DIALOGUE ABOUT THE SOUTH RUSSIAN ARCHIVES, August, 2001:
I returned yesterday from the GRHS convention in Pierre, SD. It was O.K. for a convention, not as good as last year in Bismarck, but fruitfull in some respects.
I sat and had a long talk with Dale Wahl. I was telling him that the Rastadt deal is very frustrating to folks like you and I . I also told him that we are of a younger set of Germans, and the we are more agressive about research. We were sitting off in the corner and he shared with me some specific information about how delicate the situation in the Ukraine is, and he described in many details just what was going on. Later that day there was a workshop and he was asked the same questions that I asked and said he could not share that information. I felt like he kind of gave up a little to me on what was happening over there.
We talked a little on an archive by archive basis. Dale knows what is in a few of the archives and most, if not all of what is in the Odessa archive, for you and I the odessa archive means very little. I asked him piontedly about getting back into a closed archive and getting an inventory of what was available. Here's the deal, there is a guy working through a research institute who can be hired on the Q.T. We could get a back door deal to gain access and get a list of what is in this archive. Dale said this guy would do the inventory, translate a list to english, and get it to us for dollar amount per hour. Depending on the volume of what's there , at about $8 per hour for his time, we could get an inventory for about $300 - $400. This could be done fairly quickly and there is no guarrantee of what we would find. I was asked not to disclosed which archive this is, but it is the place where the Beresan 1858 material was found. Recently Dale has found a pipeline to get data out of this archive.
I met an individual who has been in this building and he said that the amount of material is volumnous. I feel it's possible that the rest of the 1858 for Rastadt and München could be there. Remember the Landau Baptism and Death registers had no information for Rastadt & München, these church books could also be located there. This archive is in the middle of a Catholic area.
Do you have any interest in getting a few of us together to get the bucks up to do this ? I guess that discretion is the key here, but if we keep it a tight lipped affair it could be a good deal. Let's say we find out there is a ton of good stuff there, we could use this "pipeline" to perhaps purchase just what we want.
Everyone wonders why one person can't get the USA "bidders" (including LDS) together and punch out one low-bid deal and put this whole mess to bed once and for all?
I've been bitching for years about the terrible state of communication between all the various groups involved in the purchase of records from the Russian archives. All we're doing is shooting ourselves in the foot. The GRHS and AHSGR are not on good terms with each other, there are all sorts of tensions behind the scenes. The AHSGR regards GRHS as a bunch of amateurs. They in turn are biased toward the Volga colonies, but they deny it. I personally don't trust them to represent the interests of the Black Sea folks with the Saratov archives. It is a total mess, and if private parties launch individual efforts to bargain with the archives it will make it worse. Eventually something will break loose at Saratov. I'm young enough still (57), so I expect to see these records within my lifetime, but it's sad when you think about the older members.
This AHSGR / GRHS thing is probably the biggest thorn in our side. These two groups are at each others throats. Records paid for the GHRS were not received, money was said to have been stolen by a courier but rumors have it that it may have not even reached the courier. It's no secret that AHSGR is in a financial crisis. All their office staff has been replaced, and the overall view of their membership is that the new building in Bismarck was a waste of money. In their eyes there should only be one group, headed in Lincoln, and that they could have better spent all that money on behalf of all germans from russia. There are Black Sea church records, not translated , just sitting in at their headquarters in Lincoln. Since they are a Volga group we may not see the finished product for years to come. I was amazed to hear that these documents existed and we have no access to them. Their new director, Jan Roth, was at the convention in Pierre, SD talking about " working together" and "sharing resources" but the issue of the missing money will probably never be resolved. It is a known thing that ASHGR has the edge in getting information from the Ukraine and Russia, they have more contacts. In 1999 I was at the AHSGR library in Fresno, CA. I seen several of Dr. Pleve 's charts. The ASHGR membership is supporting this guy to the limit. Talk about "not seeing trees through the forest" these folks think Pleve is actually helping their cause. I made a comment about his prices, at that time it was $800 for a chart, and the lady at the office told me he was a dedicated researcher who was working very hard in tough conditions to help all of them find their families. This is how naive she was, she said he had done charts for a few of her cousins also, and didn't charge them any more than he did her, so she felt that he was fair. She did not even understand it was the same chart! I have no doubt the greatest competitor we have is the folks from Lincoln. I don't think you can blame Pleve, he just an enterprising fellow sitting atop a gold mine. I have been preached to time after time not to go after old records unless it's done through the GRHS, Yet members of AHSGR are placing orders on their own with this guy all the time. If both groups, with their american and german members had a coordinated effort, Pleve would have to come to the table with us or starve. There is some speculation that records which were gathered up prior to WWII ended up being returned to Saratov. It seems that whatever Pleve has for data, it does contain Black Sea material. Currently the LDS microfilm project is signing contract after contract for many of these archives. They are using local people to do the filming, and creating a little $$$ for the local economy. Dale figured it would only be a matter of time before they get an agreement to get them into Saratov.
