Jewish Genealogical Resources at the Kaunas Regional Archives
- Formation of the Kaunas Regional Archives
- Historical Background -- Administrative Divisions of Lithuania
- Revision and Family Lists
- Jewish Communities and Box and Candle Tax Lists
- Internal Passports and Vital Records
- Inheritance, Business,Property and Court Records
I am very glad that so many of you are interested in our holdings. But what I am going to do is to try and discourage you. I am going to tell you how few records we have, how complicated and time consuming the research is, and what little hope you have for success. And if you still want to try to obtain some information from our holdings, well, you are welcome.
First I want to repeat a few well-known things. In the holdings of the Kaunas Regional Archives, there are no vital records. That means we have no birth, marriage or death registers with very few exceptions I will tell you about, and we have no records at all for the 1897 All Russia Census. People keep asking about it, but in the Kaunas Archives there are no such records.
To begin with, I’ll remind you, that in the Lithuanian Archives, perhaps as in the archives of all other countries, the records are not arranged according to subject -- there is no such thing as Jewish Records in some corner of our repositories. The records are arranged according to their provenance: according to their origin. All of the records created or accumulated by a state agency in the process of its activities are called a fond. That’s what we indicate when we send you our copies. It’s indicated by a letter "F." So I am going to speak about fonds of various institutions and the records they have.
I’d like to say a few words about the formation of the various holdings of the Kaunas Archives. It seems so very simple. Kaunas was the central city of the former Kaunas province, or Kaunas guberniya, so we would expect that all of the archives should be left there. Why are they missing? The problem is that in the second half of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century there were lots of Russian institutions, functioning in Kaunas and in various smaller towns. All of them kept numerous records.
We have a long bureaucratic tradition and an enormous amount of records, especially court records. In 1915 the First World War broke out and the Germans were coming. All of these institutions had to be evacuated hastily. It was the summer of 1915. They had to take the records with them, at least the most essential, the most valuable, or the records they needed in their everyday work. So in July, August, and September of 1915 all of the Russian institutions of Kaunas guberniya were evacuated, with part of their records. They were evacuated to various towns in Russia and they continued functioning there. They kept their records there. But part of their records that were non-essential perhaps, or that they didn’t have space or time to evacuate with them, were left in the places they had been created: in Kaunas and various other towns.
The Germans occupied the territory and there was nobody to take care of these records and they were abandoned. I don’t think that anybody destroyed them on purpose. But they were left without care. There was a shortage of paper so they were used as paper, they were used to make fire, they suffered from water, from snow, from everything. Lots of these records, especially from small institutions such as police institutions, various small courts, and town dweller’s administrations in small towns, were almost totally damaged and they did not reach us.
As for the records that were evacuated to Russia, the institutions functioned until 1918. Later, after the Revolution they stopped functioning and these records were also left without any proper custody. They fell into the hands of the Soviet officials. Well, that was not so bad at the time, at least these officials took care of them. Their repositories were sealed and locked, and they remained there.
When the independent State of Lithuania was established, the Lithuanians began gathering all of the records that had been left in the various small and larger towns of the country, and they were brought to Kaunas. In 1921 Kaunas Archives was established. At that time it was the Central State Archives of Lithuania. Now it is the Kaunas Regional Archives. According to the peace treaty with Russia of 1920, in 1921 Russia began to send back loads of records that had been evacuated from Lithuania to Russia. These records were coming back for about ten years, but some of them were returned only after the Second World War and some perhaps never. They are still in Russia.
And what does that mean? When the records of one institution are taken apart and moved from place to place, evacuated, re-evacuated -- they suffer and suffer a lot. What are left are remnants. It is just chance if some essential record for genealogical research is left at all. These records were kept in Kaunas until WW II. After the Second World War, in 1939 and, later, when the capital of Lithuania became Vilnius, under the Soviets, they started to move the records from Kaunas to Vilnius.
We call historical records those that were created up until 1918. It was decided that all historical records should be moved to Vilnius Archives. But they had no space, so the temporary repository for these records of Kovno guberniya was Kaunas. But we were just the temporary repository, just a warehouse for these records. Nobody worked with them and the problem is that nobody tried to create any suitable information - finding aides. They were just stored and a general sort of inventory was made.
