June 01, 1997

Digging up your Russian Roots

If you have family roots in Russia, you are in good company. Between 1820 and 1992, according to data from the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, some 3,512,332 individuals emigrated from Russia to the United States, most of them around the turn of the century (2.5 mn between 1897 and WWI).

The largest component (over 50% by one estimate) of this emigration during tsarist times was Jews leaving the Pale of Settlement in the late 1800s and during WWI. This was supplemented by Jewish emigration from the USSR in the 1970s and 1980s (some 200,000 persons). Gary Mokotoff, publisher of Avotaynu: The International Review of Jewish Genealogy, said it is estimated that 95% of all Jews in America have family roots in the territory of Russia and the former USSR.

A second, important ethnic emigration from Russia in the past century has been Germans who were invited to settle on the Volga and the Black Sea by Catherine the Great in 1763. The 1897 Russian Census showed some 1.7 mn Germans residing in Russia. In 1979, the number had risen little, to 1.9 mn, indicating significant emigration in the interim.

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