Easter Borderlands – searching Ancestors from Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus
Today, the Eastern Borderlands make up parts of Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine. We associate major cities, such as Lviv, Vilnius, and Grodno, with these countries, but the genealogical research on that area appears to be much more challenging than we thought.
Historically, these lands are strongly connected with Poland – the beginning of this bond falls at the end of the 16th century when Poland and Lithuania signed the union and became one country known as Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In the 19th century, the Eastern Borderlands had been under the Russian administration, but when Poland regained independence in 1918 they were included in Polish borders again. The great change came with World War II – In September 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland from both fronts, completing the occupation only a month after. The Eastern Borderlands were incorporated into the Soviet Union by force and remained in the Soviet influential zone till 1989. When the Soviet Union fell, three nations living in the Eastern Borderlands managed to create their independent countries, but a large number of Poles still live there.
Conducting genealogical research in this area is very difficult, as Poland was given almost no record files. The majority of the data remained in the East. In 1946 Poland and Ukraine signed an agreement stating that record files should be shared. Today unfortunately we have only a few documents from Ukraine in our Central Archives. Most of these records are available online on the Archives’ website (Polish). Nevertheless, all researchers have to remember that the documentation isn’t complete and it may be necessary to look for the ancestral census records through the Ukrainian institutions in some cases.
Unfortunately, such an agreement wasn’t signed with Lithuania or Belarus, this results in huge problems in accessing their files.
The birth records from Ukraine – Latin manuscripts from the beginning of the 20th century
Across Poland, there are only a couple of archives with files from the two countries. If you search for your distant ancestors from Easter Borderlands, you will need to look through the Lithuanian and Belarusian Archives. The Lithuanian Central State Archives is currently working on digitizing their books, maps, artwork, etc. The digitized record books span from the 15 to the mid-20 century.
In the case of Belarus, their Archive’s website shows the addresses and contact forms to the main archives, the National Historical Archives of Belarus in Grodno or Minsk. Roman-catholic books are separately categorized from Orthodox books, for easier searching.
It is worth mentioning that the Polish Genealogical Society is trying to obtain as many documents from the East as possible and share them on their website. Although, their resources are limited, feel free to check it, before the research on the Borderlands. If you are lucky, it will spare you tedious research.
The search may seem daunting but discovering your roots is worth it. Find your ancestors and explore your history!
Roman Catholic census records from Lwów Diocese (Polish)
Greek Catholic census records from Ukrainian territory (Polish):
The database of Polish Genealogical Society:
Chief Archives of Lithuania:
The list of Belarussian Archives:
Information about the census records held by the Archives in Grodno and Mińsk: