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By Dimitry Z. Feldman,

Candidate in Historical Science, Archivist, Russian State Archives for Ancient Acts, Moscow

Translated by Patricia Eames


All Rights Reserved. First printed in the RAGAS Newsletter of Spring 1998

Volume IV, Number 2

Reprinted with the permission.

May not be reproduced without permission.

The revival in recent years of academic interest in Jewish history in Russia has inspired an urgent demand to search for new sources of information. The oldest repository in the country, the Russian State Archives of Ancient Acts (RGADA) in Moscow, has a remarkable number of documents concerning Jewish history from the end of the 15thcentury to the beginning of the 20th century. These materials make it possible to substantially broaden the limits of study in the history of the Jewish people in Russia for the period from feudalism to the emergence of capitalism, touching mainly upon the socio-economic aspects of the area. Archival sources for any given problem are distributed among numerous fonds and collections of RGADA, therefore it is necessary to examine certain groups of records and separate documents about Jews within the structure of the fonds and collections of this archive. Records which name specific individual Jews, and which include the place of residence, enable specialists to search for genealogical information based upon known facts from archival records.

All the materials at RGADA for Jewish history are divided chronologically into two common groups: the first concerns the documentary period up to the partition of Poland in 1772-1795; the second has the greater number of documents created after the annexation of the former Polish lands to Russia, a time when a large portion of the Jewish population became part of the Russian empire.

The earliest archival material concerning Jewish history from the end of the 15th to the middle of the 16th century is kept in Fond 389, "Lithuanian Vital Records". There are "Pages" for elders ,military and provincial governors of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, "rights" in legal and property questions, and entries in "record books of Lithuanians" which shed light on aspects of the activities of Lithuanian and Polish Jews, merchants and tax inspectors from the towns of Brest, Vilnius, Vitebsk, Grodno, Kobrin, Kovel, Kaunas, Kiev, Krements, Lutsk, Minsk, Mogilev, Pinsk, Riga, Slonim, Smolensk, Trakai, and others. These records reflect the leasing or selling of "taxable property", levying of "taxes" for various work, the activities of various committees the upkeep of individual places, disputes of ownership and debts, sales and purchases of small estates of the nobility, houses, homesteads. construction of bridges and other installations, division of property, receipt of money, delivery of textiles to the Royal Court, and so forth. Of special interest to all Lithuanian Jews is the "folio" which concerns the appointment by the elders in 1514 of a Beresteisk Jew, M. Ezofovich, with a description of his privileges in seniority as an elder, and includes the "rights" of Lithuanian Jews in 1514. The availability of an index to this fond, which designates the exact settlement to which a person belonged, is an important aid to genealogical research.

Separate records, concerning this same territory for the 17th - 18th centuries, are in Fonds 12

"Records Concerning Poland and Lithuania", 79 "Relations of Russia with Poland", 144 "Orders of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania", and 145 "Smolensk Orders".

Various phases of Jewish history from the 17th to the beginning of the 18th century are reflected in materials in Fond 210, "Military Rank Order". These sources are recorded in the results of actions of the departments of the Razryad office (Czar's office of Military Rank) of Belgorod, Moscow, Novgorod, Sevsk and Prikaz, and are found in documents (columns) for the management and conditions in the towns of Bryansk, Kalug, Kopis, Moscow, Putivl, Ril'sk, Smolensk and Chuguev. This information shows the status of released and newly baptized prisoners, the distribution of money from the Razryad office, those serving in the military and others. A portion of the documents containing information about Jews touches upon the war with Poland and upon the administration of Lithuanian towns occupied by Russian armies. These sources shed light on the following questions: the baptism of Jews and the distribution of money, merchandise and other benefits to Jews after baptism, enrollment in military service, transfer of Jewish prisoners in Russian towns to settlements, the transformation of baptized Jews into serfs, occupations of Jewish artisans, and legal affairs of various kinds.

The second group of materials for Jews kept in RGADA is one of the most important archival sources at the end of the 18th century to the beginning of the 19th century. These are the materials in various fonds from the former State Archives of the Russian Empire for the "Razryad offices" (Fonds 7 "Transfer Order, the Secret Office and Secret Executive Office of the Senate",11 " Correspondence of Various Persons", 16"Internal Bureau", 19 "Finances"). These fonds reveal governmental policies in relation to Jewish questions during an epoch of absolutism, and consist of reports of the Senate and other administrative offices, notes and "opinions" of Russian statesmen for a specific problem, investigations of matters concerning the status of the Jewish petty bourgeois and merchants which lead to the formation of the Pale of Settlement at the end of the 18th century, and statistical information on the numbers of Jews in separate regions of the country and their occupations. This material also has, to a lesser degree, genealogical information about Jews who were merchants, petty bourgeois, and artisans.

