Arthur Hoheisel and Peter Wörster, editors, Die Kurländischen Seelenrevisionslisten 1797-1834 (1858) (Marburg: Herder Institut, 1997) (Sammlungen des Herder-Instituts zur Ostmitteleuropa-Forschung, 2), paper, 83 pp.
Peter the Great ordered the first Russian census in 1718-1719 to determine the tax resources of his empire. After the Baltic lands were annexed by Russia in 1795, local officials received orders to carry out a similar census. The first was completed in 1797, followed by others in 1798, 1803, 1811, 1826, and 1834. Extreme complexity marked the system, with the population being broken down into social (noble, merchant, artisan, worker, serf, etc.) and ethnic categories which continually changed, and with separate formats being used for urban dwellers, the rural population, and workers on estates. The intent of this introductory booklet is to explain what materials are available in the Herder Institut, how they can be used, and what plans for future research already exist.
Specialists are familiar with the Herder Institut and its rich collection of Baltic materials, especially newspapers and journals, and its small but highly qualified staff of experts. This publication indicates a broadening of appeal, especially to genealogical interests, through using census materials which had long been difficult or impossible to use.
In 1973 Sulev Vahtre demonstrated the potential of the Estonian census (Eestimaa talurahvas hingeloenduste andmeil)for scholarly use. In the Eighties a small group of dedicated workers with support of Baltic-German organizations began working with the 1940 microfilm copies of the Kurland records at the Herder Institut, copying them onto paper and organizing them into books that eventually filled ten meters of library shelving.
The original materials remain in Riga, but researchers would be well advised to use the Databank on diskettes created by this work group. This is available at the Herder Institut and in the Deutschbaltischen Genealogischen Gesellschaft in Darmstadt. 28186 family names (German, Latvian, Jewish, a few Russians, Poles, Lithuanians and Estonians) in 87,323 locations have been identified. Not every list contains all the information that genealogical researchers hope for, but this booklet indicates what information is available for each community and manor in Kurland.
The editors note the parallel work done by Andrejs Plakans, whose Database was the 1881 census, with comparisons to the 1797 census. They express hope that the work on the Kurland records will encourage work on similar materials throughout eastern Europe, not only in the former Russian empire, but also in the Prussian and Austrian lands. Kurland, with its rich mix of ethnic groups, religions, and classes, offers opportunities for research of social history of a kind that scholars have long dreamt.
For the genealogists, the opportunities are also rich, though successfully locating one=s family is by no means guaranteed. To judge by the illustrations, this material is rather more useful and easier to work with than the United States census reports of that that eraCalthough the handwriting may prove a challenge to the untrained and the language barrier has to be reckoned with. Those who know no German will need assistance.