How To Get Polish Ancestors Gulag Records
How Hard Is It?
Getting information from Russia is certainly a good deal harder than most of the other research you will do. However, do not let this put you off, the rewards for your efforts are great!
Being organised, having a system and keeping notes of what stages you are at in each enquiry will be a very good idea as some of these enquiries can take months to go through. Also, expect to get dragged in multiple directions at once! But it's a fantastic challenge that is sure to add missing jigsaw pieces to the puzzle.
Starting Point - Memorial & Index Of Repressed
The first step is to find out what the name of the gulag was that your relative was at. First, get your relatives records from Memorial and also the Index of The Repressed. I've created webpages (See LHS) on how to do each of these.
In many cases the detail of which Gulag the person was sent to is on the Index Of The Repressed record. In my case, this was missing from my grandfathers records.
If this is the case with the records you have then a request to Archiwum IPN may give the answer, as happened in my case.
Locating The Camps Names
The Russians seemed to have more than a few names for the same place. You need to find out all the alternative names.
For instance, the camp of my grandfather according to Archiwum IPN was "Siewierodwiński Poprawy of the Camp", but it was also known by these names (which need to be known so that further research is possible):
- Siewierodwiński Poprawy of the Camp
- North Dvina Corrective Labour Camp
- Siewdwinlagu, Wielsk
- Camp 283
To find all the alternatives as I did involves extensive sessions on Google using Boolean string searches etc. Interestingly, "Camp 283" came from a single book listed in Google Books. Be prepared to explore all avenues.
List Of Gulags
Again, the Memorial website has some pretty good information on the Gulags.
My grandfathers Gulag on the above page is called "North Dvinsky" which is a variation on all the other names I uncovered. This shows that a lot of detective work is required!
A good trick on that page is to use CTRL-F, then in the search field start typing the name, as soon as you get the first results check each one (do not type any more of the name in). It really is a case of "less is more".
Exploring Memorial's Gulag Detail
So now that we have the Memorial website page up regarding your desired gulag there is some exciting detail on it that can lead you to more information, possibly even photos taken on the day your relative entered the gulag!
As to my grandfathers gulag it tells me what that gulag did "building railway Konosha-Kotlas" (A bit of time on Google and suddenly I learn loads about this railway!), it gives me the camps population (handy to know the size of camp he was in), and then BOOM...we hit GOLD!
It tells me there is an archive at "OMZ Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Komi ASSR" (currently putting a letter together to formerly request records from there!) with "service cards of workers" (Does it get any better?)
There is also mention of "1st Special Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in the Arkhangelsk region", so I will be writing there as well to see what info they hold.
I find the concept that even more info could still exist on my grandfather dating back to 1941/42 with a possible photo taken then to be a truly exciting prospect! Once I hear back from Russia I will update this page (which is written in April 2019). Who knows what relatives records are still lying in Russia waiting for you to discover?
Working With The Russians
I have found from many prior interactions with Russians that they tend to ignore emails written in English. My recommendation is to always include a Russian as well as an English copy of any detail sent to them with the Russian text first.
This approach ensures your best chance of a good response.
Interactive Gulag Map
Memorial have published an interactive map of Russian Gulags that could prove of use: