Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Trip Preparations : Using the Vilnius Archives

While I’m in Vilnius I hope to do research in the Vilnius Archives. I’ve done research in foreign records, but not in an actual archive. I will have language classes until 1:00PM each day and then there are cultural events that start around 4:30PM. That gives me a window of several hours on most days to do research.

My starting point was to go to the database within Miriam Weiner’s Routes to Roots Foundation. Here I discovered that the Revision lists for Dunilovichi and Glebokie, the two shtetls where family came from, are held at the archives for years from the late 1700s to well into the 1800s. I believe everything in the 1800s is in Russian. I’ve been studying Russian and am hopeful that I can decipher names in the handwritten Cyrillic. I’ve been developing a resource page with family names in text and cursive for both Russian and Hebrew. Frequently records contain both languages in cursive. The text should also prove helpful in translating tombstones. It is a multi-step process to develop my name guide. With the aid of, I first enter the name in English and get text spellings of it. Then I enter the text into another model on his site and translate it to cursive which I copy into my spreadsheet.

I’m not too optimistic that I’ll find anything as I’ve not found my family name in the translation of the 1850 census for Dunilovichi. I’ve also had a researcher review the 1852-55 additional revision lists with no success. My limited translation skills may prove to be a further obstacle. Still, I’m in Vilnius with free afternoons and an archive that could hold answers to family mysteries. My puzzle solving gene won’t allow me to pass up that opportunity.

I began with a lot of questions. When are the archives open? Are there any obstacles to getting access to the archives? Can I make copies, take photographs? What does it cost for copies? What is the process to order a census? What is the time frame to receive them? Does anyone speak English? And last, but certainly not least…how do I get to the archives from where I am staying?

After much Internet searching and a post to the JewishGen Special Interest Group, I located an English speaking archivist and a person who had done research in the archives. I gradually pieced together a broad outline of what to expect.

Galina Baranova, the head of the Jewish records at the LVIA (Historical Archives), speaks English. I tracked down an e-mail address and received a response from her confirming the availability of the records on my shtetls. I was advised that Galina will help pull the records I need and answer questions, but I would need to do the research myself. Once I have the books I need, I can have the archives hold them for me at the desk under my name so I can easily retrieve them on my next visit. I was advised to ask the security guard for Galina when I arrive.

I learned that the archives have a complex system for copies. Costs vary by the century the document is from (older is more expensive) and the size of the copy (large 11X17 sheets for revision lists are a bit more). There is a different cost for foreign researchers than for local researchers. Copies cost the equivalent of a few dollars.

I believe I can take photos, but was told to confirm that when I arrive as the rules have changed over time. There are rules about only ordering 10 files per day. Records have to be ordered by 10am for same-day delivery, otherwise one gets it the next day. That concerned me as I would be in classes in the morning, but worked with the archives to arrange to have the initial files pulled ahead of time and then I’ll order new files as needed.

I learned that there is more than one archive in Vilnius and the one I wanted was the Lithuanian State Historical Archives located at Gerosios Vilties 10. This archive is the main repository for records from the 13th century through 1918. Because the borders changed quite a bit over time it also contains records from Russia, Belarus (current home of my shtetls), Poland, the Ukraine, Latvia and other countries. The Archives also maintain vital records books (birth, marriage and death) of the different religious communities and churches of today’s Lithuania dating up to 1940.

My final challenge was a practical one, how to get to the Archives. I learned from my contact at the Institute that it was a trolley car ride from where I am staying. I then used an on-line link to pull up an interactive map to see where the Archives are located. I found a site with the trolley schedule where I located several trolleys that went to the street on which the Archives are located. The site conveniently translated to English and allowed me to input my beginning and ending stop to find the optimal route.

So now I’m ready to go. I’ve reviewed my Russian and contacted Galina to advise her of the files I’d like to explore. My first day at the archives should be towards the end of July and Ill report back on my experience in this blog.

All Archives Link
Routes to Roots
Steve Morse One Step Web Pages Tips
Access to Archives
Trolley Schedule
Interactive Vilnius Map

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