Dates and Times in Russian Language Documents
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 Calendars—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.
Ordinal numbers are usually used to describe dates (such as the twenty-second of March), or years (in the 1885th year). In both cases, genitive case is used. The genitive case endings for numbers are either usually either -ого or -его. The table below shows the basic, nominative endings of these numbers with their genitive case equivalents. Notice that, as stated above, only the last number's ending is affected by both its status as an ordinal number and by the use of genitive case (i.e., the endings of the numbers stay the same except for those attached to the last word):
|In Russian (Nominative Case)
|In Russian (Genitive Case)
Again, only the last number in a date is ordinal and in the genitive case. For example, if the year 1885 were written out in a record in Russian, it would be тысяча восемьсот восемьдесят пятого, with just the last number, five, appearing with a genitive case ending. If an event were recorded on the twenty-second day of a month, it would be written as двадцать второго, with “twenty” written in nominative case (двадцать) and “second” written in genitive case (второго).
The following are the names of the twelve months of the year in Russian:
- Январь- January*
- Февраль- February
- Март- March
- Апрель- April
- Май- May
- Июнь- June
- Июль- July
- Август- August
- Сентябрь- September
- Октябрь- October
- Ноябрь- November
- Декабрь- December
*Sometimes you may encounter Январь spelled Генварь in the records you read.
Sometimes months appear in their genitive case forms in paragraph-style writing (expressing the same idea as “the third of February” in English). Here are the months with their genitive case equivalents:
The following birth record from Osiek Wielki, located in modern-day Poland, includes the names of two months, December and January, in genitive case:
On the other hand, this birth record, also from modern-day Poland, includes the month in both nominative case (Январь) and genitive case (Января):
Notice the difference in the context of each date. When the month is written out as part of a sentence, it is usually in genitive case in historical records. When the month is written simply as a heading, as seen in the second document, it generally remains in nominative case.
You may also encounter the word дня after the day is written. This is the most common form of the word день (meaning “day”) to find in records (it is also in the genitive case). It is sometimes included, but not always, just as English language scribes do not always write “on the fifth day of December,” instead omitting the word “day” and simply writing “on the fifth of December.”
The word for "year" in the context of dates is always года (this is also in genitive case).
You now know how to spell out the numbers and months in a date. Below are a few examples of complete dates. Try to figure out what the date is based on the Russian text before looking at the English translation:
|Четвёртого мая тысяча восемьсот семьдесят третьего года
|4 May 1873
|Тридцатого марта тысяча семьсот девятносто пятого года
|30 March 1795
|Первого сентября тысяча девятьсот шестьдесять девятого года
|1 September 1969
|Двадцать седьмого ноября тысяча восемьсот сорок седьмого года
|27 November 1847
Note that the scribes of the documents may also have written the date with the month first (мая четвёртого) rather than the day first as in the examples above (in this case, четвёртого мая). Word order in Russian is much more fluid than in English, so the meaning of the two different orders here have the same meaning.
You may also encounter deictic (or context-dependent) terms referring to a day near when the record was made. The most common of these terms will be вчера (yesterday) and сегодня (today). It is unlikely that you will see the word for "tomorrow" (завтра) in a record.
The following are the days of the week in Russian for your reference:
- Monday- понедельник
- Tuesday- вторник
- Wednesday- среда
- Thursday- четверг
- Friday- пятница
- Saturday- суббота
- Sunday- воскресенье
In many Russian language documents, a date will be followed by the time at which the event took place. This is usually rounded to the nearest hour and written out as a cardinal number. The word for hour in Russian is час, though depending on the hour, the variations часа or часов may be used. The following are the hours of the day with the designated form of "hour" included:
- 1 o'clock: один час (the word один is often omitted)
- 2 o'clock: два часа
- 3 o'clock: три часа
- 4 o'clock: четыре часа
- 5 o'clock: пять часов
- 6 o'clock: шесть часов
- 7 o'clock: семь часов
- 8 o'clock: восемь часов
- 9 o'clock: девять часов
- 10 o'clock: десять часов
- 11 o'clock: одиннадцать часов
- 12 o'clock: двенадцать часов
The use of twelve-hour time creates a need to state the time of day as well. Common words describing the time of day include утра/утром (in the morning), дня (in the afternoon), ночи/ночью (at night), полдень (noon), полночь (midnight), по полудни (after noon, in the afternoon), or по полуночи (after midnight).