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Biographical Resources for Emigres

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When investigating emigres from Eastern European countries, the researcher often is forced to employ very different strategies and resources than when investigating citizens who did not leave their native lands. Why? Because emigres frequently were looked upon with disfavor by their former governments and thus were not included in native biographical and bibliographical resources. Consider Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and others who were expelled from the Soviet Union.

Another reason that emigre research requires different strategies and sources is that when an individual left his or her homeland, by force or by choice, that person often lost touch with family and friends back home and eventually was “forgotten” by history in their native country. This can be the case for many non-political immigrants who came to the US seeking better economic opportunities. These immigrants often settled in their own ethnic communities in their new country and founded ethnic associations or publications. Many of these ethnic associations publish bibliographical material on their populations in the diaspora.


For many emigre groups the bibliographical coverage is sparse or chaotic, a fact that also can redirect your strategy. For example, if you are looking for an obituary for a Soviet citizen of some renown, chance are one of the many fine biographical dictionaries or encyclopedias will provide a citation to an obituary. But for a Russian emigre, where would you look for this basic piece of information? If he or she does not appear in one of the few biographical dictionaries that exist for Russian emigres, you can try scanning memoirs of other emigres for an approximate date of death and then look in a Russian emigre newspaper from the appropriate country, etc. There is a lot more guess work involved in tracking emigres.

Another example of using different strategies for emigre materials involves national bibliographies. Often the national bibliographies of countries where Eastern European emigres settled do not list the emigre materials in their main sections. They may list the emigre materials in a separate foreign language section. You need to be aware that emigre publications may be treated differently and really examine the source you are using to find the appropriate section. An entire monograph could be written on how to deal with emigre research alone. Let these few words of caution suffice for now.

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union and the Fall of the Berlin Wall, emigre topics are no longer forbidden areas of research and many new publications are appearing, so we should witness a continued growth of this section. When emigre materials are covered in a biographical source annotated somewhere in this guide to Slavic Biography, it will be noted as such. However, the biography section of this course also includes a small section on emigre materials, but you should peruse the Russian emigre section of the course which includes other biographical materials.