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Useful links inEstonia

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  1. Introduction
  2. Tips for people researching their family lineage — what to begin with?
  3. What are the next steps?
  4. In which archives you can find information on family history?
  5. Is it possible to order a family tree as a paid-for service?
  6. Giving names
  7. Estonianization of names
  8. Catholic congregations
  9. Old Believers
  10. Jews
The National Archives of Estonia holds various materials for genealogical research. Here you can find data about births, deaths and marriages, places of residence and even more — there are numerous personal files (for instance the files of university students, the files of legal proceedings and of repressed individuals) that help to reveal the fragments of the ancestors’ everyday life and character.

It is possible to do family research on your own, free of charge in the Saaga portal. All the main family history sources held in the National Archives of Estonia are already accessible there. In order to start, you just have to register as an user. The documents not found in Saaga are all described in the archival information system AIS and are accessible in our reading rooms.

Tips for people researching their family lineage — what to begin with?
To start with your research you should know the names of your ancestors, dates and places of their birth and death as far back in time as possible. Also the dates of marriages and the places of residence may «give a good lead». You can question your older relatives, pay a visit to the clergyman of your home church, take a good look at old registry office certificates, memories, notes made on the last page of the family Bible or on some calendar pages that are kept in your family archive. Exact data about births and deaths can often be found in local cemeteries. There is also a database about the Estonian cemeteries (not yet complete) and a separate one for the cemeteries of Tartu.
What are the next steps?

When you have managed to gather sufficient information and have drawn a main family tree, you will be able to start the real family research.

Archive sources that are mostly used by family researchers

Church records (parish registers, parish member lists, lists of confirmands, church certificates, communion lists). In order to find your relatives in church records you should know which congregation the family or the person belonged to. In these records you can find information about the important dates of your ancestors’ life, about their field of occupation, about their children and the changes in place of residence. Quite often the local pastor has also recorded some more detailed information, as about somebody being blind or breaking the 6th Commandment (commiting adultery).

Documents record the duties of the population and tax book-keeping (wacka-books, revision lists of population or so-called soul revision lists, lists of rural community members). The oldest wacka-books in the National Archives are from the beginning of the Swedish era. These are the lists of farms and of the duties that were put upon these farms, the list of each estate records the sizes of all its farms, all the corveé, natural and monetary duties that were laid upon these farms, often also the number of people and cattle in the farm. Soul revision lists were made by counties, manor communities, villages and families and consist of compact data about the whole family. The lists of rural municipality members are a logical continuation of the soul revision lists.

Military service documents.The first call-up of recruits on Estonian territory took place in 1797, the last one in 1874. On 1 January 1874 general compulsory military service was enacted in Russia. In the lists of recruits the following was entered: date of entries, first name, father’s name and surname of the recruit, age in years and height in arshins and vershoks. The shape of face and of nose, the color of eyes and of hair, also distinctive marks (like birthmarks, scars, injuries) were recorded in special columns. Also the dwelling place of the recruit, his social origin, family status and for married ones also the number of children were entered. Also the abilities of the recruits were recorded — literacy and skills in some handicraft or profession.

You should also keep in mind the files of high school or university students, court files, files of inheritance issues, materials in the Communist Party archive (files of repressed people, personal files of Estonian Communist Party members, files compiled for obtaining a permission for travelling abroad), personnel documents of different offices, materials of real estate offices (real estate registers and files), cartographic materials.

To see what archival records there are in the above-mentioned categories and also to find information about a specific family or person, we recommend using the Archival Information System of Estonia called AIS. All our records have already been described there (reference codes, titles etc.). The search form is unfortunately only in Estonian yet but a more advanced version is being developed. You can search by different keywords (a person's name, place name etc., the records' titles are usually in the same language as the records, i.e. in German, Russian, Estonian etc., also — sometimes it is better to use * instead of some letters which may vary) and then you will see titles of the records which contain these keywords and when you click on a record title, you can see which fonds does it belong to (i.e. by which institution it was once created) and where is this document being preserved now. You can also see whether a record has already been digitised - if there is a blue link "Vaata dokumenti" (= "View the document") - this is a direct link to the Saaga portal. You can also make a reading room loan order or a copy order directly via the link "Telli" (= "Order").

Practical help for a further research

Several databases and additional materials compiled by our archivists are of help. Numerous data collections that are put together and administered by other memory institutions or private persons, such as the Personal name indexes of Lutheran parish member lists, the Place Names Database (KNAB) of the Institute of the Estonian Language, the database of Estonian family names Onomastics and the Portal of Estonian Manors, are also widely used by genealogical researchers.

If you have problems with reading or interpreting the sources or you wish to communicate with other people interested in genealogy, and also in the case you want be informed about family gatherings, we recommend you to join the Family History Forum administered by the Estonian Biographical Center. New knowledge and encouragement is also offered by books and articles published by other genealogical researchers, you can find them in libraries and bookshops. Branches of the Estonian Genealogical Society have published their studies for years.

Please find more information and links in the Estonian version of VAU (since not all articles have been translated into English yet), e.g. about the records concerning Baltic Germans.

In which archives you can find information on family history?

A great number of the most used family research sources in Estonia are accessible in the portal of digitised records called Saaga.

