registration in Tsarist Russia #latvia

Herbert Lazerow

Each person in the Russian Empire was registered. That
registration had two components.

The first component was a status. For most Jews, that
status was "townsperson". About 10% of Jews were registered as
merchants, of which there were 3 different classes. Jews in the
military were registered as soldiers, often with their precise
ranks or the name of their unit, and when they left service they
were retired soldiers. I have occasionally seen Jews registered as
peasants. For perhaps obvious reasons, I have never seen a Jew
registered as nobility or as clergy. Occasionally one is
registered as an honorary citizen. Occasionally one is registered
as a citizen of a foreign country.

The second component of registration was a place. In the
case of my Kimmelman ancestors who lived in Nezhin Ukraine 1850-1890,
that place was Vitebsk. Presumably, they lived in Vitebsk when they
first came to Russia.

That registration was hereditary and patrilineal. A woman
who married took on the registration of her husband. (Thus, you have
the incongruous spectacle of a married woman being registered as a
soldier at a time when there were no women in the Russian military.)
A child took the registration of his or her father.

Registration could be changed, but that took effort and money,
the latter of which was in short supply in the Jewish community.
After the liberation of the serfs, it does not appear that there was
any practical consequence to changing your place of registration.

In the 19th century, there began a period of (comparative)
movement in the Russian Empire. Seeking economic opportunity, people
tended to move >from the countryside to the towns, >from small towns to
larger cities, and >from north to south. Odessa goes >from 100,000
people in 1800 to more than a million in 1900.

So people simply moved where they could. While theoretically
Jews could not live outside the Pale of Settlement before 1917 unless
they resided in agricultural colonies, were military or retired
military, or merchants, those laws were not much enforced before 1880,
and perhaps only sporadically thereafter.

It is hard to know when most Jews acquired their registration.
Since most Jews and Roman Catholics were either murdered or expelled in
the turmoil surrounding the liberation of Ukraine >from Poland in 1648,
and only returned gradually, the most likely time for this would be

A person's birth, death, marriage and divorce records would be
at the place of residence because the act occurred there. At least in
theory, the person's census records should be at the place of
registration. I have no experience with whether that theory was
observed in practice.

Herbert Lazerow
San Diego CA

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