JewishGen Discussion Group #JewishGen RE: Records in Cyrillic - learning to read them #general

Schelly Talalay Dardashti

For Sam and others with the same question:

Yes, it is possible.
When I received the seven rolls of microfilm for the
Mogilev Crown Rabbinate records years ago, I could not
read any Russian.
We had some new immigrant friends back then but
everyone was busy and no one could sit with me for
hours going over each and every record.
However, I did ask several of them to write clearly on
a piece of paper the names I was looking for. I asked
them to print, write in cursive handwriting. I
specifically asked them to write in cursive clearly
and also in a "scribbled" fashion, as those who wrote
the records did not receive penmanship awards.
I also checked some online alphabet sources for
Cyrillic, giving printed and handwritten forms, and
tried to write the name myself, thus ensuring that I
would have at least one form of horrible handwriting
in an unknown languge!
I was fortunate that TALALAY looks somewhat like the
sound a cat makes (mieow) in handwriting.
I looked for the "meowing" and was able to scan the
records rather quickly.

Although I could read the Hebrew, again handwriting,
or rather scribbling, is a problem in these records. I
asked friends fluent in Hebrew to write the name in
various formats again (printed, cursive in good and
bad handwriting). And I even asked a Yiddish-speaker
to write it down.
it helped to have numerous people with different
handwriting contribute to this to form a better idea
of how the name might appear.

Getting people to write down the names took the
longest part of this project!
When I started going through the reels, I stopped
frequently to compare the handwritten chart with the
records. After awhile, I did not have to compare and
it went very quickly.

At one point, I asked one of our Russian friends to
check what I had done, and almost all of the records I
had located were correct. A very small number were
wrong because the handwriting was so bad my friend
even had trouble reading it.

It was a relatively (pun intended) easy process.
Today, I can certainly recognize TALALAY and many
other names in printed and handwritten forms in any
sort of record or list.

Today, of course, there are numerous helper items out
there: translations of the record columns,
translations of common words, etc.

It is certainly a practical undertaking, and in my
case was not that difficult.

I will say that it was delightful finding a birth
record for one of our TALALAY calligraphied into the
Mogilev birth records by the baby's father, a
well-known rabbi. Both the Hebrew and the Russian was
written in a beautiful hand.

In a funny anecdote relating to reading Cyrillic, we
went out with friends here in Israel several years
ago, and they took us to a a great Bukharan kebab
restaurant outside Tel Aviv. I tried to get the name
of the place >from them. The wife said, in Persian,
"Oh, it begins with P, something like PECTOPAH." It
didn't register until we drove up to the place, and I
saw the large blue neon sign. I realized this was
RESTORAN (restaurant). At least I know we won't
starve! By the way, we still don't know the real name
of the place!

Go for it!

Schelly Talalay Dardashti
Tel Aviv
President, JFRA Israel

Subject: Records in Cyrillic
From: "Sam Schleman" <>

I am wondering if anyone has successfully attempted to
teach themselves enough Russian to be able to find
vital records for their family on the films >from the
If so, how long and/or arduous a process was it to
gain enough facility to be able to do this? Is this a
practical undertaking?

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