The Archival Information System AIS allows to search for references to all records preserved in the National Archives of Estonia (all our records have been described there). Each of the archives has its own abbreviation, for example EAA is for the National Archives in Tartu, ERA for the National Archives in Tallinn, VAMA for the National Archives in Valga. Documents from the period before 1917 are mostly held in Tartu, materials of later years are in Tallinn and in Valga and Rakvere.

Most of the biographical data starting with 1 July 1926 when the Family Law Act entered into force and the maintenance of vital statistics registration became detached from the Church in Estonia. These materials from 1926 until today you can find in the archival fonds of the county governments and in the archival fond ERA.5201 "Population Facts Department of the Estonian Ministry of the Interior". 

The church records of Tallinn and the family lists (from ca 1926–1944) of Tallinn are being preserved in the Tallinn City Archives but many of the parish registers of Tallinn are also already digitally available in the Saaga collection.

Usage of originals

Preserving the original documents is very important for the archives. For this reason it is permitted to lend out a record only in case it has not yet been digitised. In that way it is possible to guarantee that the records will be preserved as long as possible. Loan of the records is restricted to reading rooms, it is not permitted to take them out.

Is it possible to order a family tree as a paid-for service?

As compiling a family tree presumes an extensive research, it is not feasible for the National Archives to offer that kind of service. Family history research and also other kind of research services are provided by the Estonian Biographical Center.

The National Archives’ structural units issue archival notices containing biographical data needed by a citizen to certify his/her rights.

Giving names

All of us have our own name. It is like a business card which accompanies us through our lives. Supposedly, the name as such is as old as language because the development of oral communication  enabled the easy use of names as a language code to promote social interaction. Names have functioned as an inevitable means of identification following the development of the written word and records management. Nowadays the fact that a person`s name consists of a first name (first names) and a family name is considered natural. However, it has not always been the case. How has an Estonian`s name formed? What kind of information can be found on names in archival sources?

Pre-family name times  

Names can be found in almost all archival documents. Before the II quarter of the 19th century, persons of high status (the nobility, the clergy) and a few peasants who had been freed in exchange for a variety of services had family names. Most Estonians had only a first and an additional name.

Most of the first names or christening names had been derived from the names found in the Bible and saints` names, i.e. their localized adaptations (Katarina became Kadri, Johannes  Jaan) as the traditional pre-Christian names had practically been rooted out.  Only at the beginning of the 20th century during the Estonianization of names  the new derived names became more widespread. Every family tree researcher has probably faced an overwhelming chaos of many people named Jaan and Jüri or Liisu and Mari, which was caused by the use of favourite names in the family over generations. Therefore, information which has been gathered from sources should be treated carefully and, in case of doubts, other known data should be used to verify a person`s identity (father`s name, place and time of birth, etc.). Some names were really widespread and used all over the country, while others were used only in some areas (e.g. Ingel on the islands and in western Estonia, Hip in Hargla and Karula parishes).

Evidently, additional names came into use prior to the invasion of foreign conquerors, which were quite persistent in the 16th century. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the name system for Estonian peasants was in general as follows: a name consisted of an additional name and a christening name written after it. The additional name may have formed been based on the name of the farm [Rabasaare (Bog Island) Jaak], the name of the profession [Nahkuri (Tanner) Mats], the nickname [Venelase (Russian) Jaak], or the father`s name (Mardijaak`s Hans). Sometimes the names can be found in a more detailed manner in church records: the additional name is followed by the grandfather`s, father`s and the person`s own christening names. For example, the name Ruga Hanso Jaani Peeter contained the name of the farm (Ruga) which was also the additional name, Hans was the person`s grandfather, Jaan was his father. Other family members received their names based on the name of the head of the household. If the aforementioned person had a son Andres, he was named Ruga Peeter`s son Andres in church records. When marrying, the wife took the husband`s name: Ruga Jaan`s daughter Liso became Allika (Water Spring`s) Mihkel`s Juhan`s wife Liso, but when the husband died, she became Allika`s Juhan`s widow Liso. Eventually, some names became additional names and were at the same time the name of the farm (Jaan`s Jaak`s Ants` son Mihkel became Jaaniku`s Ants` Mihkel). The situation is complicated further by the fact that some families had two additional names at the same time, for example, a man who lived on Makkari farm and was an overseer bore the names Overseer Tomas and Makkari Tomas. The additional name was unofficial but functioned more like a person`s address. Thus, a man called Hanso Jaan`s farmhand Toomas may have become  Jürihanso Jaan`s farmhand Toomas in a later entry. The names of people who could roam more freely, such as farmhands and cottagers, could be rather changeable. Observations show that the additional names which clearly differed from  the general background were quite constant, whereas the names of patronymic origin were rather temporary. The structure of the additional names of peasants and townspeople was somewhat different. According to the town tradition, as a rule, the christening name was written before the additional name [Jaan Kott (Bag)]. According to the peasant tradition, the christening name came after the additional one [Koti (Bag`s) Jaan].

Giving names

Only a small minority of Estonians had family names (also a surname) at the beginning of the 19th century. Giving family names on a large scale took place in the period of the abolition of serfdom. At the same time, giving surnames to subjects of the state was topical in the whole German cultural space.

