How to search in Russia
philosophy and advices
Michael Katin-Yartsev, Vadim Rykhliakov.
A short introduction in Russian genealogy
Genealogy in Russia was influenced with some important peculiarities of Russian history and historical sources, which make its development in our country a bit different from other countries of Europe.
Crucial traits of sources are, that in overwhelming most of cases Russians are using patronyms, letting us know the name of father. This makes research easier. In most of sources, for example, church books, usually the maiden names of women are not mentioned; this is the feature which makes family history research more problematic.
Genealogy in Russia has a rather late beginning. The tradition of chronicles has started in the early 12th century, and there was nothing like scandinavian sagas, which are such a valuable source for dynastic genealogy. The rapid development of genealogy was forcibly ended by the Revolution of 1917. As only significant subjects of soviet historical research social classes and not individuals were concidered. So, period of 1917- till Perestroika (1985-1991) was a death zone for genealogical studies not only of "exploiting" classes, but also for the one of workers and peasants.
We meet first descriptions of the dynastic genealogy in the chronicle "Story of the years of time" in the beginning of the 12th century, which is telling us the lineage of slavic peoples from Noah, and about the early generations of the dynasty of Rurik (died abt. 879), which ruled Russian lands till 1598. Historians argue about Rurik's origin, observing two main versions: that he was a scandinavian viking, or he was a prince of west slavic Obodrite tribe. Some researchers, especially the Soviet ones, doubted in the fact of Rurik's existance. Russian contemprorary historian and genealogist Evgeny Pchelov tends to identify Rurik with Rorik of Jutland, a normans prince and warrior, who was a prominent figure in the history of 9th century Denmark and Germany. The question itself is hard to be resolved finally. Anyway, as one said, the names of early Russian princes - Igor, Oleg, Askold, - will never sound slavic, they sound scandinavian. So, we should admit, that the varyags - vikings who traveled to the East - played prominent role in early Russian history and are very probable founders of the oldest Russian dynasty of Rurikides.
Apart from chronicles, there is another source for genealogy, namely letters, written on birch bark. Mostly used in the highly literal town of Novgorod, they are found on a huge territory from Vitebsk to Moscow. Professor Valentin Yanin, an archeologist and a genealogist, has successfully reconstructed on their material the personal contents of the Novgorod merchant aristocracy. Now there are more than a thousand birch bark letters, found during archeological excavations.
The descendants of Rurik have divided territory of Kiev Rus into many principalities. Most powerful princes had significant armies and, certainly, their own court from boyars, - closest advisers and officials of the prince. During the 15th century principalities were united by Moscow, and the Grand prince took the title of tsar.
In the centralised Moscow state the feudal system was developed and legally confirmed. One of its peculiarities was mestnichestvo - a hierarchy in the Tsar's court. Appointments on more important or less important posts in the army and officialdom was dependent on the place of a place at Tsar's dinner table. Place at the table was, in its turn, dependent on the importance of ancestors and their service. The one who fell into mischance, freed his place. Quite often boyars had severely argued about their place, and each of them has proved his rights by documents about the service of his ancestors. Finally, mestnichestvo has lead to a great disorder and constant quarrelings, and in the year 1682 it was abolished.
In the same time the first attempt of the state genealogical register took place, which was called "Sovereign's genealogical book" (Gosudarev rodoslovets). It hasn't survived the latter fires, but its text was reconstructed, and on its base was combined "The velvet book" (Barhatnaya kniga), which is now preserved in the Russian State Historical Archive. Genealogies in the "Velvet book" are put on as a text, like in the Holy Bible.
The real revolution in the system of social groups was made by Peter the Great (1672-1725). He changed the old feudal system, in which most of nobles were given land for their service. Trying to promote the gifted officers and civil officials, he stated in 1719, that "all who are not noble by birth will be enobled after reaching the officers rank". In 1722 he introduce the so called "Table of Ranks", according to which the gaining of Nobility turned into a mechanical procedure. One could get it with just reaching a certain rank. The Table of Ranks was created by Imperior himself, who was aware of foreign examples, one of them was the Swedish one. There were 14 ranks, highest of which were Fieldmarshal General and Admiral General, and in the civil service - a Chancellor. In the same year of 1722, Peter appointed a Heraldry master, who was in charge of registration of nobles and their appointments to the service.
