Gubernias and Districts of Belarus
The Belarus SIG is dedicated to collecting information about the small villages, shtetls, towns and cities in Districts and Regions that have at one time or another been contained in the grand Duchy of Lithuania, Russia, Poland and the S.S.R. Each Gubernia section has listings of major shtetls, towns and Districts.
Search for a Town
If you are searching for your town—if you find a place name on a passenger record, or on the Declaration of Intent, or if your ancestor belonged to a landsmanshaften organization or a burial society named for his town—you may be confused as to the modern name of this ancient place.
Is D'venista really Dembica? Is Muchanee the same as Mostvianny? Does a Pinsker come from Pinsk? Is it Haradak or Gorodok? Is Haradichi a different town?
To find out more about a shtetl, start with a search of the Shtetls of Belarus. The Jewish communities database is another place you can look clues. There you will find town name variants. Use sounds like, or starts with to help you sort out the original place name. Study the ruling country during each specific time period.
Questions you should ask yourself
Immigration time periods matter: was your ancestor coming from a place in 1860, 1880, 1910 or 1921? Was your ancestor thinking in Yiddish, Polish, Russian or Lithuanian when the clerk wrote down his place of former residence?
Current Adminstrative Organization - Gubernias and Associated Districts
The history of a place will let you read between the lines: Russia/Poland, and Russia cover territory that once belonged to Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Ukraine. Austria could be Galicia, Hungary, and Ukraine or parts of Poland. Germany could be parts of Lithuania, Latvia and Western Poland.
Understanding Gubernia, Uyzed and Shtetl Designations
According to the Belarus: Jewish Family History Research Guide, courtesy of the Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogy Institute:
“The Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which united with the Kingdom of Poland in 1569, ruled most of Byelorussia (“White Russia”) until the reign of Catherine the Great in Russia (r. 1762-1796). Therefore, many Jews who identified themselves as “Litvaks” actually originated in shtetls located in Belarus.
Upon the First Partition of Poland in 1772, Russia acquired the Eastern portion of present-day Belarus, including the towns of Vitebsk, Mogilev, and Gomel.
The Second Partition in 1793 gave Minsk and the central region to Russia, and, in 1795, the Third Partition incorporated the remainder of Byelorussia into the Russian Empire.
Under Russian rule, the area was divided administratively into the provinces or gubernias of Grodno, Minsk, Mogilev, Vilna, and Vitebsk.
In 1921, this territory was divided between Poland and Soviet Russia along the lines of the First Partition of Poland.
In 1922, the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic was one of four founding republics of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R., or Soviet Union).
In 1924, Russia transferred the regions of Polotsk, Vitebsk, Orsha, and Mogilev to the Byelorussian S.S.R. Mogilev had a large Byelorussian population. Gomel and Rechitsa followed in 1926. The Byelorussian S.S.R. declared sovereignty from the U.S.S.R. in 1990 and independence in 1991, changing its name to the Republic of Belarus. For a detailed history of Belarus’ administrative/territorial divisions, visit http://www.archives.gov.by/eng/index.php?id=989746.”