Researching On Site in
Ukraine and Poland--
On Your Own!
Not only is researching on site in Ukraine and Poland
very possible, it's fun, rewarding and pretty easy to arrange!
There was a time not long ago before 1991 when travel to
these countries was more restricted. This was especially true in the case
of Ukraine. The Soviet travel industry restricted travel to specific
cities. Visiting towns and villages in the countryside was strictly
forbidden. It was even difficult to meet with people. Archives were
only open to western scholars...and even they would not have access to the most
important documents for genealogists.
Fortunately, the situation is very much different today.
Travel to Poland is easiest. Visas for U.S. citizens is no longer
required. The service industry field in Poland is much better than it was
in years past. Travel to Ukraine is a little more complicated.
Although renting cars is possible in both Poland and Ukraine, it is not advised
that you do this in Ukraine due both to reasons of impracticality (few rental
agencies, gas stations far and few in between, poor roads with poor signage) and
for the reason of the high rate of car theft. Visas are still required for
U.S. citizens to travel to Ukraine. The travel industry, though growing,
is still not as advanced as other European countries. (A longer history
with the USSR, I'm afraid, is to blame.) I highly recommend you making
travel arrangements through a U.S. travel agency that specializes in traveling
to Ukraine. These specialized travel agencies are familiar with the unique
travel conditions in Ukraine and will easily arrange all your important needs:
arrange your visa application, find the best hotels, arrange travel between
cities or out to the countryside to visit ancestral villages. Such
agencies can also help arrange for you to have a drive and interpreter.
The issue of language is important. Of course,
understanding the language will undoubtedly benefit you and your research.
But you need not be fluent! I strongly suggest for those who do not speak
the language to hire an interpreter. Such a person can help archival
research possible and allow you to freely meet and talk with people in your
Polish archives no longer require a letter of permission
to be required of you before your trip. However, it's a best idea to first
send a letter to both Polish and Ukrainian archives before your trip. This
way they will expect you and perhaps, have some material waiting for you
When you first arrive, ask to speak to the person in
charge of giving you permission to use the archives. In Ukrainian
archives, such permission is mandatory. Although these archives are open
to foreign genealogists, you should stress that you are searching for your own
relatives. (It would be wrong for you to have them work for you by getting
materials for you just so that you can get paid by someone else!)
Give yourself plenty of time. Business practices
are very different in Europe, especially Eastern Europe, from North America.
Do not expect to get in and out of an archive the same day with pages and pages
of information. When you first request to see a parish registry book or
other such document, it may take up to two days to fulfill the request.
Plan your trip accordingly! In between periods of waiting for material,
sightsee the city or visit the ancestral village. Try the local cuisine!
Sit back and enjoy your ancestral home!!
Photocopying machines may not be available. If you
go with this attitude, you won't be disappointed. Even if the machine is
working, it may cost quite a bit, roughly 10 dollars per page. And then
the archivists may not photocopy your documents right then and there...they may
mail them to you later!
For more tips, read below.
This is perhaps the most important and rewarding trip
you'll ever make in terms of your own family history or genealogical research!
I can not begin to explain how emotional my trips are to my ancestral
village...especially that first trip. For a detailed account of my first
trip, which includes tips on traveling and genealogical researching, visit my
article "Returning to the home of my ancestors. My trip to western Ukraine and
the villages of Bialy Kamien and Czeremosznia".
In Ukraine it's best to make arrangement with a driver.
If making such arrangements are done through a reputable U.S. based travel
agency, you can be assured of the driver's commitment to both you and his car.
He'll be able to fix the car if trouble occurs (auto shops are not found as
often as here in North America.) and will even stay with the car to avoid theft.
Understand that the people of Ukraine and Poland are very
friendly and hospitable. However, keep in mind that you are a guest of
theirs and their country. You should be sensitive to their culture and
traditions (which are your ancestral traditions, too, don't forget!).
Don't complain about food or weather or lodgings, or anything. Most people
will go out of their way to help you and provide you with as much comfort as
they can. Complaining will be seen as an insult. Living conditions
are difficult for the average citizen. In any event--it's your vacation
and your genealogy! Enjoy yourself! Take a care free attitude with
When you visit, bring a notebook, pen, camera, (video
cameras capture live action and will bring you the most vivid memories of your
trip), and a small tape recorder. Before you photograph or tape record
anyone, ask for permission first! Be polite! You'd never walk up
to someone in your home town and start photographing....at least I hope not!
I carry a small notepad with me at all times just in case I need to record any
information, names or places. Of course, if you go to an archive, bring
lots of paper and pencils!
Travel Trips to Ukraine, Lviv, and TsDIAL
- Use travel agency familiar with Ukraine.
They'll help with:
- passport and visa
- hotel reservations and/or letters of invitations
- drivers and translators
- easier border crossing
- registering with local registry office-required of all
Learn some Ukrainian! At least the most common
words and phrases:
Plan your trip ahead of time.
- greetings and thank you's
- Buy travel guides and surf the WWW
- Consider carefully what records you're looking for
- Be specific, don't be vague and don't over extend
In between waiting for records, sightsee beautiful
historic Lviv or ancestral villages
Prepare a folder filled with your genealogical
data. Don't bring everything-only the most important information
you'll need to help you in your research.
Bring copies, never the originals!
Send letter ahead of time requesting permission to
research in archive.
- Explain exactly what you're interested in, they may
have some things waiting for you!
On to the archive! Archive Visit Tips
Respect their rules and customs!
Visit archive with a translator if you don't speak
Ukrainian, Russian, or Polish.
Bring a copy of your letter requesting permission to
research in archive in case the original is lost in the mail.
Ask to speak to the director for permission to research.
If interested in vital records, ask to see the index for Greek Catholic and
Roman Catholic records.
If interested in other documents relating to your
village, ask to visit the card catalog room.
Fill out request form for the documents. Ask for
help in filling out the form.
Have patience!! Wait for the material, which may
take a day to two to be delivered to you in the reading room.
Inquire about photocopying procedures and costs.
When leaving, say THANK YOU accompanied by a sincere
gift. It's not a bribe---it's a popular Ukrainian custom.