ONLINE NEWSLETTER
No. 1/2002 - September 2002
Editor: Fran Bock

This article is based on a lecture given by Dr. Oleg Perzashkevich, Director of the Minsk Historical Genealogical Group, at the IAGS 2002 Jewish Genealogy Conference in Toronto. We thank Dr. Perzashkevich for his permission to share this article for the benefit of SIG members who were unable to attend the Conference. Reproduction of this article is not authorized without the permission of Dr. Perzashkevish and the Belarus SIG.

 

Belarusian Archives and Other Resources Regarding Family History and Personal Genealogy

by Dr. Oleg Perzashkevich

The great degree of interest in family history and personal genealogy that exists today among people in different countries of the world definitely creates a need to clarify what resources are now available. For people whose roots are in Belarus, it would be helpful to know what to expect in various information sources of that country. Here is some part of the answer.

First of all, Belarusian information sources must be divided into few groups.

Archives

  1. Historical Archives: These contain almost all the survived documents for the period before1917. There are 2 such archives, the National State Historical Archive in Minsk and the State Historical Archive in Grodno.
  2. National Archive of the Republic of Belarus: It stores the records for the period after 1917, which are considered to be of state importance.
  3. State Provincial Archives: These contain the documents for the period after 1917, which considered to be of local (up to provincial level) significance. [Just to make it clear: Belarus now has 6 Provinces ("Oblast" in Russian, "Voblast" in Belarusian). They are Brest, Gomel, Grodno, Minsk, Moghilev and Vitebsk.]
  4. ZAGS Provincial Archives: (literally from Russian and Belarusian meaning "Recording of Acts of Civil Position"). These are the divisions of Belarusian Ministry of Justice. The records for birth, marriage, divorce and death of every person since 1917 should be there. There may also be similar records for the late 19th and early 20th century.
  5. Archive of KGB or KDB: (literally from Russian and Belarusian meaning "Committee of State Security"). This archive contains some records on persons who were under the control of that institution control in 1918. These documents are called "personal files".
  6. Archive of the Ministry of Defense: It stores military records, including information about persons who were in military since 1918.
  7. Archive of MVD or MUS: (literally from Russian and Belarusian meaning "Ministry of Internal Affairs"). These are Police records, storing information about persons who were involved with the police in criminal or civil cases since 1918.

Libraries

  1. The National Library of Belarus in Minsk: Contains the majority of books and published documents before and after 1917.
  2. The Library of Belarusian Academy of Sciences in Minsk: Almost the same as the National Library, but this depository is smaller.

(Other Belarusian libraries have nothing of interest to genealogical researchers.)

Museums

  1. The National State Museum of Belarus in Minsk: Contains almost nothing on personal history.
  2. The State Museum of the Great Patriotic War (World War II) in Minsk: Contains a huge fund of information for the events of the war, but not too much on the Holocaust.
  3. The State Museum of Religion in Grodno: Stores documents on confessional history, but it is relatively new, so it is of interest only for current times or the recent past.

So, what you should expect to find in Belarus? That depends on whether your family left Belarus before or after 1917. Let's look at these two different situations.

A. Your family left Belarus before 1917.

You will find the Historical Archives most useful, and perhaps also the ZAGS Provincial Archives and the two libraries listed above. In order to identify which archives contain the documents you need, you should know the exact town or village, District and Province, where your family lived at that time. The pre-1917 Russian designation is best.

Belarusian territory comprises parts of the provinces of G rodno, Minsk, Moghilev, Vilno, Vitebsk. If your family lived in former Vilno Province, you should consult not Belarusian, but Lithuanian archives (except for some places in the former Lida District). If your family came from Grodno Province, you should consult the State Historical Archive in Grodno. Otherwise, consult the National State Historical Archive in Minsk. All the principle documents on family and personal history must be in those archives. However, you should understand that the 20th century was a very hard period for Belarus, with two world wars, civil and some local wars, and the Bolshevik regime from 1917 to 1991. Many documents were destroyed and many others were misplaced. Still, research in Belarus is possible.

Here are some general recommendations for what you can expect:

For Grodno Province of Russian Empire

There are many Register Books (or Revision Lists), including few general or full ones. These latter records are the most interesting for personal genealogy and family history because they show the entire family, with family name and first names, ages, social status and residence. The general Register books were composed in 1795 (sometimes with no family names) , 1811, 1816, 1834, 1850 and 1858. Considerable additions to them were made in 1874. Unfortunately, there are only few full books for the towns of Grodno Province. (Note: Novogrudok was in Grodno Province until 1842, then it became a District Town of Minsk Province, so the survived books are in Minsk). For Grodno and the District there are books for 1795, 1806 (when special general revision in towns of Grodno Province took place), 1811, 1858. For the other districts, there are books for 1806 and 1811. Also, we were able to find 1858 for Volkovysk.

Other important records include:

  1. Birth, death, marriage and divorce records for different years for some places of Grodno Province for mid-20th century: Grodno, Kobrin and the shtetls of Kobrin District (e.g., Antopol and Ivanovo). But very few of these records survive. Most have been destroyed. Also, there are some birth records for the entire Province for the late 19th century, but the file has over 1500 pages and is in very poor condition. Also it has no index.
  2. ABC family lists, composed after general Register books, for Brest (1850), Kobrin (1850), Pruzhany (1858), Slonim (1850, 1858), Sokolka (1850). They show the same information as Register Books, but not for all families and for male population only.
  3. Family lists for the Town of Brest for 1874 - 1901 with later additions. They show the same information as Register Books.
  4. Census records for 1897. These are very few, but some records can be found for Grodno, Brest and the District and Byelostok.