Although there was a heraldry master, heraldry itself was not widely spread in Russian regions. Apart from coats of arms of the princes from Rurik's house, which were identical to coats of arms of their towns, personal nobility coats of arms start their regular development from the beginning of the 18th century. Also, not all noble families were obliged to have coats of arms, and there are many ancient noble families, who remained without it.
The level, on which one could become a noble, was constantly raised. The last rise was in 1856, when the nobility could be gained with a rank of a Colonel in the military, and an actual State Councillor in the civil service. Despite that, by 1917 Russia counted up to 1 million nobles, which was, although, less than 1% of the population.
But, having reached the necessary rank, an official or officer had to get the
nobility confirmation. For that he first applied to the regional
Noble Assembly. It inscribed him into a certain part of the
Noble Genealogy Book. There were 6 parts of it:
1 - nobility, personally granted by the emperor, - the least
2 - nobility by military rank;
3 - nobility by civil rank;
4 - foreign nobility;
5 - titled nobility;
6 - ancient nobility, which had it status at least in 1685.
Nobility book was a very serious document, in it people could
be inscribed only with decent documents, one of which were
certificales of birth and marriage.
Freedom of peasant serfs, declared on the 19th of February 1861, has led to economical crisis of landowning nobility. Prestige of noble state was gradually declining. Already in 1869 about 800 nobles were registered as industry workers and about 1000 were servants.
Church books were started in Russia in 1720-s. They consisted as usual of 3 parts: a) births and christening; b) marriages; c) deaths and burials. Remarkable was, that in the marriage part were, like in christening part, mentioned witnesses, two from each side.
The form of Orthodox church books was for a long time unstable: it was constituated legally in 1779 and 1837. Other confessions also had church books in the form, which was dictated by the state: for catholics in 1826, for the lutherans in 1832, for jews in 1835, for old believers in 1874, and for baptists in 1879. The October revolution of 1917 has changed church books with civil registration, although in some churches these books were privately continued till 1920-s.
As an addition to books, especially when they are missing, one had the books of those who came to a confession, and books of the marriage investigations. These books contain mostly agreements of parents to the marriage of their children, but sometimes also genealogical trees, when there was a question of relation of bride and groom.
A very special source, to which we do not know analogues in other countries, were synodicals, the list of pray for certain deceased people, who were somehow related to that particular church or monastery. That could be a landlord, a priest, but also some peasants and town citizens. To get your family mentioned by such rememberings, one had to pay some money, of course. Some synodicals are very short, and tell only family name. But lots of them are a list of all deceased ancestors, which were known to the person who ordered synodicals. Synodicals of the 17th century are sometimes a unique source for ancient genealogies. Only one problem is with them, - that there was no stable algorythm of the order in which one put his ancestors. So, synodicals could be used only with a help of some information from other sources.
Apart from complex of church books, a traditional source, were censuses (revisions). 10 censuses took place from 1722 to 1857 which contain information about the social status of the person, his age, and contents of his family. As a rule, cencuses were combined for the non-noble part of the population: clergy, peasants, town craftsmen and merchants. There are no data about marriages and deaths, but in the next census it was mentioned, what happened to a person: has he died, or moved. Peasants quite frequently ran away from their landowners.
Till the 17th century one has only examples of practical interest in genealogy. The first family history was written in 1680-s by a high clergyman Ignaty Korsakov (died in 1701), who claimed his family origin from ancient Romans. So, he took a part of the surname the word "The Roman Korsakov", in Russian - Rimsky-Korsakov. Legends about foreign origin became very popular at that time, and many good boyar families have invented their legends about ancestors from Germany, Byzance and golden Horde. The first published book on genealogy was the "Genealogy of Russian Grand Dukes and Tsars", with portraits and short biographies, which came out in 1717.
