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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Archives of Russia, Eastern Europe & Eurasia: Guides

General introduction to archival resources and terminology, with links to numerous archival institutions, descriptions of procedures, and details of guides specializing in information pertaining to archives and primary source documents in print and online

Archival Guides

Types of Resources

There are all kinds of archival guides, digital and print.  Guides to archival materials are also found in reference sources.The vast majority are descriptions of the major "fondy" in the archives.  Most will have indexes of proper names and some will have topical indexes.  So suppose you are looking for information on medicinal herbs.  Where do you start?  The easiest starting point is what is referred to as an interarchival guide.  There are a number of these but one of the best is Patricia Grimsted Archives of Russia.  Why this one?  It has a very fine subject index and includes an extensive list of archival holdings in museums. Additionally, the strarting researcher and graduate student should become familiar with Grimsted's A Handbook for Archival Research in the USSR, which remains a very useful introduction to the archival system in former communist countries even though the USSR is long gone.

But in addition to Grimsted, a plethora of individual archive reference guides have come out since the opening of archival holdings across the former communist East. The UIUC Slavic Reference collection in the International and Area Studies Library is one of the best for such guides, particularly for Russia. For example, there is the multi-volume guide, or Putevoditel', to the fond holdings of GARF, the State Archives of the Russian Federation, edited by Gregory Freeze and S.V. Mironenko, with a large team of compilers. Also in the reference section, patrons can find the multi-volume Archive of Contemporary Russian History. These printed guides are part of the Russian Archive Project, which publishes guides to the main Russian archives and "provides technical and financial support to the archives, enabling them to prepare new guides and descriptions of their collections." The project is funded by the National Council for Soviet and East European Research, IREX, the Social Science Research Council, and the Center for the Study of Russia and the Soviet Union, and housed at the University of Pittsburgh.

There are other such collections in American holdings that may save researchers considerable time abroad. The presence of online guides to these holdings makes it easier to find what kind of materials are available closer to home. One such online guide is Repositories of Primary Sources, compiled by Terry Abraham. There is also the printed Guide to Slavic Collections in the United States and Canada, edited by Allan Urbanic and Beth Feinberg.

An imaged example of an archival guide follows in order to convey an idea of a typical entry: 

Bibliographic Sources

These are primarily bibliographic guides or bibliographies of bibliography.  They are useful for many things not least of which is orienting yourself to the archives in your field.  One of the many excellent features about Grimsted Arkhivy Rossii is that it has a very fine subject index and includes an extensive list of archival holdings in museums.  One additional feature is that it lists bibliographies on the archives and their holdings which can be as valuable as the guides. 

To return to the example of medicinal herbs, Grimsted has an entry for the following item:

Utkin, L. A.; Gammerman, A. F. and Nevskii, B. A. Bibliografiia po lekarstvennym rasteniiam: Ukazatel' otechestvennoi literatury: rukopisi XVII-XIX vv., pehatnye izdaniia 1732-1954 gg. Moscow/Leningad: Izd:vo AN SSSR 1957. 725 pp. 

Grimsted's annotation indicates that this bibliography includes a catalog of manuscripts relating to medicinal herbs in Russia.  It would be a very good starting point for a search.

Interarchival Guides

These are guides to numerous archives in one place.  The online guide provided by the University of Idaho and mentioned above (Repositories of Primary Sources) is among the more famous digital guides to the archival holdings. Arguably the most famous and widely used is the UNESCO Archival Portal, which is described in more detail in a box to the right. For most of the countries of the Slavic region the national ministry responsible for archives has a website that also serves this function. Some list archives of a particular type, many are geographic listings of archives.  Most tend to give general information about an archival institution, not so much about the contents of a specific archive. Many researchers are interested in genealogical questions, something that is very often very particular to the given region and archival holdings, often requiring finding a local expert or scholar to serve as a guide through the documents. There has of course been much commercial advancement of this topic through companies such For Russia, for example, one possible place to start is FamilySearch.  

As with the individual archival and fond guides, tremendous research has been done since 1991 on bibliographic sources of particular subjects that were not welcome before. For example, several excellent guides have been published on the Jewish question in archival holdings across the region. These have been typically done by focusing on multiple archives in a given place, reviewing their holdings on documents dealing with Jews in Russia and the former Soviet Union. One such is Jewish Documentary Sources in Kiev Archives: A Guide. There have been additional guides such as this published for Belarus and of course for Russia. There have been guides to the question covering a broader area, such as this one that looks at all three East Slavic countries. Broader guides on specific disciplines have also been published. One example is A. G. Golikov, Arkhivovedenie otechestvennoi istorii, which does a good job of introducing researchers to Russian historical archives conceptually and functionally. For Russia there is also a very good online portal, as discussed previously, called Arkhivy Rossii.  It can be viewed at


