1. Start at home.
2. Note the names.
3. Grasp geography and history.
Russia today shares land borders with 14 countries, including Norway, Finland, Poland, Ukraine, China and
4. Survey the records.
The government took 10 poll-tax censuses, referred to as revision lists (revizskie skazki), between 1719 and 1859. They’re organized by place, then by social class, such as nobility (dvorianstvo), peasants (krest’iane), Cossacks (kazaki) and Jews (yevreyski). Surviving revision lists are in regional and historical archives, as are remaining copies of the 1897 census of the entire empire. FamilySearch has some digitized records (indexes, images or both) online.
5. Look for patterns.
6. Access archives.
Be prepared for your research to take you to archives for the countries bordering Russia if your ancestor came from areas once part of Russia, including Belarus, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. If you’re researching in early historical time periods, be aware that regional archives keep records dating back only to about 1790. You might find earlier information in federal archives in Moscow or St. Petersburg. You have three options for getting records from Russian archives:
• You can send a written request, although this usually requires advance payment and long wait times, with varied responsiveness and no guarantee of positive results.
• You can travel to Russia and do the research yourself—a costly and often difficult route.
To find a reliable researcher, check with the Association of Professional Genealogists, ProGenealogists, or Routes to Roots (specialists in Jewish research), or ask for recommendations from fellow genealogists.
7. Learn a little language.
To be sure you don’t miss any important information, learn a little more about the Russian language. Begin with the series of free tutorials on FamilySearch.org, which will acquaint you with the Russian alphabet (a variation of the Cyrillic alphabet); explain Russian names, dates and key terms; and teach you the basics of reading Russian genealogical records including birth, marriage, and death records. FamilySearch also has a Russian genealogy word list you can download for free. Also see the language and other research helps on the Doukhobor Genealogy Website.
860 | Cyrillic alphabet invented
1147 | Moscow founded
1237 | Tatars defeat Kievan Rus’
1560 | St. Basil’s Cathedral completed
1582 | Russia occupies Siberia
1598 | Time of Troubles includes famine and transition between ruling dynasties
1698 | Peter the Great westernizes Russia
1784 | First permanent Russian settlement in North America, on Kodiak Island
1849 | Moscow Kremlin is completed
1861 | Russian serfs are emancipated
1866 | Fyodor Dostoyevsky publishes Crime and Punishment
1867 | Russia sells Alaska to the United States for $7.2 million
1917 | Bolsheviks overthrow the provisional government that was set up after Czar Nicholas II was dethroned
1918 | Ukraine and Baltic states gain independence
1920 | Writer Isaac Asimov is born in Russia
1957 | Russia launches Sputnik I
1987 | Gorbachev launches the glasnost policy
1991 | The USSR dissolves
2001 | Mir space station is retired
Tracing Germans from Russia
Wars have rendered most of these German enclaves extinct, but the descendants of these groups include hundreds of thousands of Americans. You may be one, if your genealogical findings indicate Russian or Baltic origins for ancestors who spoke German.
• Old family photo from Russia
• The Family Tree Guidebook to Europe
• A Genealogist’s Guide to Russian Names
• Jewish Genealogy Value Pack