[Russian ancestry] Censuses in Russia before 1897

first known “count”

Did you know that the first known “count” (i.e. census) in Russia was performed by Mongols during the times of Tatar Mongol invasion in the year 1245 and that the regular counts of households (not people) were done mainly for taxation reason?

During 14th-16th centuries

“descriptions of the land and farms” have been performed with the results recorded in so-called “scribe books/descriptions” (писцовые описания).

These documents reached our times in the original form and are stored in the Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts (RGADA). This archive has the records for the period from 11th till early 20th century.

If you are so lucky and did get to the 16th century in your family tree, then you will need to hire the professional researcher or genealogist to get the records from the Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts, because the books in these archives are written in true ancient Russian.  There are not many people, who know how to correctly read these books.

During the 17th century

the unit of taxation was farm/homestead (хозяйство) and surveys of the population were called “homestead censuses” (подворные переписи). In contrast to previous “descriptions”, censuses of 17th century attempted to record the real population. Census takers recorded all tax-payable men. Children included.  But only age noted for these. The censuses had now a double meaning – they were a legal basis for the further enslavement of peasants and for charging taxes.

Census of 1710

produced during the reign of Peter the Great, had features of “homestead census” and recorded both sexes for the first time.  But the results revealed the dramatic reduction in taxpaying households and the fact of possible drastic reduction of state taxes.

Thus in 1718, to fix the problem, Peter the Great issued a decree that ordered to collect lists of all people subject to charges.  These lists (“skazki”) were collected and then for the next three years have been subject to a check – a “revision” (“reviziya” in Russian).  Since then surveys of the population in Russia were called ”revizskie skazki” (ревизские сказки).


Prior to abolition of serfdom (in 1861) ten revisions were performed: in 1719, 1743, 1762, 1782, 1795, 1811, 1815, 1833, 1850, 1858.

The records of these can be found in regional archives in Russia and are the main documents recording your ancestors in the 18th and 19th century.

What has survived

-Moscow Historical archive has the documents for 6th (1811) and 7th (1816) revisions

-Jewishgen.org published a great article on its site “ Materials in the Russian State Archives of Ancients Acts pertaining to the history of Jewish people: a genealogical aspect” by Dimitry Z. Feldman, listing all relevant funds from this archive.


For many of my clients, I was able to reconstruct generations of ancestors on their family trees.  It was only possible because the records for the villages survived the wars.

-Bashkiriya archive has the funds for 5-10th revisions (here) and the city residents book for Orenburg for 1785

-State archive of  Voronezh region has the information from 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10th revisions (here).

-Yaroslavl region archive also has revizkie skazki books

-Kostroma archive – fund 200 – 5th (1795), 4th (1782) , 6th (1811) and 9th revisions.

Problems with “revizskie skazki”

-an inaccurate information about the population.  Since only taxpaying people recorded. It turned out (and it is obvious ) that the landlords did not want to share taxes with the government and delayed supply of registered men in ”revizskie skazki”.

-People themselves also did not like the revisions.  They run from settled places taking children, cattle and all their belongings.  Military force sometimes applied to keep these people in villages.

After the abolition of serfdom in 1861, the Russian Empire also carried out surveys of the population in cities. About 200 of these local censuses in Russia performed with unpublished results.

Next major census performed only in 1897.  About it in the next article.

Would you like to learn more about censuses and how to locate your ancestors in them? Then you’ll need Master Classes.  Please join me.

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