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Service Records of Officials as a Source of Information According to the Estland Provincial Government Collection

It is difficult to overestimate the activity of provincial governmental institutions in the Russian Empire of the latter half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century since they were connected to several spheres of life in the province. At the same time, the answer to the question of how they operated and what they specifically did is closely associated with the question of who those officials and employees were who served in those administrative agencies and implemented laws and ordinances from the central government. Thanks to research papers that have already been published, it can be recognised that both numerically and in terms of its quality, the staff of the administrative agencies of the Province of Estonia could not remain unaffected by the social processes that took place at the local and empire-wide levels. At the same time, no study specifically concerning the personnel of administrative agencies in the Baltic provinces of the Russian Empire has been published yet in Estonia. The focus of this article is not the province’s officialdom as such and its social composition but rather the sources used for studying officialdom and the possibilities for using those sources.

There are quite a number of sources concerning the social composition of officialdom in the latter half of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, yet even nowadays, the greater portion of researchers are unaware of many of these sources, and similarly, their research potential remains undetermined. One of those sources is the service records and personal files of officials and employees. These records are found in large numbers in the archival collection of Estonia’s provincial government, and their research potential requires separate research.

The service record (formuljarnõj or poslužnoj spisok in Russian) is a legally prescribed document that established the personal data of an official and his service career. Keeping service records was a general mandatory requirement, thus it was the form in which records were kept of all officialdom and it existed from 1764 to 1917. The research material for this article is from the collection of service records deposited in the archival collection of Estonia’s provincial government. This is one of the largest collections of service records of administrative agencies that operated in Estonian territory. It is possible to use this collection to study social changes that took place in the composition of officialdom in governmental institutions over longer periods of time.

The objective of this article is to introduce to the reader the service record as a source that is interesting from the standpoint of source research and which has great research potential.

To this end, the use of the service record document is explored starting with the normative legislation regulating its content, its structure until service records were deposited in the archival collections of administrative agencies, as well as the attributes of the service record as a source of information on the masses. The possibility of researchers using this category of source is considered in studying the personnel of the provincial government and other administrative agencies from the era of the Russian Empire. Service records are among the best types of record documentation in terms of their completeness and reliability, and they have a high degree of representativeness. The form of this document meant for keeping records of all officialdom makes it possible to compile databases based on data from these forms. This in turn makes it possible to conduct both qualitative and quantitative analysis, and to do so for a particular year or period in terms of the entire administration, particular administrative agencies, subunits or a specific group of employees. This all contributes to improved research of the personnel and functioning of Russia’s prerevolutionary state administrative agencies, and a better understanding of the effect of the quality of personnel on the work of the province’s administration and the productivity of governmental policy. Considering the current trend in research and the intrinsic potential of service records, they may become a prospective source for researching social-political processes in the latter period of the Russian Empire at both the micro and macro levels.