The first systhematic work on genealogy of Russian Noble families we owe to prince Petr Dolgorukiy (1816-1868), a brilliantly educated representative of the mighty family from the Rurik's house. He published a 4-volume book which covers mostly titled aristocracy. In some of his other works, estimated rather as genealogical pamphlets, he spread gossips about jewish origin, and bad deeds of families whom he didn't like. Others he just didn't publish, as it was with one princely family, with some persons of which they were enemies. Continuing scandals, in which Dolgorukiy was involved, have led him to an emigration from the country. He died in Paris. Dolgorukiy's books were an inspiration for a lot of families in their genealogical research, and his system of putting on genealogical materials became the traditional one for Russian Genealogists till nowadays.
The end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries was a period of blossoming of Russian traditional genealogy. Two fundamental reference works, one by Vitold (Vassily) von Rummel (1855-1902) and Vladimir Golubtsov (1856-1892), another by prince Alexey Lobanov-Rostovskiy (1824-1896), represent a significant set of non-titled noble and aristocratic families, also some extinct princely families.
Gradually a circle of persons was formed, highly interested in genealogy, and having delight and need in regular meetings. So, in 1898 they founded in St.Petersburg the Russian Genealogical Society. Main tasks of society was scientific study of the history and genealogy of the Russian Nobility. The Society had about 100 members from various regions, but mostly they liived in St. Petersburg.
Quite soon the narrow character of the Russian Genealogical Society led to the founding of another center - The Family History Society in Moscow (1904), with Leonid Savelov (1868-1947) at its head. Family History Society was more active in publications, but kept its noble character. Thanks to participation of a serious historian Nicolay Lichatchev (1862-1936), in the "Chronicle" of the Family history society in Moscow was a bias in profound publication of works and sources in the Russian Medieval genealogy. In that time took place several interesting projects, as copying and publishing of tombstone inscriptions (7 big volumes were issued on St. Petersburg and Moscow, and several big or smaller volumes on various regions), genealogical bibliography, works on heraldry. There appear first books on merchant and peasant genealogies.
Almost all the process of development of genealogy was stopped by the Russian Revolution of 1917, after which lasts a long period when one could make only those genealogies, which were permitted. What were these permitted ones? First of all, the ones of revolutionaries - participants of the Decembrists uprising of 1825, of revolutionary journalists Radistschev and Novikov. Then, genealogies and circles of relatives of famous writers - A.Pushkin, M.Lermontov, L.Tolstoy. But, as these writers covered with their relative links almost all the aristocracy and high nobility, one could use them as a roof for other genealogical studies.
Russian emigration, which didn't had any prohibition on genealogy, suffered from lack of the archives. But even the archives, books and information from private persons has made it possible to an emigrant Nicolay Ikonnikov (1885-1970) to publish a work, which has not been overheaded till now. In a tiny little flat near Paris he had even a smaller room, with a typewriter and a printing machine, on which he created a collection of 727 genealogies in 51 volumes. Emigrant genealogical societies, which were active during the period between two wars, gradually died out with their last members in 1960-s.
The situation was changed with Perestroika and the crash of the communist regime, which followed it. One of the first persons, who has deared to devote him to professional genealogy, was a bibliographic worker of the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg, Igor Saharov (born in 1932). In 1987 he has organised a seminary on Genealogy and Family History, in which he involved all the amateur genealogists, who have partly knew each other already. It started to attract the attention of mass media, and the amount of people with interest in genealogy was rapidly growing. In 1990 Igor Saharov and in 1991 a professional historian Stanislav Dumin (born in 1952) have revived accordingly the Russian Genealogical Society in St. Petersburg and Family History Society in Moscow.
The Genealogical Congress, which took place in September and October of 1992 had 300 participants from 12 countries, which made 248 reports on various directions of genealogy, like "genealogy, genetics and medicine", "genealogy, demography and sociology", "genealogy and computers", and more traditional ones. Since that time the amount of genealogical studies, as well of people, interested in genealogy, has been rapidly growing. Conferences take place in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Ekaterinburg, Arhangelsk, Tiumen, and many others. In the year 2000 a Russian Genealogical Federation was formed, which covers now about 20 genealogical organisations.
In 1997 there was founded a genealogical Publishing House "VIRD", which remains till now the only one in Russia. During last years people, interested in Genealogy, and friendly with computer, made genealogical websites, like "Petersburg Genealogical Portal" (www.petergen.com), "All-Russian Family Tree" (www.vgd.ru), "Researching Russian Roots" (www.mtu-net.ru/rrr), which all have English mirrors, and many others.
