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Making sense of old handwriting

Metrical Books - Birth Records

Birth records may appear in either a table/columns format or paragraph form. Both formats will be addressed on this page, as well as the vocabulary commonly used in Russian language birth records.

Table/Columns Format

Russian/Pskov Birth Records 1897
"Metrical Books: Nikolayevskiy Sobor, 1789-1940," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 7 April 2023), Orthodox birth records, Pskov, Russian Empire, DGS no. 7569848, image no. 336 of 1038.

Records written in the table/columns format sometimes have their headings written in Church Slavonic, using many of the archaic letters shown on the Alphabet Overview page of this tutorial. To simplify your reading of the documents you find, the following is a transcription and translation of the headings found in an average Christian birth record (Orthodox, Catholic, etc.):

Метрической книги на (year in numerals)годъ: часть первая, о родившихся
Счетъ родившихсяМесяцъ и деньИмена родившихсяЗвание, имя, отчество и фамилия родишей, и какого вероисповеданияЗвание, имя, отчество и фамилия восприемниковъКто совершаль шаинсш во крещенияРукоприкладство свидетелей записи по желанию
Мужска полаЖенска полаРожденияКрещения
Metrical book for (year in numerals)year: first part, about those born
Birth countMonth and dayNames of those bornSocial status, name, patronymic and surname of parents, and what religionSocial status, name, patronymic and surname of the godparentsWho performed the sacrament of baptism"Signing of the record witnesses according to their will" (Optional)

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

A few notes about this format:

  • The male and female children are counted separately. For example, you may find that the 18th male is recorded on the same page as the 7th female for that book or year.
  • The month is usually written across the top of the birth column and the baptism column, with numerals written indicating the specific day of each event. The month is usually written once above a date within that month for each page, with the new month being written lower on the page if there is a change partway through. If you do not immediately see a month listed, check the surrounding entries accordingly.
  • In most cases, only the child's given name (or имя) is recorded in the name column. Sometimes their surname will be written along the side of the record, but this depends on the time period, table format, location, and scribe.
  • Often, the column describing the child's parents will also include where they were living at the time. In addition to including the parents' names, the phrase законная жена его (directly translated as "lawful wife his") is often used to indicate that they were legally married if such was the case.

The general concepts above also apply to Jewish records in the table/columns format, but the headings differ significantly. This is because, rather than using both pages to record data in Russian, the right-hand page records the same information as the left-hand page again, but in Hebrew:

Russian/Kishinev Jewish Births 1868 (DGS 5601722, image 60).jpg
"Metrical books, 1854-1914," database with images, ( : accessed 13 April 2023), Jewish birth records, Mikhalishki, Vilna, Vilna, Russian Empire, DGS no. 4219644, image no. 599 of 1007.

See a transcription and translation of this document

These are the column headings for the Russian language portion of Jewish birth records in the table format:

Часть I. О родившихся.
No.Кто совершал обряд обрезанияЧисло и месяц рождения и обрезанияГде родилсяСостояние отца, имена отца и материКто родился и какое ему или ей дано имя
Part I. About those born.
NumberWho performed the rite of circumcisionDate and month of birth and circumcisionWhere bornSocial status of the father, names of the father and the motherWho was born and his or her given name

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

  • Notice that the columns denoting the count for each gender are reversed from the order in which they are shown on Christian records, with females being recorded on the left and males on the right here.
  • The "Christian" date refers to either the Julian or Gregorian calendar, depending on which was in use at the time. See the Numbers, Dates, and Calendars page of this tutorial to learn more about the difference between these calendars and the Hebrew calendar.
  • For males, the circumcision was generally recorded right below the birth date. For females, any portion of the record giving reference to circumcision was left blank.

Paragraph Format

Russian/Klobucku Birth Record
“Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej w Kłobucku,” Archiwum Państwowe w Częstochowie, Szukaj w Archiwach ( accessed 8 February 2023), entry for Yuliana Sekiewicz, Catholic birth record, 14 February 1914 (Gregorian date), Kłobuck, Kłobuck, Katowice, Russian Empire, Reference Code 8/106/0, scan no. 586 of 14,203.

See a transcription and translation of this document

The following is the general flow of a paragraph-style, Christian birth record, with spaces left for the unique information provided in each individual document:

Состоялось в городе/селе/деревне/посаде (place where the event was reported) (date of reporting) (time of reporting). Явился [or явился лично] в присутствии (witness or witnesses with their ages, occupations, and places of residence) и предъявил нам младенца (sex of child—мужскаго or женскаго) пола, объявляя что он родился [or она родилась] в городе/селе/деревне/посаде (child's place of birth) (date of birth) (time of birth) от законной жены его (mother's name) урожденной [or из/cъ] (mother's maiden name) (mother's age). Младенцу этому при святом крещения совершенном сего числа (if the child was baptized a different day, the date would be listed here) дано имя (name of child). Восприемниками его/ были (names of godparents, sometimes with additional details such as their place of residence or age). Акт сей...(statement that the record was either read by and signed by the reporter and the witnesses or one saying that it was read to them due to illiteracy).

