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The Central State Historical Archive in Lviv, Ukraine and Polish Genealogical Research
by Matthew Bielawa
from Rodziny, publication of the Polish Genealogical Society of America. 
Summer 2001 issue.

To view this article complete with pictures from the final publication copy, please download this Adobe Acrobat file  The Central State Historical Archive in Lviv and Polish Genealogical Research

In the past issue of Rodziny (Spring 2001), I read an account of someoneís experience at a Ukrainian archive. I would like to provide another, more positive account, as well as introducing an archive with relatively unknown resources available to genealogists researching Polish roots. Last summer I revisited Ukraine to continue research both at my ancestral villages Czeremosznia and Usznia (near Biały Kamień, about 35 miles east of Líviv/Lwůw) and at the Central State Historical Archives of Ukraine, in the city of Líviv (in Ukrainian TSentralnyy Derzhavnyi Istorychnyi Arkhiv Ukrainy, u misti Lívovi), also known by its acronym TsDIAL (pronounced Tseh-dee-al). Of course, such visits remain the epicenter of my research. In our ancestral village one realizes the product of oneís work with great intensity and emotion. But the purpose of this article is to relate my experience at TsDIAL, describe the immense holdings pertinent to Polish genealogy, and report on ways to obtain important documents.

First, do not mistake yourself in thinking that an archive in Ukraine would have nothing to do with Polish genealogy. Before WWII, there were over 2 million ethnic Poles (1) living in the region of what is now western Ukraine. At that time, this region was called Eastern Galicia. Poland controlled the region from 1919 to 1939, which it divided into three provinces or wojewůdztwa: Lwowskie wojewůdztwo (Lwůw), Tarnopolskie wojewůdztwo (Tarnopol), and Stanisławowskie wojewůdztwo (Stanisławůw). Before that, the Austro-Hungarian Empire ruled the area from 1772 to 1919. Even under foreign rule, the Poles had ever increasing power and influence in the Galician province. This is true even in the eastern half of Galicia, where Poles were the minority.

Population figures based on Religion in 1910 Austrian Census (2)

District Roman Catholic Greek Catholic Jewish Other
Province of Galicia 47% 42% 11% Less than 1%
Eastern Galicia 25% 62% 12% 1%

These statistics illustrate the dynamic eastern Galician culture, as well as portray the potential and ever present racial strife. (There are a number of English language resources on the history of Eastern Galicia one can read. Only I caution the interested reader to keep an open mind and read the subject material from all viewpoints, i.e., Polish, Ukrainian and Jewish, in order to get a proper understanding.) One need know only a little history to see how intertwined the Polish and Ukrainian cultures are. Specifically, that connection is centered in the city of Líviv, which currently lies close to the Polish border. Líviv, known in Polish as Lwůw, Lemberg in German, and Lívov in Russian, began its history as an important Polish cultural center in 1349, when Polish King Kazimierz the Great seized the city and surrounding region from the local Ukrainian prince. Even when the city was taken by the Austrian Empire in 1772 during the First Partition of Poland, Líviv remained Polish in character.


1907 Statistics for the city of Líviv/Lwůw

By Religion:

By Language:

Roman Catholic




Greek Catholic

















After Poland gained independence after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of World War I and controlled Eastern Galicia, the Polish presence grew in Líviv/Lwůw and the region. In 1931, the cityís population was made up of 63.5% ethnic Poles, 24.1% Jews, and only 11.3% of Ukrainians (3). However, in September 1939 Lvivís history would change forever. Soviet troops entered the city on September 22, 1939 and began setting up a repressive regime and conducting deportations to Siberia. In June 1941, Nazi Germany took over the city from the Soviets, but the terror continued. Most of the Jews and some nationalistic Poles and Ukrainians were sent to concentration camps. When the Soviets retook the city in 1944, they began resettling ethnic Poles from the city and surrounding region to western Poland in territories annexed to Poland from Germany. Before World War II, there were over 2 million ethnic Poles living in Líviv and Eastern Galicia (3)---by 1959 there were only about 93,000 ethnic Poles remaining in this region of Ukraine. (4)

Today, Líviv, a city of almost 800,000, is considered the cultural capital of western Ukraine and is the center of Ukrainian nationalism. Whereas the eastern part of Ukraine, a country of 50 million, is largely russified, Líviv and western Ukraine retain its Ukrainian spirit. Although Russian is understood by a majority of the cityís population, Ukrainian is by far the predominant language.

