Witnesses to 19th century Russian Empire metrical records are likely persons
of veracity in the community convenient to the maker of the records. What
they are witnessing is the fact that the record-keeper accurately recorded
what he was told by the person who related that the birth, death, marriage or
divorce took place. They were not witnesses to the event that is being
recorded, except coincidentally. They might be related to the persons whose
events are recorded, but that is mere chance.
However, I have seen a Franco-German birth record where the witnesses appear
to be a relative of the father and one of his business acquaintances.
On the other hand, the witnesses to a U.S. naturalization petition are
attesting to the veracity of the contents of the petition. They will always
be persons known to the petitioner, and they will often be the petitioner's
Professor of Law and Director,
Summer Law Programs Abroad
University of San Diego