Estonia Church Records

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Church Records

For information about records for non-Christian religions in Estonia, go to the Religious Records page.

Online Records

Introduction

Historically, Estonia was a largely-Christian country. A large percentage of Estonians belonged to the Lutheran church, the established church. A substantial proportion of the population was Russian Orthodox; there was also smaller groups of Jews, Old Believers, and Baptists.

The Lutheran church began keeping records in the 1680s, although many of the earlier records have been destroyed (mainly through parish fires). Lutherans recorded christenings, weddings, and religious funerals until the 1840s, when part of the population converted to the Orthodox faith. These Lutheran records can be found in the Estonian Historical Archives in Tartu. Church records are generally well kept.

In 1926, the registering of births, marriages, and deaths was passed over to the civil service. Clerics could also perform the registrar's duty if they observed the requirements of the state.[1]

Record Types

Lutheran Church

The Lutheran church recorded christenings, marriages, and burials.

Birth registers list:

  • child's dates of birth and christening
  • parents' exact place of residence
  • child's name
  • parents' names and social standing (occupation)
  • godparents
  • sometimes mother's maiden name
According to Lutheran tradition, boys got two godfathers and one godmother and girls got two godmothers and one godfather.

Marriage registers list:

  • date of the wedding
  • the names, residences, marital status, social standing, and ages of the bride and groom
  • the parents (and their residences) of the bride and groom

Death registers list:

  • dates of death and funeral
  • last place of residence of the deceased
  • name, occupation and status, gender, and marital status
  • cause of death
  • place of burial

Reconstructing family information is time consuming. Reasons for this are: the records are in chronological order; some Estonians had very similar names; children were sometimes given the same name as their older, deceased siblings; and pastors sometimes mistakenly registered birth dates in death registers.[2]

Particulars

Particulars contain personal lists of congregation members. The advantage of this source is that the data dealt with whole families together and the order of seniority was exact. The disadvantage of this source is that there was incomplete maintenance and numerous corrections. Information may include: full names (including maiden names), social standing and occupation, place and date of birth, marital status, date of joining the community, and place of departure (if not locally born). Also information may include: date and cause of death, date and place of destination of immigration, and conversion of faith. Reference was also made to a person in other parish registers. The accuracy and completeness of information was dependent on the pastor. A law was passed in 1834 which instituted an order of keeping unified and complete tabular parish books. In the 1890s, these books had to be kept in Russian, which brought about many mistakes in transliterating names.

Orthodox Church

In the 1840s, there was a movement in which many Estonians converted to the Orthodox faith. The information about those who converted (name and date) from the Lutheran church to the Orthodox faith can be found in Lutheran parish registers. The Orthodox faith has similar registers to the Lutheran church.[3]

Metrical books

Research use: Uniquely identify individuals and connections of those in one generation to the next.

Record type: Church records kept by parish priests of births/baptisms, marriages, and deaths/burials. The term is also used to refer to the records of denominations that had jurisdictions other than parishes.

General: The Church acted as both a religious and civil agent in recording vital events and church sacraments such as baptism and burial. The traditional Christian faith of Estonia is Lutheran. There was a substantial group of Russian Orthodox; and smaller groups of Jews, Old Believers, and Baptists. The priest/rabbi made a transcript for the ecclesiastical court (dukhovnaia konsistoriia) having jurisdiction. Jewish transcripts were filed with the local town council (gorodskaia duma). Old Believer and Baptist transcripts were sent to the provincial administration (gubernskoe upravlenie). The distinction between the original and the transcript is often ignored by Estonian record keepers.

Time period: Evangelical/other Protestant, 1600s (transcripts begin in 1833); Orthodox, 1722; Jews, 1835; Old Believers, 1874; Baptists, 1879–all to 1949.

Contents: Names of the person and other family members, residence, relationships, dates and place of birth and baptism, marriage, death and burial. Baptisms include names of godparents; marriages include the ages of the bride and groom; burials include the age of the deceased and cause of death.

Location: State Historical Archive in Tartu; Tallinn City Archive; Civil Registry Archive, Tallinn (later records).

Population coverage: 70% coverage for early periods, 90% from about 1830 through the 1940s when civil registration began, 50% among minority religions and dissident groups such as Old Believers and Baptists.

[4]

References

  1. Must, Aadu. "The Sources of Estonian Family History." In Eestlaste perekonnaloo allikad. Estonia: Kleio, 2000.
  2. Must, Aadu. "The Sources of Estonian Family History." In Eestlaste perekonnaloo allikad. Estonia: Kleio, 2000.
  3. Must, Aadu. "The Sources of Estonian Family History." In Eestlaste perekonnaloo allikad. Estonia: Kleio, 2000.
  4. The Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Family History Record Profile: Estonia,” Word document, private files of the FamilySearch Content Strategy Team, 1994-2002.