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Looking for roots: the St. Petersburg archive digitizes register books


Those looking for details of the Russian President’s life could have got them at the St. Petersburg archive. But the time to make those public hasn’t come yet – now specialists are digitizing far older materials. Every person who was born in the city by the Neva can learn more about ancestors. Alexandra Lee found out when books will become digital.


The law on protection of personal data prevents one from learning details about the most famous of Putins – those could be made public after 75 years. Although this data is already in the electronic system of the archive. But learning about Putin’s ancestors or ancestors of, lets say, Peter the Great is now possible. Even from home. St. Petersburg’s archive is to launch a resource with digital data from register books. It is an actual database of when a certain person got christened, got married or died. The data which has been stored for several centuries.

Pavel Krylov, head of automated technologies department of Archives: “The main part comes from 1730s to 1917. Although there are sporadic records from Peter the Great’s times. Everything after 1917 belongs to storage of Central State Archive. Considering these materials are very old, we try to touch them as less as possible – that is why we’re scanning those”

In 6 years, only 1 percent of overall documents has been scanned – 20 thousand of over 2 million. 12 thousand register books will be fully digitized within the next several years.

Alexandra Lee, reporter: “This heavy register book is not being scanned currently – for technical reasons. That’s because this scanner can only fit a book of 18-centimeter thickness. We measure it with a 20-centimeter ruler – that’s definitely more. And such books make up a third of the entire storage”

Scanners with larger capabilities will become available next year. But operators have things to make them busy.

Elena Kalmuk, scanning operator: “We scan not less than 1300 pages a day, more or less. But not less. It’s a monotonous job, yes. And yes I get tired – books are heavy”

Users make sure tempo is high. In the 1990s the so-called “new Russians” businessmen were interested in such research – attempting to find noble roots. Now more and more citizens want to dig deeper.

Yuriy Kokashinskiy, historian-genealogist: “5 to 10 percent of St. Petersburg’s residents have local roots. And that goes back to the pre-Revolution times. Too many historic events happened in St. Petersburg – and we mustn’t forget the city used to be a capital. We lost a lot of people during the revolution and the civil war. A lot of people perished during the blockade too”.

Electronic database with register books is necessary for visitors – traditionally, there are not enough seats for everyone.

Elena Novikova, head of Russian genealogist society: “Just 10 minutes ago I stumbled upon records of Prince Bakenberg and Nadezhda Mikhailovna de Torby’s wedding - descendants of Pushkin”.

Once the public source becomes available, it will be a lot easier to search for one’s roots – it will be possible to acquire that info from any PC, whether that’s in Provence or Kamchatka.

Pavel Krylov, head of automated technologies department of Archives: “It will look like this – there will be a “Pay for services” link at the personal cabinet of the St. Petersburg’s city website, after which one would be able to look at these materials. That’s a necessary condition and is done so that a user makes a conscious decision”

The price for this is purely symbolic – 50 rubles. The website will become operational after New Year’s. Traditional catalogue will also be available – just as the opportunity to touch the relics.