Civil Records

Complete Lyakhovichi Records Catalog (Google Docs Spreadsheet)

Jewish Records of Lyakhovichi: Births, Marriages, Deaths,
Divorces, and Communal Records: A Survey’s Preview
Deborah G. Glassman, copyright 2007

This is too abridged to be even a preliminary survey, much less, a comprehensive report. I hope to attract some knowledgeable historians to different aspects of the work. I have based the assumptions that I bring to the search for these records, on material published in periodicals, books, and online media, but to the extent they limit the research, they are solely my responsibility.

If you went by the reports of our family members, all of Russian Jewish history blends together. The conduct of officials in 1905 is remembered in “folk report” as the same as that in 1855 which was the same as in 1805: corrupt, inexplicable, and hostile to Jews. The reports are not wrong, but they hide important facts from their listeners all the same. The Russian government that instituted a 25-year conscription act in 1828, forcing Jews to falsify death reports, move randomly from town to town, and marry off their sons the year they turned thirteen, was still dangerous and arbitrary years later, but the “universal military reform” of the 1870s meant Jews could serve their short terms of service and be back in their own hometowns just a couple of years later. The rapacious collection of personal information to be put to the service of tax and conscription ordinances, was just as invasive in the 1860s as in the 1840s, but now the Russians had put teeth into their laws and you could no longer legally register your sons for school, nor register your own marriage (which would provide legitimacy to your children, and the pension that your wife might someday need to collect) without proof that your own birth had been properly recorded. Previously, a kindly disposed and sufficiently-bribed official might provide you with documents, back dated or found in a separate volume. Now, each page in the book was marked to prevent late-arriving data from being added. Formerly, there was no monopoly on who could perform a Jewish marriage unless it was written into the hiring contract of a community rabbi. Now, the government put its state-appointed rabbis in a head-to-head battle with the real rabbis chosen by each community for their merits and the government forbade anyone but a state rabbi from performing marriages. In the early part of the nineteenth century, Jews recorded as few marriages and births as possible, and deaths were largely only noted by burial societies. Divorces were private matters of Jewish law that were never reported to the state. In the mid-part of the century that changed entirely. A death that went unreported, left a community open to an increased conscription quota and to penalties on the family as the deceased missed payment of taxes and draft call-ups. A marriage that was not recorded properly meant that children of that marriage could be designated bastards. A divorce that did not meet the criteria of the Imperial Ministries regulating it, meant that residence permits, passports, and child custody, could be denied by the government.

The Russians moved towards this increased stringency of reporting observed in the mid nineteenth century, in 1857. From 1826-1857, the Jewish communal governments had been responsible for the recording of this data in their communities. With many people responsible, few were likely to be held individually accountable. In 1857, the office of "crown rabbi" was created, in a way that made them more than another part of the Russian bureaucracy to be avoided.

What records were created and where are they located? So far, we have located none of the separate register books that Lyakhovichi’s Jewish community created for the recording of births, marriages and divorces (usually the same book), and deaths. We have found individual records submitted by crown rabbis, we have found petitions from the Jewish community, but original ledgers stored in the town seem not to have survived the battles of World War I and World War II being fought on Lyakhovichi’s doorstep. In other parts of the world, that would be the end of the search. Many an American genealogy search has ended with the report that “the courthouse burned” as such an event inevitably meant, all records were destroyed. But that is not the case in Russia. Each of the ledgers just described, were created in duplicate and an annual copy was sent to St Petersburg. The purpose was to make it less possible for records to be falsified, and easier for third parties to check on the activities of the Jewish communities of Russia. Moreover, there were a number of government departments interested in different aspects of this documentation, which encouraged the extraction, examination, and duplication, of original records. For example, if you go to the Belarus SIG site Sample Belarus Documents, you will see images of birth certifications, which were statements by the official crown rabbi that he had examined the official register and found the birth record of the applicant. Such statements were required to enter Russian high schools (gymnasia), Russian Universities, to apply for internal passports, and to marry.