For Minsk Province of the Russian Empire

There are many Register books (or Revision Lists), including the general or full ones. The general Register books were composed in 1795 (sometimes with no family names), 1811, 1816, 1834, 1850 and 1858. Considerable additions to them were done in 1874. Not all the books survived, nor are they complete for all the districts of former Minsk Province, but most have survived.

Other important records include:

  1. Birth, death, marriage and divorce records for different years for some places of Minsk Province, like Minsk, Pinsk, Koydanov (Dzerzhynsk), Stolbtsy and Davyd-Gorodok. Very few of these records have survived.
  2. Family lists for Minsk Province for second half of 19th century for Minsk, Slutsk, some other places. These show the same information as Register Books, but very few survive.
  3. Draft Lists for the second half of the 19th century, with the same information as Register Books, but only for males. Very few of these records survive.

For Moghilev Province of the Russian Empire

Most of the Register books did not survive. We know of only a few, such as Moghilev (1850), and Rogachev (1834, 1858).

Other important records include:

  1. Birth, death, marriage and divorce records for the Town of Moghilev (for various years of the 19th and early 20th century), the Town of Gomel (end 19th - early 20th century). For the other places there are very few records.
  2. Family lists for the late 19th century. We know of a few for different small shtetles.

For Vitebsk Province of the Russian Empire

There are very few Register Books, but some information can be found in the folllowing sources:

  1. Birth, death, marriage and divorce records for the Town of Vitebsk (for various years of the 19th to early 20th century), the Town of Polotsk (19th - early 20th century), Lepel (late 19th century). Very few records exist for other places.
  2. Family Lists for several towns for the late 19th to early 20th century (mostly not complete).
  3. Census records for 1897. There are very few, but some records can be found for the towns which are in Russia now.

The ZAGS Provincial Archives may contain some documents on family history for the pre-1917 period also. Just take into account that you may not do the research there yourself, but must make an official personal inquiry with names and dates for the persons you want to know about. Also, you should show that those people are your family. If you are interested in the place in modern Grodno Province, you should also contact Grodno Provincial ZAGS archive, and if your place is in modern Brest Province, you should contact the Brest Provincial ZAGS archive. For all other Belarusian locales, you should not contact ZAGS archives, because they sent all the pre-1917 records to the National State Historical Archive in Minsk.

B. Your family left Belarus after 1917

First of all, you should determine if the departure was before or after1944. If it was before 1939, try to identify what country your family lived in. Belarusian lands were in two countries in 1921 - 1939: in Poland, and in the USSR. Of course, the best way is to look at a map for that time. Another way is to imagine a line from north to south, passing about 40 miles to the west of Minsk. To the east of this line was the USSR, to the west, Poland.

For research in Polish territory, use the following resources:

  1. Provincial archives. These are files with Polish censuses and police reports (of course, they are not complete). In addition to the main Brest, Grodno, Minsk and Vitebsk provincial archives, there are subdivisions for the following locations: Brest subdivisions are in Baranovichi, Pinsk and Kobrin; Grodno subdivisions are in Lida and Novogrudok; Minsk subdivisions are in Borisov (before 1939 - USSR), Slutsk (before 1939 - USSR) and Molodechno (before 1939 - Poland); Vitebsk subdivisions are in Glubokoye (before 1939 - Poland), Polotsk (before 1939 - USSR), Orsha (before 1939 - USSR).
  2. ZAGS archives. These include all surviving birth, marriage, divorce and death records.

For research in Soviet territory, you may use all the archives mentioned in the beginning of the abstracts. However, if you want to get information about your family for the period for 1921 - 1939, you should not expect too much. Most of the records were destroyed. But still, here are some recommendations:

  1. Consult National Archive for the records of censuses for 1923, 1926, 1937 and for after 1945. Most of the records do not have family lists, which were destroyed when the next census took place, but some records survived.
  2. Consult ZAGS archives for surviving birth, marriage, divorce and death records.
  3. Consult Provincial archives if you know something about the occupation or education of your ancestors.
  4. Consult KGB, police and military archives if you know that your ancestors were arrested or drafted into the army or militia.

How to Use the Libraries

Belarusian libraries suffered very much from the events of the last century. Many books were destroyed. Moreover, all of them were created after 1917 by Bolsheviks, so do not expect to find much in Yiddish or Hebrew. The Soviets did not like religion and did not care very much about preservation of those books. Most books of interest to you are in Russian, Belarusian and Polish.

  1. If you know that your ancestor was a VIP, or a writer, you should use the library resources to find something about that person.
  2. If you know the name of the place where your family lived, but you can not find it, you can use special editions, like geographic dictionaries and reference books. If you can not read Cyrillic Russian, or Belarusian, try Polish books - there is very good edition for the late 19th century. At the very least, you can read the names of the places written in Latin alphabet.
  3. If you want to know something about the history of the place your family lived in, you should be able to read in one of the following languages: Russian, Belarusian or Polish.

Copyright 2002 Belarus SIG and Dr. Oleg Perzashkevich

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