Two articles edited in November 2007 to show information most useful for Molokan and Jumper genealogy.
  1. Russian Genealogy
  2. Digging up your Russian Roots

1.  Russian Genealogy

Author: Ginny Audet
From Russian Life magazine: RL Online —
Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Summary: A comprehensive guide, with loads of links, for getting started searching for your family roots.

This research and resource guide was compiled and edited by Ginny Audet, of the Newton Free Library, in Newton, Massachusetts. It was last revised May 1, 2007.



A Dictionary of Surnames. Hanks, Patrick and 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: 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 and clicking on the tab labeled Library. [Buy from 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 libraries.]

Periodical Articles

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.

Grimsted, Patricia Kennedy. “Increasing Reference Access to 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 Sites

Molokan 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.

All Russia Family Database
This is a dual language website. The Russian language is on the left. The English language is on the 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.

Researcing Russian roots: The Gateway to Genealogy in Russia
Clickable options listed on the homepage include: Welcome, How-to, Russian Archives, Useful Links, Ukraine and Belarus, Message Boards, Emigre Search, Family Sites, My Family and Contact Me.

Federation of East European Family History Societies
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. Scroll to the bottom of their home page to check out the new look for their site. (5/1/07)

American Family Immigration Center
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. When using this site, don't forget to click on the headings Passenger Search, Ellis Island, and Genealogy on the top strip of their homepage and the FAQs on the strip at the bottom. Since there were a number of other ports of arrival, you should also check 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.

St. Petersburg Archives
Next click on Collections. Scroll down. Then click on St. Petersburg Archives.

Library of Congress Catalog
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.

Local History and Genealogy Reading Room at the Library of Congress
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.

University of Texas at Austin
This site has a great deal of general information that may be useful to the genealogist. Of special interest are the three sections on History, Language, and Libraries and Archives. Most entries list websites.

New York Public Library
Click on CATNYP (Research Libraries) in the first column on the left. 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.


Russia Gen Web

Family History Libary, Salt Lake City
Use their online catalog to find a wealth of resources, both printed material and microfilmed records. You can request that microfilm can be sent to the Family History Center branch closest to you. To find branch, click on Library on the homepage given above. Then click on Family History Library and scroll to the bottom.

Getting Professional Help

Individual Researchers

Nancy 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:

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:

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 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 Weiner offers both archival research and tours to the areas listed above.

2.  Digging up your Russian Roots

Author: Paul E. Richardson
Russian Life, June 1997 [Page 35; 4 pages] —
RL Online: Thursday, March 15, 2007

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."

Getting Started

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.

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