Author(s): Daniela Mathuber (2018) – last update: 2018-12-06
The Российский государственный архив древних актов (РГАДА) / The Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts (RGADA) houses the biggest collection of sources prior to 1800 in the Russian Federation. The oldest documents date from the 12th century, the youngest ones from the late 19th.
The archive was founded in 1925 as Древнехранилище Московского отделения Центрального исторического архива РСФСР / Archive of the Moscow Department of the Historical Archive of the RSFSR, uniting documents from the following archives: Московский архив Министерства Юстиции / Moscow Archive of the Ministry of Justice, Московский главный архив Министерства иностранных дел / Moscow Main Archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Государственный архив Министерства иностранных дел / State Archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Московское отделение Общего архива Министерства Императорского двора / Moscow Department of the General Archive of the Ministry of the Imperial Court, Архив Межевой канцелярии / Archive of the Chancellery of Delimitation Plans.
The archive’s name changed several times. From 1931 it was called Государственный архив феодально-крепостнической эпохи (ГАФКЭ) / State Archive of the Epoch of Feudalism and Serfdom (GAFKE), from 1941 Центральный государственный архив древних актов (ЦГАДА) / Central State Archive of Ancient Acts (TsGADA). Since 1992, it has maintained the current name.
There are 1642 fonds, the content of which can be grouped in the following way: documents issued by central government offices and church offices that existed during that period; monasteries’ and convents’ archives; as well as personal archives, including those of noble families based in Moscow, the rulers leading up to Alexander I and important 18th-century scholars. Some fonds contain documents that relate in topic but are from a variety of origins, for example the Pugachev rebellion.
Postal address (in Russian):
улица Большая Пироговская 17
Postal adddress (in English):
17 Bol’shaya Pirogovskaya street
The visitors’ entrance (called Prokhodnaya) bears no separate address; it is located on Khol’zunova alley, just around the corner from Bol’shaya Pirogovskaya street (see the map below).
Tel. Head of the Dept. of Scientific Information & Publication of Documents E. E. Rychalovskii: (499) 246 78 47
Other telephone numbers can be found on the website’s Контакты / Contact (http://rgada.info/index.php?page=4).
Reading Rooms 1 & 2
Summer (June 1st-July 31st): Monday-Thursday 10:00-18:00, Friday 10:00-16:30
Rest of the year: Monday, Wednesday 12:00-20:00, Tuesday, Thursday 10:00-17:30, Friday 10:00-16:30
Archive of Delimitation Plans
All year round: Monday-Thursday 12:00-17:30, Friday 12:00-16:30
Every month on the first workday, all reading rooms are closed for cleaning.
How to Find the Archives Site
In more or less comfortable walking distance from the archive there are three metro stations (marked on the map below): Kievskaya (light blue line, dark blue line, Radial Line), Park kul’tury (red line, Radial Line), and Frunzenskaya (red line). Frunzenskaya is the nearest one. Buses (line M3) stop directly on Bol’shaya Pirogovskaya street (not marked on the map).
This map was taken from http://rgada.info/index.php?page=4 (authors A. A. Golubinskii, K. V. Baranov, K. Safronov, ELAR, DIMI).
How to Plan and to Prepare a Visit
The archive is closed for two weeks in August. Regarding public holidays you should bear in mind that, in Russia, public institutions are not only closed on the holiday itself, but for several days.
Citizens of most countries have to apply for a visa to be able to travel to Russia. In order to conduct research in a scientific library or in an archive, you need a visa for “technological and scientific relations”, which requires you to obtain an invitation from a research institute or a university.
A large part of the finding aids (opisi) has been digitized (see below). You should seize this opportunity to prepare a list of the files you will need.
There are no forms for registration to print out and fill in in advance. The only thing to prepare would be the letter of the person/institution sending you (see below).
You can find almost all important information on a visit to the archive in the Порядок использования документов в читальных залов / Regulation for Using Documents in the Reading Rooms (http://rgada.info/poryadok.pdf). Attached to it you can find a template of the form you will have to fill in for registration.
You can find information on registration in the Regulation available on the website’s main page under Contact (see above).
It is possible to register by handing in a letter from the person/institution sending you (отношение) or a letter you write yourself (личное заявление). Judging by the Regulation in theory, the choice is up to you as it describes two methods without specifying in which cases it would be obligatory or at least recommendable to choose one method over another. In practice, they prefer that foreign visitors bring a letter from the person/institution sending them, but they cannot reject you if you do not have one. In any case the process of registration is more or less the same. Do not forget to bring your passport!
Take the visitor’s entrance. You can find the Бюро пропусков / Office of Permits on the right-hand side. Use the blue phone (beware: It is a relic from Soviet times with a dial, the handling of which you should make yourself familiar with in advance) to phone either the archive’s vice-head E. E. Lykova (number 804) or head of the Department of Scientific Information E. E. Rychalovskii (number see above), or in case of absence, Reading Room 1 (number 725). The person on the phone will ask questions on the subject of your research and eventually tell you to come to Reading Room 1. Now ask the lady behind the counter to your left to issue a makeshift permit (vremennyi propusk), which will expire on the same day.