© Michael Katin-Yartsev, Vadim Rykhliakov, 2002
Searching the nobles of former Great Principality of Lithuania
Censuses of population
After the partitions of Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania
which took place in 1772, 1792 and 1795 the territories of
Great Principality of Lithuania, Ruthenia and Samogitia were
annexed by the Russian Empire. Six gubernias (provinces) were
organized instead of former vojevodships. Three of them -
Kovno, Vilno and Grodno got a collective name "Lithuania".
Three others - Minsk, Mogilev, Vitebsk got a collective name
"Belorussia". However, only Kovno gubernia (the former Samogitian
Principality) was enhabited entirely by Baltics, while Vilno
gubernia was partly Baltic, partly Slavonic. Smolensk gubernia
which was annexed by the Russian Empire earlier also was often
referred to as "Belorussia". All 6 gubernias were also called
"the Western provinces".
The Kovno gubernia included the following uezds (districts):
Kovno (nowaday Kaunas), Rossieny (nowaday Rasseiniai), Telshi
(nowaday Telshiai), Shavli (nowaday Shauliai), Ponevezh (nowaday
Ponevezhis), Vilkomir, Novoalexandrovsk. The Vilno guberniya
was divided into following uezds: Disna, Lida, Oshmiany,
Sventsiany (nowaday Svenchonis), Troki (nowaday Trakai), Vileika,
Vilno (nowaday Vilnius).
The first censuses of population under the Russian rule were
carried out immediately after 3rd Partition, i.e. in 1795-96.
Later in 1811, 1815-16, 1833-34, 1850, 1857-58 new censuses
were hold. These censuses were called "revisions", and the
documents of them were called "revision lists" (in Russian
- "revizskie skazki"). They contain materials on the census
of households (revizia), which were carried out in the Russian
Empire with the aim of registering poll-taxpayers and also
for military purposes. Moreover, censuses of the particular
categories of the population were held. There were censuses
of the gentry, who hadn't been confirmed as representatives
of the nobility of the Russian Empire and were transferred
to the lower estates (merchants, burghers, small-holders).
During the periods between censuses and then after 1858, the
additional records were written to register all the people
who were missing in the last census. Starting in 1811, the
census records were written separately for each estate of
realm. Census records of the peasant householders were written
in alphabetical order of the names of those to whom they belonged.
After 1816, the nobility and clergymen usually were not registered
in the census records. The datum are organized according to
the administrative division of the Russian Empire in the second
half of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries (the
records are grouped according to the relevant uezds and gubernias).
Statistics of the population
Peasants encounted 90% of population of former Great Principality
of Lithuania, Ruthenia and Samogitia. 90% of peasants were
Orthodox and Greek-Catholic, the rest were Roman-Catholics
and other. The nobles (called "szlachta") encounted up to
10% of population. 90% of szlachta were Roman-Catholics and
were Polonized, so they spoke and wrote in Polish.
The first state language of Great Principality of Lithuania,
Ruthenia and Samogitia was Ruthanian. It was the "ancestor"
of three up-to-date East European Slavic languages: Belarussian,
Russian and Ukrainian. Ruthenian may be as well called old-Belarussian,
old-Russian and old-Ukrainian at the same time, but it is
most similar to up-to-date Belarussian though not equal to
it. Nevertheless any Belarusian, Russian or Ukranian native
speaker can understand the main meaning of something in Ruthanian
language when it is oral or when it is written down in up-to-date
Ruthenian was the language of most population of Great Principality
of Lithuania from its very beginning till partitions 1772-1795,
and the official language of State documents up to 1696. As
for Polish, it was also used among with Ruthenian. It even
became the main official language of State documents after
1696 and till 1840's. In diplomatic documents and some others
Latin was used as well.
After approximately 1840's the Russian language was used
in most official documents.
The number of nobles in Western provinces of Russian Empire
at the beginning of 19th century was about 10% of the population,
somewhere rising up to 15% (while in the rest of Russia it
was about 1%). Though the noble status was specified in vital
records, state and property documents, there was no registration
of szlachta in Great Principality of Lithuania, Ruthenia and
After its territories were annexed by Russian Empire it was
ordered by Catherine the Great for all szlachta to prove their
noble status. They had to provide documents that they or their
ancestors were once enobled, possessed the estates inhabited
by peasants, or occupied the post in state hierarchy of Great
Principality of Lithuania, Ruthenia and Samogitia.