Members of AHSGR are placing orders on their own with this guy all the time. If both groups, with their American and German members had a coordinated effort, Pleve would have to come to the table with us or starve. There is some speculation that records which were gathered up prior to WWII ended up being returned to Saratov. It seems that whatever Pleve has for data, it does contain Black Sea material. Currently the LDS microfilm project is signing contract after contract for many of these archives. They are using local people to do the filming, and creating a little $$$ for the local economy. Dale figured it would only be a matter of time before they get an agreement to get them into Saratov.
One difference between the GRHS and AHSGR customers is that Pleve doesn't access the same data sources for both groups. My impression is that Pleve assembles his genealogies for Volga clients by checking the revision lists, plus other documents. That's not very labor intensive, and I regard his $800 fee for Volga genealogies as a ripoff. For the Black Sea colonies (esp. the Catholic ones) he has to rely on the Mogilev and Tiraspol Consistories because there aren't other sources available in Saratov. It is more labor intensive to do this because the consistories are organized by year -- i.e., he has to flip through each volume, one year at a time, locate the village, extract the surname, then move on to the next volume. That's why I've argued that it makes more sense todo this only once --- extract the entire village, from beginning to end. That will save time, and also wear and tear on the old consistory documents. But, I guess that's Pleve's rationale for charging his high fees. I doubt that it would be possible for him to extract an entire lineage from the Tiraspol consistory for $800 -- in fact, he told me that he refuses to do it, he won't extract a lineage, he will only do it one record at a time. I think it would amount to much more than $800 at his current rate, even if he was willing to do it.
Everything you said in your note matches the stories I've heard from other sources, so I think we're all in agreement that it is a big mess at this point. Pleve was set up in business as the middleman as a result of contracts signed with him by AHSGR about 10 years ago. Pleve has had a stranglehold on the Saratov records ever since. He pays a kickback to Saratov, so they think it is mutually lucrative, but in fact they are getting screwed and he is the major winner. That's why I have been arguing that we need to negotiate directly at the top, with the Saratov archive director, and to bypass Pleve. It would make more sense to negotiate an arrangement with them to hire a staff person to extract records for entire village, or at least an entire lineage, from the Saratov records, rather than leaving it up to Pleve to milk the American customers for whatever he can get, and to pay a pittance to the archive.
Are the door closed at Tiraspol? I though this place to be diocese of some type, it it just another archive ? How is it that we can be certain that Beresan data is located there. Another thing, isn't it at Tirospol that Keller found the 1838-9 census data?
I don't have any info about what may be available at Tirsaspol. I have copies of archive inventories for Odessa, Kherson, Nikolaiev, and Dnepropetrovsk. I also have a limited inventory from Ismail (Moldava), and Kishiniev archives. None of these show the 1839/40 revison lists (or at least I haven't noticed them, they may be buried there in the lists somwhere). I'm not sure where Fr. Keller found those censuses. The 1858 revision lists that were recently retrieved were at Kherson. For some reason that's supposed to be big secret, they don't want one archive to know about any deals arranged with the other archives.