Giving names started in Livonia. It was provided in the 1819 Peasantry Law pursuant to which all church  records had to be complete containing the surnames of all men and women by August 1 in the year 1826. However, in northern Estonia, the Peasantry Law (1816) did not deal with the giving of names. It was carried out in the years 1830—1835 based on Livonia`s experience. In Livonia, names were given by parish by parish, but in Estonia,these were given withing the boundaries of a manor house.

The primary source of giving names in Livonia is the interim reviews of the year 1826 (documents are preserved in the collection of the review papers of the Governorate of Livonia, EAA.1865), and the 1835 books of giving surnames in Estonia (in the collection of the review papers of the Governorate of Estonia, EAA.1864). All these are available in digitized format in Saaga. A few records of given names can be found in archival document collections (e.g. in collections of congregations, rural municipality governments, city councils). Unfortunately, all the documents recording the giving of names have not been preserved. Whether the documents of a manor still exist can be checked in the register of soul revision. Less well-known sources are lists of peasants who became free. These were drawn up in the first half of 1820 and can be found in the collections of parish courts. The lists contain the names of farms and also all the peasants` names and surnames who became free. But it is true that records of names were kept only in Livonia. 

Professor Aadu Must and a working group have compiled the database Onomastics I or of the original whereabouts of Estonian surnames which is mainly based on the interim reviews of 1826 and the data included in the lists of surnames of 1835. A search can be conducted in the database using a name`s standardized form (the form of the name we probably use today). The search result will display the rural municipality and parish where the name was given and a map of its spreading.

Adherent to Tartu Peace Treaty (1920), most of the population in Petseri County and the land situated to the east of the Narva River, the areas which were merged with Estonia, were not given surnames until the spring of 1921 pursuant to a law passed by the Government of the Republic of Estonia  (see the State Gazette of 1921, issues 26 and 58). Also, many Russian-sounding first and family names were Estonianized (Ivan became Ivo, Feodorov  Kägu). So far only a minority of the population in that area had had surnames as others had been identified in church records and other records based on their first and father`s names and place of residence.  

Record books of giving surnames from the years 1921 – 1923 and surname card catalogue cards created mainly in the years of 1950 – 1951 in order to facilitate the use of records are preserved in the collection of Petserimaa and the land situated to the east of the Narva River  population`s surname committees  (EAA.5433).

The records on giving surnames have been drawn up by towns, municipalities and villages, and these list all 18-year-old or older persons who were given names (the new name was automatically adopted by the spouse and children under the age of 18). The card catalogue cards contain surnames in the alphabetical order and the town or municipality where the surname was given and also the number of the surname record are written on the corresponding card.

It is vital to emphasize that the spelling of names may have varied to a great extent in earlier sources until orthography was standardized in the time of the Republic of Estonia. Thus, the surname Sikk could have had the following spellings in different sources:  Sikk, Sick, Siek or Sik. Becoming Orthodox or, vice versa, once again Lutheran contributed to confusion in the (re)transcribing of names: Leena became Jelisaveta, the surname Ketle was modified over several decades and became Kiidli. In addition, a name could change when a person`s status altered  [Jaan Rätsep (Tailor) became Johannes Schneider after graduation in town]. Therefore, when conducting a search in the Archival Information System AIS, names register or other kinds of search help, one should definitely try out various forms of the name as the keyword. Also, searching the name when written in the Cyrillic alphabet might provide more search results.

A rather helpful tool in our searches is the names register which contains mostly surnames indexed based on the church records of Lutheran congregations. Names from the church records of Orthodox congregations have already been added, too.  In the future, the database should evolve into a general names register which would facilitate finding information on families of interest in church records (regardless of a particular confession) as well as other sources most widely used by genealogists.

Changing of names

Until the 1880s, the rules for name changing were rather unclear and the official procedure was quite a complicated and  costly undertaking. But when the process was begun, the name changes were formalized in parish courts and the relevant legal documents were sent to the government of the governorate. These collections are worth browsing in order to find information on name changes. Since 1891, making name changes belonged to the Emperor`s competence  and all local name changing activities ceased. However, the sources indicate that sometimes a name was changed in municipality records and it remained in use afterwards.


  • Estonian History, V. From Abolition of Serfdom to War of Independence. Tartu 2010, pp 73–74.
  • Kalle Lõuna. Petserimaa. The Integration of Petserimaa into the Republic of Estonia, 1920−1940. Tallinn 2003, pp 66–67.
  • Marju Malmberg-Forssell. 15,000 New Family Names (1921) and  Accepting the New Surname.
  • Bachelor`s Thesis. Supervisor Annika Hussar. Tallinn: TPU 2002.
  • Aadu Must. Sources of Estonians` Family History. Tartu 2000, pp 39–99.
  • Mare Selli. On Giving Surnames in Estonia in the Years 1822–1835. Diploma Thesis. Supervisor Prof
  • Sulev Vahtre. Tartu 1968 (the manuscript can be found in the library of TU Institute of History and Archaeology).
Estonianization of names

During the times of the Republic of Estonia the issue of Estonianization of names arose as many of these given in the second quarter of the 19th century were foreign. In the first decade the registration of name changes was quite scarce. The issue of Estonian names became topical in 1934, the year of the 100th anniversary of giving Estonians family names. Nation was called to Estonianize their names via the press. The focal goal of the campaign became the replacement of German names with Estonian ones. In addition many Russian (Smirnov), derogative (Loll, Eng. Stupid), humorous (Koll, Eng. Bogey) and animal (Oinas, Eng. Ram) family names were Estonianized, and also first names (Erich became Juhan). Nearly 210,000 people changed their names in the mid-1930s.

