Immigrants from the Russian Empire, 1898-1922

Immigrants, Russian Jews, and Poles

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The Records

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 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.

For more information about the American collection, consult:

  • The Russian Consular Records Index and Catalog by Sallyann Amdur and Suzan Fishl Wynne. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1987, (897 pages).

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 Montréal, 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) contains personal documents that immigrants brought with them to Canada. Immigrants surrendered these records to the consular officials in return for the required identity cards that would let them to work and live in Canada. The collection consists of 127 volumes and is available on microfilm reels M-7591 to M-7672, M-8270 and M-8271 (84 reels, 16 mm).

It is organized into four series:

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

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

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

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.

For more information on the LI-RA-MA collection held at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) and on the project, consult Moving Here, Staying Here - Identity Files (Archived).

The Database

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

Important note: Some of the original documents are very difficult to read; therefore some information in the database may be incorrect and/or incomplete. Please note that LAC does not provide a translation service.

Search Screen

The search screen allows you to search by:

  • Surname
  • Given Name(s)
  • Year of Birth

Note that some entries include only an initial for the given names. Try searching by surname only.

Names can be written different ways. The search engine performs a search in the name field and/or other spelling variations fields of the original database.

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.

When you have entered your search terms, click on 'Submit.' The number of hits found will be shown at the top of the results screen.

How to Interpret the Results

Your search results will be posted as a results summary list from which you will be able to obtain an item description.

Search Results Page

The search results page displays the following fields:

  • Item Number
  • Surname
  • Given Name(s)
  • Year of Birth

Click on the underlined Item Number of a record to access the Item page, which contains additional information specific to that record.

Item Page

The item page has digitized images of the actual pages available in JPG format and contains the following fields:

  • Surname
  • Given Name
  • Other Spellings
  • Year of Birth
  • Marital Status
  • Gender
  • Religion
  • Province
  • County
  • District
  • Town
  • Volume
  • File Number
  • Microfilm
  • Reference
  • Item Number

To suggest a correction, click on the Suggest a Correction link to access an electronic form.

To return to the Search Results page, click on the Back button of your browser in the upper left corner of your screen.

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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