Liberalization of access to Russian judicial courts in 1864 had a number of consequences in Jewish life, not the least of which was that: divorce settlements; alimony agreements; visitation rights; and the rights of the children of earlier marriages; became litigation issues often taken to those courts. The judgements of Jewish courts, including a general Bet Din, and those convened for divorce proceedings, were given the status of a binding court of arbitration under Russian law, but both parties had to sign a document renouncing their right of appeal. Such renunciations were only binding if the amount and circumstance of the case was appropriate for that level of arbitration - a woman seeking a return of a dowry greater than this "small claims court’s" jurisdiction, was not bound by its decision. Women across Russia, from the classes distinguished as "peasants, Jews, nobility," all found greater access in the new Russian legal system and historians of this period are just starting to examine and describe the records created. But we know that the records included: all of the issues of the divorce settlement; the rights of a son exempt from military service based on being the only legitimate son , the rights of widows to the estate of their husbands in the face of claims by his siblings, et al. The legal documentation invariably included copies of the marriage registration and divorce agreements in cases of divorce, custody, and the wife’s right of residence. Estate disagreements were wide-spread and well represented in the legal documentation, and a certified statement of the widow’s right based on her marriage certificate, or a child’s claim based on the registration of birth, were almost always part of the paperwork on file. So though the Jewish records of Lyakhovichi may not currently exist, the records of the Russian courts may preserve copies of records drawn from them to support a number of cases in law.

Marriage permissions are another largely unexplored area. The Crown Rabbi’s sole responsibility for legally registering the marriages of his district, meant that he had to record the age of each man and woman who married, and the occupation or registered ranking of each man. Men and women under the age of 21 were required to have a parent’s permission to wed. But men who were designated as active military service, or who were employed by the government, were required to get the signed permission of their superior. The Crown Rabbi’s job description required him to ask for those permissions and to refuse the marriage to those who could not provide them. Documentation could have been created in multiple jurisdictions as a military commander or a superior in one of the few ranks of Russian governmental life in which Jews could participate, signed off.

Collaborative research, bringing forth records in private hands for public viewing on a site like this one, will also show that even that most Jewish of documents, the ketubot, changed in Minsk gubernia in the nineteenth century. In 1893, the Rabbinic Commission, a Russian governmental advisory board, was informed by a Rabbi Jelin of Novogrodek, of a terrible new difficulty. Russian law found that a written contract needed the signatures of the parties bound by it. Witness signatures were only valuable if they sufficiently identified the signer so that they could be, with minimum confusion with other parties of that name, called to court to testify. More, the actual principle was that witness testimony was not to be used when a written document was created as part of the action, so traditional ketubot, which were written contracts signed only by witnesses, were not being accepted as legally binding in Russian courts. The Rabbinic Commission made recommendations to the government on how to proceed, but seeing little chance for quick, successful, change in Russian policy, they advised the Russian Jewish communities to change their process. They suggested that witnesses to the ketubot include their names, patronymics, family names, and places of residence, so that they could easily verify their signatures in court. Additionally, grooms were to sign below the witness or on the back of the document, or if he was illiterate, he could have someone with his power of attorney sign. (p.208 Jewish Marriage and Divorce in Imperial Russia, ChaeRan Freeze, Brandeis University Press, 2002). So this religious document, a contract between private parties, separate from the registration requirements of the Russian government, was nevertheless impacted by Russian law and changed accordingly. There may be others so affected. Do you have documents of Lyakhovichi life in your possession? May we post their images? Help us gather enough data . More Information will appear in this article in a future update, and we hope to publish new articles here also!

Russian Jewish Wedding
painting by Wincenty Smokowski 1797-1876

"The Get" by Yehuda Pen

This 1907 painting demonstrated both the artist’s skill and his intimate knowledge of Jewish life in Belarus. Yehuda Pen (aka Yuri Moyshevich Pen) (1854- 1937) of Vitebsk, is the subject of many biographical pieces, based on his personal artistic contributions, the school he founded, and his role as teacher of Marc Chagall. The original is owned by the Belarussian Museum of Art, Mins.k

1872 silver ruble

The amount of dowry which a wife brought to a marriage varied, but the amount of her ketuba settlement was set. If she was divorced, her husband was required to pay back not less than seventy-six silver rubles - the minimum ketubah for a maiden-bride in Minsk gubernia and the rest of the Northwestern gubernias. If she had been married previously, the ketubah was set at 38 silver rubles. This was not an inconsiderable sum and the ketubah as well as the dowry was often divided into ongoing payments, or alimony. The ketubah was also owed to the widow by her husband’s estate and featured in many court resolutions of property division.

