Sunday, March 14, 2021

Russian Empire Records in Saint Petersburg

The Russian Empire was huge.  It not only included modern-day Russia, but also most of modern-day Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, and more.  Its capital was Saint Petersburg--and that city still houses many records relating to many of the enormous number of individuals who lived in such a large area.

The Russian State Historical Archives (RGIA) has indexed a subset of its holdings, to the point that you can search for specific surnames to see if your family had any dealings at the federal level, at least within those records that are searchable so far.  I wouldn't have thought that my family would have had any such dealings, but as I wrote last week, I learned that my 5th great grandmother didn't take no for an answer and brought her concerns to the highest level.  So while I expected (and found) reference to her case, I was pleasantly surprised to find a case relating to yet another relative as well.

Case relating to my 5th great grandmother

The website is easy to use, even if you don't read Russian.  Once you've used Google Translate to determine how to spell a surname in Russian, paste that into the search box located on the left of the Russian State Historical Archives' homepage.

Do this search in Google Chrome, and then you can have the results auto-translated.  And hopefully you find your family mentioned!  The search seems to add wildcards to the beginning and end of a search.  So when I search for "Лефан" ("Lefan"), I get results for Lefand and Lefant but also for Elefant.  So tailor your search terms appropriately.

Chrome Auto-Translate of "Lefan" Results
Now, realize that not every case has been electronically indexed.  When I posted on j-roots about trying to locate records relating to my ancestor's case that she brought to the Governing Senate, he pointed me to the approximate location, and then I had to look through scanned handwritten inventory lists.  But I found that reference!

Case Inventory - My Lefands are mentioned in the top case on the right side

Even if you aren't able to skim through these handwritten inventories, the searchable indexes are a good start and may help you to find reference to cases relating to your family.  I'm now in the process of getting the actual documents referenced in both the searchable index and the inventory above, and I can't wait to find out what they reveal.

Did you find any reference to your own family?  Happy hunting!

You can like my page on Facebook:

or on Twitter.


  1. I recently was VERY (pleasantly) surprised when I searched The Russian State Historical Archives (RGIA) and got a hit related to my great grandmother’s “complaint” “on the subject of determining the rights to land arrangement for land arrangement on her farm in Zapesochnoe [Belarus]”.

    She lived on a tiny farm (~1880 to 1923) near the Belarus-Ukraine border, about 30 km from Lelchitsy.

    The record looks very similar to the one in your post, including the location details (F. 1291 Op. 64 1910 D. 394).

    Can you recommend the best way to proceed to:
    a) determine if any more details about the case are available
    b) if there are, how best to request copies of these details

    Thanks for any suggestions!

    By the way, I struggled to see if I could search by “AND’ing” multiple terms and with wildcards, but I could not figure out any way to search except with a straight name or straight town search.

    1. That's awesome! Can you email me (laradiamond AT gmail) and I'll send you the contact information for the person in St Petersburg who helped me. Her prices are reasonable. You'll need to email her in Russian, so use Google Translate.