Oct 26, 2021
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Family tree roots

Family tree roots

Who doesn’t know the charm of old family albums? The yellowed photographs continue to retain the special atmosphere of bygone times.


In Soviet times, they were not particularly keen on history. The archives did not respond to inquiries, and the Soviet encyclopedic dictionary spoke of such research very condescendingly: “Genealogy is an auxiliary historical discipline that studies the origin and kinship of historical persons, families, surnames.”

People themselves were afraid to delve into the study of their ancestry. God forbid it turns out that the grandfather’s second cousin fought in Kolchak’s army, and the maternal uncle lived happily in the territory occupied by the enemy. Such relatives could cause serious trouble.

Yet at the beginning of the twentieth century – from 1922 to 1930 – seven volumes of the Russian Eugenic Journal with articles on genealogy were published. In particular, the origin of outstanding “people from the people” was studied, including M. Gorky and F. Chaliapin. Russian genealogists even planned to create a single genealogical tree of all Russian culture in the 18th and early 20th centuries. But these investigations became simply dangerous for the authorities and therefore were stopped.

The revival of Russian genealogy began after 1986. A new archival law has been issued. All Russian citizens received unlimited access to historical documents. And most importantly, the “sins” of the ancestors have ceased to pose any danger to those living today.

In 1991, the Russian Genealogical Society was created in Leningrad, on the basis of which seminars are held and the “School of Practical Genealogy” operates. In 1992, the Genealogy Center of the Russian National Library appeared. And in Moscow, the Union for the Revival of Pedigree Traditions has been operating for several years.


Of course, starting to engage in genealogical research, each person pursues his own goals. Some are sublime, some are more earthly. But regardless of this, studying the history of your family, in a way, allows you to feel the unity with past generations, to join their spiritual riches.

In the late 90s, in the wake of people’s interest in their origins, small firms began to appear offering services for the professional compilation of pedigrees. However, this type of business did not receive mass distribution.

Commercial genealogy turned out to be expensive. Research in numerous archives, copying dozens of necessary documents is a long and laborious process. Suffice it to say that the standard lead time for a pedigree order is two years.

You can, of course, search for forgotten ancestors on your own. With the appropriate interest and free time, this is a very real task.

Pedigree sites can help you reconstruct a kind of history. Here you can not only store and publish your information, but also connect relatives who will share their documents and photos.

Examples of such sites:

MyHeritage, FamilySpace, My Family Tree

The depth of penetration into the “thickness of time” is different in each case. Much depends on luck and persistence. Most specialists usually undertake to “restore” the client’s pedigree up to the XVII-XVIII centuries. The main material of the research is the archives of the registry offices, registers of the second half of the 19th century and, finally, the famous revision tales. Thanks to Gogol and his “Dead Souls” this phrase is known to almost everyone who is more or less familiar with the school literature course. The census of Russian peasants during the time of serfdom was carried out approximately once every 30 years. The content of the “fairy tales” is laconic: the village, the house number according to the previous and current inventory, a listing of its inhabitants with the name and age. Such materials are quite enough to trace the life of entire genera.

The archival documents contain information that relates to personal data: full name, date of birth, date of death, date of marriage. Depending on the limitation period and type of document, it can be stored in the registry offices or archives of the city. The websites of these institutions indicate the conditions for the provision of such services, the terms and the address where you should contact.

There are ten revision tales in total, covering a time span of three centuries. The last seven are usually found in local archival institutions. The first three are in the Moscow Archive of Ancient Manuscripts.


It is audit tales that are the main source of information for genealogical research. For centuries, Russia has been an agrarian country. Therefore, the overwhelming majority of our compatriots are dominated by peasant origins. Aristocratic branches on their family trees are rare. However, if this happens, there will be no special problems. At the service of prospectors – numerous lists of nobility and genealogical books.

Any genealogical research is not just a compilation of a list of generations, but also a thorough check of the reliability of family legends. Surprisingly, a significant part of such legends really turns out to be just legends.

One Moscow family was very proud of their great-grandfather. A remarkable ancestor lived in a large county town, kept a soap factory there and made such wonderful soap that it was even exported to Europe. In any case, for some reason, his descendants thought so.

Alas, this whole story turned out to be fiction. After a short research, the archivists found that soap production had never existed in the indicated city, and the famous great-grandfather was just a minor official in the local office. The legend of a prosperous manufacturer burst like a soap bubble.

However, more serious discoveries are taking place. A client who came to one of the capital’s genealogical offices talked long and in detail about his closest relatives. He did not forget to mention the family tragedy. His own grandfather was arrested and shot during the troubled years of repression. At least, this is what all living relatives believed. However, the story with my grandfather was not so simple at all. He turned out to be an outstanding personality: he was a general in the tsarist army, a staunch supporter of autocracy and one of the leaders of the White movement. But the surprises were not limited to this.

It turned out that the grandfather was not repressed, but successfully emigrated. He settled in America. He started a new family and died at a very old age in the mid-1970s. The unsuspecting client, in addition to such unexpected information about his ancestor, received in addition a dozen American relatives!

Of course, not all researchers of their own pedigree expect such discoveries. Not everyone manages to find among their ancestors aristocrats, generals or heroes of folk legends. However, genealogists say: the history of any family is fraught with a lot of mysteries and surprises. The life of your ancestors will surely seem to you much more exciting than any adventure novel.

Prepared by Vera Evstigneeva

Photo: Adobe stock

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