Russia Church Records

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For information about records for non-Christian religions in Russia, go to the Religious Records page.

Contrary to popular belief, church records were not systematically destroyed in the former Soviet Union, but they were centralized and preserved in government archives.

Locating the Church Which Kept Records for Your Ancestors' Town[edit | edit source]

Not every village and town had its own church, or a church for every religion. Learn about your ancestors' town of origin and which town would have jurisdiction over and keep the records for that town. Even to search the following online collections, you will need to know which town you need. These reference materials and church record inventories will help:

Online Databases and Websites[edit | edit source],, and can be searched free of charge at your local family history center or the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. When possible search all available versions of a collection. The search engines vary in ability somewhat and can produce better results than the free version.

Lutheran Records[edit | edit source]

Births and Baptisms[edit | edit source]

Marriages[edit | edit source]

Deaths and Burials[edit | edit source]

Regional[edit | edit source]

Germans from Russia Collections[edit | edit source]

Armenian Apostolic Church[edit | edit source]

  • Astrakhan Consistory. Use the inventory on microfilm 1915181, item 7 to locate the town of interest in the collection.

Wiki Articles Describing Online Collections[edit | edit source]

Church Records[edit | edit source]

Church records are excellent sources for accurate names, dates, and places of births, marriages, and deaths. Many people who lived in Russia were recorded in church records.

Records of births, marriages, and deaths are commonly called “vital records” because they record critical events in a person’s life. Church records are vital records made by church officials. They are often called parish registers or churchbooks (Metricheskaja kniga, plural - Metricheskie knigi, Метрические книги in Russian). In 1722, Peter the Great mandated the recording of births, marriages, and deaths by the Orthodox Church. They consisted usually of 3 parts: a) births and christening; b) marriages; c) deaths and burials. Most remarkable was, that in the marriage part, like in the christening part, witnesses were mentioned, two from each side of the family.

Normally two copies were made, one (a transcript) sent annually to a central ecclesiastical or civil office. The transcript is the copy most likely to have survived the civil disruptions of Russia's past. Parish registers consist of forms filled out annually, filed, and then bound into books. Over time they were filed in any order imaginable. There are gaps in the years indicating that some materials were lost or misplaced. Quite often the records of churches in a district for a single year are bound in the same volume.

The form of Orthodox church books was for a long time unstable: it was constituted legally in 1779 and 1837. Other denominations also had church books in that form, which was dictated by the state: for catholics in 1826, for the lutherans in 1832, for jews in 1835, for old believers in 1874, and for baptists in 1879. The October revolution of 1917 has changed church books to civil registration, although in some churches these books were privately continued until the 1920s.

In addition to church books, especially when they are missing, one had the books of those who came to a confession (Ispowednye rospisi, Исповедные росписи in Russian), and books of the marriage investigations (Brachnye Obyski, Брачные Обыски in Russian). These books contain mostly agreements of parents to the marriage of their children, but sometimes also genealogical trees, when there was a question of the relation of bride and groom.

A very special source, to which we do not know analogues in other countries, were synodicals, the prayer list for certain deceased people, who were somehow related to that particular church or monastery. That could be a landlord, a priest, but also some peasants and town citizens. To get your family mentioned by such rememberings, one had to pay some money, of course. Some synodicals are very short, and tell only family name. But lots of them are a list of all deceased ancestors, which were known to the person who ordered the synodical. Synodicals of the 17th century are sometimes a unique source for ancient genealogies. Only one problem is with them, - that there was no stable algorythm of the order in which one put his ancestors. So, synodicals could be used only with a help of some information from other sources.

