A Brief History of the Russian Partition

by Ola Heska

Chronology of Russian Partitions

First Partition 1772 – caused by decay and internal disunity as well as by the emergence of Poland’s neigbors as the European powers. Russia, Prussia and Austria plot to divide and conquer Poland.

Constitution May 3, 1791 – first democratic constitution in Europe, second in the world after the United States. Guaranteed personal freedoms to all people; provided for the division of legislative, executive and judicial branches; re-established hereditary monarchy in place of the elective; established majority rule to replace the crippling liberum veto in the parliament.

Second partition 1793 – the new constitution threatened many nobles who feared losing their power and privileges. It also threatened the existing order in Russia. Conservatives asked Catherine of Russia to intervene to preserve their liberties. Russia and Prussia take part in the second partition of Poland.

Kosciuszko Insurrection 1794 – unsuccessful revolt under the leadership of Tadeusz Kosciuszko.

Third Partition 1795 – Russia, Prussia and Austria divided the rest of Poland among themselves. Poland disappeared from the maps of the world for the next 123 years.

Grand Duchy of Warsaw 1807-1815 – established by Napoleon. The Duchy was a French puppet but enjoyed some degree of autonomy.

Congress Kingdom of Poland 1815 – established after the fall of Napoleon by the Congress of Vienna. Initially had its own consitution, army and parliament with the Tsar of Russia named as the king. Eventually its freedom decreased and the constitution was ignored by the Russian authorities.

November Uprising 1831 – unsuccessful attempt at independence. The Kingdom’s autonomy was abolished. Poles faced confiscation of property, deportation, forced military service and the closure of Polish universities. Sejm and army disbanded. Thousands of Poles deported to Siberia and large numbers went into exile.

January Uprising 1863 – second unsuccessful attempt at independence. The Congress Kingdom of Poland abolished entirely and incorporated into the Russian Empire as the Vistula land.

Russification – after the January Uprising thousands deported to Siberia. Catholic church was discriminated against. Many Catholic monasteries were closed. The Polish language lost its official status, was banned in public places, schools and on school grounds. Instruction in schools was in the Russian language, students were beaten for resisting russification. Official documents had to be written in Russian; Julian calendar used by Russia was forced.

Vital records in the Russian partition

Napoleon Civil Code – introduced in the Duchy of Warsaw in 1808. Great impact on record keeping. Established Civil Registrar offices, the practice of civil record keeping, and described in detail how records should be kept.

1826 – Civil Law of the Congress Kingdom of Poland enacted. Based on Napoleonic Civil Code.

“Local” and duplicate registers – “local” registers to be kept in churches. Duplicate copies of records to be simultaneously entered into annual registers which were to be delivered to an archive every year. No abbreviations were allowed and all numbers were to be spelled out. Prescribed penalties for not adhering to the rules.

Each record to include the first and last names, the ages, professions and the place of residence of all people mentioned in a record. Witnesses to be at least 21 years old.

Birth records – births to be registered within 8 days from the date of birth, in the presence of two witnesses, by the child’s father or, in his absence, by someone else present at birth. Had to include the exact day and the hour when the birth was registered; names, professions and the places of residence of witnesses, the exact date and the hour as well as the place of the birth.

Marriage records – minimum age for men - 18, for women – 15; parental permission required for men until the age of 25, for women – until the age of 21. Marriage to be preceded by banns which were to be recorded in a separate register. Women could not re-marry until 10 months after their previous marriage ended.

Marriages between Christians and non-Christians were forbidden.

Marriage record to include: the statement by the Registrar that a marriage was contracted; the exact date and the hour of marriage; first and last names, ages, profession and places of birth and residence of the newlyweds; the first and last names, places of residence of their parents; notice of banns, parents’ permissions, impediments to the marriage; a statement by the newlyweds regarding a prenuptial agreement.

Death records – to include the first and last names, ages, professions and places of residence of witnesses; first and last name of the deceased; the exact day and the hour of the death; the first and last names of the surviving spouse if the deceased was married; names of parents, their professions and places of residence and the place of birth of the deceased, if known.

All records had to be read to the declarants and a statement to this effect was to be included. Signatures were required, or a statement regarding inability to sign.

Records from the Russian partition — online sources

metryki.genealodzy.pl - database of digitized records from a numer of State Archives. Includes indexed records with scans, with search function; indexes verified for accuracy (administered by PTG), over 7 mln digitized records.

geneteka.genealodzy.pl - database of indexed records, with search function; some indexes with links to scans (administered by PTG), nearly 11 mln indexed records.

poczekalnia.genealodzy.pl - “waiting room” - database of records waiting to be re-numbered before being placed in the Metryki database (administered by PTG)

www.szukajwarchiwach.pl - database of scanned records from State Archives, administered by the National Digital Archives. Include holdings from the State Archives in Lublin and Poznan and their branches.

familysearch.org – records for some areas of Poland have been digitized, some of them are indexed. Check whether your parish has records here.

www.agad.gov.pl - records of the Central Archive of Historical Records – Lvov, Volhynia, Vilnius, Przemysl