Immigrants from the Russian Empire, 1898-1922

Immigrants, Russian Jews, and Poles

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The records

These files contain documents with genealogical information about immigrants who had contact with the Russian consulates in North America.

From the mid-19th century to the early 20th century, the Imperial Russian Government, which included eastern Poland and Finland as well as most of the former USSR, maintained consulates throughout North America. These consulates were closed following the outbreak of the Russian Revolution. Their records were then stored in many places, and many became lost, damaged or destroyed. Eventually the records were placed in the custody of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) of the government of the United States, in Washington, D.C. The records were organized into American and Canadian collections.

The Canadian Collection: Likacheff-Ragosine-Mathers (LI-RA-MA)

The Canadian collection consists of documents created by consuls in the Imperial Russian Consular offices located in Montreal, Vancouver and Halifax. The last of these consuls were A.S. Likacheff, K. Ragosine, and H.I. Mathers (LI-RA-MA). In 1980, the Public Archives of Canada (now Library and Archives Canada) borrowed the Canadian collection from NARA. The documents were classified and microfilmed and returned to Washington, D.C. in 1990. NARA later sent the original documents to the Soviet Union.

The LI-RA-MA collection (MG 30 E406) includes many documents relating to immigrants from Russia, Poland, Finland, Lithuania and other parts of the former Russian Empire. The collection consists of 127 volumes and is available on microfilm reels M-7591 to M-7672, M-8270 and M-8271 (84 microfilm reels).

It is organized into four series:

  • Operational records of the Russian Consulate-General in Montreal (which included the Russian Vice-consulate in Halifax)
  • Russian Consulate in Vancouver
  • Journals and correspondence of the Russian Consulate-General in Montreal and the Consulate in Vancouver
  • Passport and identity papers

Read the full description of the collection. Only the Passport and identity papers series has been indexed and digitized in this database. The other series are only available on microfilm, which must be consulted on site.

  • Passport and identify papers series

    The passport and identity papers series contains about 11,400 files with photographs and documents such as passports, visas and correspondence. The documents are written primarily in Russian, though frequently they are also written in six other Eastern European languages. The majority of files deal with immigrants from the Russian Empire who were of Jewish, Finnish, Ukrainian or Polish origins.

    Read the full description of the passport and identity papers series.

    In order to ensure that each applicant was a genuine Russian citizen, he or she was required to complete a questionnaire which included a photograph of themselves. The questionnaire contained 21 questions and in some cases, it was written in a bilingual Russian/English format. The information included:

    • Name
    • Given Name(s)
    • Occupation
    • Date and place of birth
    • Marital status
    • Military service
    • Present address
    • Names of parents and their residence
    • Religion
    • Nationality and citizenship of immigrant and his or her parents

    See an example of the full questionnaire.

    See an English translation of the full questionnaire.

    Much of this information was recorded in transliterated form (in the Latin alphabet) on nominal index cards prepared for each file.

  • Sample of index card and explanation of fields

    Sample of an index card

    1. Surname of applicant (all variant forms).

    2. Given name(s) and patronyms (all variant forms).

    3. A check mark (✓) indicates that the name has been transliterated from Cyrillic.

    4. Sex of applicant.

    5. Year of birth (date in brackets is approximate).

    6. Place of origin is indicated in four corners: province (upper left); county (lower left); district (upper right); home village, town or city (lower right).

    7. Marital status is indicated by the following letters: 'S' for single; 'M' of married; 'O' for other.

    Religion is indicated by a check mark (✓) in field areas 8 to 13:
    8. 'X' for Christian (not further defined).
    9. 'O' for Russian Orthodox.
    10. 'C' for Roman Catholic.
    11. 'H' for Hebrew (Jewish).
    12. 'L' for Lutheran.
    13. Other religion (excluding those listed in numbers 8 to 12) with name written in full.

    14. A check mark (✓) indicates that a photograph of the applicant is contained in the file.

    15. A check mark (✓) indicates that information on the applicant's family members is contained in the file.

    16. Number of items in the file.

    17. Additional information on the applicant is available in the operational consular records of the collection (series I and II) in either 'I' (Immigration) or 'W' (War-related) subseries.

    18. Number and type of document:
    'A' Affidavits and various other certificates of identity or other personal information.
    'C' Correspondence of any kind.
    'E' Employment records, work permits, discharge certificates, etc.
    'F' Photographs which are not glued to another document.
    'M' Military service records.
    'P' Passports, including those for Russian internal travel.
    'Q' Questionnaire of any kind, including passport applications.
    'T' Travel documents other than passports (tickets, itineraries, etc.).
    'O' Other.

    19. Numerical identifier assigned to the file.

  • The American Collection

    The American collection of the Imperial Russian Consulates records is much larger than the Canadian collection. Containing material dating from the years 1862 to 1922, it covers primarily the years 1900 to 1917. In the United States, the Imperial Russian Consulates were located in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Honolulu, Philadelphia, Portland (Oregon) and Seattle.

    The records are held at NARA and are not available online.

    For more information about the American collection, consult:

The database

This database provides access to about 11,400 references to the passport and identity papers series of the LI-RA-MA collection held at Library and Archives Canada (LAC).

Much of this information was recorded in transliterated form (in the Latin alphabet) on nominal index cards prepared for each file. LAC staff members created a database from these nominal index cards.

Please note that LAC does not provide a translation service.

Search tips

  • Some of the original documents are very difficult to read; therefore some information in the database may be incorrect and/or incomplete.
  • Some entries include only an initial for the given names. Try searching by surname only.
  • The series description includes a section about issues with how names were recorded and translated, including tips on the spelling of Ukrainian names.
  • Names can be written different ways. To help you identify different spellings of family names, we suggest that you use the Avotaynu Consolidated Jewish Surname Index soundex system. It is also valid for non-Jewish names.
  • You can also browse the original alphabetical index cards on the digitized microfilm.

How to Obtain Copies

You can print the images or save the images on your own computer.

Other Resources

Other archival immigration records exist. Consult Genealogy and Family History - Immigration and Citizenship for more information.

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