Residence Rules in Russian Empire #bessarabia
The set of residence rules for Jews in the Russian Empire is complex
and self-contradictory. They changed several times over the course of
The set of laws concerning Jews issued by Tsar Alexander I in 1804
required that all Jews be registered and adopt a surname. Any Jew who
could not provide written proof of their registration would be treated
as a vagabond. Although Jews were allowed to relocate, they first had
to provide evidence >from their landowner of their residence [nearly
all land in the Pale and in Russia in general was owned by nobles,
even the large towns] that they had satisfied all their financial and
other obligations and provide the local court with a tax-paying
certificate >from their kahal. The local court would then issue a
passport to the place where the Jew wished to relocate. Jews without a
passport would be arrested by police and sent into the steppe lands.
See "1804 Russian set of laws concerning Jews" by Vitaly Charny
(http://www.jewishgen.org/Belarus/lists/1804_laws.htm ) for further
Under Tsar Alexander II, however, the laws regarding residence were
relaxed and it was easier for veterans, professionals, artisans and
merchants of the first guild to obtain permission to reside elsewhere,
even outside the Pale. At one point, approximately 5% of the Jews of
Russia were living outside the Pale.
When Alexander II was assassinated in 1881 and the virulently
anti-Semitic Nicholas I became Tsar, a new set of laws was promulgated
in May 1882 and additional laws every year thereafter restricting the
rights of Jews in every respect, including residence. For example,
thousands of Jews who had been living lawfully in Moscow were abruptly
expelled in 1891.
The laws are too complex and changed too often to set forth here. For
details as of 1890, see "On Personal Status and Right of Settlement
and Movement", part of "1890 Summary of Laws Relating to the Jews in
Russia (Excerpts >from the Foster Commission Report)" at
http://www.angelfire.com/ms2/belaroots/foster.htm#settlement1 . For
laws between 1890 and 1912, see "Legal Restrictions Imposed upon the
Jews since 1882" at http://www.angelfire.com/ms2/belaroots/wolf.htm
As if that were not complex enough, it should be borne in mind that
laws were not always enforced as written. Sometimes the enforcement
was lax or spotty, sometimes the local officials chose to interpret
the laws more harshly than written, and sometimes the laws could be
circumvented with bribery, which became a necessary part of life for
Jews in Russia.
Lastly, the place of birth is so often different >from the place of
residence that, though I have not seen scholarly commentary on this,
it appears to me that women often returned temporarily to their
mothers' homes when it was time to give birth.
You will see if you look at the records >from the 1897 Census of Russia
that there are different entries for place of birth, place of
registration, and place of residence, so it was accepted by the
officials even during a time of oppressive restrictions that Jews might
live in a place other than where registered.
<It has come to my attention that residence identification did not alwaysEach 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.
I want to add couple of comments to the discussion about Residence, Estate
(Status, Class) of Jews in Russian Empire.
The second component of registration was a place. In the case of myKimmelman ancestors who lived in Nezhin Ukraine 1850-1890, that place was
Presumably, they lived in Vitebsk when they first came to Russia.
That is not necessarily true. A person could never live in Vitebsk. These
estates (status, class) were like a "societies", and people had to be
registered and in some cases pay to be in a society. Also Merchants
Societies were only in large towns, but people >from smaller once also could
be part of that group.
A person could be called a Zhitomir bourgeois [meshchanin] but live inOdessa
Yes, more to this, there are whole Revisions for people registered in one
place, but living in other place. We have a number of such Revision Lists
in Bessarabia, for example for Jews registered in Ismail, and living in
Odessa, or Kherson.
I have occasionally seen Jews registered as peasants. For perhaps obviousreasons,
I worked with many documents, and never saw Jews as peasants ("krestiane"),
but there is a Estate (class) I saw a lot - Farmers ("Zemledeltsy" in
Registration could be changed, but that took effort and money, the latterof which was in short supply in the Jewish community.
I saw a lot of that... >from "Meschane" (Middle Class) to Merchants and
the other way too... probably when they did not have money to be a Merchant.
Also many Middle Class or Military changed it to Farmers, and Farmers
changed to Meschane, etc.
There was another class in Russian Empire called Burlak. Usually you can
see these at the end of Revision List for "Meschane" (Middle Class). The
definition of Burlak is a temporary worker, usually in farming or other hard
labor. Most Burlaks were single, but a few I saw with families.
Here is a presentation on the topic of Estates, Classes of Jews at one of
[or http://tinyurl.com/kzfpasr --Mod.]
JewishGen Bessarabia SIG Leader and Coordinator
Mario Klarmann <klarmann@...>
An ancestor of mine living in Dubbosary in the XVIIIth century appears by
the name SHMARK MORGULIS in the Revision List of 1799 and I can't
find out his hebrew name.
Thanks a lot for your help.
Mario Klarmann Margulis
Looking for MARGULIS/MORGULIS/SPIVAK (Dubossary, Akkerman, Olaneshty, in
REPETUR/ SOLTANIVICI (Izmail, Bendery, Caushany, in