If your ancestors came from Russia, you’re not alone, as more than 3.5 million people emigrated from Russia to the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries, most of these people emigrated shortly before or during World War I. Interestingly, more than half of all people who left Russia were of Jewish descent, and by some estimates, around 95% of all Jewish Americans have some Russian roots. A large number or Russians also emigrated and settled in Germany and other Western countries.
Is it difficult to search Russian ancestry records?
The task of finding one’s roots in Russia and tracing them back as far as you can is not an easy one. Not so long ago, genealogical research was not permitted, as it was considered to be a bourgeois task in the Soviet Union, and ancestry records were sealed. Today, these records are available to the public, but many of them are poorly maintained and some archives were even closed due to the lack of funds. But even if you manage to find the records you need, it can be very difficult to decipher century-old Russian cursive writing even for a native speaker. But don’t get discouraged, if there are lots of different resources both inside and outside the US that you can use for help with your ancestral search, conferences you can attend to meet other people interested in their Russian ancestry, and even companies you can pay to do genealogical research for you.
What Russian ancestry records are available?
The good news is that with enough effort you will most likely be able to find at least some information about your ancestors even if they were regular workers or peasants. Naturally, you can expect to find a lot more information with less effort if your ancestors were noble. Some of the most valuable sources of information include parish records from churches. These records would typically contain information about births, marriages and deaths. You can also search service records, which are called “poshuzhnoy spisok” in Russian, to get information about people who served in the military. If you suspect that your ancestors operated some sort of a business, take time to look through business directories. Other resources include court and police records, information about drafts, prison documents, books that contain information about residents of apartment buildings, land ownership documents and much more.
How to start building your Russian family tree?
The easiest way to start your search for Russian ancestry is to talk to your living relatives and gather as much information as possible. Sit down with your grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles and compile a list of names, events, locations and dates going as far back as possible, be sure to carefully document this information and add as many details as possible. You can also use old family letters and documents to help with this. Don’t forget to look up passenger lists for ships that sailed to the US and citizenship applications, these records are available to the public online. You can also join various forums to meet other people who are searching for information on their ancestors and may have found some information about your family along the way. Several organizations like the Mormon Church or the New York Public Library have obtained digital copies of many Russian records and made them public, so you can start your genealogical research in the US before going to Russia in your pursuit.
Russian ancestry search