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Genealogy is a wonderful hobby and you can be very successful in your search for your Family History if you know and use the basic tools that are out there to help you find the information you are looking for.

In this article, I will talk about my researching in Ukraine, the country my father's parents came from. My experiences just might help some of you with your own research. It will also show the importance of using U.S. documents to find the records you want from overseas.

There was a time of course when a country like Ukraine was closed off to us. Trying to obtain a record or even information on a person would have just been impossible. But with the fall of Communist control over most of Eastern Europe, this has changed. That's not to say that it has changed all over Eastern Europe, but it is slowly becoming easier to obtain information.

So, where do we start? To find any information on your ancestor, you must know exactly where he/she was from. You find this information by working with U.S. records. I will use my search for my Grandmother's birth record to show you how it all works together.

I only knew that my Grandmother, Maria Klimkovych Paliy was from Ukraine. I had no information on where in Ukraine and so the search began, following her paper trail. Grandma died in 1948 in New York City. So first I obtained her death certificate from the Department of Health NYC ($15.00). It told me that she was born on 19 January 1889, but it gave me no clue to the name of the town she was born in. I then searched for her marriage record. My Dad told me she was married in NYC. I found a civil record in the Manhattan City Clerk's Office for 1 November 1934 ($15.00), but it just told me she was from Austria. The 1920 Federal Census was my next search. It is Soundexed so I didn't need an exact spelling of the surname Klimkovych to find her. The census told me a lot of information on Grandma, most important that she arrived to the U.S. in 1906. Finding the passenger arrival document would be my next step.
Arrivals to New York from July 1,
General Reference Branch
National Archives and Records Admin.
7th and Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20408

When I searched for my Grandmother's passenger arrival record, the Ellis Island Database on line did not yet exist.

It took one month to receive the wonderful two-page document. Maria Klimkowicz, age 17, occupation servant, able to read and write, nationality Galician, race Ruthenian, from OTYNEVYCHI UKRIANE. There it was the name of the town. Now I really had something to work with.

So now what?? Well, where is Otynevychi? Once you find the name of the town, you'll need to know where it is. This is not always easy to discover especially since a town name may have many different spellings. The Russian Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Germans had occupied Ukraine, and each one used their own spellings for a town. So don't limit yourself to one spelling of your town's name. Be prepared to look for records under ALL spellings. Now that I had the name Otynevychi, I quickly looked at a map and to no surprise, Otynevychi was no where to be found. So I wrote to the Library of Congress. They have a mapping division that can help find your town or village. I sent them the name Otynevychi and told them it was in Ukraine. In one week they sent me several maps (Free!) showing the exact location of the village. I then learned that the town name could be spelled, Ottynovitse, Ottnyiowice, Otynevichi, and Otynevychi.
Geography and Map Division,
Library of Congress,
Washington, DC 20540

You can also try using the ShtetlSeeker web site to help you locate a town/village for Eastern Europe. It is part of the Jewish Genealogy Web Page

A good source for variations on town name spellings is the book "Where Once We Walked" by Gary Mokotoff & Sallyann Amdur Sack, found from Avotaynu, Inc.

Now I had the location of Otynevychi, but that did not tell me where to look in Ukraine for the records of my Grandmother. I needed to find out just how the towns and villages were arranged in Ukraine, and then how the archives worked. First I searched for books and maps and found that Ukraine is divided into Oblasts, which are like states or districts. These Oblasts are further divided into Raions, which is like saying a county. A good map of Ukraine showed me that the location of Otynevychi put it into the Livivska Oblast, Zhydachiv Rayon. This was in the once Austrian controlled area of Ukraine called Galicia, which was under Polish administration, it's capital was L'viv (L'vov in Polish and Lemberg in German). My records might be in Vienna, Warsaw, or L'viv.

Under the Austrian Empire, Galicia was required to keep civil registration beginning in 1784. This registration was taken and kept by the church, with a duplicate record sent to the local administrative district. Government control of Ukraine changed many times and so did the administrative districts. In doing your research, it is important to determine what administrative district has control of your records. Records in Ukrainian Galicia are kept in Ukraine, those of Polish Galicia are in Poland.

The archives for records in Ukraine are under the Archival Administration, Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, then divided into the Central State archives, Oblast archives, and Raion (RAHS or ZAHS) archives. There are two Central State Historical Archives, one in Kiev and the other in L'viv. Getting information from the archives could only be done in four ways, writing letters, hiring a professional researcher, having my relatives go to the archives, or go to Ukraine myself and search for the records. I did three of the four, all but hire a professional. To take on this search, I would have to learn all I could about researching in Ukrainian Galicia.

First I looked for books that were written on researching records in Galicia. There were several, mostly for Jewish Genealogy. I was not looking for Jewish records, but the books would help me understand the system, and give me a direction to look. Another great source for to help you find an archive is Miriam Weiner's Roots To Roots Foundation, found at web site This site was not available when I did my research.

Second, I needed to find what administrative district Otynevychi was under. According to the book "Finding Your Jewish Roots in Galicia: A Resource Guide" by Suzan F. Wynne, the village of Otynevychi (spelled Ottyniowice in the book) is found in the administrative district of Bobrka, in the subdistrict of Chodorow, which are under the Livivska Oblast.

I would start the search for my Grandmother in the Central State Archives of L'viv.

Central State Historical Archive of Ukraine in L'viv
Soborna sq. 3a
290008 L'viv

I wrote a letter and had it translated into Ukrainian asking for the birth record (19 January 1889), and any other information for Maria Klimkowicz of Otynevychi, Zhydachiv Rayon, Bobrka administrative district, Livivska Oblast. Then I waited.

