Chekhov, Sakhalin and census

This is an unusual combination of three words, at first sight, but of a great historical and genealogical value.  Those who read my article on Russian Imperial census of 1897 know that the famous author and dramaturge Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was the only one census taker on the island of Sakhalin.

Census cards filled in by Chekhov
Census cards filled in by Chekhov

Chekhov’s decision to travel to Sakhalin was finally confirmed by him in the summer of 1889 after discussion with the actress K.A. Karatygina.  He revealed this secret to his closest family only in January 1890 and, of course, it made a great impression on society. There was a possibility that he might not return. Life was hard on Sakhalin – difficult climate, off-road conditions and then the unsettled life on the island. Chekhov went on journey in the spring of 1890.

Travel through Siberia took 82 days during which Chekhov wrote nine essays under the title From Siberia”.  He arrived on Sakhalin on 11 (23) of July 1890. During three months’ stay on the island Chekhov socialized with many different people including life convicts, settlers, custom officials and political prisoners, with whom the communication was prohibited. He learned about people’s lives and collected a wealth of material for his notes.  Chekhov returned to Tula on 7 (19) December 1890 and during the next 5 years wrote the book “Sakhalin Island“.

As mentioned before, Chekhov’s stay on Sakhalin is famous because he took single-handedly a real census of Sakhalin, gathering a few thousand cards of the inhabitants of the island.

Of the 65 Russian villages marked on the map of Sakhalin in 1890, Anton Pavlovich described or referred to 54, and personally visited 39 villages. He filled in cards for about 10,000 inhabitants out of 28,000 in total.  Cards were made by a special order of the writer and were published in a small printing press at the local police headquarters. Female cards were marked by red pencil.
In 2005, for the first time in Russia, a book was published “Perhaps will be useful and my numbers …” based on materials of Sakhalin census taken by Anton Chekhov. In the edition are published all 10,000 polling cards filled by Chekhov’s respondents during his trip to the island of Sakhalin in 1890.

You can find these cards on this website  There is no need to buy the book.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.