February 20, 2014

Russian Genealogy

Russian Genealogy

This research and resource guide was compiled and edited by Ginny Audet, of the Newton Free Library, in Newton, Massachusetts. It was last revised February 14, 2014.



Hanks, Patrick and Flavia Hodges. David L. Gold, special consultant for Jewish names. A Dictionary of Surnames. 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.

Kemp, Thomas J. International Vital Records Handbook. 5th ed. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing, 2009. Russia, p. 552.

The Library: A Guide to the LDS Family History Library. Edited by Johni Cerny and Wendy Elliott. Salt Lake City, UT: Ancestry, 1988. 

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 https://familysearch.organd clicking on the tabs labeled Catalog, Books, and Wiki.

More and more of the material on the microfilms are being digitized, indexed and added to the family search site. If you need microfilm that has not yet been digitized, you can request that copies be sent to a local branch of the LDS Library. To find the branch nearest you, go to https://familysearch.org/locations/centerlocator. The New England Historic Genealogical Society on Newbury Street in Boston can also order the LDS microfilms for patrons. The NEHGS has much longer hours than the individual LDS Family History Library branches in Massachusetts. Check to see if they charge a fee for using the microfilm there.

Shea, Jonathan D. In Their Words: A Genealogist's Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents. 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.

This book may prove useful in tracking the location of various types of records. It is available only at the Boston Public Library.

Polonsky, Antony. The Jews in Poland and Russia. 3 vols. Portland, OR: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2010. 


On Individual Families

Brynner, Rock. Empire and Odyssey: The Brynners in Far East Russia and Beyond. Hanover, NH: Steerforth Press, 2006. 

A four generation family history beginning in Switzerland, but centering on Vladivostok. Two generations of the Brynner family was born here and the author, the fourth generation, researched his family history here.

Khanga, Yelena. Soul to Soul: A Black Russian American Family, 1865-1992. New York: W.W. Norton, 1992. 

Matthews, Owen. Stalin's Children: Three Generations of Love, War and Survival. New York: Walker and Company, 2008. 

Schmemann, Serge. Echoes of a Native Land: Two Centuries of a Russian Village. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997. 

The author, a New York Times foreign correspondent, reconstructs a two hundred year history of his family and the village of Sergiyevskoye (now Koltsovo) in Russia where they lived. He uses unpublished family memoirs, interviews with villagers, materials from Soviet archives, and privately held memorabilia in the possession of other family members and residents of Koltsovo.


Richardson, Paul E. "Digging Up Your Russian Roots." Russian Life. June 1997. pp. 35+. 4 pages. [online only]

Krasner-Khait, Barbara. "Discovering Your Russian Roots." Russian Life. Year 44, No. 4. July/August 2001. pp. 57 - 61.

These two articles are critical if you are beginning the search for your Russian ancestors. I have not found any book that covers this material. To obtain copies of these two articles either click the above links (if you are receiving this online) or go to http://www.russianlife.com. Look at the bar at the top of the page. Click on Archive. Click on Search. Scroll down to Advanced Search. Chose Keyword. Type in the word genealogy. Both articles should come up.

Many of the web sites that follow were suggested in the above article by Barbara Krasner-Khait. Some of these web addresses have changed since 2001. The updated addresses are given below under the heading “Useful Internet Sites.”

Titova Irina. “Reconnecting Adoptees.” Russian Life. Vol. 51, No. 1 (Number 522). January/February 2008. pp. 44-49.

This is the first article I’ve seen on finding birth families in Russia. Follow the steps listed above to access the Russian Life Online Archive.

The two additional articles listed below deal specifically with Russian Archives.

Grimsted, Patricia Kennedy. “Increasing Reference Access to Post-1991 Russian Archives.” 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.





This is a dual language website. The Russian language is on the left. The English language is on the bottom right. The site is well worth browsing. A section explaining the Russian alphabet is a good beginning if you don’t have any knowledge of the language. Click on “Reading Russian is very easy!” Also look at the book In Their Words by Jonathan D. Shea mentioned above.