The Catholic archbishop's consistory, where copies of all churchbook entries for South Russia were sent, was originally in Mogilev in the 1820s, then it moved to Tiraspol for awhile, and eventually was stored in Saratov. I can get you exact dates for all this. Igor Pleve was able to extract records from the Tiraspol consistory for me, stored there at Saratov. He was willing to do this one record at a time, not in larger blocks. I have corresonded with him several times, trying to convince him to agree to a workable arrangement, but he has refused. I also spoke with him personally on two occasions when he came to the USA, with no luck. He may eventually cooperate if his business begins to slow down, if we wait long enough.
Personally I think our best hope is for AHSGR/GRHS or the LDS to negotiate directly with the archive staff, to by-pass Pleve. So far no one (to my knowledge) has done this (except for LDS several ago, and they gave up in disgust). AHSGR prefers to take the easy way, to hire Soshnikov to make all the contacts. But Soshnikov and RAGAS were just another middleman organization, perhaps not as greedy as Pleve. RAGAS is now out of business. This has left AHSGR hanging high and dry without any access, so there have been rumors that they will try to reestablish some new relationship, but this time it will have to be at the top because they have no other middlemen. Meanwhile, GRHS and the other private parties (the Gluekstal group, Karl Lacher) have been doing their own thing with the Ukrainian archives. .... And everyone is being very secretive, like James Bond.
I've been told that if you travel directly to the archives you can access the records for your family, although you would likely have to pay the fees and grease a few palms to speed up the
process. People have found that the archives are closed much of the year, or if the archive is open they'll be told that certain records are "inaccessible" because they are being inventoried, or being rebound, or whatever. If you went to Saratov you may be able to access specific records, if you knew the specific dates. I doubt that they would allow you to actually dig through the original leather bound volumes of the Tiraspol consitory, but they would probably give you handwritten copies of specific entries, or photocopies. The big limitation is that we don't know all the specific birthdates for our ancestors, and we're not allowed to just sit there and paw through the old volumes. The archive staff will protest that this puts too much wear and tear on fragile old records -- and they're right on that point. All that material should be microfilmed,
like what the LDS does, but the archives are too paranoid about the potential monetary value of the records to allow that to be done at this point.
One problem is that they have a different concept of archives in Russia than we have in the Western world -- they are not regarded as public data, but rather private property of the state. Genealogy is also looked down upon. They tend to be very open and cooperative with bona fide historians, or others doing academic research, but private parties coming in to extract family data are regarded with disdain....unless there's money to be made from it somehow.
Odessa and other archives in Ukraine have been more cooperative. Various geographic interest groups have pooled money to purchase records of interest to them -- the Glueckstal colonies group, and Karl Lacher have been purchasing records from Odessa for several years. The Beresan colonies group has been spearheaded by Dale Wahl, and he has had good luck in purchasing material from Ukrainian archives (esp. Odessa), using the donated funds to the GRHS archives acquisition committee. My sense is that we've had a working relationship with those archives, so we should try to continue using the established channels to avoid muddying the waters.
Saratov is another matter entirely. As far as I can see, we have had no channel to get material from Saratov, other than through AHSGR and RAGAS (which is now out of business). Pleve is apparently the only one still doing any business there. There is a big vacuum at this point and AHSGR is groping around trying to figure out how to build a new bridge. Personally I don't trust AHSGR to represent our interests. Unless they make a committment to actively pursue Black Sea records at Saratov, I say that archive is fair game, an open field for whoever wants to spend the money to try to break in there. The various GRHS groups haven't made any serious efforts to access Saratov because they've regarded that AHSGR turf, and they're busy getting material from the Ukraine while it is still available. We're reaching the point in time where I think it's time to turn our attention to Saratov once again. If the LDS is actively making some headway there, then I think we should keep hands off to avoid complicating the situation for them. However, the LDS owes us the courtesy of giving a progress report.