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Germans from Russia Search Strategies
For a more detailed description of the 5-step research process see Principles of Family History Research.
Step 1. Identify What You Know about Your Family
Begin your research with family and home sources. Look for names, dates, and places in certificates, family Bibles, obituaries, diaries, and similar sources. Ask your relatives for any additional information they may have. It's very likely that your second cousin, great-aunt, or other relative already has some family information. Organize the information you find and record it on pedigree charts and family group record forms.
Step 2. Decide What You Want to Learn
Select a specific relative or ancestor, born in Russia for whom you know at least a name, the town or parish where he or she lived in Russia, and an approximate date when he or she lived there. It's very helpful to also know his religion and the names of other family members born in Russia or Germany.
If you don't have enough information on your German-from-Russia ancestor, review the sources mentioned in step one which may give his birthplace or residence. For suggestions on how to find the name of his birthplace, see the “Emigration and Immigration” article in this set. The Tracing Immigrant Origins Wiki article may also help.
Next, decide what you want to learn about your ancestor, such as where and when he or she was married, or the names of his parents. You may want to ask an experienced researcher or a librarian to help you select a goal that you can successfully achieve.
It is usually best to begin by verifying information about the ancestor for whom you know the most, and then continue searching from there. It is often hard to find an ancestor’s records when you know only a name and country of birth. With so little information, your research is limited to a few general indexes like the FamilySearch.org, Ancestral File™,, or the various searches listed at Databases Online.
Step 3. Select a Record to Search
Read this set of articles to learn about the types of records (topics) used for Germans from Russia research. To trace your family, you may need to use some of the records described in each article. Several factors can affect your choice of which records to search. This set of articles provides information to help you evaluate the contents, availability, ease of use, time period covered, and reliability of the records, as well as the likelihood that your ancestor will be listed. The Record Selection Table can also help you decide which records to search.
Effective researchers begin by obtaining some background information. Then they survey previous research. Finally, they search original documents.
Background Information Sources. You may need some geographical and historical information. This can save you time and effort by helping you focus your research in the correct place and time period.
- Locate the town or place of residence. Examine maps, gazetteers, and other place-finding aids to learn as much as you can about each of the places where your ancestors lived. Identify the major migration routes, nearby cities, county boundaries, other geographical features, and government or ecclesiastical jurisdictions. Place-finding aids are described in the “Maps,” “Gazetteers,” “Historical Geography,” and “History” article in this set.
- Review local history. You will need to understand Russia's and Germany’s history because they have greatly affected the development of records of genealogical value. If possible, study a history of the areas where your ancestors lived. Look for clues about the people, places, religions, and events that may have affected their lives and the records about them. Records with information about migration and settlement patterns, government jurisdictions, and historical events are described in the "Archives and Libraries," "Emigration and Immigration," “Gazetteers,” "Historical Geography," “History,” "Maps," “Periodicals,” and "Societies" articles in this set.
- Learn about jurisdictions. You will need to know about how the nations where your ancestor lived are divided into political subdivisions. The United States are divided into states, counties, towns, and townships. Canada is divided into provinces, counties, towns and townships. Russia and the Ukraine are divided into guberniias, and provinces (oblasts). See the “Historical Geography” article from this set, the [[Germany|Germany Wiki article], and the Wiki article of the nation where your ancestor settled.
- Use language helps. The records and histories of Germans from Russia are often written in German. You do not need to speak or read German to search the records, but you will need to learn some key words and phrases. You may also need to use Russian gazetteers to locate some German settlements. A few records were kept in Russian about German settlers. Some helpful sources are described in the “Language and Languages” article in this set.
- Understand naming patterns. Many families that moved from German-speaking areas to Russia followed distinct naming patterns. Understanding these customs can help you locate missing ancestors. See the “Names, Personal” article of the Germany Wiki page for more information.
Previous Research Sources. Most genealogists do a survey of research previously done by others. This can save time and give you valuable information. You may want to look for:
- Major online databases.
- The International Genealogical Index®.
- Ancestral File™.
- Pedigree Resource File.
- Printed family histories, genealogies, and biographies.
- FamilySearch.org Surname Search. Search using just the family’s surname. This searches the world’s largest genealogical library for works with this family name as a main subject.
- WorldCatalog Advanced Search. In the Subject field enter the surname and “family” like this, Barth family. This searches the catalogs and displays the results from thousands of North American libraries at once.
- Query Russian and Ukrainian Village Coordinators.
- Local histories.
- FamilySearch.org Place Search. Search with the county, town, or village in the first field. Put the nation or state in the second field. In the "Place search results" click the appropriate place. If any of the entries for that place are for the topic History, click it to see the details.
- WorldCatalog Advanced Search. In the Subject field enter the county or town name and “history” like this, Cook Illinois history, or Sudbury Ontario history.
- Articles in genealogical periodicals. Use the Periodical Source Index (PERSI) People Search for a family name in over a million article titles in genealogical periodicals. Put the family name in the Surname field and click the Search button. If the Article Results List is too long, redo the search but in the Keyword field add the two-letter postal abbreviation for the state where they lived.
Records containing previous research are described in the “Biography,” “Genealogy,” “History,” “Periodicals,” and “Societies” articles in this set. Remember that the information in these sources may contain some inaccuracies. Therefore, you will want to verify the information you find in such records with other records.
Original Research Sources. After surveying previous research, you will be ready to begin original research. Original research is the process of searching through original documents, often copied on microfilm, which are usually handwritten in the native language. These documents can provide primary information about your family because they were generally recorded at or near the time of an event by a reliable witness. To do thorough research, you should search records of:
- Each place where your ancestor lived.