Here is an English translation of the paragraph above:

It happened in the city/town/village/settlement of (place where the event was reported) (date of reporting) (time of reporting). Appeared (reporter—often the father, but not always!) (age of reporter) (occupation of reporter) (place where reporter resides) in the presence of (witness or witnesses with their ages, occupations, and places of residence) and presented to us a baby of the (male or female) sex, declaring that he/she was born in the city/town/village/settlement of (child's place of birth) (date of birth) (time of birth) of the lawful wife his [the reporter's] (mother's name) born (mother's maiden name) (mother's age). This infant was baptized on this day (if the child was baptized a different day, the date would be listed here) and given the name (name of child) and his godparents were (names of godparents, sometimes with additional details such as their place of residence or age). This act...(statement that the record was either read by and signed by the reporter and the witnesses or one saying that it was read to them due to illiteracy).

Some notes about paragraph format documents:

  • Paragraph-style records were a Polish custom and are common in the parts of the former Russian Empire that were part of Poland first. Because of this, you may find names written in both Russian and Polish in the paragraph format documents you encounter, usually separated by a slash.
  • Two different versions of a date may be recorded, one in the Julian calendar and the other in the Gregorian calendar (the most commonly used calendar today). The two dates are usually separated by a slash. For more about the format and grammar behind dates, see the Numbers, Dates, and Calendars page of this tutorial.
  • Because paragraph-style records are written out in full sentences, grammatical ending changes come into play more than they do in the table/columns format. The phrase от законной жены его ("of the lawful wife his") is an excellent example of this:
    • The preposition от triggers the genitive case, changing the endings of not only законная and жена, but also causing the endings of the mother's given name and maiden name to change. Similarly, the names of the witnesses are usually given in genitive case due to their grammatical context. Use the Names and Language and Grammar pages of this tutorial to guide you as you put names back into their original, nominative form for your notes.
    • Word order can be flexible in Russian while still holding the same meaning. In this instance, you might see the phrase от законной жены его written as shown or with the words in a different order (for example, от законной его жены). The first version of this specific phrase is usually more common.
  • Spelling can vary based on the time the record was written. You may find that i's are used in historical documents where you might expect to see и's in modern Russian. The same is often true of ѣ's and е's (see the Alphabet Overview page of this tutorial to learn more about these letters and their similarities). In addition to this, the modern genitive ending -ого was often written as -аго in older documents.
  • Because many of the phrases in a birth document describe the infant, or младенец, even a record about a female child may use masculine words (the word младенец is masculine because it ends in a consonant). Be sure to read carefully to determine the gender of the child, which will usually be stated right before the birthplace and date.
  • Just like their tabular counterparts, paragraph-style documents use some different vocabulary when discussing Jewish births. One important difference is that Jewish records do not mention baptism. Rather, they may include a note about a религиозного обряда, or religious ceremony, to refer to circumcision (обрезания) for males—or the equivalent naming ceremony for females, if one took place—before providing the child's name. The phrase referring to godparents is also omitted.

Common Vocabulary in Birth Records

Use the list below to review common vocabulary you might encounter in a birth record. While this is not an all-inclusive list, knowing these terms will help you to follow the general format of the birth records you read. For more vocabulary options, see the FamilySearch Wiki Russian Genealogical Word List.

Russian TermEnglish Equivalent
акт сейthis act
в городеin the city
в деревнеin the village (without a church)
в присутствииin the presence of
в селеin the town (with a church)
дано имяgiven the name
женского полаfemale sex
затемthen, after which
и законная жена егоand the lawful wife his (i.e., and his lawful wife)
и предъявилнам младенцаand showed us an infant
изfrom, i.e. from either from a place or from a family, if it comes before a woman's maiden name
мещанин, мещанкаpetty bourgeois, middle class
миропомазаниеchrismation (part of the baptismal/christening ceremony where holy oils are placed on the child)
младенцу этомуthis child
мужского полаmale sex
нами и ими подписанsigned by myself and them
не подписаньwas not signed
оба, обоихboth
обрядаrite, ordinance, ceremony, sacrament
объявляя чтоdeclaring that
он родилсяhe was born (may refer to either gender if referring to the word младенец)
она родиласьshe was born
от законной жены егоof the lawful wife his (i.e. of his [usually the reporter's] lawful wife)
от родуfrom birth
предъявилhe presented
прочитамьwe read
cborn, née
сего годаof the same year
состоялосьit happened, it took place
текущего годаcurrent year
урожденнойborn, née
явилсяhe appeared, he came
явился личноhe came personally or in person


Paleography Introduction