The reading rooms are located in Corpus 1. To get there, show the police officer your passport and permit. Turn left in front of the staircase and then take the exit to the yard on the right hand side. Now follow the way marked in white on the map below:
This map was taken from http://rgada.info/index.php?page=4 (authors A. A. Golubinskii, K. V. Baranov, K. Safronov, ELAR, DIMI).
Inside Corpus 1, take the wooden door on the left-hand side (it takes a good dose of strength to do that) and go to the cloakroom first. It is located downstairs on the right-hand side. As you entered from the yard, you do not have to show your permit and passport to the police officer on guard here, but he/she may ask you where you are going to, particularly if you are headed for the reading rooms.
Reading Room 1 is located on the first floor in the corridor on the left-hand side. Explain the results of your phone call and hand in your permit at the counter. A member of the staff will give you the form to fill in for registration, a sheet of paper to write a letter to the archive’s head (in case you do not have one from the person/institution sending you), a template for that letter, and a copy of the Regulation you are asked to study carefully.
After completing the paperwork you are allowed to fill in the first order for files (trebovanie).
Your permanent permit (postoyannyi propusk) will be ready in the Office of Permits after two days. It will expire at the end of the current year.
Reading Room 1 is located in Corpus 1 on the first floor in the corridor on the left-hand side. There you can register, order files, have access to databases (see below), read originals and digitized files.
Reading Room 2 is located in Corpus 1 on the first floor opposite from the staircase. There you can read microfilms.
In the Archive of Delimitation Plan’s reading room, you can study delimitation plans and maps. I do not have any experience with this room and there is, surprisingly, little information provided in the Regulation and on the website.
Rules and Regulations
Allowed in the reading rooms are personal belongings, writing utensils, all kinds of notes and copies, all kinds of printed publications, laptops and other electronic devices (sound and flash switched off). You should store your things in transparent bags not larger than 20 ‧ 30 cm. Not allowed are food, drinks and street clothes. The members of staff are quite tolerant regarding bags and other working equipment (at least in comparison with the rules spelled out in the Poryadok), but they decidedly do not like street clothes.
Every time you work in Reading Room 1 you have to sign your name in the visitors’ book and hand in your permit at the counter. Then a member of staff will give you the files. When you receive them for the first time you have to sign them off on a separate index card. When you leave, bring the files back to the counter, tell the member of staff if you are finished with them (сдать) or still need them (оставить) and get your permit back.
In Reading Room 2 everything is self-service. There is no visitors’ book and you do not have to hand in your permit. You can find the index cards for signing off files on the desk on the right-hand side from the door. The cardboard boxes with microfilms are stored in alphabetical order in the big cupboard on the right-hand side from the door. You fetch and return the boxes yourself. When you are finished with a box you put it on the stack on the desk.
In principle you can order files only by filling a trebovanie in Reading Room 1. Visitors from other cities (and probably from foreign countries) are allowed to send a trebovanie via E-mail (at the latest one week before the visit), but I suppose you have to be registered already to use this service.
Orders are accepted on Mondays and Wednesdays until 19:00, on Tuesdays and Thursdays until 17:00 and on Fridays until 16:00.
To fill in a trebovanie you need to know the fond’s number and title, the opis number as well as the file’s year, number and title. To order files from different fonds at the same time you have to fill in a trebovanie for each fond. In handwritten opisi from the 19th century, there are two or even more different systems of numbering. Relevant for ordering a file is only the continuous number written with a blunt pencil in a 20th-century hand. Do not forget to sign the trebovanie on the back.
Ask a member of staff if you need an opis’ that has not yet been digitized. In principle they are stored freely accessible in cupboards in the reading rooms, but you cannot know where to find the book you need.
In theory, files will be ready two days after ordering them. In practice, it does not take that long. Let’s say you order files on Monday. In this case you will be told that the files will be ready on Wednesday. In reality they will be ready already at some point during Tuesday afternoon, depending on how busy the members of staff are.
If there exists a microfilm or a digital copy of a file, you have no access to the originals. The only exception to this rule is that you are not interested in the file’s content, but in palaeography or in the file’s materiality (paper, watermarks, seals, etc.). In this case you can hand in a request to be given only originals (the Regulation does not explain how to do that).
Apart from personal experience, there is no way to know for sure if you will get originals or some type of copy. Of course you can ask a member of staff, but often they will only be able to guess. The best strategy is to check Reading Room 2 for a new cardboard box with microfilms before you try your luck in Reading Room 1. It is, of course, possible that one order turns out to be a combination of originals and copies.
With each file comes a list bearing the names of all the persons that have studied it so far. On it, you have to tell for what purpose you ordered the file, what you did with it and sign your name.
Originals as well as all types of copies will be stored in the reading room for one month at the most. Should you, for whatever reasons, be unable to visit the archive during this period you can ask a member of staff to extend the time limit.
You can keep a maximum of 20 files at the same time in the reading rooms. The number shrinks if the total amount of pages exceeds 500 (documents from personal archives) or 1500 (documents issued by offices).