Among the sources for the history of the Jewish people at the end of the 18th - beginning of the 19th centuries is an interesting collection of documents contained in Fonds 276 "Board of Commerce" and 277 "Board of Industry", which shed light on the enterprising activities of Russian Jews. A clarification of the social structure of various groups in the Jewish population (petty bourgeois, merchants and industrialists), and the extent of their influence on social and economic development, enables one to clearly imagine the character and social profile of Jews in Russian society. In the documentation of the commercial department there are glimpses of the issues concerning normal legal regulations of Jewish trade, confiscation of merchandise and the levying of fines for various violations of customs laws, the settlement of disputes between Jewish and Russian merchants, and others. Besides clarifying information about the existing boards, (and changes by its ministry), the local administration, and border customs houses and posts, these sources contain valuable information about the geography of the activities and make-up of the Jewish merchant trade. Annual and bi-annual registers about conditions in factories and mills by the owners or renters who were Jewish petty bourgeois and merchants of Belorussia (Grodno and Minsk provinces) and Ukraine (Volhynia province), their reports to the Board, and also matters about the opening and closing of similar ventures, form a large group of materials with great potential for information from the Board of Industry. Jewish industry was active in the area of leather and weaving production, in the manufacturing of head gear, glass and copper utensils, and the production of tobacco, saltpeter and fertilizer - potash. This group of sources makes it possible to trace the dynamics of the occupations of the first Jews in industrial production in Russia during the 18th and 19th centuries, and includes an estimate of the proportion of their factories and mills to the total volume of industry and the particular structure of Jewish industry at the moment of its origin and incorporation on Russian land. Besides this, the materials of the central Russian state institutions - boards (in particular the Board of Manufacturing) is an important source for Jewish genealogy.

Senate documents of the 18th century are a valuable source of genealogical information about Russian Jews.. In Fond 248 "The Senate and its Administration ".among the materials of the Secret executive office (series 113), are several investigatory files which characterize the few appearances of Jews in the Russian territory before the annexation of Polish lands. There are also records of the activities of some Jewish businessmen, who personally received permission for commercial activity from Catherine II in the first years of her reign; this documentation had special significance for the royal administration and was unattainable by the public at large. Different statistical information about the Jewish population after the annexation of Belorussia is contained in the materials of the executive office for the Belorussian provinces of the 3rd Senate department (series 64)

Documents from Fond 1239 "Court Department", in the Moscow section of the general archive of the Ministry of the Imperial Court (Moscow Court Archive), deserve close examination as a source of information about Jews. According to its organization, the materials for Jews in this fond are divided into two basic groups. The first group - documents of the Reketmeister Office (the reketmeister was a special high-ranking officer who reported complaints about civil service offices to the Czar) - combines the most important investigatory files at the end of the 18th century, which were resolved on the level of the monarchy, with reports prepared by them for the emperor in the department of the general-reketmeister. These documents reflect the position and process of forming the legal status for the Jewish inhabitants of Russia at the end of the century. The second group consists of documents of the chancellery secretary of state D.P. Troshchinsky at the end of the 18th _ beginning of the 19th century, through which flowed imperial correspondence, including that from well-known and influential Jews concerning questions of a personal nature, as well as legal problems of Jewish petty bourgeois and merchants, and the correspondence of prominent officials for Jewish affairs. These sources play an important role in the study of the status of people in Russia, and also in the history of Jewish enterprise for this period.

We encounter much information about Jewish farmers in the materials of the state land survey of the Russian empire for the 19th century which is in the fonds of the central and local border departments (from the former central survey archive). Probably, this documentary group among all others of RGADA has the fullest information on the genealogy of Russian Jewry. To begin with, there are "Materials of the General and Special Survey for the Bessarabian Province" (Fond 1299), "The Materials of the General and Special Survey for the Ekaterinoslav Gubernia" (Fond 1308), and "Materials of the General and Special Survey for the Kherson Gubernia (Fond 1349). These fonds include files of the local survey offices about fixing the boundaries between the farm homesteads of the Jewish farm colonies (crown and private) in the province and the plots of neighboring land owners. These sources make it possible to trace the steps taken in the formation of Jewish rural settlements in the south and southwest Russia, and form an impression of the relationships of the Christian and Jewish populations in land questions. The nature of the documents of the surveys of Novorossia and Bessarabia is a reflection of questions under certain themes; this particular feature determined the types of information contained in them. These materials reveal the nature of the land relationships of Jewish colonists to neighboring farm owners, the basic content of which are lawsuits associated with the clarification of the boundaries of farm plots in the Jewish colonies. In addition to these questions, the sources - "written field survey implementation" with the attached survey plans and drawings - give meticulous description of Jewish settlements: then - location, layout of adjoining parcels and their owners, the landscape of the area, fields, roads, layout of villages, and the number of inhabitants and their occupations which include information of a genealogical character.

