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What Census Records Tell Us about Jewish Families of 19th Century Lithuania, a Case Study: the Shtetl Zeimelis 1816-1853

By Anatolij Chayesh, February 2018

[1] by Anatolij Chayesh, St.Petersburg, translated by Sonia Kovitz



  • To share and analyze information about the Jews of the shtetl Zheymeli (the current city of Zeimelis, Lithuania) contained in the 7th, 8th & 9th revision lists (census records).


  • To demonstrate the benefits of studying the census records of an entire Jewish community rather than solely those of individual families.


  • To provide insight into the original archival census records prior to their reconfiguration into the digitized data files available on

TRANSLATOR’S NOTE: The English term “census” may refer either to the activity of taking a census or to the record of gathered information. The Russian term PEREPIS’ [перепись– perepis’], usually translated as “census,” as in English may refer either to the activity or the record. Russian also has a pair of historical terms that distinguish between the activity and the record: REVISION and REVISION LIST. This set of terms applies only to the censuses of the 17th –early 19th century.

REVISION [ревизия – revizia] is the activity of taking a census, i.e., a periodic collection of information carried out region by region, family by family, individual by individual.

REVISION LIST [ревизкая cказка – revizkaya skazka] is the record of the information gathered during the  REVISION. Russian census records of the 17th – early 19th century, namely REVISION LISTS, were published in a chronological sequence of editions. Accordingly, the 7th, 8th  & 9th  REVISION LISTS are the records of the 7th, 8th  & 9th  REVISIONS. “List” in this context refers specifically to the Russian term SKAZKA [cказка], whose literal meaning  is “story.” SKAZKI(plural) are records containing detailed commentary on individual subjects of the Tsar. Copies of records from the lists may be obtained from the Office of the Chief Archivist of Lithuania.


A broad review of censuses in Lithuania is not our task. Neither the censuses of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania nor the First General Census [perepis’] of the Russian Empire taken in 1897, nor any subsequent censuses, will be examined. Our focus will be the history of the censuses in order to analyze the nature of the information found in the records.

In 17th – early 19th century Russia, records containing detailed explanations and commentary on individual subjects of the Tsar were called SKAZKI. The first such record was produced in accordance with the 26 November 1718 edict of Peter I, who ordered that taxable subjects be identified on whom to place the burden of raising a regular army. His edict required that “a record of all persons be produced in a year’s time in order to accurately establish the number of males in every village” and warned of the consequences of concealment: “If any males are concealed by the owners of the males or by those responsible for them, those males will be given to the persons who report the concealment.”[2]


about the author
Anatolij Chayesh

Anatoli Chayesh is an engineer. Since 1991, he has been a scientific researcher at the St. Petersburg Jewish University, where his area of interest is searching for materials and documents on the Jews of Imperial Russia in the libraries and archives in St. Petersburg. 

As the son of Lithuanian Jews, Chayesh also has a special interest in the history of the Jews of Lithuania. He has been engaged in genealogy since 1978. He has published several articles on the techniques of searching for documents as well as lists of the Jews found, including: 

"A List of Officers of Jewish Prayer Societies in Russia," 1853-1855, 
Avotaynu, 1993, No.2, pp.25-27.

"Approaching Jewish Genealogical Study in Russia,"
ZichronNote, 1994, No.2, pp.17-19.

"An 1897 Mortgage in Slonim Byelorussia,"
ZichronNote, 1994, No.3, p.19.

"Documentary Sources on Jewish History in the Archives of the CIS and Baltic State,"
Avotaynu, 1995, No.1, p.63.

"Genealogical Information in the Documents of Eisenbet’s St. Peterburg Gymnasium, "
ZichronNote, 1995, No.3, p.13-19.

"Dead Souls of Satanov - Genealogical Knowledge from Documents Concerning
the 1830-31’s Cholera Epidemic,"
Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies Minigraf, No.101, July 14, 1997. 

Mr. Chayesh conducts correspondence in the Russian and German languages. He writes in English only with the help of computer programs.