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Making sense of old handwriting

The 1897 Imperial Census

On January 28, 1897 (or February 9 according to the Gregorian calendar), the only complete census of the Russian Empire was taken. An undertaking involving over 150,000 census takers, the census was taken in a single day. It covered the entire Empire (except for Finland) and consisted of more than 30 million census return sheets.

Unfortunately, the census was not intended to be kept after statistics were recorded, and consequently much of the census was reportedly destroyed. However, there are some returns that still survive today, depending on the locality in question. The census can serve as a springboard from early 20th century records to the metrical books and revision lists of the 19th century, making it extremely valuable for genealogical research. Understanding the format and contents of the census will help you to successfully navigate this rich document type where it can be found.


Russian/1897 Census (Vyatka)
"Перепись населения : Вятка (губерния), 1897," database with images, FamilySearch ( accessed 31 March 2023), page 121, Ichetovkin family, 28 January 1897, Ichetovkiny, Glazovsky, Vyatka, Russian Empire, DGS no. 7484626, image 465 of 874.

See a transcription and translation of this document

Forms for the 1897 census varied based on whether peasants (Form А), private land/estates (Form Б), or urban areas (Form В) were being enumerated. Separate forms were also used for those serving in the military or living in student boarding houses, charity homes, and other similar group boarding situations. Different cover pages were used for each of these form types, but the census returns themselves detailing the household members were the same.

To simplify your reading of the documents you find, the following is a transcription and translation of the headings found in the 1897 census returns. The spelling of the headings has been modernized for easier reading.


ФАМИЛИЯ (прозвище), ИМЯ и ОТЧЕСТВО или ИМЕНА, если их несколько

Отметка о тех, кто окажется: слепым на оба глаза, немым, глухонемым или умалишенным

Как записанний приходится главе хозяйства и главе своей семьи?Сколько минуло лет или месяцев от роду Холост, женат, вдов или разведёнСословие, состояние или званиеЗдесь-ли родился, а если не здесь, то где именно?
(Губерния, уезд, город)
Здесь-ли приписан, а если не здесь, то где именно?
(Губерния, уезд, город)
Где обыкновенно проживает: здесь-ли, а если не здесь, то где именно?
(Губерния, уезд, город)
Отметка об отсутствий, отлучке и о временном здесь пребыванийВероисповеданиеРодной языкГрамотностьЗанятие, ремесло, промысел, должность или служба
Умеет-ли читать?Где обучается, обучался или кончил курс образования?Главное, то есть то, которое доставляет главные средства для существования1. Побочное или вспомогательное
2. Положение по воинской повинности

SURNAME (alias), GIVEN NAME, and PATRONYMIC or NAMES, if there are several

A mark about those who are: blind in both eyes, dumb, deaf, or insane

How does the recorded person relate to the head of the household or family?How many years or months have passed since birth? [Age]Single, married, widowed or divorcedSocial standing, status, or rankWas the person born here, and if not here, then where exactly?
(Province, county, city)
Was the person registered here, and if not here, then where exactly?
(Province, county, city)
Where does the person usually live: is it here, and if not here, then where exactly?
(Province, county, city)
A note on absences or temporary stays hereReligionNative languageLiteracyOccupation, trade, craft, position or service
Can the person read?Where is the person studying, where did they study or where did they finish a course of study?Primary [i.e., occupation] which supplies the main means of subsistence1. Additional or auxiliary
2. Position in military service

Use the scroll bar to see the rest of the headings for this document type.

Based on just the headings, a list of information that could be taken from the census returns would include the following:

  • Full names, including patronymics, of all members of the household
  • Gender of household members
  • Relationships between the household members
  • Ages
  • Marital status
  • Social status
  • Place of birth
  • Place of residence
  • Religion
  • Native language
  • Literacy
  • Education
  • Occupation
  • Military position (if applicable)

This, of course, is not a guarantee that each census return will include every item listed or a great deal of detail about each point, but it does provide a powerful foundation for what information was recorded.


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