Please note that this FAQ was written prior to the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. Research in Ukrainian archives may be limited, but we are aware of researchers who have actually been able to get information from Ukrainian regional (oblast) archives even in these trying times. You may wish to engage a local researcher or consult with the experts on the Nashi Predky Facebook group (link below) to determine what access is possible.
I’m looking for my ancestors. Can the UHEC help me?
Yes, we can, but within limits.
The Ukrainian History and Education Center does not have any genealogists on staff, and because of staffing limitations we can only provide basic reference services and research pointers. However, the Nashi Predky/Our Ancestors Ukrainian genealogy group, which is affiliated with the UHEC, is led by a team of professional and serious amateur genealogists. We organize in-person and online talks, workshops, and conferences, and have an affiliated Facebook group with nearly 5,500 members. It is quite possible that our committee members or Facebook group participants will be able to help you with research pointers and answers to your questions. In addition, you may be able to find helpful tips in our recordings of past events and member-only content. Please visit the Facebook group or email to genealogy@UkrHEC.org. For more extensive searching, you may need to travel to Ukraine or hire a local researcher to do work directly in the historical archives.
Do you have information about a particular ancestor of mine?
Unfortunately, we probably don’t, except for some very specific situations. Please see the “Genealogy archives resources” section below for details.
What is the correct spelling of my surname?
If your surname is Ukrainian or from another language that uses the Cyrillic alphabet, then the Cyrillic spelling is the correct spelling. Once it gets transliterated into the Latin alphabet, then all bets are off. Although there are standards for transliterating Ukrainian into Roman letters, those standards differ depending on the target language. For example, the same name could be rendered in wildly different spellings depending on whether it was in an English, French, German, or Polish-speaking context. Even in an English context, there are multiple standards. Furthermore, it's very unlikely your ancestor would have bothered to follow (or have even known about) the appropriate transliteration standard(s). So, in some sense there is no such thing as a "correct spelling" of a Ukrainian surname in English. The closest thing to a "correct" spelling might be the spelling that your ancestor most commonly used, but even that could change over time.
This, of course, creates huge problems for genealogy research. Even with perfect spelling and indexing, you will still need to search many possible spelling variants. The possibility of errors and mis-transcription makes this even worse. As an example, the common Ukrainian surname Наконечний (which literally translates as "person from the end/edge [of the village]") could be transliterated as Nakonechnyi using the simplified Library of Congress standard, or, more likely as Nakoneczny (using a Polish-style transliteration standard). And we have actually seen Nakoneczny mis-indexed on a major online genealogy search website as "Nokonecguy" (which is a plausible mistake for a non-Ukrainian speaker to make if you think about how it looks in English cursive).
Why did my Ukrainian ancestor write "Austrian" as his/her nationality on an official document?
Most likely, your ancestor was from what is today Western Ukraine, which before World War I was part of the Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia. So, technically, your ancestor was absolutely correct in that he/she would have been a subject of the Austrian Emperor in Vienna.
How do I begin looking for my ancestors in Ukraine?
The single most important thing you can do before embarking on that search is to make every reasonable effort to find whatever information is available on your ancestors using records on this side of the ocean. Naturalization files, draft registration cards, death certificates, immigration and visa files (for immigrants arriving in the United States in the 1920s or later), ship manifests, and other official documents can provide extremely useful clues to help chase down your Ukrainian ancestry. In particular, they can potentially tell you the name of the village or town where your immigrant ancestors were born/married, which is critical to further research.
Why do I need to know the places where my immigrant ancestors came from?
Finding ancestors in Ukraine without knowing the towns or villages where they came from is almost impossible. Like in North America, vital records were (and are) collected and retained in local religious institutions or government offices. Even when such records are transferred to a regional or national archives, the receiving repository will keep them arranged according to their geographic origin.
In most of Ukraine prior to about 1920 (prior to World War II in the portion of western Ukraine that was part of Poland), the keeping of vital records was generally the responsibility of churches and other religious bodies. Birth, marriage, and death records would have been recorded by Orthodox, Greek Catholic, and Roman Catholic parishes, Protestant congregations, Jewish communities, etc. in register books located in that parish or community. Beginning with the Soviet period, local civil registry offices, known by the Russian acronym ЗАГС (ZAGS, for “organy zapisi aktov grazhdans’kogo sostoianiia”) or, in Ukrainian, РАЦС (RATsS, for “orhany reiestratsii aktiv tsyvil’noho stanu”) were instituted, and these continue to exist today.
Regardless of the time period, finding an ancestor will likely only be possible if you know which register book to look in, and that’s only possible if you know where that ancestor’s “major life events” took place.
Note that local civil registry office records may be restricted by privacy laws, and you may need to provide proof that you are a descendant or close family member of the person whose information you are searching for. In such cases, a local researcher who knows how to navigate the bureaucracy can be extremely helpful.
The UHEC archives has very limited genealogy-related materials in its collections. There are, however, some notable exceptions.