In three months an answer came back from the archive. They said they had found records for the Klimkowicz family of Otynevychi (the name was spelled Klimkovych in Ukrainian and Klimkowicz in Polish). If I would send $90.00US to the UKRSOTSBANK L'viv, account of the Central Historical Archives of L'viv, they would send me the information found. I did a bank wire transfer ($25.00 at the time) from my bank to the bank in L'viv. In one month I had copies of documents found for my Grandmother, along with documents for her brothers.

The birth document, 19 January 1889, was an Austrian Empire registration record. It was in Latin. It gave the date of birth, date of baptism, house number, name, parent's names, and godparent's names. Also included was a marriage record for Grandma. Apparently she had married on 25 February 1905 to Basilius Kalynec. She was 16, he was 32. Here was everything I needed and wanted for my Grandmother, and more!

Since that first letter to the Central State Historical Archive in L'viv in 1995, I have written them many times looking for more information. Each time I have written, more documents have been found and sent to me. I have been able to document most of the Klimkovych family back to 1775 in Otynevychi. The documents have also opened up new family members to search and learn about.

I have made several trips to Ukraine to continue my research. I stay with my relatives in Otynevychi, and through a translator, listen to their many stories.
A visit to the Central State Historical Archive of L'viv was high on my list of places to go during one visit. I had to go with a translator since I do not know Ukrainian. The Archive was in an old building with a heavy door entrance that looked like mid-evil metal armor in dark green. I went inside and found a receptionist. My translator explained that I was there to find information on my ancestors. At that moment, Diana Pelts, the Director of the Archive, entered the room. She asked if she could be of help... this was my chance!

"Yes, please", I said and she then took us to her office. She was a wonderful woman, very professional, friendly, and most accommodating. I knew right away that she would do all she could to try and help me. I first thanked her and her staff on behalf of all U.S. genealogists for the very professional and helpful job she was doing. I told her I had written the archive many times and always received an answer.

She asked me how she could be of help. I pulled out my three ring binder which had my notes, family group sheets, and old family pictures. She took a look at the book and said she liked it very much. At this time, I was researching another branch of my Klimkovych family, the Basumak's from Horodysze-Koroliws'ke (the village right next to Otynevychi). I told Ms Pelts that I would like to find records for this family and showed her what I had on them. I said I would also like to find a birth record for Ivan Klimkovych, 1898 in Otynevychi (the only brother of my Grandmother I did not have a record for). Any land records for both villages under Basumak and Klimkovych would also be desired. She called an assistant into the room and gave her my list of requested information. She directed me to look in the county archive in Zhidachiv for the 1898 record and gave me the address. She said the State archive had land records for my area as far back
I then asked about records for my Paliy side, my Grandfather 1888, born in Marachevka, Slavuta Raion, Khmelnytska Oblast. I told her I had written to the Khmelnytska Oblast Archive but never got a letter. She said those records would not be in the L'viv State Archives but might be in the Slavuta county archive. She said she would contact the Slavuta Archive for me. I talked with her for two hours. She told me if any information was found it would be mailed to me. I had accomplished what I wanted and thanked Ms Pelts very much for her time and help, then said goodbye.

My next stop was at the RAHS, the L'viv Civil Registry Office. The registry office was on the second floor, and many people were waiting in the entrance room. It didn't look promising to get in. My translator went to the receptionist and explained that I was looking for information on my ancestors. Did they have any records for between 1898-1935? The answer was no, they only had records from 1945 and they were not open for public viewing. To obtain any information I would have to provide special proof of how I was related to the individual I wanted information on, and why I wanted the information. Well, this was not going to be an archive I could easily use so I abandoned my request for any document search in it at this time.

The county archive in Zhidachiv was my next visit. It was only an hour drive from Otynevychi. I waited a half-hour before being asked into the Director's office. My translator knew the routine by now and told the Director about my researching. The Director asked me if I was trying to "claim ownership to some property?" "No", I told her, "I'm just doing family history researching for knowledge of my family." I showed her my three ring binder. She took great interest in it especially the pictures I had intended to give my relatives of my son's recent wedding. She loved the wedding pictures and called her assistant over to see them. Then she told me that she had never seen such a book containing so much detailed information about one's family history. (She should have only known that this was just a summary book and that I had 12 large books at home with considerably more information!) She then said, "How can I help you?" This was terr
As to the archive in Slavuta, I had contacted my relatives in Slavuta and they went to the archive to obtain my Grandfather's records. Because Ms Pelts had called this archive, the records for my Paliy family were ready and waiting to be picked up. I now had my Grandfather's birth record in my hand. And what a surprise, it seems the family name is Paliychuk and not Paliy. Wow, this was new information. It was very exciting to hold the birth record of my Grandfather in my hands; born 10 July 1888 in Marachivka.

I have been successful in my search for many records in Ukraine. But success has not always come easily. When I wrote to the Khmelnytska Oblast Archive, I never received an answer. The Slavuta county archive did not find records for my Grandfather's parents. I will probably need to contact the church in the area and hope that a kind priest will hear my plea for help in searching old records that might be very difficult to read.

It is true that wars and fires have destroyed many records, but don't assume the records are not there. Look for them. Your hard work will be rewarded!
Also be aware that many records, especially from the L'viv State Archives, have been microfilmed by the Latter-day Saints Mormon Church, and are available for rent through there Family History Centers.

Information researched and written by Susanne M. Saether
Email: Susanne


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2001-2002 UGS, Lighthouse Genealogy Service with Iwaniw & Associates B.E.
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Last updated: July 27, 2002.

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