be a daunting task. It was not until very recently that Russian archivists have even accepted the importance of genealogical research (archival genealogical research was forbidden in Soviet times as a bourgeois pursuit). What is more, while archives do maintain important and useful documents for such research, serious budgetary shortfalls threaten these holdings and have led to shutdowns because of unsafe working conditions and staff shortages.
Nonetheless, there are considerable resources available both inside and outside Russia to help trace one's roots. For, even 100 years ago, it was hard for a person of any prominence in Russian society not to leave a paper trail. There is a service record (posluzhnoy spisok) for most persons who held any rank in the military or civil service from the mid-1800s to 1917, or for any member of the nobility. There are parish records ("metrical books") for members of Christian churches (non-Orthodox churches were required to annually submit copies of their birth, death and marriage records to St. Petersburg). Jewish surnames can often be found by searching city and business directories. And there are court records, land ownership records, contracts, police records, books of residency of rented homes and apartments (domovye knigi), records of German colonization of the Volga and Black Sea, records of Jewish colonization of Ukraine, draft records, prison records, school records, Communist Party records, genealogy records and coats of arms for noble families, adoption records, etc.
Obviously, it is much easier to track down pre-revolutionary records on prominent individuals — members of the nobility, the merchant class, military officers, etc. — than it is on persons without property or position in the Russian empire. Even so, it is difficult to impossible for an inexperienced, private individual to navigate dark, dissheveled historical archives without a guide, much less to decipher (and translate) ornate, old-Russian handwriting.
"We gave a few pages of this old script — as a test — to a translation firm in L.A.," said Edward Nute, president of Blitz, a genealogical research firm specializing in Russia and the Baltics, "and they threw up their hands."
So how do you get started? Begin by subscribing to Avotaynu and Everton's Genealogical Helper. These are two invaluable publications that will help you learn from others' mistakes, search out reputable researchers through their advertisements and learn about the latest discoveries in the field.
While you are waiting for your first issues of the magazines to arrive, start documenting yourself. Get down in writing everything you and your known, living relatives know about your family tree as far back as possible. This includes dates, places of residence, dates of emigration and immigration (passenger lists of ships arriving in the US are available, as are citizenship application records, etc.), known and suspected relatives and history (where worked or served, religious affiliation, reason for leaving, possible run-ins with the tsarist police or KGB, contact with Russian consulates in the US, etc.).
This should then be collated with what other genealogists might have already found out about your family, either directly or indirectly when researching their own family. Avotaynu offers databases of over 2000 Jewish genealogists researching ancestral towns and surnames, plus has online surname databases, cemetery records, Russian consular records, names of refusniks, and much, much more. The two German-Russian societies have regular conventions and help members organize themselves by village, so that researchers can meet with descendants of the village their family came from and compare notes. Philip Freimann, whose family descends from Katharinenstadt (now Marx) met cousins he did not previously know of at such conventions. Finally, Rand (follow links from url given under "Genealogy Resources on the Internet," below) offers an online database where you can search by last name and retrieve a list of other genealogists researching the same or related last names (this is for all names, not just people with Russian roots).
Having gathered all this information (perhaps inputting it into one of the many software programs for this purpose now on the market — make sure it is GEDCOM-compatible), you follow the basic genealogist's precept of "begin from what you know and work back in time." Of course, what you know or what your family members purport to know (often referred to as "family traditions") often turns out to be quite far from the truth. Particularly when there is an emigration experience involved, which can lead to linguistic distortion of names, locations and events, to say nothing of "remembered" dates.
When it comes time to tap into documents in archives in Russia, turn to the experts. While it might seem romantic to undertake some of this research yourself, it will most likely turn fruitless. Blitz, RAGAS and FAST are research companies with vast experience in the Moscow and St. Petersburg archives. Reputable firms and individuals with specific research experience into Jewish and German-Russian genealogy also regularly advertise in Avotaynu and Evertons.
Thanks to the efforts of the Mormon Church and others, many important documents from Russian archives are available in the US. The Mormons have microfilmed many Jewish birth, marriage, divorce and death records, metrical books for many German parishes, in addition to many city registers. The German-Russian historical societies have libraries with extensive holdings, including completed Family Data Sheets, church, census lists and cemetery records, published books and more. The New York Public Library has city directories for Moscow and St. Petersburg, genealogical charts and heraldry information on nobility, a large amount of information for Jewish genealogists, as well as city directories and information on Polish nobility. Other large public and university libraries, such as Harvard and Yale may have similar holdings.
In sum, there is a wealth of new resources available in archives, libraries and online. The opening of previously closed, former Soviet archives has been of particular significance and offers huge, new possibilities for genealogical research if your family has roots in Russia and the former USSR. This article is merely an introduction to these new possibilities, indicating the starting points for successful research. The rest, as they say, is up to you. Happy digging!See also this Russian Life article for a useful listing of online resources.