Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
For the Common Good and Their Own Well-BeingSocial Estates in Imperial Russia$

Alison K. Smith

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199978175

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199978175.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2017. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: null; date: 23 May 2017

(p.209) Appendix Archival Sources

(p.209) Appendix Archival Sources

For the Common Good and Their Own Well-Being
Oxford University Press

The statistical data cited throughout the text was gathered in archives around the former empire, in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Iaroslavl’, Riazan’, Saratov, Tver’, Riga, and Vilnius. The archival fonds of local soslovie societies and administrative bodies include both thousands of small files in which individual cases were recorded and smaller numbers of large files that record many cases of mobility either in a specific geographic region or in a specific chronological period. They are, as a result, difficult to parse without reference to the different styles of record-keeping and attention to possible anomalies in their files.

Files from many of the eighteenth-century magistracies were gathered in the middle of the nineteenth century into the Moscow Archive of the Ministry of Justice, one of the foundational archives of the current Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts.1 The archival registers (opisy) for the magistracy fonds list hundreds of cases of individuals changing their soslovie, among many other files pertaining to various civil suits between townspeople, regulating bills of exchange and promissory notes, or governing trade in towns. However, some files were unavailable due to their condition, and while basic information on some of these can be retrieved from the archival registers themselves, others were not described in enough detail to allow for any analysis. As a result, the discussion in this book is principally based on 357 separate cases of individuals moving from one status to another, collected from the archival holdings of seventeen town or provincial magistracies: Aleksin’, Astrakhan’, Belev, Briansk, Cheboksary, Iaroslavl’, Kursk, Moscow, Orel’, Pereslavl’ Zalesskii, Rostov, Rzhev, Saratov, Selenginsk, Sol’vychegodsk, Suzdal’, and Ustiug Velikii.2

Because records were kept according to different rules in different places, there are practical limits on what these files can tell us. The files of some individual magistracies seem already to omit certain aspects of the social system and to emphasize others, whether by chance or by design. For example, the records of the Suzdal’ Magistracy include only a few files that touch on movement between statuses, and all are on the same kind of movement: from townsman or merchant into a church status (usually entry into a monastery).3 On the one hand, the prominent (p.210) religious institutions in and around Suzdal’ could have impelled more individuals to seek refuge in monasticism. But on the other hand, it seems unlikely both that there were no other cases of movement into or out of the towns’ societies over the several decades that elapsed between the first and last of these cases and that such movement into monasteries was so much more prominent here than in other towns, given the many monasteries in the Russian heartland. As a result, the total sample may be skewed toward more movement into church statuses and away from town societies.

The Central Historical Archive of Moscow (TsIAM) and Central State Historical Archive of St. Petersburg (TsGIASPb) both hold the records of the many local administrative bodies that governed (or attempted to govern) the capitals and their provinces. Among them are the boards and other units that administered the capitals’ merchant, townsperson, and artisan societies. As in the eighteenth century, record-keeping practices varied by place, by authority, and over time, in ways that make broad comparisons challenging.

Moscow’s merchant society is represented in the archives by three different administrative bodies. The files of the Moscow Merchant Guild (Moskovskaia kupecheskaia gil’diia, f. 397) covers the second half of the eighteenth century. The Merchant Division of the Moscow Town Society (Kupecheskoe otdelenie doma Moskovskogo gradskogo obshchestva, f. 2) picks up in 1793, and runs through 1863. Then the Moscow Merchant Board (Moskovskaia kupecheskaia uprava, f. 3) administered the society through the end of the century. Two sets of archival documents help illuminate mobility into the merchant soslovie. First, a Notebook for the Registry into the Moscow Merchantry People of Various Statuses records all new members of the merchant society in 1795, and it includes information on the social and geographic origins of these new merchants plus detailed information on their families.4 Second, the archival registers for two nineteenth-century merchant institutions—the merchant division of the Moscow town society before the reform of town administration in the early 1860s, and the Moscow merchant board after reform—include basic information on those who entered the society from 1810 until 1888.5 Although these files may not be complete, and also list all those who sought entry into the society, rather than those who completed the process of changing soslovie, they can be taken as a reasonable comparison with the eighteenth-century files. A sample of the larger data set suggests that failure was rare: out of 132 cases, only 3 did not lead to a finalized change of status, a failure rate of just over 2 percent.