The Central State Historical Archives of Ukraine, Líviv (TsDIAL) is located in the heart of downtown Lívivóin what is known as the Old City. Most of the buildings in the Old City predate the 19th century, some going back as far as to the 16th century. Most of the streets are cobblestone. Donít let Líviv confuse you as a typical city of the former Soviet Union. In this, the heart of the city, youíll find architecture ranging from medieval to renaissance to neoclassicist. Wealthy Polish families invited architects and artisans from western Europe. For centuries Líviv rivaled as one of the most beautiful Polish cities. TsDIAL is located in the heart of the Old City, in what was the Bernardine Monastery. (It is still to this day sometimes referred to as the Bernardine Archives.) Construction on the Bernardine Monastery began in 1600. The Austrian government opened the archives in 1784 as a central repository for the entire region. Its collection was boosted by adopting older existing documents from various near-by archives. Over the decades, the collection grew and became an important resource center for the Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia, and then during the Polish Republic after World War I.

As you approach the archives you sense the immense history of the city. As you pass through the thick medieval doors into the foyer you feel as though you are stepping back in time! You then must climb the large wooden staircaseóits stairs warped and worn over time. As you get to the top thereís a turn in the stairwell where you must bend down to continue through the low archway. Through the top doors you find a long wide hallway, dimly lit and musky. This creates the perfect atmosphere to research long lost relatives of centuries past!

The archives are perhaps the most accessible in all of the former USSR. Before Ukrainian independence, access to the archives for foreigners was restricted to relatively few scholarsóand then most of the collection was still off-limits. During Soviet times, no one knew to what extent the church records had been maintained. When Ukraine first gained its independence, the archivesí director, Dr. Orest Matsiuk, had the foresight to open the archives to the world. The wealth of documents, especially those of interest to genealogists, is astounding. After the untimely death of Dr. Matsiuk, Dr. Diana Pelts took over management of the archives. She continues with the progress laid out by her predecessor. Today, the archives are open to genealogists who are researching their own families.

It is recommended that you write the archives ahead of time before your arrival. This will give the archivists some time to prepare some documents that might be of interest to you. Upon entering the archive, you must meet with the director, Dr. Diana Pelts. She is an extremely polite and knowledgeable person. She is fluent in Ukrainian, Russian and French, and has a pretty good knowledge of English.

Explain to the director what interests you have, whether they are vital records, church records, maps or historical information on your ancestral villages. Tell her how long your trip will be and how often you plan on visiting the archives. The director will give you written permission, which you must bring to the reading room down the hall from her office. The extremely friendly and approachable staff will assist you in filling out request forms and explain the entire process of retrieval and returning documents.

There are a few important items to keep in mind. The official language of use in TsDIAL is Ukrainian, of course. However, the qualified staff will be able to work with you in Russian and Polish. If you donít know any of these languages, it is recommended that you bring an interpreter. Next, you must be very patient. If youíve ever visited Eastern Europe or the former USSR, you know exactly what I mean. And if you never have, youíll soon find out. Decades of the apathetic, state-run environment has left its mark on independent Ukraine. Mind you, once you get to know the Ukrainians, youíll find them to be most hospitable. But be aware of the position they are in. Although ecstatic about their independence and throwing off communism, the people of Líviv are enduring very difficult economic times. Unemployment is very high. At the time of my trip, the average monthly salary was 50 US dollars. Keep in mind that prices, although lower than in the US, are exorbitant to the average Ukrainian.

Customer service, although improved since Soviet days, is still in its infant stage. And how can you blame them with such salaries! The point of this discussion is to tell you that youíll need to give yourself a lot time in the archives. My three weeks went by so fast that I didnít get to see everything I had planned. Keep your goals simple. Although thereís an incredible amount of accessible documents, time is clearly your worst enemy. As the stacks are closed to visitors, only archival employees can retrieve documents. Expect a day or two for your request to begin to be filled. You will not get everything at onceówhich is not unreasonable. You all know how long it takes to pour through records or scroll microfilms! But imagine yourself carefully flipping through the actual record books!