Civil Documents of Local Government Located
and Translated by the efforts of the Lyakhovichi Research Group

The tables, indices, and the translation of the Hebrew pages of the 1875 Synagogue petition, are ©Deborah Glassman 2007 and may not be reproduced in whole or part without her written permission, including for use in a larger database.

Petition to build Synagogue in 1875
(high-resolution versions: First Signature Page Second Signature Page

Civil Documents potentially include a wide variety of records, including (all of the following records can be found in the Complete Lyakhovichi Records Catalog):

  1. A petition to the Czar in 1875 to rebuild a synagogue lost to fire in 1874. It included the signatures of 56 taxpaying members of the Jewish community. Images of the signature pages and the extracted names appear on this page.

  2. Election records for the mayor (starosta) of the city of Lyakhovichi in 1885. It included the 42 names in the table on this page.

  3. Military Discharge Records reported by the local administrative offices.

  4. Lists of Persons Recruited in the Lyakhovichi recruitment region - so far we have only a note for a search done for one of the members of the Lyakhovichi Research Group noting that such a list exists for October 29, 1883 in the Minsk National Historic Archives in fond #308, list #2, case #1, p22. This search turned up the name of Yehiel son of Shachna Rabinovich of Lyakhovichi #173.

  5. Lists of Persons required to appear for examination for military exemption or recruitment in the Lyakhovichi District. So far we only have the newspaper printed lists for those who were ordered to appear in the years of 1880, 1889, and 1890. As this requirement originated in a government office and was printed because it was "official business" in the "newspaper of record" we can expect to find lists of both those who were required to appear and those who were actually recruited, and thirdly lists of those discharged in any given year, in still unexamined fonds in the National Historical Archives in Minsk.

  6. Lists of Property in Lyakhovichi

  7. Taxpayers: We have several different kinds of Lyakhovichi tax lists on our site and we have recently learned about some others and how to better utilize all of them. Please see the list for the 1883-1884 Tax Lists of Lyakhovichi Jews.. It is further indexed over subsequent lists. In addition to the records above, a private search for a member of the Lyakhovichi Research Group noted that there was a list of Immovable Property Tax Payers for 1877 that specified: pp21-22 #55 wooden house, Mikhel Rabinovich, "exempted from tax as he is poor"; pp 22-23 #80 wooden house Yankel-Leib Rabinovich, property value - 75 rubles, tax 12.5 kop.; and pp 23-24 # 95 Shimon Rabinovich, property value - 50 rubles, tax 12.5 kop. The search report shows that this info was extracted from Fond 359, list #2, case #1.

  8. List of male Jews of Lyakhovichi, 1874

  9. Voters Lists for State Duma - The Voters Lists in Fond 24, list #1, case #3628 lists the Lyakhovichi voters for the 1906 State Duma who qualified by paying apartment taxes or trade licenses. The Voters Lists for the second category of town voters in Slutsk uyezd in 1907 for Lyakhovichi were in Fond 295, list 1, case 7785, p 357. We have extracted lists from the Slutsk voters lists compiled for the Belarus SIG.

  10. Revision Lists: unique document called the 1874 Jewish Males is formatted similarly to a Revision List but appears to not have been gathered by the same Russian Ministry - its emphasis is on the legal male residents of Lyakhovichi no matter where in the Russian Empire they may be physically residing.

  11. List of those Registering to Own Taverns and be Lyakhovichi Meschanin in 1805 .

  12. Documents of Petition to Build New Synagogue 1875

Petition to Build a New Synagogue 1875
(high-resolution version: Cover Page Main Page)

Petition to Build New Synagogue 1875

On August 27, 1875, 56 Jewish householders in Lyakhovichi petitioned to be allowed to build a new synagogue in the Shul plaza of Lyakhovichi. Three prayer houses still stood following (the event is missing from the text) which happened August 3, 1874. The petition asserted that the three remaining houses of prayer were insufficient to accommodate the sizable number of congregation members, but there was space on the plaza to accommodate another synagogue in the courtyard without being too close to Christian houses of prayer. The Jews were willing to build this at their own expense, to have a plan of the interior and façade made and had put their signatures on this document to be presented in petition to the authorities.

