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The Courland Vedomosti Database

Description of Content

Each issue of the vedomosti contained an official section, reporting Government decrees and announcements, and a general section containing details of court cases and of sales ordered by the courts, information about local events and some private announcements and advertisements. A separate supplement had details of people sought by the authorities and of those who had been found.

Various types of entry occur regularly:

  • Appointments

    The Vedomosti report a whole series of Jewish appointments to various local administrative bodies or committees - the Tax Collection Administration, the District Committee, the Committee of Deputies, the Street Paving Commission - in most cases as "the representative" of Jewish householders or inhabitants. Even what seem to be purely religious appointments - the managing committee of a synagogue, the local Burial Society, even rabbis - were "confirmed" by the provincial Government.

  • Travel

    Each issue contains a list of those people leaving Courland to travel to Russia itself, or to countries outside the Empire. At the time, Riga was outside the province so that travel there counted as leaving Courland. (There is also a list of those arriving in Mitau from abroad, indicating where they were staying, though there were no Jewish entries in this category in the period surveyed). From time to time, the departure is preceded by a notice that so-and-so wishes to travel abroad and asking anyone who has any objections to lodge them with the local police. By no means all foreign travel seems to have needed this preparatory stage, and there are no entries of this sort in the database after 1856.

    A more sinister form of travel announcement is the regular report in the early years that someone has "escaped across the state borders, without permission" and is now "legally excluded from Russian Citizenship and not permitted to return to Russia".

  • Recruitment

    The early years of the period covered by the database coincide with the Crimean War, and include a large number of entries relating to military service: announcements of the quota to be recruited, individual cases of families being asked to provide recruits, and endless cases of men being sought by the authorities for evading or fleeing military service.

  • Legal Notes

    The information given in the Vedomosti ranges from a simple announcement of the dates on which particular issues will be heard by the Courts, through requests for interested parties to provide evidence, to very detailed accounts of individual law suits - generally relating to property cases.

    A recurring theme is the announcement of a Court ordered sale of property to meet debts either to the State or to private creditors.

  • Lost Documents

    There are surprisingly many entries reporting that particular official documents have been lost, and are therefore cancelled.

  • Crime and Punishment

    On the other hand, there is surprisingly little reference to crimes against the person or against property: 3 mentions of horse theft, two of contraband, a few cases of petty theft from taverns but no assault, burglary or major crime.

    The common crimes are, as already mentioned, evasion of military service or a failure to pay taxes of one sort or another. The weekly lists of those wanted by the authorities sometimes list the offence in detail. On other occasions, they merely say that so-and-so is under investigation. These lists often include detailed physical descriptions: height, colour of hair, eyebrows, beard and eyes, complexion, shape of face and chin. One unexpected feature is the number of Jews described as "fair" or "blond", or with blue eyes.

  • This and that

    Finally, there is a fascinating and unclassifiable miscellany: reports that property has been damaged by unknown causes, a request for customers to claim their property left with a jeweller who has been operating without a licence, a request for a forwarding address for mail, the failure to pay the costs of stabling a French horse, the award of a medal for enthusiasm to the Head of a Hebrew School, reports that merchants are authorised to issue private money orders due to a shortage of small change, congatulations to a Rabbi on his engagement.

    There are also occasional advertisements - mainly for fur products or for transport but also one for "American Rubber Galoshes" and an announcement of spot removal from clothing "using English methods".

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