Be patient with the staff. Be extremely kind to the staff. They work long hard hours, with low pay and under poor economic conditions. Their passion for history and preservation is strong. They do not need demanding foreigners harassing them. As you know, a little patience and kindness can go a long way.

Once youíve gained permission from the director to research at the archives and youíve introduced yourself to the staff in the reading room, you should ask to see the card catalog room. The card catalog is divided first by type of document, then by village or town. If youíre interested in vital records kept by the church, ask to see the indicesóthereís one for the Roman Catholic archdiocese and one for the Greek Catholic archeparchy. A decree set forth by the Austrian government in 1784 stated that the Catholic church, specifically the Catholic parish priest, was assigned to keep records of births, deaths and marriages. A copy of these record books was to be made and supplied to the bishopís office. Youíll find in the archives either the original or copy, or even both, for various villages. Lutherans began their own official record keeping in 1849 while the Jews had to wait until 1868 for their rabbis to keep official documents. (Before this time, the records of the Lutherans and Jews were private records.)  Keep in mind that Roman Catholic and Greek Catholics often intermarried. In 1927, over 16% of the marriages in Eastern Galicia were of such mixed marriages. (5) In certain parts of the region, the average was much higher. Thus, it is a very good idea to check both these churchesí books when researching your relatives.

One should know the general structure of the archival cataloging system. This will help you understand how material is kept by the archivists and, most importantly, how to fill out request forms.





The largest grouping is called a fond. Some fondy (plural) are rather extensive and contain thousands of books documents. Within a fond there are sub-groupings called opysy (plural), within each opys are sub-groupings called spravy (plural). The smallest unit in the archival system is the arkush. To further explain, an arkush can be one page of a book, one single map in a series of maps, one letter in a writerís collection. Arkushy are grouped together in a Sprava. Several like spravy are grouped into an Opys. And several like opysy are grouped in a fond. When you are researching at TsDIAL, it is good to keep this structure in mind. Of course, the staff will be there to help.

The vital records of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese are found in Fond 618, together with all documents pertaining to the Roman Catholic church. Opys 2 is the specific grouping of all vital recordsóthe birth, marriage, and death record books kept by the church. Each bound book of records (called a metryc book, metrychna knyha in Ukrainian, metryczna książka in Polish) is a separate sprava---and there are over 2,600 spravy. Some of these spravy contain over 200 arkushy or pages. Vital records of the Greek Catholic Church are kept in Fond 201, Opys 4a. There are also well over 7,000 spravy or parish books in this collection. At the time of writing this article the Family History Library has already microfilmed 35% of the Greek Catholic parish registers. (The most recent information on this collection of microfilms can be found in East European Genealogist, a publication of the East European Genealogical Society, Volume 9, Number 3)

Another great resource for the genealogist is the cadastral records and maps. There are several different types of these documents that are often confused. Two surveys were commissioned by the Austrian crown upon first gaining control of the region. The Josephinian Cadastral Survey, taking place between 1785 and 1788, is found in Fond 19. A second survey, the Franciscan Cadastral Survey, compiled between 1819 and 1820, is found in Fond 20. Although a detailed description of each of these is beyond the scope of this article, I would like to provide you with an overview of a third cadastre. (6)

