JewishGen Discussion Group #JewishGen Re: Residence Rules in Russian Empire #general

Herbert Lazerow

<It has come to my attention that residence identification did not always
correspond to where a person actually lived. A person could be called a
Zhitomir bourgeois [meshchanin] but live in Odessa, or a Proskurov
meshchanin but live somewhere else. It had something to do with places of
registration versus places of residence, or residence of one's father versus
where the child lived.>
Each person in the Russian Empire was registered. That registration had two

The first component was a status. For most Jews, that status was "townsperson"
or "bourgeois" [meshchanin in Russian]. 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

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

It is hard to know when most Jews acquired their registration. Since most
Jews and Roman Catholics in Ukraine 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 their registration 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

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