The petition, officially addressed to Czar Alexander Nikolaivich, began its path by approaching the city administration. It was formally submitted to the next jurisdictional level upward, the Minsk Gubernia Administration, in December 1875, offered on the community’s behalf by assistant rabbi Mordukh Yankelovich Aginsky. There is a note on the cover page that it was begun Dec 29, 1875 and “completed” May 4, 1876. The price to submit the petition was a declared 40 silver kopeks. The entire document is 8 pages long, including the - rcover page created by the Minsk Gubernia administration record keeper; the petition page; the statement that these 56 Jewish householders listed in the petition select Mordukh Aginsky, assistant rabbi to represent them, and two pages of signatures provided by those same 56 householders.

Questions to be answered

If you have any information, please contact us.

  1. There were five synagogues on the Shul plaza at the beginning of WW I – the Bet Yakov, the Tailor’s shul, the Shoemaker’s shul, and two Hasidic shuls. One of the Hasidic Shuls belonged to the Lechovitzer Hasidim, and one reportedly to the Koidanovers. Slonimers had no shul in the town, and the Stoliners had theirs on the Market Place. Lubavichers had a presence in the community, but their numbers had dwindled since the Mittler Rebbe had moved from our town, and no report of a Lubavicher shtiebel has been heard. Was the Kalte shul still standing at that time? Had it been on the Shul Plaza?

  2. What do we know of the synagogue that burned?

  3. Were there any incident reports filed with any authority when there was a fire in the town in August 1874? Where might we find relevant info today?

  4. Was the petition granted or denied?

  5. Lord Rejtan was credited with offering to finance the rebuilding of the synagogue, and in that report (from Avrom Lev) it was specifically stated that the Kalte shul that had been burned and that Lord Rejtan had offered to rebuild it. Any confirmation or other source that independently offers that fact?

  6. The first signature on the petition, in a very large hand, was that of Yechiel Maziya, who was one of only a few that did not also sign in Hebrew. Why did he sign first?

  7. If a synagogue was built at this time, which one?

  8. We know that philanthropist Abraham Yankel Kaplan had the Bais Yakov Shul built, is there a petition comparable to this one in support of his application to build?

  9. Do you have photos of a family event taken at any Lyakhovichi synagogue?

The List of those 56 petitioners is in the center column of this page. The surnames, names, and patronymics, were provided by the Russian translator and he combined those that he found on two locations in the document. The first grouping of the names was in the body of the petition, where each of the 56 men were listed as a permanent part of the document. The second group of names were Russian "signatures" for each man, though they seem to have been largely in the handwriting of a single scribe. The translator noted with an asterisk where there was a discrepancy between the Cyrillic name in the petition and the Cyrillic name in the signature list.

There was a third listing of names in Hebrew characters which was not assessed by that researcher and which has not yet been formally translated. That column was roughly approximated by the webmaster, who would welcome your input upon your viewing of the originals that are attached. In the Hebrew signature field, the webmaster used the letter w to indicate when a double–vov was used and a tz to represent the letter tsade. In a couple of cases there was a discrepancy or clarification provided by the Hebrew name. In one case, that of Feivel Nevakhovich Los, no surname appears in the Cyrillic, and Nevakhovich could have been either a surname or a patronymic. In the Hebrew signatures, he signs himself Feivel ben Noach Los. Number 18, Abram Zosielovich Lis, signs himself Abraham ben Nosel Los, indicating that both his surname and patronymic were written inaccurately by the Russian-speaking scribe. Zosel does appear as a patronymic proper for men on this list who give their father’s name as Zusiel in Hebrew, Nosel is a variation for Nota (Nathan) and is also on this list. Each set of brackets with a question mark indicates a separate name unable to be read by me. If it says "Heb. Sig" there is a name that I have not translated and it is available to be read on the facsimile pages adjacent to this article.

Help us build the Picture Gallery of the Townsmen, Merchants, and Community leaders!

The generation of the 1870s and 1880s is not the one whose pictures fill our family albums, but many of their images may still exist. Can you help us find them?