The cadastral maps and documents are actually a series of maps and related documents for a particular village or town produced at different points through the 19th Century and into the early 20th Century. For example, the village of Bilyi Kamin (Biały Kamień) had cadastres drawn up for 1844, 1850, 1879, 1905. They were commissioned for legal purposes to prove land ownership. The maps and documents may cover a period of several years. It is difficult to determine the strategy behind the Austrian government commission on making the cadastral maps. Previous articles on the subject suggest that the maps were done in intervals. First, a rough drawing was made of the village, indicating various houses and plots of land. A second map was drawn based on the original rough sketch, the names of the owners were written out right on the particular plot. A final map was made in color. However, the actual names of owners were replaced by numbers. The series of accompanying documents must be used in order to fully understand these maps. Iíve found these documents sometimes completed several years after the maps. One document lists each number on the map and its equivalent house number. Donít assume that the number on the map is the house number youíve seen on vital records. (As those of you already familiar with Galician record keeping from the Austrian period know, house numbers were usually supplied by the priest for each birth, marriage and death record.) Another document lists each head of household in alphabetical order with the numbered plots of land and houses owned. Another document lists each plot of land and its owner, which is listed by plot number. These cross-referenced documents can be quite large depending on the size of the village. I must relate my own personal experience with using these cadastral maps. I found the house numbers from vital records I looked at earlier. I cross referenced these house numbers with the plot number that appears on the map. From there I went directly to the final version colored map and found the plot in relation to the street, church and other landmarks. The staff of TsDIAL made excellent black-and-white copies for me. The next day I took a train out to my ancestral village of Czeremosznia, located about 35 miles east of Líviv and about 3 miles north of Zolochiv, next to the town of Bilyi Kamin on the road between Zolochiv and Olesko. Armed with photocopies of the maps, I set to searching for the homes of my relatives! Unfortunately, the house in one section of the village, including the house of my grandfather, was destroyed shortly after World War II to make room for the collective farm. However, I did see the land of both my great-grandmother and great-grandfather. Being a rural village of only about 300 people today, very little has changed from when the maps were first drawn in 1844! Villagers were amazed at how I was pointing out where families had lived---in most cases, the land was still owned by the same family! Although the houses were newóthe land on which they stand has stayed in the these families for generations!

Now, the first thing youíll ask yourself when reading this article is how to take advantage of all that TsDIAL has to offer. The three usual choices available to genealogists apply. One can either hire a researcher to do the work for you for pay, contact TsDIAL yourself by mail, or visit TsDIAL and research in person. As my article describes, my experience proves that the most efficient and rewarding way would be to visit the archives in person. Hiring a researcher is often a critical question for any genealogist. If you do go this route, please research your options very carefully. Get as much feedback from other clients as possible. And most importantly, if you think thereís something "fishy" about a hired researcher, go with your instincts before losing a lot of time and money. The third option of researching through the mail is relatively new to Ukraine and should be explained.

When conducting research via the mail with TsDIAL, you must keep the following points in mind. First, the mail service is not always the most reliable. Although I personally have never had a problem with lost mail, I have heard othersí negative experiences. Iíve been told that others have had mail lost, both Ukraine bound and North America bound. Iíve also heard reports of mail being opened and tampered with. Thereís no way to avoid these inconsistencies without having someone traveling to Ukraine to mail the letter for you from within the country. Also, never send money in the mail. TsDIAL, as the director states in the interview, has an account where you can wire the fees. However, some have reported having difficulties with this account number. At the time of the interview, Dr. Pelts told me that they have been successfully receiving money wired through their account. Such inconsistencies are exemplary of the condition of doing business in Ukraine. This is not meant, however, to discourage you from researching in Ukraine. My words of advice are meant to caution you to be patient, but persistent. The interview below with the director of TsDIAL explains in detail the costs and process of mail inquiries.

I invite you to research in Ukraine. The time has never been better. Ukraine is a beautiful and resource-rich country. Although enduring post-Soviet effects of high unemployment, low wages and critical shortages, the people are warm and friendly. Everyone I met made me feel at home, offering me extravagant meals and entertainment. Their love of their country is evident by their enthusiasm in showing you the best Ukraine has to offer!


  1. Skrzypek, Stanisław. The Problem of Eastern Galicia. London. 1948. These figures are from the 1931 census.
  2. Rudnytsky, Ivan L. "The Ukrainians in Galicia Under Austrian Rule" from Nationbuilding and the Politics of Nationalism: Essays on Austrian Galician. Editors Andrei S. Markovits and Frank E. Sysyn. Harvard University Press. 1982.
  1. Skrzypek, Stanislaw.
  2. Magocsi, Paul Robert. Galicia: A historical Survey and Bibliographic Guide. University of Toronto Press. 1983. page 225 (Figures from various sources give conflicting exact data. This inconsistency is based on the various ways statistics were kept, either by ethnicity, religion, primary language.)
  3. Skrzypek, Stanisław.
  4. A detailed account on these first two cadastres can be read in East European Genealogist, the publication of the East European Genealogical Society of Winnipeg, Canada. John-Paul Himkaís "A Neglected Source For Family History in Western Ukraine: The Josephinian and Franciscan Land Cadastres." Volume 1, Number 2. An extremely detailed article, accompanied by samples of maps and documents, concerning the third cadastre can be read in the same publication, East European Genealogist, written by John D. Pihach. "Galician Cadastre Maps: Land Surveys of 1849 and 1874". Volume 2, Number 4.

