Who do we think we are?
Updated: Jun 14
Who do you think you are is one of my favourite TV programmes. I may not know all of the celebrities tracking down their family history, but I still find it extremely interesting to watch how they research their family trees. The stories going back hundreds of years can be truly fascinating.
In fact, my work is sometimes directly related to such research. Many Britons are just as interested in genealogy and manage to get hold of documents written in foreign languages. Some of such documents are written in Russian.
That’s where a Russian translator comes to face certain challenges. The fact is that very often such papers are written in pre-revolutionary Russian, when the alphabet was slightly different and so were the spelling rules. Some words naturally become obsolete. Records were also made by hand in a somewhat flowery writing so it can be quite difficult to decipher every single word.
Double dating is another striking feature of some records which were made in both the Julian and Gregorian calendars, with the other corresponding date given in brackets. The Julian Calendar is often called the old style or the old calendar in Russia and it is still observed by the Russian Orthodox Church. That’s why the October Revolution is called just that, even though it took place on 7th November, as we know it. The date on the old calendar was 25th October.
What is also interesting is that some documents written in Russian are actually archived in Poland. This is because for a period of time in the 19th - early 20th century a part of Poland was ruled by the Russian empire. So a document found in Poland is not necessarily written in Polish!
It is particularly difficult to get access to papers originated in Russia. Sadly, some of the records were destroyed when the Bolsheviks came to power and burnt many churches down. Some of such records are gone forever, but many still exist because a system of two registers was run. And as I am writing this, I feel very tempted to try to see what I can find out about my family, even though I am now hundreds of miles away. I speak Russian, and that’s already half the battle!
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