Sunday, August 30, 2015

Finding Eastern European Records, Part 1 (LDS Microfilms)

June 2018 update:  These records are now digital (not on microfilm), so updated instructions are available here.

I've often been asked how I find so many documents from various parts of Eastern Europe--many of which have appeared in blog posts.  This is the first in what will be a series of posts describing how to find Eastern European records for your own ancestors.  While these posts will generally concentrate on how to find Jewish records in Eastern Europe, many of the strategies will also be applicable to records for other religions.  (Note that in the Russian Empire, most record sets were recorded separately by religion.)  The entire series can be seen here.

This post will cover how to find records available via the LDS on microfilm.
1888 Tax Census for the Marienhoff Family of Nezhin, Russian Empire (now Ukraine)
The document above is an example of a document found on an LDS-filmed microfilm.

The LDS have microfilmed a huge number of records from around the world, including Jewish records covering many towns and districts.  These microfilms can be ordered inexpensively ($7.50 for a 3-month rental) and delivered to the Family History Center of your choice.  Make sure to search multiple spellings for both your town and the district in which the town was located as often records are listed under the spelling for the time period in which they were initially generated--and spellings and even town names changed over time.
Note that because records were kept specifically by town or district, it is critical to determine the precise location in which your ancestors lived before going this route.

So how do you find out if records were microfilmed for your town?  First, go to the FamilySearch catalog. Start typing your town name; the site should autofill to give you matching options.

Searching for Nezhin Records in FamilySearch's Catalog
Once you select a town or district name from the dropdown menu, you get a list of documents relating to that location.
Nezhin Search Results Via FamilySearch's Catalog
The resulting data sets are displayed and can be selected for more detail.  Note that Google Translate can be used to understand listings in another language (such as the Russian that appears in the above example).
Detailed Results for Nezhin Metrical (Vital) Records Via FamilySearch's Catalog
On the far right column for these results is the microfilm number associated with the dataset listed on the far left.  Clicking on those numbers allows you to order the microfilms of interest to be sent to your local Family History Center.  Detailed instructions for ordering microfilms can be found here.

Note that often these microfilms will contain records using another alphabet (Hebrew, Cyrillic), depending on the language used in the area when the records were generated.  (Some languages, like Polish and Hungarian, use the Latin alphabet, so names can easily be read by a native English speaker.)  Here is some information about how I navigate Russian-language records, when I am not a Russian speaker.

Examples of some of these Nezhin metrical records can be seen in many of my blog posts, including this one.  As you can see, many of these microfilmed records can help bring a family tree back several more generations.

Coming next: Finding records with JewishGen.
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  1. I foresee a newsletter blurb about this series. Great idea!

  2. Thank you, Lara, this is tremendous! I didn't know these existed and I just ordered a microfilm.

    1. I'm so glad it helped! I hope you find lots of great records on that microfilm.

  3. A great blog! As I am a person, who is working with different visitors from East Europe and with all types of records, I proud of you!