Townsperson societies, so much larger than those of merchants, were forced to keep records differently. And, despite various central efforts to standardize bureaucratic practices, by the middle of the nineteenth century the townsperson societies of Moscow and St. Petersburg came to keep records of their new members in different ways. In Moscow, the local townsperson board (uprava) recorded all of the society’s members in giant “neighborhood books.”6 These books reflected the division of the town’s population into a series of neighborhoods or suburbs (slobody). Each neighborhood had two sets of books, one listing “male” households (those with male heads of households, or those with female heads of household but with male “souls” included in their count) and one listing “female” households (those consisting of only women, usually single, but sometimes family groups of women, as well). They list all the members in a household at the time when the list was drawn up, their ages, and, if relevant, their social origin. These books were then updated as new members joined the society and as households already listed underwent changes in their composition due to births, deaths, marriages, or release into a new soslovie.

(p.211) In St. Petersburg, on the other hand, records were kept differently. Perhaps because the capital’s society had been created with the new city in the early eighteenth century, it lacked Moscow’s history of separate economic divisions. As a result, it instead handled its vast numbers of townspeople in part by dealing with them year by year. The St. Petersburg townsperson board used the ukases from the provincial treasury that finalized the registration of new members to keep track of new members and their families. All ukases from a single year were bound together, divided again by gender (a male book and a female book).7 Then, those ukases became the same sort of basis for notes about the future fates of the households described in the original documents, as later hands wrote marginal notations on their pages.

Similar files kept in provincial archives add another dimension to the study. The archives of town dumas, magistracies, provincial treasuries, and provincial administrations all contain both files representing individual stories or issues, and those that bring together information from multiple years or places. Like the files from Moscow and St. Petersburg, they are tricky to use because of differences in record-keeping. However, evidence from archival opisy from Iaroslavl’, Riazan’, Saratov, and Tver’ was pulled together to make a single, large database recording movement between sosloviia societies. These data cannot say anything about overall numbers because it is unclear exactly how some materials made it into opisy and how others did not; nor can it necessarily say anything about increases or decreases in numbers from the early part of the nineteenth century to the later part of that century, for the same reason. It can, however give some sense of what kinds of movement occurred and how their prevalence changed over time. (p.212)


(1) . Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv drevnikh aktov: Putevoditel’ vol. 3, part 1 (Moscow: RGADA, 1997), 38.

(2) . RGADA ff. 308, 691, 695, 705, 707, 712, 713, 742, 761, 764, 768, 778, 796, 807, 820. 828, 1069).

(3) . The relevant files are RGADA f. 778, op. 1, dd. 31, 160, 284, 285, 324, and 330.

(4) . TsIAM f. 397, op. 1, d. 121, “Tetrad 1795 goda dlia zapiski v Moskovskoe kupechestvo raznogo zvaniia liudei postupivshikh s kapitalom na 1796 god,” numbering around 790 names of individuals who served as new heads of household. The Notebook includes some additional names, but in a curious document that appears to be a draft stuck in the middle of the notebook, with less description than the book as a whole. Those names have been excluded from the examination below. So too have the names of merchants from other towns who moved to Moscow.

(5) . TsIAM f. 2, op. 1, 3; f. 3, op. 1. These files are likely incomplete; a separate file in the archival collection lists 51 men and women who entered the society in 1851; the names in that list overlap with, but do not contain all of, the names listed in the archival registers. TsIAM f. 2, op. 3, d. 854.

(6) . TsIAM f. 5, op. 1, dd. 52–234, 238–41, 243–47, 250–51.

(7) . TsGIASPb f. 222, op. 1 holds the many records.