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Making sense of old handwriting

Calendars in Russian Language Documents

Russian/1911 Calendar Card
"Calendar-Card of the Russia Company, 1911." Created by Страховое общество "Россия." Public Domain (PD-1996: Russia).

While Arabic numerals have been used in the former Russian Empire since the 1600s, Russian language documents often spell numbers out, especially when referring to dates. With different names and endings for the various numbers depending on context and grammar, important numbers like ages or dates can be tricky to decipher. This page—as well as the pages about Numbers and Ages and Dates and Times—is designed to guide you through the various forms of numbers you will encounter, providing the vocabulary that will help you to accurately interpret the key genealogical information held in the documents you read.

Russian Empire Calendar use: Julian vs. Gregorian

Today the Russian Federation uses the Gregorian calendar (the same calendar used by most nations worldwide), but before 1918, the Russian Empire used the Julian calendar for several centuries—and the Russian Orthodox church still uses the Julian calendar today! In many documents even pre-dating the official change to the Gregorian calendar, the date was written using both the Julian and Gregorian calendars, usually separated by a slash. For example, you might encounter a document that records the date as пятого/семьнадцатого января, or, if the difference in the two calendars resulted in the recording of a different month for each, двадцать седьмого января/восьмого февраля. In such cases, the first date provided was according to the Julian calendar and the second according to the Gregorian calendar.

As can be seen in the examples above, the difference between the Julian calendar and the Gregorian calendar is a matter of days. The number of days varies based on the century in which the event took place, as the two calendars are growing further apart with time. You can use the approximations below to change a Julian date to a Gregorian date:

  • 1600s: add about 9 days 
  • 1700s: add about 10 days 
  • 1800s: add about 11 days  
  • 1900s: add about 12 days  

For more exact results, you can use an online date conversion tool, such as that found on Steve Morse’s website or another on the Casio Computer Company website.

The Hebrew Calendar and Jewish Records

While the Julian and Gregorian calendars, as they appear in Russian language documents, share the names of the months and the number of days in each month, the Hebrew or Jewish calendar differs drastically from both the Julian and Gregorian calendar. Most years, it consists of twelve months, each about 29 to 30 days long. An additional month is added to the calendar during leap years, which occur during set years in a Metonic cycle (the approximately 19 years it takes for moon phases to repeat at the same time each year again). Specifically, years 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, and 19 of the Metonic cycle include an extra month called Adar II. These leap years are designed to keep important holidays, such as Passover or Hanukkah, at a consistent time of year, as well as to bring the Hebrew calendar, which is a lunar calendar, into line with the solar calendar.

Russian/Jewish Calendar Leap Year
Chart III: 1893-94. Packer, Reverend George Nichols, Our Calendar (Williamsport, Pennsylvania: 1893), chapter VIII,

The months of the Hebrew calendar are listed below:

  • Nisan (Нисан) 
  • Iyar (Ияр) 
  • Sivan (Сиван) 
  • Tammuz (Тамуз) 
  • Av (Ав) 
  • Elul (Элул) 
  • Tishrei (Тишрей) 
  • Cheshvan (Хешван) 
  • Kislev (Кислев) 
  • Tevet (Тевет) 
  • Shevat (Шват) 
  • Adar (called Adar I during leap years) (Адар, Адар алеф) 
  • Adar II (only occurs during leap years) (Адар бет) 

In addition to its unique months and the structure of its leap years, the Hebrew calendar also presents a different reckoning of years. Time is measured in the Hebrew calendar based on the date of creation estimated from the Hebrew Bible, which is the equivalent of the year 3761 BC in the Gregorian calendar. Taking this into account, 1 January 2023 in the Gregorian calendar was 8 Tevet 5783 in the Hebrew calendar.

While Russian Empire records should record a Julian and/or Gregorian date in addition to any Hebrew dates recorded, has a Hebrew calendar converter you can use to convert a Jewish date to a Gregorian date as needed.


Paleography Introduction