- Each parish of your ancestor's religion in each place of residence.
- The time period when he or she lived there.
- All jurisdictions that may have kept records about him (town, parish, province, and nation).
Many types of original documents are described in this set of articles. Most Germans from Russia family information is found in the records described under:
For each record type, the article title is the same as the heading used in the Family History Library Catalog.
Step 4. Obtain and Search the Record
Suggestions for Obtaining Records.
You may be able to obtain the records you need in the following ways:
- Correspondence. When requesting services from libraries or professional researchers through correspondence, you are more likely to be successful if your letter is brief and very specific. Enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE) when writing within your own country. When writing to other countries, enclose international reply coupons (available from large post offices). You will usually need to send a check or money order in advance to pay for photocopy or search services.
- Family History Library. You are welcome to visit and use the records at the Family History Library. The library is open to the public. There are no fees for using the records. If you would like more information about its services, contact the library at the following address:
Family History Library
35 North West Temple
Salt Lake City, UT 84150-3400
Telephone: 801-240-3433 Fax: 801-240-1925
- Family History Centers. Copies of most of the records on microform at the Family History Library can be loaned to more than 4,500 Family History Centers in 88 nations. There are small duplication and postage fees for this service.
The library's books cannot be loaned to the centers, but copies of many books not protected by copyright are available on microfilm or microfiche. You can get a list of the Family History Centers near you by by clicking here.
- Archives and local churches. Some of the original documents you will need are at state, church, and local archives or in local parish offices in Russia, the Ukraine, Moldavia, etc. While the Family History Library has many records on microfilm, additional records are available only at these archives. You can request searches in their records through correspondence. (See the “Archives and Libraries” article in this set for more information.) Complete instructions on writing to Germany and on how to prepare a genealogical letter in German are in the German Letter-Writing Guide (34066).
- Libraries and interlibrary loan. Public, academic, and other research libraries may have some published sources for Germans from Russia research. Many libraries also provide interlibrary loan services that allow you to borrow records from other libraries.
- Photocopies. The Family History Library and a few other libraries offer limited photoduplication services for a small fee. You must specify the exact pages you need. Books protected by copyright cannot be copied in their entirety. However, a few pages can usually be copied for personal research. Photocopying facilities are rare in Russia.
Hiring a Professional Researcher.
You can employ a private researcher to search the records for you. A few researchers specialize in Germans from Russia records. You may want to check with Accredited Genealogist researchers who work with records of countries such as Germany, Switzerland, or Austria about their services for German-speaking people from Russia.
Be very cautious when hiring professional researchers in the former Russian Empire and “let the buyer beware!” The two most reputable research organizations are:
PROBAN Genealogy Bureau
Research in archives in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine can also be arranged through the Russian-American Genealogical Archive Service (RAGAS). They are more helpful for Jewish research. You may request bilingual research application forms by contacting:
1929 18th Street N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20009 USA
Suggestions for Searching the Records.
You will be most successful with Germans from Russia research if you can examine the original records (on microfilm). In some cases, handwritten transcripts of the original records are available. These may be easier to read, but may be less accurate than the original records.
Follow these principles as you search the records for your ancestor:
- Search for one generation at a time. Do not attempt to connect your family to others of the same surname who lived more than a generation before your proven ancestor. It is much easier to prove parentage than descent.
- Search for the ancestor's entire family. The records of each person in a family may include clues for identifying other family members. In most families, children were born at regular intervals. If there appears to be a longer period between some children, reexamine the records for a child who may have been overlooked. Consider looking at other records and in other places to find a missing family member.
- Search each source thoroughly. The information you need to find a person or trace the family further may be a minor detail of the record you are searching. Note the occupation of your ancestor and the names of witnesses, godparents, neighbors, relatives, guardians, and others Also, note the places they are from.
- Search a broad time period. Dates obtained from some sources may not be accurate. Look several years before and after the date you think an event, such as a birth, occurred.
- Look for indexes. Many records have indexes. However, many indexes are incomplete. They may only include the name of the specific person the record is about. They may not include parents, witnesses, and other incidental persons. Also, be aware that the original records may have been misinterpreted or names may have been omitted during indexing.
- Search for prior residence. Information about previous residences is crucial to continued successful research.
- Watch for spelling variations. Look for the many ways a name could have been spelled. Spelling was not standardized when most early records were made. You may find a name spelled differently than it is today.
Record Your Searches and Findings.
Copy the information you find and keep detailed notes about each record you search. These notes should include the author, title, location, call numbers, description, and results of your search (even if you find nothing). Most researchers use a Research Log (31825) for this purpose.
Step 5. Use the Information
Evaluate the Information You Find. Carefully evaluate whether the information you find is complete and accurate. Ask yourself these questions:
- Who provided the information? Did that person witness the event?
- Was the information recorded near the time of the event, or later?
- Is the information consistent and logical?
- Does the new information verify the information found in other sources? Does it differ from information in other sources?
- Does it suggest other places, time periods, or records to search?
Share Your Information with Others. Your family's history can become a source of enjoyment and education for yourself and your family. Contributing your information to Pedigree Resource File is a good way to share your information. In addition, you may want to compile your findings into a family history. You can then share copies of your history with family members, the Family History Library, village coordinators, and other archives.
If you are a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, be sure to submit information about your deceased family members so you can provide temple ordinances for them. Your ward family history consultant or a staff member at the Family History Library or your Family History Center can assist you. You can also use Members Guide to Temple and Family History Work (34697) available through Church distribution.
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