Just two decades ago, if you were trying to trace your Ukrainian roots, you probably got used to having a lot of doors slammed in your face (both figuratively and literally). After all, the long-ruling Soviet regime wasn’t particularly cooperative: The government had a monopoly over information, and restricted who could access it. Even the most innocent query about your great-great-grandfather would likely be met with suspicion. Add to the mix a complex history and a limited availability of resources in North America, and genealogy research could feel like an exercise in futility.
But Ukraine eventually gained its independence. Many of those officially closed doors started to open. And in recent years, microfilmed records and online resources have begun to offer alternatives to expensive and obstacle-ridden long-distance research for the almost 1 million Americans of Ukrainian descent. Follow our guide to help you sort through the ups and downs unique to Ukrainian genealogy.
Ins and outs
Common Ukrainian surname suffixes are -enko, -ko, -yuk, -yuk, -yak, -ak, -yshyn or -ishyn. The suffixes -ets or -iets and -iv are common to the Galician region. A list of surnames found in Ukraine is here.
You can search for these in the FHL’s online catalog by entering a keyword or a place-name in Ukraine. Also look for digitized records from Ukraine and other Eastern European countries here. You’ll get context for the records in the FHL collection if you check out the UkraineGenWeb information.
For help deciphering records in church books, see the Guide to Reading Old Church Slavonic, used in some Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches as a liturgical language.
Those researching Jewish roots in Ukraine should check JewishGen and databases at Gesher Galicia. Yad Vashem, located in Israel, has useful resources. Also see Jewish Roots in Ukraine and Moldova: Pages from the Past and Archival Inventories by Miriam Weiner (Routes to Roots).
Certainly, most of the records in Ukraine have yet to be filmed or digitized, but the numbers are growing. If the documents you need aren’t on microfilm, you can mail requests for these records to the Ukrainian archives (see the online toolkit for contact information) or hire a local researcher. In addition to civil registration (birth, marriage and death records), archives may have land records, school records and nobility documents. Not all archives have all these types of records for all towns and villages, however, and staff typically charge fees for filling requests. You’ll find sample request letters in Pihach’s book.
The path to Ukraine’s independence was long, and your quest to build your Ukrainian family tree may seem the same. But once you discover your ancestral town, you can start looking for long-lost cousins and records, and perhaps even plan that dream trip to Ukraine.
1240 | Tatars capture Kyiv
1256 | King Lev founds Lviv
1834 | University of Kyiv established
1863 | Russian government prohibits use of Ukrainian language, restriction lasts until 1905
1917 | Czarist Russia collapses
1918 | Ukraine declares independence
1921 | the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic is established
1932 | Approximately 7 million peasants perish during Stalin’s collectivization campaign
1937 | Stalin launches purge against intellectuals
1941 | Nazi occupation begins; most of Ukraine’s 1.5 million Jews are wiped out over the next several years
1943 | As Russians return, massive immigration to the west begins
1951 | Leonid Kostyantynovych Kadenyuk, the only astronaut of independent Ukraine, is born in Klishkivtsi
1984 | Canadian-born Alex Trebek, son of a Ukrainian immigrant, starts hosting TV game show Jeopardy!
1986 | Explosion at Chernobyl nuclear power plant releases a radioactive cloud across Europe
1991 | Soviet Union collapses; Ukraine gains independence
1994 | Figure skater Oksana Baiul, born in Dnipropetrovsk, wins Olympic gold
2004 | Orange Revolution overturns the presidential election claimed to be rigged
2010 | Viktor Yanukovych becomes the fourth president of Ukraine
Russia and Baltic genealogy guide
Jewish Genealogy Guide
Family Tree Passport to Europe CD