An inventory is just a list of files, and it can be made in different manners. We have inventories made in chronological order. That means that the records of some institutions, lets say of the Chancellery of the Kaunas Governor, are listed in volumes and volumes, ranging from 1843 up to 1915, just in chronological order. There are about 33,000 of these records listed in about twelve volumes, without any alphabetical indexes -- personal or geographical -- just chronological order and that’s all. So looking for information in these inventories is a very time consuming process at the very least.
These inventories were made in the post war years, when the staff of the Archives not only lacked qualifications, but they were hardly literate. This is evident from the inventories. The quality of the inventories is far from satisfactory; some of them are just impossible to use. But that’s the state our records are in. In the 1990’s the Vilnius Archives and our Archives came to the agreement that these records of Kaunas guberniya, which were still in Kaunas, should be kept there, perhaps forever. Now we have them and we have started working with them. But I can’t tell you of any system according to which the records between Kaunas and Vilnius archives were divided. There is none. The records of some institutions of Kaunas guberniya were already in Vilnius and they won’t be moved back. But what remains in Kaunas, we have them, and will have them.
When we started receiving genealogical requests, we knew little about the possible sources of genealogical information at all. It’s certain that we have no vital records. Whatever we had, I repeat, we gave to the Vilnius Archive. Another well-known source of genealogical information, that is the Revision and Family Lists, but we have few Revision and Family lists. We have started to look through our holdings in order to try to find some other possible sources of genealogical information.
To do this, one needs at least a little knowledge of the administrative history of the country. So I will remind you of a few things. Just after Russia occupied Lithuania at the very end of the 18th Century, in 1795, the administrative divisions changed several times. At last, in the beginning of the 19th Century, all the territory of Lithuania belonged to the so-called Lithuania guberniya, or later as it was called Vilnius guberniya. This included all the territory of modern Lithuania and some adjacent territories as well.
In the middle of the 19th Century, this large Vilnius guberniya was divided into two, Vilnius and Kaunas guberniya, and the records we have are only for Kaunas guberniya. We have no records for Vilnius or Suwalki guberniyas whatsoever.
This is a Lithuanian map which shows the division of the territory of Lithuania into guberniyas. All the colored territory that you see was the former Vilnius guberniya. In 1843 it was divided in the middle.
The left part (green) was Kaunas guberniya and the right part (red) was Vilnius guberniya and certain adjacent territories from Grodno and Minsk guberniya. The southwest side of Vilnius guberniya is now the Suwalki guberniya. We only have records for the Kaunas guberniya. It seems small, but it covers the larger part of what is modern Lithuania. Now I’ll show you a better map for Kaunas guberniya. Perhaps it will be more helpful.
Here is the map of Kaunas guberniyas. Its territory has not changed since 1843. As you can see, Kaunas guberniya is divided into seven smaller districts called uyezds: Kaunas, Raseinai, Telsiai, Siauliai, Panevezys, Ukmerge or Vilkomir, and Zarazai or Novoalexandrovsk districts. Part of Novoalexandrovsk district is now in Belarus and a very small part of it is now in Latvia.
So the records we have are only from this territory shown on this map, not from Suwalki which is to the South, not from Vilnius which is to the West, and not from Courland guberniya which is to the North. By the way, near the sea there is a town of Palanga. It only belonged to Kaunas guberniya for a very short period, until 1819. Later it was given to Courland guberniya. So we have no records for it and Kaunas guberniya had no access to the sea.
Now I will speak about the most informative records that we have: the revision and family lists, which are well known to all genealogical researchers. It’s a pity, but we have only a few of them. We have revision lists for a few towns of Kaunas district, such as Kedainiai, Josvainiai, Seredzius, Vilkija, and Vilijampole for 1834; and we have some revision lists for a very few places for 1858, I think some places in the Panevezys region. By the way I am not going to talk about specific records for specific places. They are in the Catalog. Most recently I discovered that we also have the revision lists for Kaunas for 1816. It is the earliest revision list we have. Just to remind you what the revision list looks like, I’ll show you a transparency. That is the earliest revision list we have -- the revision list of Kaunas of 1816.
This is in the same form as all of the revision lists. Revision lists give the most information of all genealogical resources, but to have a revision list, you had to have a revision. You had to have the list of the population of tax payers and those subject to military service revised and counted. The revision took place periodically. In Russia and in Lithuania the last revision took place in 1858. That was the tenth revision.
