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Making sense of old handwriting

Metrical Books - Divorce Records

Divorce records were the third part of non-Christian metrical books (whereas deaths were called Part III in Christian metrical books). It is important to remember that only non-Christians generally practiced divorce in the Russian Empire during its existence. The major Christian denominations in the Empire did not allow for divorce, so divorce records were not included in Christian metrical books. The examples used on this page to introduce divorce records are from records kept by the Jewish faith.

Table/Columns Format

Russian/Divorces Kishinev 1900
"Молдова метрические книги, 1811-1936," images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 13 April 2023), Jewish divorce records, Kishinev, Kishinev, Bessarabia, Russian Empire, DGS no. 5608624, image no. 826 of 1104.

See a transcription and translation of this document

Most metrical books including divorce records for Jews are in the table/columns format standardized across most metrical books. 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 (though this is less common for Jewish records than for Orthodox records). To simplify your reading of the documents you find, the following is a transcription and translation of the headings found in an average Jewish divorce record:

Часть III. О разведшихся.
No.Лета.Кем совершается обряд разводный или халицы и кто были свидетелями при совершении оного.Число и месяцъ.По каким причинам.По чьему решению.Кто именно с кем разведен разводным или чрез халицу.
Part III. About those divorced.
No.Years [of age]Who performs the rite of divorce or chalitzah and who were witnesses when it was performed.Date and monthFor what reasonsBy whose decisionWho exactly is divorced from whom by divorce or through a chalitzah

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

A few notes about this format:

  • The month is usually written across the top of each date column column, with numerals written indicating the specific day of each event. If the month changes partway down the page, the new month is written across the top of the column in the same way.
  • The right-hand page of a document like this records the same information as the left-hand page again, but in Hebrew instead of Russian.
  • 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.

Common Vocabulary in Divorce Records

The vocabulary in divorce records varies depending on the reason for the divorce. The most important column—the last—includes information describing the couple and sometimes mentions their parents. For a list of reference vocabulary, see the FamilySearch Wiki Russian Genealogical Word List.


Paleography Introduction