It is strictly forbidden to take photos of originals on your own in the reading rooms, but it is possible to order copies. The Отдел копирования / Department of Reproduction is located in Corpus 1 on the ground floor in the corridor on the left-hand side as seen from standing in front of the stairs (facing the stairs). You can find detailed information on the process of ordering copies in the lowest section of the website’s main page.
All services offered for payment are listed here: http://rgada.info/price_2018.pdf. The price for one copy varies depending on the age, type and size of the original, the type of copy to be made and if you make the copies yourself under supervision or order the members of staff to do it.
Making copies yourself under supervision is, of course, cheaper and you have them immediately at your disposal, but it costs you additional time. Ordering the members of staff to make copies has several disadvantages. The price for one copy is about three times higher, so the costs tend to sky-rocket quickly. As far as I have heard, the archive issues the bill only after several weeks and even more time passes before the members of staff send you the copies. This means, there would be a delay in your research and you would also face the problem of wiring money to Russia from a foreign country.
The easiest and cheapest solution is to take photos of copies and take down notes on originals. As already mentioned, it is strictly forbidden to take photos of originals without supervision. But it is now officially permitted to take photos of files displayed on a computer or a microfilm reader. Some visitors use small box-shaped gadgets to copy microfilm-stills by pressing a button. I unfortunately do not know what these gadgets are called and how much they would be, but they are without doubt the most comfortable way to obtain copies of microfilms.
There is no information on the website as to how to obtain the permission to use copies as illustrations or cover for a publication. The most likely person to deal with questions of this kind is E. E. Rychalovskii (see above).
Archive Databases & Online Finding Aids
- Digitized opisi can be found here: http://rgada.info/poisk/index.php?fund_number=&fund_name=&list_number=&list_name=&Sk=30&B1=+++Найти+++
- Digitized copies of finding aids that were compiled by the archive’s members of staff can be found here: http://rgada.info/sprav/index.php?T1=&Sk=30&B1=Найти
- for searching the Посольские книги / Embassy Books and an exhibition catalogue on architecture, go here: http://rgada.info/index.php?page=8
- Digitized copies of the RGADA’s most valuable manuscripts can be found here: http://rgada.info/kueh/index.php?T1=&Sk=30&B1=Найти
- Digitized documents from fonds 135 and 1204 can be found here: http://rgada.info/index.php?page=10
- A tool for searching maps from the 16th and 17th centuries can be found here: http://rgada.info/index.php?page=14
The computers in Reading Room 1 provide access to a database for searching names and subjects; ask a member of staff about it. It is based on 19th-century indexes and thus is far from complete or living up to contemporary standards of an intelligent search engine.
A description of the files formerly stored in the archive of the Imperial Ministry of Justice was published under the title Описание документов и бумаг, хранящихся в Московском архиве Министерства юстиции / Description of the Documents and Papers stored in the Moscow Archive of the Ministry of Justice (20 volumes, 1869-1921). You can easily find digitized copies of the volumes on the internet, but unfortunately they have not yet been collected on one website.
An HTML version of the official Путеводитель / Guide Book to the then TsGADA, published in 1991, can be found here: http://guides.eastview.com/browse/guidebook.html;jsessionid=abcVV6kYwkOwTavg8D9uw?bid=147
- Important announcements of all kinds of topics are published on top of the website’s main page in bold red print.
- The RGADA shares the building complex (dubbed архивный городок / archival town with the Государственный архив Российской Федерации (ГАРФ) / State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF) and the Российский Государственный архив экономики (РГАЭ) / Russian State Archive of Economics (RGAE). Common to all three archives are the visitors’ entrance and the Office of Permits, and the rules are quite similar. However, you have to register separately in each archive.
- Visitors are not allowed to use the entrance of Corpus 1 next to the cloakroom. To get to the reading rooms and back, you are obliged to take the way marked on the map above. Every time you enter the visitors’ entrance either from the street or the yard you have to show your passport and permit to the police officer.
- During special exhibitions the cloakroom is staffed in accordance with the exhibition’s opening hours. So it is recommended that you take your values with you or at least use one of the lockers (no coins needed).
- The heating season usually starts around October 10th. Depending on the weather the reading rooms can be quite cool before that. When heated, Reading Room 2 is quite cosy, almost hot. It is possible to sit there wearing only a blouse or shirt. Reading Room 1 is usually cooler.
- Reading Room 2 is smaller and, at the same time, usually more frequented than Reading Room 1. Around noon it is difficult or impossible to find a vacant reader. To make the situation worse, several readers are deficient and one or two readers may be completely broken.
- As all necessary lighting is supposed to emanate from the microfilm readers, Reading Room 2 becomes quite dark at dusk. Reading Room 1 is sufficiently lighted.
- You can find a vending machine and a cash dispenser in the visitors’ entrance; a second vending machine opposite from the cloakroom. On Khol’zunova alley and next to Frunzenskaya station there are restaurants, supermarkets, several small shops and bakeries, plus even a small shopping centre called K24.