After 1858, there were no more revision lists, because there were no more revisions. Yes, the revision is a process, and the result of the process is a revision list. But having no more revision lists was not a problem, because later the so-called "Family Lists" were substituted for the revision lists. They provide exactly the same information as revision lists do and they are very similar in form. Perhaps the handwriting is not as minute and in 1908 they gave a whole page to a family, but the result is the same.
Since people often had to produce documents for various institutions to prove their identity, extracts from revision lists were reproduced at their request, until the end of the 19th Century and later. Perhaps you may have been given an extract from a revision list for a certain person which had been written in 1858, even though it had been copied for this kind of purpose in a later year. But the last actual revision was in 1858.
In 1874 the Jewish population of each town was listed in family lists. We have these family lists of 1874 for all the towns of Kaunas district, not Kaunas guberniya, except for some places. And in 1877, according to a Royal decree, the family lists became the official substitute for the revision lists and they were made in 1887, 1893, 1908, and perhaps in some other years as well. We have a few of them, just check the Catalog please.
Since we only had a few revision lists in our holdings we started to look for other possible sources of information. We came across the so-called Box and Candle tax payers lists. You may be tired of explanations of what these taxes are. I’ll give you just one more explanation of them. My knowledge is based strictly on the records. The problem is that the records do not always coincide with real life. According to the records we have, the Candle tax was a tax paid by all the Jewish population, including the merchants, to support Jewish education, for the needs of the Jewish schools only. It was a tax on Sabbath candles. Perhaps it was collected by the rabbi’s wife, I’m not sure.
The Box tax was a different thing. It was a specific Jewish tax paid by the whole Jewish population, except for some higher professionals and perhaps merchants. It was a tax on every pound of Kosher meat sold by a butcher and purchased by a Jew, and on every animal slaughtered. I still can’t figure out how it was done. It should have been collected by the butcher, I see no other way, but I don’t know how it was done. And where was the box? In the butcher’s house or where? I don’t know. But the government for the administration of the Box tax used to announce a public auction, and the person who suggested collecting the largest sum was granted the right to collect the Box tax for a few years, four years in a certain area.3 With these tax measures the Box tax was collected. To estimate the sum expected they had to make an estimate of the Jewish population. Who would buy and eat meat and who should pay the tax? Thus we have these lists of tax payers of Candle taxes for 1845 and 1846, and various later lists for Box taxes: for 1877, 1888, 1892, and for some Jewish communities for 1904, 1908, and 1912, but it’s different for different Jewish communities.
When they started organizing the process of collecting Box and Candle taxes they had to introduce certain administrative reforms. In 1843, when Kaunas Guberniya was formed, taxes were collected and Jews were administrated by their Kahal. In 1844 the Kahal was abolished and to collect the taxes the government, or rather the Kaunas guberniya administration, created certain Jewish communities, but these Jewish communities were organized only for the collection of Box and Candle taxes.
From the 119 former Kahals, seventy-four such communities were formed in 1844. Some of the Kahals were combined into communities according to the population of the area. Here is the list showing the former Kahals and the new Jewish communities.
You see that for Kaunas District, the new Jewish communities were just about the same, except that Vandziogala and Babtai became one Jewish community - Vandziogala, and Seredzius, Veliuona and Cekiske were combined into Seredzius, and so on.
Kaunas (Kovna) District
1845 Jewish Communities
|Ariogala (Eiragola)||Ariogala (Eiragola)|
|Dotnuva (Datnovo)||Dotnuva (Datnovo)|
|Jonava (Yanovo)||Jonava (Yanovo)|
|Kedainiai (Keidany),Josvainiai (Yasvoini)||Kedainiai (Kedany)|
|Kaunas (Kovna)||Kaunas (Kovna)|
|Krakes (Kroki), Grinkiskis (Grinkishki)||Krakes (Kroki)|
|Rumsiskes (Rumshishki)||Rumsiskes (Rumshishki)|
|Seredzius (Sredniki),Veliuona (Veliona), Cekiske (Chekishki)||Seredzius (Sredniki)|
|Vandziogala (Vendziagola), Babtai (Bobty)||Vandziogala (Vendziagola)|
|Vilijampole (Viliyampol)||Vilijampole (Viliyampol)|
|Vilkija (Vilki)||Vilkija (Vilki)|
|Zeimiai (Zheimy), Labunava (Labunovo)||Zeimiai (Zheimy)|
So, for example, If you are looking for your family from Babtai, their Candle and Box tax payers records would have been in Babtai before 1845, but in the Vandziogala Jewish Community records after 1845. I did not come across any Babtai Jewish community records after this date. You will have to be very aware of these changes when you are looking at the Catalog to determine what records are available for a given community.