The official files which contain the information on the changing of names in the period of 1920—1940 can be found in the archival fond ERA.5201 "The Population Facts Department of Estonian Ministry of the Interior". The request to change names were published in the Appendix to the State Gazette (applicants` places of residence and names were noted down, in case of a head of a household the date and place of birth were also written down), and in one or two months if no trials followed the resolutions of name changes were added.  The Appendices to the State Gazette can be browsed in larger libraries and the reading rooms of the National Archives.

Information on Estonianization can be found in the database Onomastika II. A search can be made using the original name or the one given at the time of the name change. The result will display both names and data on time and location.

Catholic congregations

Catholocism prevailed in Estonia as the only confession until the Reformation. Catholicism was banned under the Swedish rule. The renaissance of the Catholic Church began in Estonia in the 19th century. At the end of the century, congregations were formed in Tallinn and Tartu, the members were mainly Polish and Lithuanian. St Peter and St Paul Catholic Church and Roman Catholic Church of Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary were erected in Tartu. The church for the congregation in Valga was completed in 1907.

Today there are 8 active Catholic congregations in Estonia: Blessed Saints` Peter and Paul Catholic congregation in Tallinn, St. John`s congregation in Pärnu, congregation of the Catholic church of Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Tartu, the Holy Spirit congregation in Valga, St. Joseph`s congregation in Ahtme, St. Anthony congregation in Narva, St. George and St. Adalbert congregation in Sillamäe, and also Pirita Convent in Tallinn.

In the National Archives, the church records of three Catholic congregations are preserved: Narva (Jamburg), Tartu and Valga. In addition, the documents of the Roman Catholic Church of Tallinn are preserved in Tallinn City Archives. Clearly, a variety of materials which might be of interest for researchers of family history exist in the congregations.

Although the number of materials of Catholic congregations which are kept on shelves in archives can not be compared to the ones of Lutheran and Orthodox congregations, it is still possible to research the biographic data on persons of Catholic faith with the help of several other sources. The files on people who have studied and taught at Tartu University provide much information as these often contain copies of birth certificates received from a person`s congregation. Also, the University collection of documents has special books on Catholic students (1850—1865, EAA.402.6.378).

Files on people who have converted to another religion can be found in the collections of consistories (e.g. on conversion from Lutheran to Catholic faith, EAA.1192.2.359)

When Tartu University was reopened in 1802, many Catholics of Polish and Lithuanian origin came to study and teach here. On October 23, 1849, Tartu University chapel for Catholic students, professors and other members of the Catholic Church was opened  when Emperor Nikolai I approved it. On the orders of the Emperor, Tartu University employed a priest to conduct the services and his duties also included holding lectures on Catholic religion. The Metropolitan Archdiocese of Mohilev appointed Josef  Beržanski to be the University Chaplain and a permanent priest in Tartu. The plan to build a Catholic church in Tartu became topical already in 1852, but the project was rejected. Court adviser Stankiewicz offered the University Government his plot of land in Tähtvere as a gift, so that they could erect a church and rectory there. In 1861, a building permit for the church and rectory was obtained from the Batlic Governor-General on the condition that the congregation built those at their own expense. On July 2, 1862, the first cornerstone was laid, but the building of the church was not completed due to lack of money. In 1865, the rectory was completed, which housed the priest`s and church clerk`s living quarters and a large hall for services. In 1894,  priest Friedrich Žyskar came to Tartu. He restarted the building of the church. In 1895, Professor August Rauber undertook the forming of a building committee. On December 8, 1899, Saint-Petersburg`s Dean Witold Czeczott blessed the church and consecrated it to the secret of faith of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and on August 29, 1904, Archbishop Wenclaw consecrated it. In 1852, 281 members belonged to Tartu Catholic congregation, and in 1900, the congregation had  538 members.

The Roman Catholic church in Valga received its cornerstone in 1906. The church was completed in 1907. There is no information available on the design and architect of the church. The church does not have a tower as the Russian Government did not give permission to build it. The number of Catholics in Valga increased substantially when railroads were built as many railroad workers were Polish or Lithuanian. 300 – 400 members belonged to the congregation before World War I. Local Catholic railroad workers participated eagerly in building their own church, which was encouraged by and begun on Prelate Affanasowicz`s initiative. When their nation states were established, many Lithuanians and Poles returned to their homecountries, which led to a decrease in the number of Catholics in Valga (50). As the priest left as well, the priest of the Roman Catholic Church in Tartu conducted services and other religious rites in Valga once a month. The congregation in Valga was a support congregation of the Roman Catholic congregation in Tartu.

