Soviet censuses in Russian archives

Revolution changed the country.  How it affected the lives of people can be drawn from census statistics.  Please keep in mind that very limited information about these censuses is kept in Russian archives.

To remind the researchers, 1897 Imperial Russia census (see the article in the link) counted 125,6 million people.

The first National census after the Revolution was conducted on 28 August 1920 during the Civil War and only provided the partial information about the country and its people.  The population of the country was 136.8 million people, 15% of which was an urban population.

Next census of population (now of USSR) was carried out on December 17, 1926 and counted 148 million people.  This census took place with the idea to define nationalities and create borders.

What is interesting, it was conducted by interviews and not in statistical forms (and cases of self-counting were allowed).  This time the urban population increased to 26.3 million people (or about 18%).  There was a significant leap in literacy rate – up to 56.6% for the population aged 9-49 years.  Detailed statistical materials of this census were published and provide the historians with wealth of data collected, especially on the social composition of the population and families.

The next census was planned in 1933 but was postponed many times until it occurred in 1937.  It is known as “suppressed census 1937”.  The population of USSR was at 162,5 million people level.  Census data did not meet the expectations of the party leadership and the information in the census was “classified” and only published (in summary) and publicly available in 1990s after the collapse of Soviet Union. It is obvious that no results were kept for this census either – everything has been destroyed.

The organizers and many ordinary census collectors of “disgraced” census were sent and died in camps.  Some of them were shot.  The full account of this census you can find in a book by Karl Schlogel “ Moscow 1937”, an epic (600 pages) description of the year 1937, month by month.  One of its chapters is fully dedicated to the census of 1937.  It describes the methodology, problems and the results of census.

Per Karl Schlogel, at the beginning of 1937 only 40% of population of USSR (Soviet Union) were properly included in the internal passport system.  The passport system was introduced in 1932 and controls over “registration at a certain address” did not function properly. There were so many people living without documents or just hiding for whatever the

The biggest problem with this census was missing people.  “Population gap spoke so graphically of unnatural death”, stated James von Geldern in his article called “The lost census”.  The shock of missing people was something that specialists could not explain.  The procedures for registering birth and death over the last two decades since the Revolution had been defective.  There was no way to fully and correctly register deaths in villages ravaged by Civil War, forced collectivisation, deportation and famines (according to various estimates, from 6 to 8 million people died in famines).  An anonymous nature of dying existed in Russia for a long time.  Surviving people just took over the papers of the dead.

The next census of the USSR was carried out after 20-year break in 1959 (as of January 15). The population was not counted for a long time in order not to draw the attention to huge human losses during the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945).

The above is just the summary of censuses in Soviet Russia.  As you probably understood from the article, there is a very limited amount of information on these censuses and obviously no census forms in existence.

There were also City censuses performed in the period from 1917 to 1920 ( with no archival records in existence) and All-Russia agricultural census (1917).

The only forms from “All-Russia agricultural census” I came across are:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

  • Smolensk archive has the records of All-Russia agricultural census performed in its region. Very interesting census form where you can find the names of family members, gender, age, the size of the land under control, number of sheep, cows, other animals and so on.
  • Penza archive has the records of All-Russia agricultural census 1917. These records are stored in electronic form in the archive.
  • Bashkiriya archive has the individual information from 1926 census.

Keep an eye on this article as the information will be updated on a regular basis.

Sources:  Wikipedia “НаселениеСССР”, “Перепись населенияСССР(1937)”, “Перепись населения СССР (1926)”, “Переписи населения в России”

James von Geldern “The lost census”



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