In Panevezys district a few former Kahals were combined into new Jewish communities in 1845 for the purpose of collecting Candle and Box taxes:
Panevezys (Ponevezh) District
1845 Jewish Communities
|Birzai (Birzhi)||Birzai (Birzhi)|
|Krekenava (Krakinovo), Ramygala (Remigola)||Krekenava (Krakinovo),|
|Linkuva (Linkovo)||Linkuva (Linkovo)|
|Pakruojis (Pokroi)||Pakruojis (Pokroi)|
|Panevezys (Ponevezh), Naujamiestis (Novoje Mesto)||Panevezys (Ponevezh),|
|Pasvalys (Posvol), Joniskelis (Yoganishkeli)||Pasvalys (Posvol),|
|Pumpenai (Pompiany), Pusalotas (Pusholaty)||Pumpenai (Pompiany),|
|Vabalninkas (Vobolnik)||Vabalninkas (Vobolnik)|
|Zeimelis (Zheimeli)||Zeimelis (Zheimeli)|
In the Raseinai district lots of Jewish communities merged after 1845.
Raseinai (Roseiny) District
1845 Jewish Communities
|Jubarkas (Yurburg), Erzvilkas (Erzhvilk)||Jubarkas (Yurburg)|
|Kelme (Kelme), Lioliai (Lialy), Saudininkai (Savdyniki)||Kelme (Kelme)|
|Kraziai (Krozhe)||Kraziai (Krozhe)|
|Kvedarna (Chveidany)||Kvedarna (Chveidany)|
|Nemaksciai (Nemokshty), Batakiai (Botoki)||Nemaksciai (Nemokshty)|
|Raseinai (Rosieny), Girkalnis (Girtakol)||Raseinai (Rosieny)|
|Rietavas (Retovo)||Rietavas (Retovo)|
|Silale (Shileli)||Silale (Shileli)|
|Siluva (Shidlovo)||Siluva (Shidlovo)|
|Skaudvile (Shavdvili), Upyna (Upiny)||Skaudvile (Shavdvili)|
|Taurage (Taurogen, Tavrogen), Dauglaukis (Dovkentlovki), Pajuris (Poyury), Gaure (Gavry)||Taurage (Taaurogen, Tavrogen),|
|Veivirzenai (Veivirzhany), Sveksna (Shvekshny)||Veivirzenai (Veivirzhany),|
|Vidukle (Vidukli)||Vidukle (Vidukli)|
|Zemaiciu Naumiestis (Novoye Mesto), Syliai (Shili), Vainutas (Voinuty)||Zemaiciu Maumiestis (Novoye Mesto),|
That’s how many former Jewish Kahals were joined and changes made in three districts of the Kaunas guberniya. And here are the changes made in the other four districts in Kaunas guberniya. There were not so many changes.