Information Recorded in the Records[edit | edit source]

Different denominations, different time periods, and practices of different record keepers will effect how much information can be found in the records. This outline will show the types of details which might be found (best case scenario):

Baptisms[edit | edit source]

Baptism registers might give:

  • baptism date
  • the infant's name
  • parents' names
  • father's occupation
  • status of legitimacy
  • occasionally, names of grandparents
  • names of witnesses or godparents, who may be relatives
  • birth date and place
  • the family's place of residence
  • death information, as an added note or signified by a cross

Marriages[edit | edit source]

Marriage registers can give:

  • the marriage date
  • the names of the bride and groom
  • indicate whether the bride and groom were single or widowed
  • their ages
  • birth dates and places for the bride and groom
  • their residences
  • their occupations
  • birthplaces of the bride and groom
  • parents' names (after 1800)
  • the names of previous spouses and their death dates
  • names of witnesses, who might be relatives.

Burials[edit | edit source]

Burial registers may give:

  • the name of the deceased
  • the date and place of death or burial
  • the deceased's age
  • place of residence
  • cause of death
  • the names of survivors, especially a widow or widower
  • deceased's birth date and place
  • parents' names, or at least the father's name

How to Find Records[edit | edit source]

Digital Copies of Church Records in the FamilySearch Catalog[edit | edit source]

Watch for digitized copies of church records to be added to the collection of the FamilySearch Library. Some records might have viewing restrictions, and can only be viewed at a Family History Center near you, and/or by members of supporting organizations. To find records:

a. Click on the records of Russia.
b. Click on Places within Russia and a list of towns will appear.
c. Click on your town if it appears, or the location which you believe was the parish which served your town or village.
d. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
e. Some combination of these icons will appear at the far right of the listing for the record. FHL icons.png. The magnifying glass indicates that the record is indexed. Clicking on the magnifying glass will take you to the index. Clicking on the camera will take you to an online digital copy of the records.

Writing for Records[edit | edit source]

You will probably need to write to or email the national archives, the diocese, or local parish priests to find records. See Russian Letter Writing Guide for help with composing letters. This Wiki article might come up completely translated into English. Use your browser to return to the original. The guide will then show English requests on the left and their Russian translation on the right. Because the Russian alphabet is used, cut and paste the sentences you wish to use in your letter.

Russian Orthodox Church Records[edit | edit source]

Writing for Records[edit | edit source]

Metrical Books (Parish Registers)[edit | edit source]

The keeping of metrical books was mandated by a 1722 decree of Peter the Great. A format of three parts, christenings, marriages, deaths, was established in 1724, a printed format in 1806, and in 1838 a format that prevailed until the revolution. The consistory copy was considered official record. A Russian diocese - епархия (eparkhia) was coterminous with a Russian state - губерния (guberniya). The registers of each parish - приход (prikhod) in an country- уезд (uyezd) were commonly filed together for a single year.

Confession lists[edit | edit source]

Record type: Register of orthodox parishioners taken at Easter confession. Attendance at confession and communion was required of the family members over the age of seven. Confession lists are often interfiled with parish registers. Each Orthodox Christian was to confess and partake of the sacrament at least once a year. The principal time for confession was Lent. Children of both sexes in obligatory fashion were taken to confession, beginning from their seventh year. The form of confession lists was established in 1737: the sequential number of the household, surname, given names of all children at least a year old, sex, ages, whether or not the person attended confession, and if not, why (rarely noted).
Time period: 1723-ca. 1930.
Location: State archives.
Population coverage: 10% (see preservation note).
Reliability: High. Comparison can be made between the returns annually for verification of reliability.[1]

Greek Catholic (Uniate) Church Records[edit | edit source]

Writing for Records[edit | edit source]

Followers of the Byzantine rite, primarily Ukrainians, that returned to union with Rome. In 1839 the Church was formally dissolved in the Russian Empire and its members considered Orthodox. The church persisted only in Galicia and Transcarpathia, then under Austro-Hungarian rule. When these areas were assimilated into the Soviet Union, this religion was outlawed. The descendants of Ukrainians may think their ancestors were Orthodox when they were really Uniate before 1839.