The town of Jamburg (in 1922 it was renamed Kingissepp) belonged to the Governorate of Saint-Petersburg in the Russian Empire. Very little information exists on the Roman Catholic congregation of Jamburg. Since the mid-19th century, the Catholic Chapel in Narva belonged to the Catholic congregation  of Jamburg as due to the development of textile industry in Narva the number of Catholics increased. Services were conducted in the Catholic Chapel in Narva by a priest from Jamburg. Later the Roman Catholic congregation in Narva became independent and, in 1907, Saint Anthony`s congregation church was consecrated. The design for the church was developed by architects in Saint-Petersburg.  The Neo-Gothic exterior of the church differed from other sacral buildings in Old Narva. A massive two-storey rectory which housed the congregation school was erected next to it. The church had its own choir, conductor and organist. Services were held regularly until World War II.

All the Catholics in the Russian Empire were the subjects of the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Mohilev. Following the birth of the Republic of Estonia, the Catholic congregations in Estonia were subordinated to the Diocese of Riga, which became an Archdiocese in 1923. Pope Benedict XV sent the Apostolic Visitator  Antonino Zeccini (later to become the Archbishop of Riga) to Estonia. He proposed the separation of Estonia from the Archdiocese of Riga, which took place on November 1, 1924, when Estonia became an independent Apostolic Administration. Antonino Zecchini was appointed the first Apostolic Administrator in Estonia. In 1933, Estonia entered into diplomatic relations with Vatican. The Pope appointed the same Nuncio, Antonino Arata, for Estonia and Latvia. During the Soviet occupation, Catholics were persecuted and the number of church members decreased. When the Republic of Estonia restored its independence, diplomatic relations with Vatican were renewed. On April 15, 1992, Pope John Paul II re-established Apostolic Administration in Estonia. Archbishop Justo Mullor Carcia was appointed Estonian Apostolic Administrator, and he became Nuncio of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in 1991. Since March 23, 2005, the Apostolic Administrator and Bishop of Estonia  is  Msgr. Philippe Jourdan.


  • Prefaces to the lists: EAA.5379, EAA.5378, EAA.5425.
  • Konrad and Maria Veem, Eesti kirik tunaeile, eile, täna. EVR. Stockholm, 1993
  • Antonio Possevino, Kiri Mantova hertsoginnale. Johannes Esto Ühing. Tartu, 1994
  • Vello Salo, Katoliku kirik ja poliitika. A lecture. ERA.4969.1.67
  • N. Treumuth, O. Liiv, Polonica Eesti Riigi Keskarhiivis. Tartu, 1931

Materials on Catholics and Catholic religion and churches in the National Archives and Tallinn City Archives collections:

  • Roman Catholic church congregation in Tartu, EAA.5379
  • Roman Catholic church congregation in Narva (Jamburg), EAA.5378
  • Roman Catholic church congregation in Valga, EAA.5425
  • Tartu University, EAA.402, EAA.2100
  • Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church Consistory, EAA.1187
  • Consistory of Saaremaa, EAA.1192
  • Tartu Police Board, EAA.1880
  • Government of the Governorate of Estonia, EAA.30
  • Head of the Riga Educational District, EAA.384
  • Office of the Governor of Estonia, EAA.29
  • Office of the Livonian Governor, EAA.296
  • General Welfare Committee of Estonia, EAA.51
  • Among the materials belonging to several Lutheran and Orthodox congregations
  • Tartu City Council, ERA.2966
  • Government Office, ERA.31
  • Ministry of the Interior, ERA.14
  • Congregation of St Peter and St Paul of Roman Catholic Church in Tallinn, TLA.1398
  • Tallinn City Council, TLA.196
  • St Peter`s Secondary Science School, TLA.143
  • Social Welfare and Health Care Department, TLA.137
  • Harjumaa District Government, TLA.893
Old Believers

In 1667, the High Council of Church ratified the church reforms proposed by Patriarch Nikon of Moscow. Those who did not accept the reforms were anathemized and declared to be heretics. In 1685, it was decreed that Old Believers were outside the law. Since that moment, they were called Old Believers or Starovery, but by the Government and the Orthodox church — Raskolniks. Most of the Raskolniks who escaped were a group of valuable, hard-working and resourceful people. When fleeing from the supporters of Nikon`s reform, majority of them headed for southern Estonia (Livonia), whereas some remained mainly in Mustjõe village, which is in Alutaguse, Vaivara Parish in Estonia. On January 28, 1690, Swedish Vicegerent in Tallinn issued a document which prohibited Russians who did not have passports from living on the territory of the Kingdom (EAA.1.2.34, Placata). Visitation records of Vaivara rectory contain a story about the peasants` negative attitude to the Russians living in Mustjõe who “acknowledge an odd faith”. Later on, in 1700, a pastor complained to the Consistory that Raskolniks had established hegemony in Laagna (Ger Lagena) where they were living with the owner`s permission. A comment in the 1726 revision says that only Raskolniks live in Mustjõe (EAA.3.1.46, p 410). At the end of the 17th century, large fishermen`s villages could be found on the shores of Lake Peipus in Tartumaa. Most of the Russian population belonged to this special class of fishermen. For example, in the description of 1684 land maps, the fishermen from Nina village are from Russian origin. Furhtermore, a comment can be found next to the list which says that all of them come from Russia (EAA.308.6.376, Discriptions Boock).