Siauliai (Shavli) District
1845 Jewish Communities
|Baisiogala (Beisagola)||Baisiogala (Beisagola|
|Joniskis (Yanishki)||Joniskis (Yanishki)|
|Klykoliai (Klikoli), Vegeriai (Vegery), Laizuva (Laizhevo)||Klykoliai (Klikoli)|
|Kursenai (Kurshany), Papile (Popeliany)||Kursenai (Kurshany)|
|Luoke (Lukniki)||Luoke (Lukniki)|
|Saukenai (Shavkiany), Uzventis (Uzhventy)||Tryskiai (Trishki)|
|Siaulenai (Shavliany)||Siaulenai (Shavliany)|
|Siauliai (Shavli)||Siauliai (Shavli)|
|Tryskiai (Trishki)||Tryskiai (Trishki)|
|Vieksniai (Vekshny), Akmene (Okmiany)||Vieksniai (Vekshny),|
|Naujoji Zagare (Novozhagory), Senoji Zagare (Starozhagory)||Naujoji Zagare (Novozhagory),|
Here are the changes that were made in the Telsiai district:
Telsiai (Telshi) District
1845 Jewish Communities
|Gargzdai (Gorzhdy)||Gargzdai (Gorzhdy)|
|Kretinga (Kretingen), Darbenai (Dorbiany)||Kretinga (Kretingen)|
|Plunge (Plungiany)||Plunge (Plungiany)|
|Salantai (Salanty)||Salantai (Salanty)|
|Seda (Sedy)||Seda (Sedy)|
|Skuodas (Shkudy), Mosedis (Masiady)||Skuodas (Shkudy),|
|Telsiai (Telshi)||Telsiai (Telshi)|
|Varniai (Vorni), Laukuva (Lavkovo), Pavandene (Povondeni), Vaiguva (Vaigovo, Siauliai district)||Varniai (Vorni)|
|Zidikai (Zhidiki), Ylakiai (Iooki), Pikeliai (Pikeli)||Zidikai (Zhidiki),|
There were only a few changes in the Ukmerge or Vilkomir district:
Ukmerge (Vilkomir) District
1845 Jewish Communities
|Anyksciai (Onikshty)||Anyksciai (Onikshty)|
|Kavarskas (Kovarsk)||Kavarskas (Kovarsk)|
|Kupiskis (Kupishki)||Kupiskis (Kupishki)|
|Pazelve (Pozelva)||Pazelve (Pozelva)|
|Raguva (Rogovo), Traskunai (Trashkuny)||Raguva (Rogovo),|
|Seta (Shaty)||Seta (Shaty)|
|Ukmerge (Vilkomir)||Ukmerge (Vilkomir)|
|Uzpaliai (Ushpol), Svedasai (Sviadostze)||Uzpaliai (Ushpol),|
|Utena (Utziany)||Utena (Utziany)|
There weren’t many changes in the Zarasai district either:
Zarasai (Novoalexandrovsk) District
1845 Jewish Communities
|Braslav, Slobda, Dubinovo (Belarus now)||Braslav|
|Dusetos (Dusiaty), Antaliepte (Antolepty)||Dusetos (Dusiaty)|
|Kamajai (Komai)||Kamajai (Komai)|
|Pandelys (Ponedeli)||Pandelys (Ponedeli)|
|Rokiskis (Rakishki), Obeliai (Abeli)||Rokiskis (Rakishki)|
|Rokiskis (Rakishki), Tauragnai (Tavroginy)||Rokiskis (Rakishki)|
|Skapiskis (Skopishki)||Skapiskis (Skopishki)|
|Vidziai (Vidzy) Belarus now||Vidziai (Vidzy)|
|Zarasai (Novoalexandrovsk)||Zarasai (Novoalexandrovsk)|
These divisions did not remain forever. Some Jewish communities grew larger and the divisions were changed. New Jewish communities appeared and Jews began settling in some other towns and even villages. For the purposes of paying Box and Candle taxes they were assumed to belong to a certain Jewish Community. There were villages and Jews lived in those villages but to pay taxes they were considered to be a member of another Jewish community of a little larger town. This is what happened.
These lists of Candle and Box tax payers give very little information. Different lists for different places provide slightly different information. Here is an example of a Box tax list from 1892 for the town of Seta, in the Ukmerge district.
SETA BOX TAX LIST 1892
(Click on photo for high resolution image)
It shows the surname, the first name, the father’s name, the number of family members, the occupation and financial state. But we have only separate files and for separate Jewish communities. It may be for only one year for any Jewish community; it’s just by chance if you happen to find such information. For the Kaunas district Jewish community we have these records for 1874 and 1875.
Another useful document is the 19th Century passport. The appearance of the person is described: his height, the color of his hair and eyes, his age.
The passports were usually given for a short time, for six months or for a year or two, and these gave permission for a Jew or any other town dweller to leave his permanent place of residence for a certain time. For Jews it was for travel in the Jewish Pale of Settlement. These just gave them permission to live somewhere else for a short time. These were internal passports. There certainly were external passports, only we have a very small number of them - for separate months of separate years, and the rest applied to internal passports only. This is an example of records we might expect to have but which are missing.