Records of closed Ukrainian Orthodox parishes in the United States and of parishes in German displaced persons camps after World War II
The existence of register books and other records from such parishes (which are almost exclusively those that were within the jurisdiction of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA or the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in post-war Germany) can be determined from published finding aids. Note that the preceding link will list those collections that have been tagged as having “Church records and registers”. Be aware that some of these collections may contain only administrative records that are of little or no genealogical interest. You can change filtering conditions using the checkboxes on the right of the page. There are also some additional parishes from which we have records that do not yet have finding aids. Please contact us with inquiries.
Still-functioning Ukrainian Orthodox parishes maintain their records at the parish level. In that case, you should contact the local priest for information.
To inquire about the possible existance of records from Ukrainian Orthodox parishes in Canada, you should contact the Consistory of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada.
Post-WWII displaced persons that resettled to Maryland
The papers of Joseph Marmash contain significant materials related to his work on the Maryland Committee for Resettlement of Displaced Persons, including correspondence with resettlement agencies and individual displaced persons, a limited number ship manifests, an index card file with names and resettlement locations, and other records.
Veterans of the Army of the Ukrainian People's Republic during the Ukrainian War of Independence (1917-1921)
The committee that administered the Cross of Symon Petliura, the service medal for veterans of the Ukrainian War of Independence, received applications that contained biographical information, what units and military actions the applicant participated in, and often included supporting documentation. Applicants included soldiers as well as women who served as nurses or in other non-combat roles. A fraction of these application forms are in the Holovna Rada Khresta Symona Petliury records at the UHEC.
Local history of the towns of Komarno and Shchyrets’ and genealogy of the Halun and Pelensky families
Marie Halun Bloch did a considerable amount of research on these topics, the records of which are in her archives.
Information on Ukrainian Orthodox clergy in the United States
Although these records are held by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, UHEC staff can facilitate access to files on deceased clergy who served in that jurisdiction. In particular, there are clergy information forms from the early 1950s and early 1960s that often contain considerable information of genealogical interest, including date and place of birth, education, ordination information, spouse and children's names, and parish assignments.
Other fortuitous collections
Information on one of your ancestors could potentially be in one of the hundreds of other collections at the UHEC archives that do not have significant genealogy-related content, though it is a long shot. There is a very small chance that we just happen to have the papers of one of your ancestors. Or we might happen to have the papers of somebody that one of your ancestors corresponded with. If they were close friends and the collection has photographs, we might even have a picture of your ancestor. Or one of our collections might give historical context on a community where your ancestors lived.
Doing this type of research is challenging but potentially rewarding. You can search for names in the finding aids using the "Filter collection descriptions by keyword" box on the finding aid browse page, but be sure to try multiple spellings, as that is one of the banes of doing Ukrainian genealogy in non-Slavic-speaking countries. Not all individuals which the creator of a collection corresponded with will be listed in the finding aid, so the lack of a "name hit" does not mean that it is not there. We do not have nearly enough stafffing to do "wild goose chase" searches for names of interest in collection materials themselves. However, you are welcome to arrange a research appointment and do such a search yourself!
The Fallingbostel parish records collection is one of the top collections at the UHEC archives in terms of researcher questions. The “Frequently Asked Questions” below will help you better understand the nature of this collection and whether it will be of help in your family history research.
I’m so excited to find this collection, because my family was at Fallingbostel!
Well, we hate to dash cold water on your discovery, but your family would have been one of untold thousands of post-war migrants with the same story. That is because Fallingbostel was not a typical displaced persons camp.
Most post-WWII displaced persons camps were where refugees found “temporary” homes, often for years, while their ultimate fate was being determined by forces largely beyond their control.
Fallingbostel, by contrast, was a “Resettlement Processing Center” or “transit camp”, a role that it played starting in February 1948. It truly was a temporary home. Located not far from the port of Bremerhaven in northern Germany, it was where individuals who were in the final stages of the resettlement application process or who had already been cleared for resettlement lived while waiting their turn for a spot to open up on a transport ship headed for their destination. Therefore, the Fallingbostel camp’s population experienced near-constant turnover, and huge numbers of refugees passed through it.
If your ancestors came to North America as displaced persons, there is a decent chance that they spent at least some time in Fallingbostel. While Fallingbostel was not the only such transit camp, it was the largest, with nearly 7,000 residents in September 1950.
Is my ancestor in these Fallingbostel records?
Perhaps, but only if that ancestor was Orthodox Christian. And even then, it's far from guaranteed.
The parish registers and other records of Series 1-4 relate only to the Ukrainian Orthodox parish in that camp during the limited period that it covers. It does not cover non-Orthodox and non-Ukrainian religious institutions.
The census of Series 5 includes Orthodox Christians of all ethnicities and nationalities. As far as we can tell, it does not include Catholics (Roman or Greek), Protestants, or Jews. It also only includes those individuals who were actually resident in the camp on July 14, 1950. The information in this census is extremely limited — it contains only the block number, names, ages, and nationalities.
If you think your ancestor(s) may be in these records despite the above caveats, please contact us.