Confession was the common factor which helped form the Old Believers diaspora in Estonia. For centuries Old Believers` congregations were constantly being altered and only thanks to their faith this Russian minority nationality with their confession managed to remain unique and avoid assimilation ― this applies to lanugage, culture, as well as confessional affiliation. Today, it is only fitting to treat the Old Believers as an ethnic-confessional unity with thier own history, culture and dialect.

Traditionally, Old Believers in Estonia are associated with Tartu (Ger Dorpat, Rus Дерпт) and the villages on the shores of Lake Peipus in Tartu County, whereas Pomors or Pomory (pomortsõ) and Fedosseevtsy or Fedoseyans and the Old Believers without a priest (bezpopovtsõ) lived also in Tallinn and other Estonian towns.  The first citizens of Russian descent, including Old Believers (Raskolniks), were entered into civil documents in Tartu not before the year 1787 when Catherine II`s new town law took effect (EAA.995.1.1415, Bürgerbuch der Stadt Dorpat). By studying Tartu residents records and revision documents of town and county from the years 1782―1858 (see Saaga), Russian Old Believers` names can be recovered since the end of the 18th century to the year 1858.

The majority of archival documents on Old Believers originates from the 19th century and, first and foremost, the era of Nicholas I, which shows that it was a time of tendencies of suppression and punishing of Old Believers. At the same time, regular statistical work and record-keeping are begun. In the years 1820—1857, Governors of Estonia and Livonia were obliged to submit a list of Old Believers and statistical data on them to the Minister of Internal Affairs. The titles of files on Old Believers` identities, villages, prayer houses, cemeteries and activities can be seen in AIS when using different keywords (for example,  vanausu* 'Old Belief`s', vanausk* 'Old Belief', raskol*, Raskolnik*, раскольник*, раскольн*, старообряд*, etc.), proper (for example, Rundaltsev, Rundaltsov, Рундальцов) and place names (for example, Mustvee, Tschorna, Черна, Посад Черный).  

Old Believers` congregations and data in church records

Although the congregations of Old Believers were not officially accepted until 1905,  books containing information regarding Old Believers` births and deaths, their passports and notices have been preserved in the collections of town and country police, court, governments of rural municipalities and governorates from the years 1820—1917. Old Believers` family names were regularly entered into these documents. The surnames were confirmed conclusively after the revisions of 1850 and 1857 when a thorough revision of Old Believers was carried out.

The National Archives hold the congregation records of Kallaste (EAA.5414, 1914―1926), Kasepää (EAA.5380, 1883―1926), Mustvee (EAA.5416, 1908―1926), Piirissaare (EAA.5424, 1916―1926), Raja (EAA.5423, 1923―1926), Suur-Kolkja (EAA.5415, 1907―1926), Tartu (EAA.5418, 1908―1926), and Väike-Kolkja (EAA.3096, 1896―1926) until the year 1926.

Information on the above can be found in AIS or the Historical Archives collection index. Lists of those born in Väike-Kolkja congregation in Alatskivi Rural Municipality (1896―1910, 1917) and rural municipality records on Old Believers in Alatskivi are available in digitized form in Saaga.  

Church records on Old Believers (listed as archival documents) through ages:

EAA.325 ― Tartu Police Board




Lists of Jews, Old Believers and Baptists in Tartu, and correspondence concerning their births, marriages and deaths





Circular letters, certificates, and correspondence concerning the Old Believers in Tartu and their births, marriages and deaths





Reports on Old Believers and Baptists


EAA.330 ― Tartumaa Police Board




Lists of Old Believers in Tartumaa and correspondence concerning their births, marriages and death notices





Records and lists of and reports on Old Believers





Birth and death notices of Old Believers in Tartumaa





Records of Old Believers` births and deaths in Tartumaa





List of Old Believers` births in Varnja





List of Old Believers` deaths in Varnja





Lists of Old Believers in Tartumaa


EAA.291 ― Governor General of Livonia, Estonia and Courland




Lists of Old Believers in Livonia and Estonia





Lists of Old Believers in Rakvere County





List of Old Believers (revision IX)





Lists of Old Believers





Lists of married couples of Old Belief





List of Old Believers (revision documents)


EAA.297 ― Government of the Governorate of Livonia




List of married couples of Grebenshchikov congregation (bespopovets) in Riga





List of married couples in the Old Believers congregation in Kasepää





Birth register of Grebenshchikov congregation  (bespopovets) in Riga





Death register of Old Believers congregation in Kasepää





List of married couples of Kolkja Pomor Old Believers congregation





List of married couples of Old Believers congregation in Tartu





Death register of Grebenshchikov congregation  (bespopovets) in Riga





Birth register of Old Believers congregation in Kolkja





Birth register of Old Believers congregation in Tartu





Birth register of Old Believers congregation in Mustvee





Death register of Grebenshchikov congregation  (bespopovets) in Riga





Death register of Old Believers congregation in Kolkja





Death register of Old Believers congregation in Mustvee





Death register of Old Believers congregation in Tartu


EAA.1880 ― Tartu Police Board




Births, deaths















Registers of Old Believers





Revision documents and certificates of Old Believers





Church records of Old Believers


EAA.3110 - Alatskivi Rural Municipality Government









List of Old Believers and Orthodox Believers





Births and deaths





Births and deaths


EAA.949 ― Dorpat Court in Tartu




Monthly reports on Old Believers submitted by manors (with names)