Roman Catholic Church Records[edit | edit source]

Earlier records can be held at the diocese, with more recent records still kept in the local parish. To locate the mailing address or e-mail address for a diocese or local parish, consult:

Russia mandated the keeping of Roman Catholic registers in 1826. Three copies made, the third for the deanery - dekanat, the level between the diocese and the parish. Aside from Russian Poland, there were five dioceses in 1900: Tiraspol (located in Saratov), Zhytomyr (Zhitomir), Mogilev, Vilnius (Vilno), Kaunus (Kovno).

The Russian Poland region is a unique situation within the old Russian Empire.  After the defeat of Napoleon, the Polish regions governed by Russia were given semi-autonomy.  They therefore continued to keep the records, with minor 1826 variations, in the old Napoleonic paragraph form.  They were in the Polish language until 1867 when Russian Cyrillic was mandated by the government.  More information can be found on the Poland resources pages.

Lutheran (Evangelical) Church Records[edit | edit source]

Writing for Records[edit | edit source]

In 1832 Russia mandated keeping these records. Aside from Russian Poland, there were eight diocesan offices, one in St. Petersburg, one in Moscow, and six in the Baltic states. The registers were kept in German, until law of 1891 required that they be kept in Russian. The priests came from Finland and Sweden. The books were written in Finnish, Swedish and German. The transcripts in St. Petersburg for 1832-1885 have been microfilmed.

A significant portion of the St. Petersburg records have been indexed by independent sources, especially covering the southern part of that Diocese in what is now Ukraine. They are as follows:

  • Germans from Russia Indexing: St. Petersburg Lutheran records - In the 1990s, several Germans from Russia groups with dozens of volunteers indexed a large number of the St. Petersburg Lutheran records specifically applicable to Ukraine and Moldova regions of today. They can be browsed at this link. These indices contain numerous errors and should be used with caution. In spite of that, this is a valuable resource as it contains well over a hundred thousand b/m/d records.
  • Society for German Genealogy in Eastern Europe - This Society has taken the St. Petersburg Lutheran indices for Volhynia (today northwestern Ukraine regions) originally compiled by the Germans from Russia group referenced above and added new ones for Podolia and Kiev regions. They are also working at correcting errors in the original Volhynia index. They have also added new indices for Lutheran Parishes for Volhynia where the originals are held in Warsaw Archives rather than St. Petersburg. These regions were all part of Russia prior to WW I. The Volhynia portion alone of this index contains over 70,000 entries. That number does not include the additional records indexed as found in Warsaw Archives.  A list of Lutheran Records for these regions along with relevant microfilm numbers can be found on the SGGEE website.

The unique situation for Russian Poland also applies to the Lutheran records.  The vast majority of Lutheran Church members were Germans who had migrated there during the Partitions of the late 1700s.  The records were also in Polish Napoleonic paragraph format until 1867 and Russian Cyrillic after that.  It is important to note that registration of b/m/d was a civil obligation.  Therefore, prior to the establishment of  a Lutheran Church Parish in a given region, Lutherans would register their events at the nearest Roman Catholic Parish.

A list of Lutheran Parishes along with relevant microfilm numbers for Russian Poland can be found on the SGGEE website.  Many of these (especially from times prior to the introduction or Cyrillic) are being indexed in a Master Pedigree Database.  It contains over 500,000 line items and is only available to members.

Old Believer Church Records[edit | edit source]

Writing for Records[edit | edit source]

Dissenters from Orthodoxy who refused to accept alterations of religious rituals and prayers. Civilian registration of birth and marriage by police mandated in 1874 for those who were born into Old Believer families. One copy was made and kept in the provincial administration - gubernskoye pravleniye.

Baptist Church Record[edit | edit source]

Writing for Records[edit | edit source]

Civil registration was mandated in 1879. Two copies, one in the provincial administration and the other in the regional police headquarters - uezdnoye politseiskoye upravleniye.

No Baptist Church records are known to exist for Volhynia or other parts of modern day Ukraine, formerly part of Russia.Some limited Baptist Records for Russian Poland have been found as indicated on the SGGEE website.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 The Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Family History Record Profile: Russia,” Word document, private files of the FamilySearch Content Strategy Team, 1996-2001.