Researching Ancestors in Ukraine

By Liza A. Alzo Premium

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Q. My family came from a place called Zhitomir. I have the US immigration records, but how do I find records from Zhitomir?

A. Zhitomir is a town in the Zhytomyr oblast (province) of present-day Ukraine—formerly in the Volyn gubernia (province) of old Russia. Because you’ve already found the naturalization records, it appears you’re ready to make the jump across the pond. First, you’ll need to learn the town’s current raion (district) to locate records and archives.   A Google search turns up links to geographical and historical references that can aid you in your research. Search all possible spellings: Try Zhitomyr, Zhytomir and Jitomyr.  

Next, use two online tools to locate Zhitomir on modern maps: Ukraine Town Location Guide and JewishGen’s Communities. While you’re on Jewish­Gen, bookmark the Ukraine special-interest group page for links to maps, research tools, given-name databases and the Zhitomir Collection, which has images of your ancestral homeland.  

Find more links from the Federation of East European Family History Societies. The first place to check for records is the Family History Library catalog to see what is available at Do a place search on Zhitomir, then rent films through your local Family History Center. Learn more about what records exist at the Wiki pages Russian Church Records and Russian Civil Registration. There’s a great cheat sheet to these records on Ukraine GenWeb. Click on the links for Zhitomir and Zhytomyr, or use the handy link to Orthodox Church Registers Consistory of Kyiv, complete with microfilm numbers.  

If the Family History Library doesn’t have what you want, you’ll need to contact the Archives of Ukraine. Be prepared for records in German, Russian or other languages. You can consult the HalGal website for help with deciphering these records. If you need to enlist a professional, consult the Ukrainian Center of Genealogical Research or Researching Russian Roots.  This should get you started, but if you need more guidance, pick up a copy of Ukrainian Genealogy: A Beginner’s Guide by John D. Pihach (Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press).  

A version of this Q&A appeared in the January 2010 issue of Family Tree Magazine