Monthly reports on Old Believers submitted by manors (with names)





Monthly reports on Old Believers submitted by manors (with names)





Monthly reports on Old Believers submitted by manors (with names)





Monthly reports on Old Believers submitted by manors (with names)





Monthly reports on Old Believers submitted by manors (with names)





Monthly reports on Old Believers submitted by manors (with names)





Monthly reports on Old Believers submitted by manors (with names)





Monthly reports on Old Believers submitted by manors (with names)





Monthly reports on Old Believers submitted by manors (with names)





Monthly reports on Old Believers submitted by manors (with names)





Notices concerning Old Believers (extracts of church records, but contain also letters)





Notices concerning Old Believers (extracts of church records, but contain also letters)





Notices concerning Old Believers (extracts of church records, but contain also letters)





Birth, death and marriage notices





List of Russian Old Believers in Lake Peipus region, compiled village by village





People who were born, died and married in Tihita, Kinitsa, Raischa





List of Old Believers in Lake Peipus region, compiled village by village





List of Russian Old Believers in Lake Peipus region





Rough copy revision documents concerning Old Believers, drafted in Kavastu Manor





Rough copy revision documents concerning Old Believers, drafted in Kastre Manor





Rough copy revision documents concerning Old Believers, drafted in Laius-Tähkvere Manor





List of Old Believers





List of Old Believers in Tartumaa





List of Old Believers in Tartumaa





List of Old Believers who lived in Kavastu Manor but were not registered as living there





Old Believers` births and deaths





Birth register of Old Believers in Tartumaa

Schnurbuch des Dörptschen Ordnungsgericht über die im Dörptschen Kreise bei den Raskolniken vorgekommenen Sterbefälle



EAA.1004 ― Valga Tax Administration




Revision list of Old Believers, IX revision


EAA.997 ― Tartu Tax Administration




Revision documents on Old Believers


EAA.3833 ― Pärnu Tax Administration




Revision documents on Old Believers


Jews descend from the ancient Hebrew people. They lived scattered abroad in many areas, including the former Kurland, Livland, and Estland provinces and later in the Republic of Estonia, where, in the years 1926—1940, they were the first of the European countries to obtain Jewish cultural autonomy.

Since the 13th century, Jews lived as merchants, craftsmen, and foreigners in the Estonian port cities of Tallinn, Pärnu, and Narva, but finding documents from archives is not easy and requires thorough preparation.

During the Russian time, until the end of the 19th century, Estonian territories were not part of the Jewish areas of settlement, but some social categories ― Cantonists or Nikolai soldiers, foreign subjects, university students, sick people, and illegal aliens ― lived in Estonia earlier. Cantonist schools (1804—1856) were existing social institutions in the Russian army, where children of lower-ranking soldiers, orphans, Jews, and Old Believers were educated. By decree, in the years 1861, 1865, 1867 and 1879 I and II guild Jewish merchants, artisans, ex-servicemen, and well-educated Jews could also live in other towns in Estonia, but only under strict police control. Information by name or topic can be found about them using AIS. 19th—20th century documents about the Jews are usually located in the fonds of the Estonia and Livonia provincial agencies, courts, magistrates, police, and municipal governments.

Tartu University (EAA.402, 1802-1918, EAA 2100, 1918-1944), Tartu Veterinary Institute (EAA 404, 1848-1918), and Tartu Private University Courses (EAA.1734, 1907-1920) fonds are a large number of Jewish instructors’ and students’ personal files, Jewish student societies’ documents and files, and files regarding the acceptance of Jewish students into institutions of higher learning. It is worth trying different spellings (e.g. juut*, juudi*, hebrea*, jüdisch*, евреи*, etc.) and name variations (e.g. Rabinowitsch, Rabinovitsch, Rabinovitš, Рабинович). Searches should be done in Estonian, German and Russian.

Jewish Congregations

In 1828 Tallinn became a gathering place for Cantonists and in 1830 the first Jewish congregation was formed, initially illegally. In 1859 Jewish descendants of Nikolai soldiers were allowed to live besides Tallinn in Tartu and Pärnu.

At the end of the 19th century, Jewish prayer houses functioned along with graveyards in Pärnu (1859), Tartu (1865), Valga (1871), Narva (1877), Viljandi (1876), Rakvere (1879), and Võru (1888). Information regarding the opening of Jewish prayer houses and synagogues can be found in the Estonia and Livonia provincial fonds.

In Saaga (in the section "Other confessions") Tartu (EAA.5413, 1897—1926), Narva (EAA.5417, 1911—1926), Rakvere (EAA.5422, 1921—1926), Valga (EAA.5419, 1919—1926), Viljandi (EAA.5420, 1917—1926) and Võru (EAA.5421, 1883—1926) Jewish congregation metrical books are available as digital images.