There was the two stages process of proving nobility in Russian
Empire. First, when the documents were studied by local (province)
Noble Deputies Assembly, and if arguments were accepted by
it they acknowledged nobility, issued Definition and enscribed
the family into the province Noble Genealogy Book of definite
part (from 1 to 6). The Definition of Noble Deputy Assembly
listed all male representatives of the family being alive
at that time who took part in this process and had enough
money to pay for it.
Later on when new boys were born, their parents or they themselves
- when they were becoming adult (sui juris) - and if they
were able to pay for nobility documents, asked to add (supplement)
them to the Noble family. In this case Noble Deputies Assembly
issued the Supplement Definition for one or several (usially
nearest) relatives. Sometimes some family representatives
were unalphabeted to create or too poor to pay for documents;
they could become out of touch with the family or settle too
far and were not involved in confirmation process etc., so
they were not mentioned in Definitions.
Those who had passed successfully through local Noble Deputies
Assembly became the Confirmed (Acknowledged) Nobility. The
"Files concerning Nobility" of the family were kept in local
Noble Deputies Assembly archive, the originals of all documents
were returned to the family. Most of them dated before 1840's
were in Polish and Latin.
The second stage was approving of nobility by Heraldry Department
in Saint-Petersburg. There was a law which listed the rules,
lists of documents to be send to Heraldry and fees to get
it approved. The copies of necessary documents (not all) had
to be made in Russian by local Noble Deputies Assembly on
behalf of the family and send to the Heraldry. These rules
have changed much during 19th century. If arguments were accepted
by Heraldry they approved the family nobility, issued Edict
and Certificate of Nobility and sent it to the province Noble
Deputies Assembly to deliver it to the family. Those who had
passed successfully through Heraldry Department of Saint-Petersburg
became the Approved Nobility.
Very often for various reasons (illiteracy, poorness, nescience,
migration, lack of necessary documents or arguments) nobles
didn't send documents to Heraldry or failed to get affirmance
from it. Even one relatives could have got affirmance and
others failed or didn't even try. Often Heraldry returned
documents and asked for new arguments due to updated laws
and rules, and process could continue for many-many years.
Those who started this process could have died and younger
members went on with it. And they could be less informed in
family affairs and didn't include someone in family tree,
many necessary document could have been lost. For example,
the Filipowicz-Dubowiks family was acknowledged as nobles
by the Minsk Noble Deputies Assembly in 1802, and affirmed
by Heraldry only in 1858!
So most of szlachta became nostalgic about their Commonwealth
past and benefits and of times when they themselves elected
kings and didn't even need any documents to prove their nobility.
Simply all around knew that they were nobles, and that was
enough. This was one of the main reason of the nobility uprising
in Lithuania and Belorussia in 1830-1831. However, after it
the Russian Government decided to decrease the number of former
All the "insurgents" were devested of nobility privileges,
many sent to Siberia. The demands of proving the nobility
became very exacting. 10,000 families who didn't have the
decree of Noble Deputies Assembly by which they were acknowledged
as nobles were revized as "odnodvorets" and were imposed by
poll taxes. This way they were devested of their class privileges.
Many of them were send to the south regions of Russia. And
now only the Tsar himself could change their class status
after very prolonged and expensive process and only if they
could provide all the documents, pass through the Noble Deputies
Assembly and prove that they were of noble origin. The word
"odnodvorets" itself literally means "man with a single household".
And usually the "odnodvorets" indeed had only one house and
a piece of land. They were very much like peasants, they rented
land and cultivated it themselves to earn for living.
In our days the archival files in Saint-Petersburg represent
the largest collection of nobility genealogy documents, and
refer to all provinces of former Russian Empire. Very often
it is the only place which keeps the history of 3-4 and more
generations of the family prior middle 1800's, genealogy trees,
the names of estates and coat of arms and even its picture,
testaments, bills of sale and other property documents, service
lists of military officers and civilian officials.
© Stanislaw Exemplarow, 2002