From this point of view, the surname lists of Jewish farmers give value to the survey documents in lay terms, combining Novorossian colonists into a common community through the conduct of the survey work. In the Bessarabian colonies there is also a trusteeship for the Jewish petty bourgeois, trustees chosen from their midst for the selection and purchase of sections of land under the provisions for the settlement of colonies, and for copies of merchants' deeds in sales to Jews who want to become farmers of privately owned parcels of land. Transfer documents enable one to trace the family connections of Jewish colonists, to determine the larger groups of their families and ancestors, and to identify those selected to be officials and trustees in affairs of the Jewish colonies.

Fond 1355 "The Economic Notes and Plans of the General Survey" has information of exceptional importance concerning the initial stages of the development of the Jewish colonies in Novorossia. These very detailed economic-statistical and geographical descriptions of these settlements beginning in the 19th century are among the earliest materials about them, preserved in the Russian archives. Enumeration collections which are attached to the textual records give a detailed description of the Jewish colonies. At the same time other important collections of information about the farm settlements of Jewish colonists are manuscripts of cartographical sources in Fonds 1354 "The Plans of Homesteads of the General and Specific Survey" and 1356 "Provincial, District and Town Plans, Maps and Atlas of the General Survey" at the end of the 18th - beginning of the 19th centuries. In the materials of the first fond for settling the territory of the Jewish colonies of Novorossia, there is a remarkable number of privately owned Jewish parcels; the materials in the second fond enable one to position the settlements in relation to adjoining villages and uninhabited areas. This complete set of recorded material remarkably broadens our concept of such an unfamiliar and distinctive phenomenon as the appearance of Jewish colonies in the social and economic life of pre-revolutionary Russia.

All previously mentioned sources were created as a result of the activities of various state institutions and agency administrations. However, the greatest amount of material for Jewish history and culture is found in the family and ancestral fonds at RGADA. Notable among them is Fond 1468,a collection of documents in the "Mixed Private Fond", consisting of small fonds and separate documents of private origin which were receive randomly by the archives and do not form separate fonds; they date from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century. Several groupings were made for Jewish subjects: merchants, petty bourgeois, financiers, industrialists, doctors, lawyers, rabbis, scholars and others. These are documents which can be characterized, for the most part, as private correspondence and, to a lesser degree, biographical documents, documents of official and public activities, property management and creative materials. Although they frequently are fragmentary, they have interesting value as additional sources concerning a different side of life and activity represented separately by the Jewish intelligentsia of Russia as well as several other countries (Germany, USA) within the 19th and 20th centuries.

The character of the archival sources for the history of Russian Jewry would be incomplete without this complex of documents of private origin. Similar documents are held in the fond; of the Russian aristocracy: Bobrinsk (f. 1412), Vorontsov (f.1261), Orlov-Davidov (f. 1273), F.R Osten-Saken (f. 1385), Sheremetev (f. 1287), Shuvalov(f. 1288) and others. These documents were created mainly during the official and public activities of the these families in the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries and they reflect practically all sides of the Jewish question in pre-revolutionary Russia. Among them are decisions by agencies of power, materials of state establishments and public organizations, correspondence of official persons, periodicals, etc. The ancestral fond of Vorontsov (the president of the Board of Commerce Count A R.Vorontsov and Novorossian and Bessarabian Governor General Prince M.C. Vorontsov) stands out as the greatest source for information about Jews and the important conclusions which affected them.

The materials in Hebrew and, to a lesser degree, in Yiddish, for the 18th - 19th centuries are found in an extensive collection "Manuscript Collection RGADA" (f. 188). For the most part, this work is of a religious theme: the Torah, commentary to the Talmud and Bible and so forth. In addition to these, there is a separate file, which consists of biographical documents of S.A. Beima, the Karaims Gazan of the town of Bakhchisarae in the Tavria Province; there is also information concerning participation of the Karaims in the Crimean War 1854 - 1856 and the organization of the Karaimsky school in Chufut-Kal (Crimea).

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