The 1875 Internal Passport (Click on photo for high resolution image and translation) After 1915 there were photographs on the passports. Before 1915 you may find photographs on some draftee certificates at the beginning of the 20th Century. In the personal files of the medical men there are also some photographs which might be found by chance.
I have already told you that we have no vital records, but we have one little exception. It is Rokiskis, a town in Zarasai, which became the Novoalexandrovsk district. For some reason in Rokiskis, the town dwellers’ administration made up a book of abstracts from the vital records of 1876 through 1894. These are not even the copies of vital records. These are abstracts. They don’t give the same information. For example, in the case of birth, the mother’s name is not indicated, just that a child was born to such and such a name. But as far as I know other vital records for this region and for this period do not exist, so these are the only ones available.
There is one more thing I’ll try to explain to you. It’s quite complicated. It is about another possible source of vital records we might have. All of the records I have been speaking about so far were from Kaunas guberniya from the period from 1843 until 1915. And later, after the First World War, the independent Lithuanian State was established. But during the First World War, most of the Jewish population was evacuated to Russia. The non-Jewish population also fled. When they came back in 1920 - 1921, they came back to a different state, not to Russia, not to Kaunas guberniya. They came to the independent country of Lithuania. If they came to the capital of independent Lithuania, they came to Kaunas. They may have come to many other places, but we have these records only for Kaunas. In Kaunas they were issued passports. To have a passport issued, they had to prove their right to be a Lithuanian citizen. They had to produce copies of their birth certificates or abstracts from family lists, or at least some testimony from their former neighbors that they had lived in Kaunas guberniya territory before the War, and had a definite right to Lithuanian citizenship.
We all have passports now in Lithuania, we had them under the Soviets, and in 1919 - 1940 everybody had a passport. It is the main document for a person. We have the cards of these passports which were issued in Kaunas; Kaunas town, not Kaunas region, not Kaunas district, but in Kaunas town. So, for the town dwellers -- in some cases -- we also have the documents which were the basis on which passports were issued: copies of birth certificates or copies of marriage certificates. We have a large number of them and they are cataloged. It is quite easy to find them, but they are only for Kaunas town dwellers. So if some member of your family returned to Kaunas in 1920 or 1921, there might be more records for them, but this is an exception to the rule that we have no vital records.
In 1920, when independent Lithuania was established, all of the vital records for Kaunas District which were earlier kept by the Rabbi, were now collected in the Kaunas municipality archives -- not only the records of Kaunas, but also of all of the other shtetls in Kaunas. We may in some cases find these copies of copies of vital records from all the towns of Kaunas district -- from the end of the 19th Century to the beginning of the 20th Century, for the year that the people applied. If your ancestor was born in 1860, he might have been issued a copy of an 1860 record in 1919 - 1928. We sometimes find it. It is just a possibility, but only for those families who lived in Lithuania after WW I.
The things that I have been talking about that we have put in our Catalog do not reveal all of the possibilities. To my mind, these are the least interesting records and the easiest to look for. When I do genealogical research, I usually look for other possibilities: perhaps in the business transactions, the purchase or the inheritance of property, that had to be registered there, or some form of documents in alphabetical indexes. It takes luck.
Sometimes we’ll find your ancestor’s will, some record of the inheritance of property after his death or the purchase of some property, and so on. It is just chance, just luck for certain properties and certain people. None of these court records have any indexes. Perhaps they will have them at some time, but up until now they have been inaccessible because they are listed in chronological order, by the hundreds, just wills without any indication of whose wills they are.
We also have the records of many other institutions. Kaunas guberniya administration administered all sites and all aspects of life in Kaunas guberniya. It had different departments, for example the Medical Department of Kaunas guberniya. If your ancestors were in medicine, as pharmacists, doctors, dentists or anything medical, we ought to have personal files for them, perhaps with photographs. It’s possible that they are there. We have lists of these doctors and other medical men, and to my mind, all of them were Jewish. Non Jewish names are a rarity at that time. We have various other possibilities for finding records. It involves going through volumes and volumes of records, arranged only in alphabetical order, selecting possibly important files by often-inaccurate titles, and looking through them page by page. This is the reason this research takes such a long time.
I want to remind you that all the records that I can find, anybody can find. There are private researchers who can read Russian. We have a research room. Please come and do research yourself. Everything is accessible and everything is free.