Outside Russia are also many useful guides to archival materials and collections, some of which include much of the region together under the Slavic heading. For Poland, there is the Archiwum Państwowe w Przemyślu, which lays out the holdings of the state archives in Przemyśl and provides an introduction in English (as well as Polish, German, and Ukrainian). Among Grimsted's guides is the volume on Belarus and the Baltics: Archives and Manuscript Repositories in the USSR - Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Belorussia, perhaps still the most complete archival guide to this region despite being produced in the Soviet Union (certainly in English). For scholars working on Bulgaria, there is the guide to the central state archives, Putevoditel po fondovete na TSentralniia durzhaven arkhiv na NRB, published in 1975. Perhaps one of the most detailed and thorough archival guides has been produced the State Archival Committee of Ukraine, the four volume Mizharkhivnii Dovidnik: Reiestr Rozsekrechenikh Arkhivnikh Fondiv Ukraini.

Since 1991, there has also been tremendous progress in compiling lists of sources for the minority populations of the Russian Federation, and this also includes guides to archival collections. Some examples of the many thus guides in the UIUC IAS collection include the guide to the Tsentralʹnyi gosudarstvennyi arkhiv Respubliki Komi (Central State Archives of the Komi Republic); Spravochnik po fondam munitsipalʹnykh arkhivov Respubliki Tatarstan (Reference Guide to Fonds of the Tatarstan Republic Municipal Archives); and the Karelʹskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv noveishei istorii (Guide to the Karelia State Archive of Modern History). 

Encyclopedic sources:

There are many encyclopedic sources that include archival information and they can save you a great deal of time.  One of their primary uses is for locating personal archives.  The example below is taken from the publication Russkie Pisateli 1800-1917.  Each entry in this source has an extensive lising of archival information.  There are sources that supply locations of archival holdings for political organizations.  A very good example would be Politicheskie partii Rossii. Konets XIX - pervaia tret XX veka.



Archival Collections at UIUC

Perhaps most useful for researchers is knowing about special collections of archival materials that they have access to either because they have been copied in entirety and housed at UIUC or are so massive that just a detailed index of opisi takes hundreds of microfilm reels. Among the former is the entire holdings of the Moscow State Jewish Theater (GOSET) and Moscow State Jewish Theater School (MGETU), fonds 2307 and 2308 from RGALI, the Russian State Archive for Literature and the Arts, copied and published on 86 microfilm reels by IDC Publishers in 2005. This resources is made even more useful by the addition of a very well organized and searchable online guide to the collection, available either from the link for the collection in the UIUC catalog or here. From the latter example, the UIUC library has the microfilmed collection of the indivudual fond indexes for the Archives of the Soviet Communist Party and Soviet State, together with the printed guide to the collection. Also, the Guide to the Records of the Smolensk Oblast of the All-union Communist Party of the Soviet Union, 1917-1941, although not nearly as important as it was prior to 1991 when archives were closed, remains a readily available resources. This guide is now also available online via the HathiTrust, accessible from the item record. Another valuable source is the microfiche collection Anti-Semitism and nationalism at the end of the Soviet Era, within which are numerous original documents testifying to the rise of ethnic nationalism and xenophobia in the early 1990s. The collection comes with a printed guide available in IAS reference.  

UNESCO Archival Portal

The UNESCO Archivs Portal still has a website but is no longer active, so patrons should proceed to the Global Access Portal, available here. Once there, patrons can select their region and then country of interest. At the regional level there is a great deal of information on regional projects and organizations that are involved in open access, publishing, etc. Clicking on the country link takes one to a list of items designed to brief the visitior on the general research climate, not necessarily focused on or limited to archives. Some of the useful links will direct patrons to publications from the country listed in the DOAJ, or Directory of Open Access Journals. In some cases there will be none, in others many. Other links will connect with online entities, including private, non-governmental organizations and government-funded projects, that are focused on open access issues. Patrons can visit the open access community where they can participate in conversations about open access issues in the country. This can serve as an introduction to the research environment prior to the trip. Additional resources may be available that could prove useful to certain patrons. For example, under the Thematic Areas tab, there is information about Open Access Repositories in Arts and Humanities. 

Archives of Ukraine

In addition to the detailed printed guide to Ukrainian archives mentioned in the main section of this page, there has been also a tremendous amount of work done in Ukraine to make archival information available online. Dr. Volodymyr Chumachenko has put together an extensive guide for the Slavic Reference Service on the subject here. Please note at time of writing the Lviv archive website was down and Kirovgrad required opening in Microsoft Explorer and then Encoded to Cyrillic.