This is a key site that is well worth exploring. It includes locations in parts of the former Russian Empire and Soviet Union. Check the list of FEEFHS’s member websites as well as other selections which include suggested databases; maps; the ethnic, religious, and national index; and the list of FEEFHS Journal back issues.



If your ancestor came into the United States between 1892 and 1924, there is a good chance they came through Ellis Island. This website is worth checking. Since there were a number of other ports of arrival, you should also check http://www.stevemorse.org. This is Stephen P. Morse's site. It's an extremely important website for information on immigrants who disembarked at Ellis Island, but also includes a number of other ports of entry. Browse other topics listed here as well. There is a large amount of genealogical data that can be discovered at these two sites.


RUSSIA UKRAINE KAZAKHSTAN FAMILY TRANSLATION AND SEARCH http://www.russianfamilysearch.com This site was established by Mary Kirkpatrick to help others find Russian birth families. She located the Russian mother of her adopted daughter and is using what she has learned to help others. I became aware of this website in the January 2008 issue of Russian Life and have listed the article in the Periodical section above.


In 1763 Catherine the Great invited Germans to settle around the Volga and the Black Sea. According to a census taken in Russia in 1897, there were approximately 1.7 million Germans living in Russia. The number of Germans had risen to only 1.9 million by 1979. This suggests that there were a large number of Germans who emigrated from Russia to other countries.* The following sites should prove useful if you are descended from Germans from Russia.

GERMANS FROM RUSSIA HERITAGE SOCIETY http://www.grhs.org/aboutus/history/history.html

The Society has a nicely set up homepage with access by topic (on the left) to a great deal of genealogical material.

NORTH DAKOTA STATE UNIVERSITY GERMANS FROM RUSSIA HERITAGE COLLECTION http://www.lib.ndsu.nodak.edu/grhc This is not just a listing of the holdings at State University. There is a good deal more here that is worth looking through. It has been estimated that more than half of the people who live in North Dakota are either from Russia or are of Russian descent.* *This information was taken from the Paul E. Richardson article listed on the first page.

ODESSA: A GERMAN-RUSSIAN GENEALOGICAL LIBRARY http://www.odessa3.org The Collections section is especially rich in information, but click on the other sections as well.

ONLINE DISCUSSION GROUPS http://www.lib.ndsu.nodak.edu/grhc/outreach/discussion_group/index.htm North Dakota State University provides a compilation of Listserves, Electronic Discusssion Groups, and Special Links.

ST. PETERSBURG ARCHIVES http://www.odessa3.org Next click on Collections. Scroll down. Then click on St. Petersburg Archives..

EINWANDERUNGSZENTRALSTELLE (EWZ) ANTRAGE (Naturalized German Citizenship Applications) The Einwanderungszentralstelle (EWZ) Anträge is a collection of the records for people applying for naturalized German citizenship between 1939 and 1945. This is an extremely important set of records for descendants of Germans from Russia.

Two websites that explain these records are: http://www.genealogienetz.de/reg/DEU/ewz.html and http://www.odessa3.org/collections/articles/berlin.html

The National Archives has microfilmed a number of these applications. To view a surname index to this set of microfilms go to http://www.odessa3.org. Click on Collections. Choose Document Index at the very top (second line from the top) of the page. Be patient. This is a long file and it may take a couple of minutes to download. Go to the last entries at the bottom under u2/Odessa/War/EWZ.


It is estimated that over 3.5 million people emigrated from Russian between 1820 and 1992 (about 2.5 of this number around the turn of the last century from 1897 to World War I) and that approximately half of these were Jews.* If you have ancestors who are Russian Jews, the following books and sites should prove extremely useful. *This information was taken from the Paul E. Richardson article listed on the first page.


Beider, Alexander. A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire. Teaneck, NJ: Avotaynu, 1993.

