recording births in Tsarist Russia #lithuania

Herbert Lazerow

<< Does anybody know the process by which the records were created >>

The Tsar's government put the burden of creating vital records on each
religious community.

When a birth occurred, the father would go to the court rabbi (not
necessarily the community's rabbi in our sense of the term). The court
rabbi would call witnesses, usually the court rabbi's neighbors. The father
would tell about the birth, answering the court rabbis questions about the
names of the father, mother and child, as well as their status and place of
registration, and the date of the birth. The court rabbi would record the
information on forms supplied by the Russian government in Russian and
Hebrew. The witnesses would affirm that the court rabbi had correctly
recorded what the father had told him.

The court rabbi made out the forms in duplicate (and probably in
triplicate). At the end of each month, there is a statement of the number
of male or female births recorded, and a certification that the information
is correct. One copy of the form was sent to the guberniya authorities and
one copy of the form was sent to the uezd authorities. I suspect, though
I do not know, that the court rabbi kept a third copy for himself.

As to your specific problem of the lack of "ben" in the Hebrew
version, I suggest that you examine several pages before and several pages
after the birth of your family member. If none of the births listed has
"ben" in the Hebrew version, it is likely that this court rabbi decided to
take that shortcut uniformly. To confirm that, you might try to get the
birth record of the father, which will contain his father's name, but
given the frequent disappearance of records in eastern Europe, that may
not be possible.

Herbert Lazerow
Professor of Law, University of San Diego

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