Documents of the Tartu Jewish congregation or religious society are stored in the National Archives (ERA.2284, Tartu Jewish religious society, 1861—1940, including birth, marriage and death certificates 1921—1937, files 38—44; birth books 1906—1921, files 45—50; marriage books 1906—1924, files 51—54; death books 1861—1937, files 55—59, 67—71). Kopl Jokton’s original history of the Tartu congregation can also be found in the same fond.

The oldest and largest Jewish congregation operated in Tallinn (1830—1941); the congregation’s documents are located in the Tallinn City Archives (TLA.1387, Tallinn's Jewish Community, 1859—1930), including Nosson Gens’s history of the Tallinn congregation (TLA.1387.2.67).

Jewish Fonds

Tartu Jewish elementary and middle school fonds are stored in Tartu (EAA.2037, EAA.2038), which can be used to track the progress of the schools in the years 1877—1941, and to examine the student body and personal files. There are also the individual fonds of the Mirvitz family (EAA.1444, 1920—1940; Mirvits, Mirwitz, Мирвиц), Selmanovitš family (EAA.1454, 1884—1939; Selmanovitsch, Zelmanovitsch, Зельманович), and dentist Arnold Perlmann (EAA.2056, 1926—1941; Perlman, Перльман).

In the National Archives one can research the history of the emergence and activities of Jewish cultural autonomy (1926—1940) in the Republic of Estonia (ERA.1107), and materials of the Tartu, Võru-Petseri, Pärnu, Viljandi, Narva, and Valga Jewish minority cultural autonomy Cultural Board of Trustees (ERA.2273, ERA.2275, ERA.2276, ERA.2277, ERA.2278, ERA.2279).

Until the year 1940, more than sixty Jewish cultural, educational, university, student, sport, cooperative, and religious societies were registered in the Republic of Estonia. Of them, the following fonds are available in the National Archives:

  • The J. A. Peretz Valga Jewish Literature and Drama Society, ERA.2274, 1920—1931;
  • The Jewish Cultural Society Šolem Aleichem, ERA.2280, 1928—1940;
  • The Tartu Association of the Jewish People, ERA.2283, 1906—1940;
  • The Tartu Jewish Welfare Society, ERA.2285, 1896—1940;
  • The Tartu Jewish Student Fund, ERA.2289, 1887—1928;
  • University Student Fraternity Corporation Limuvia at the University of Tartu, ERA.2292, 1882—1940;
  • Academic Jewish Historical and Literature Society at the University of Tartu, ERA.2294, 1883—1940;
  • The Jewish Women's Zionist organization Jung WIZO, ERA.2760, 1931—1933;
  • Valga Makkabi Jewish Sport, ERA.2290, 1917—1920;
  • University Student Fraternity Corporation Limuvia in the Film Archive, EFA.238, 1923—1933.

Documents of the Tallinn Jewish Savings and Loan Bank and the Tartu Jewish Joint Bank are in credit union joint fond (ERA.148). Located in the Educational Society’s joint fond (ERA.2800) is the Pärnu Jewish Education Society Ache(a)dus (ERA.2800.1.421-434, 1919—1940). The Women's Societies joint fond (ERA.2760) contains documents of the Pärnu Jewish Women's Society Zdako (ERA.2760.1.127—129, 1931—1940) and the Jewish Women's Zionist Organization Jung WIZO (ERA.2760.2.1—4, 1931—1933).

All Jewish institutions and firms were liquidated in 1940 (ERA.2199, the Liquidation Commission of Jewish Associations and Organizations in Estonia, 1939—1940).

Jewish societies, periodicals (e.g. the editorial staff of the journal Kodima, 1919, ERA.2496; and the editorial staff of the newspaper Hebrew Word, 1920, ERA.2286) and the personal fond of Nosson Genss (ERA.2282). Information regarding undigitized sources can be obtained from AIS.

Documents which reflect 19th—20th century Tallinn Jewish life can be found in the Tallinn City Archives. The local and diverse functions of the Jews is reflected in the fonds of the schools and societies:

  • Tallinn Jewish Private High School and Elementary School, 1913—1940, TLA.855;
  • The Jewish Cultural Society Licht, 1926—1940, TLA.11;
  • The Alumni Administration of the Jewish Cultural Administration’s Private High School in Tallinn, 1936—1940, TLA.13;
  • The Jewish Social Society, 1918—1940, TLA.1383;
  • The Tallinn Jewish Charitable Society Zdoko-Gdoilo, 1927—1940, TLA.1384;
  • The Jewish Merchants and Industrialists’ Association, TLA.1385;
  • The Tallinn Jewish Bridge Club, 1936—1940, TLA.1386;
  • The Max Nordau Jewish Youth Association, 1921—1922, TLA.1388;
  • The Tallinn Jewish Joint Bank, 1940—1941, TLA.1389;
  • The Tallinn Jewish Cultural Center, 1940—1941, TLA.R-389th

The personal fond of Lazar Gulkovitsch (1898—1941), the first Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Tartu, is located in the Tartu University Library’s Department of Rare Books and Manuscripts (fond 47).

(Translation: Patrick Monson)

A Simple Guide to Estonian Jewish Genealogy