Cohen, Chester G. Shtetl Finder: Jewish Communities in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries in the Pale of Settlement of Russia and Poland, and in Lithuania, Latvia, Galicia, and Bukovina, with the Names of Residents. Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1989.

Feldblyum, Boris. Russian-Jewish Given Names. Bergenfield, NJ: Avotaynu, 1998.


JEWISHGEN www.jewishgen.org This site is the starting point for all Jewish genealogy.

JEWISHGEN FAMILY FINDER http://www.jewishgen.org/jgff This site not only lets you enter both surnames and locations, but helps you locate others who may be working on some of the same people or places. It also helps others locate you.

FAMILY TREE OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE http://www.jewishgen.org/gedcom

ALL BELARUS DATABASE http://www.jewishgen.org/databases/Belarus

ALL LATVIA DATABASE http://www.jewishgen.org/databases/Latvia

ALL LITHUANIA DATABASE http://www.jewishgen.org/databases/Lithuania

VSIA ROSSIIA DATABASE http://www.jewishgen.org/databases/vsia Russian business directories published between 1895 and 1911.

YIZKOR BOOK NECROLOGY DATABASE http://www.jewishgen.org/databases/yizkor Lists of Holocaust martyrs.

ABOUT YIZKOR MEMORIAL BOOKS AT THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY http://www.nypl.org/research/chss/jws/yizkorbooks_intro.cfm

SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS http://www.jewishgen.org/listserv/sigs.htm You must register to use this section of the Jewish Genealogy website.


BELARUSIAN GENEALOGY http://www.belarusguide.com/genealogy1/index.html

BELARUS GENEALOGY FORUM http://genforum.genealogy.com/belarus


LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOG http://catalog.loc.gov

Doing a keyword search here can turn up additional books. If you find something of interest, you may be able to obtain a copy of the book through your local library's Interlibrary Loan Department.


NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION (Federal Records including Immigration, Naturalization, Military, and Census) Washington, DC http://www.archives.gov Look for and click on links to genealogical topics on the archives home pages.

UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN http://reenic.utexas.edu This site has a great deal of general information that may be useful to the genealogist. Near the top you will see a list that includes "Country Directory." Click on it and then find Russia. Of special interest are the two sections on History and Libraries and Archives. Most entries list websites. Popup ads that block the site from view can be a bit of a pain on this site. Just click the x in the upper right corner of the ad to get rid of it.

NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY http://www.nypl.org Click on CATNYP Online Catalog for the Research (non-circulating) Library on the far right. Enter "Russia--Genealogy" as a subject heading. If you read Russian that is transliterated into the Roman alphabet, you will find a number of items. A popup ad about joining the NYPL sometimes blocks the main site from view. Just click the x in the upper right corner of the ad to get rid of it.

DISTANT COUSIN.COM http://www.distantcousin.com/Links/Ethnic/Russian.html

RUSSIA GEN WEB http://www.rootsweb.com/~ruswgw

FAMILY HISTORY LIBRARY, SALT LAKE CITY http://www.familysearch.org

Click on their "Search" option to find records, genealogies, books, their catalog, and information on their wiki. (Put the word "Russia" in their wiki and see how much you come up with.) If you find a microfilm of information that has not yet been digitized, you can request that microfilm can be sent to the Family History Center branch closest to you. To find branch, click on https://familysearch.org/locations/centerlocator or type this into your location box if you are looking at this list as a paper copy.




http://www.feefhs.org/members/blitz/frgblitz.html This address gets you to the Blitz Information Center. This is a small part of the larger website sponsored by the Federation of Eastern European Family History Societies.

http://www.routestoroots.com This is Miriam Weiner’s site Routes to Roots: Tracing Jewish Roots in Poland, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus. Routes to Roots is located in Seacaucus, New Jersey. The e-mail address is [email protected]. Weiner offers both archival research and tours to the areas listed above.

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