An interview with the director of the
Central State Historical Archives in Ukraine-city of Líviv,
Dr. Diana Pelts.
July 4, 2000

Matthew Bielawa: When was the archive first founded?

Diana Pelts: The archive was founded in 1784. The Austrian government, which had just gained control of Galicia, mandated that a section of the Bernardine Monastery be made into an archive. Documents from villages and towns in the entire region were to be centrally located here.

MB: What are the earliest documents you have?

DP: The first floor contains documents from the city (hrodski in Ukr.) and village (zemski in Ukr.) courts. The documents range from 1423 to 1784. Books of the Líviv Magistrate range from 1382 to 1787. There exists a document from 1224 made from animal skin, which is so thick, that it is still in good condition. The oldest document in the collection, made from tree bark, dates back to the 11th century.

MB: How large is the entire collection?

DP: There is over 12 kilometers of documents.

MB: What kind of documents do you have pertaining to Polish genealogy?

DP: The main source is the metryc books. (authorís note: Church record books. See article.) There are 2,6000 Roman Catholic metryc books in all, ranging from 1600 to 1948. There are over 3,000 villages and towns represented in the collection. However, a majority of the books are from the mid-1700ís to the beginning of this century. From 1948, there are, for example, only 3 books. Within this collection there are more than just birth, marriage, and death records. For instance, there are documents which pertain to the changing of oneís religion, or Catholic rite. Also, there are documents from educational institutions, including lists of teachers and students. Such lists often include their birth date and places. In such collections, there are also certificates of graduations, diplomas and personal files.

MB: What is the progress of the LDS microfilming of the Greek Catholic (a.k.a. Ukrainian Catholic) records?

DP: The Mormons are currently microfilming. Theyíve been microfilming for the past 5 years. They have already completed less than half of the Greek Catholic metryc books. (authorís note: currently, the first 2607 books out of the 7401, or 35%, books are available on microfilm through the Family History Library.) The process is very slow-going. First of all, the records are in such bad conditionóthe pages and bindings are delicate. Some books are stained and damaged by water. In addition, there are different color inks and pages used over the years. All this makes it difficult to shoot quality, readable film. Secondly, the technical equipment is expensive to run and there is limited staffing. Currently, thereís only one operator of the machine, and employee of the archive. There isnít enough money at the archive to hire more operators and quicken the pace of the filming.

MB: What is the status of microfilming the Roman Catholic records?

DP: Currently we are not microfilming the Roman Catholic metryc books, but concentrating on the Greek Catholic ones. We plan on microfilming the Roman Catholic books after we complete the Greek Catholic ones.

MB: Can genealogists write to TsDIAL to request information and photocopies of documents?

DP: Yes, of course. The person can write in any language he wishes, including Polish and English. The only problem is that the response will be in Ukrainian. My staff will do research for the person. Of course, it will help if you have information such as names, places or dates. The more information you have, the lower the cost of the research. For example, one can write for research on an entire family to make a complete family tree. Weíll write down all the names, places and dates of births, marriages and deaths. And if we donít have any information, weíll give you advice on where to go. Weíll also make photocopies of records. Of course, only if the books are in good condition. I suggest that an interested person first send a letter including as much information as they know in regards to names, places, which is most important, and dates. Weíll reply as to what we have and determine payment. The current pricing, which may change, is $5 an hour for research, $10 an hour for photocopies. The average cost is $75-$100 per research request. These costs may change based on the performance of the Ukrainian economy.

And of course, one can come to Líviv and visit the archives for research, like you! Líviv really is such a beautiful and historic city!


Iíd like to sincerely thank Dr. Diana Pelts and her entire staff for making my visit to their archive comfortable and extremely enriching. My research was a complete success due to their persistence and hard work.            Questions and Comments to Matthew Bielawa
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