I have had very interesting research in vital records of Jewish community in Białystok lately. Most of these records have been indexed by jri-poland, but records from 1906 till 1925 available for research in the State Archive in Białystok wait for indexation. I have had to check original records from the pre 1905 period to extract whole information included in records, which was not published on the jri-poland web page as well as the post 1905 period. The main goal has been to identify all the siblings of my customer’s grandfather, who left tsarist Russia after pogrom in Białystok in 1906 and settled in America. As it has been quite easy to find birth records of all the brothers of the customer’s grandfather, I have not found any birth records of his sisters. According to an oral familiar history of my customer and based on a marriage record found in one of today’s Ukraine towns, these sisters existed and for one of them a detailed birth date was provided.
What could be the reason for that?
I have checked and compared the number of baby boys’ births each year and baby girls’ births. Fortunately separate numbering systems were provided for male and female babies. The result has been very interesting and has shed some light on this problem.
Year 1882: 285 boys born registered and only 151 girls;
Year 1883: 274 boys and 149 girls;
Year 1884: 403 boys and 179 girls;
Year 1886: 432 boys and 237 girls;
Year 1888: 509 boys and 286 girls;
Year 1889: 532 boys and 312 girls;
Year 1891: 642 boys and 267 girls.
I think you see the tendency and there is no need to recall data from next available yearly books.
Such a big difference between the number of baby boys’ births and baby girls’ births is shocking and rather does not happen in birth records books of Christian parishes in the Białystok region. Relationship between number of male births and female births is named the masculinization ratio and based on known works on old societies in Poland should be about 1,05 to 1,07 (from 105 to 107 births of baby boys for each 100 births of baby girls). As you see from the numbers above, masculinization ratio is much higher for Jewish community in Białystok. Conclusion can be only one: many baby girls’ births were not registered.
As can be found in different sources, such a disproportion happened not only in Białystok but in other places of tsarist Russia. Professor Eugene M. Avrutin in his work “Jews and the Imperial State: Identification Politics in Tsarist Russia” wrote:
“In Bessarabia Province, in cities such as Kishiniev, Orgeev, Bendery and Akkerman, the number of male Jewish births was significantly higher than that of Jewish females. Upon inspection of metrical books in this region, one official commented “Since the proportion cannot be explained by mathematical laws, then it is obvious that Jews hide newly born girls from registration, and it is obvious to me in particular that they do this for strategic reasons. In their reports, the Kishiniev police and other authorities have shown that such occurrences happen every year. The police have tried all sorts of measures to curb such infraction.” Imperial officials may have argued that parents did not register the births of Jewish girls for “strategic reasons”, but in reality, the families that failed to record their daughters’ births did so because crown rabbis were usually not present at naming ceremonies (at which time the registration of birth needed to take place).”
Maurice Fishberg in work “Jews, Race and Environment” wrote:
“The only plausible explanation for this apparent excess is that a large number of female births are not reported to the authorities by the midwives and Rabbis, who are expected to register each birth. This finds its explanation in certain features of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. The birth of a boy in Jewish family is accompanied by important festivals and ceremonials. It is very dangerous in later life for a boy, who has not been registered at birth: he cannot obtain a passport when he wants to leave his native city; he cannot prove his identity, which is always of vital importance in Russia. All this brings it about that practically all the male births are registered, while a large number of female births are missing from registry books. A female birth among Jews in Russia is easily overlooked, because among the poorer classes no ceremonial is attached to its appearance. The father merely mentions its occurence when visiting Synagogue on Saturday, and the Rabbi confirms the name selected for the newcomer. That this is the true explanation is seen from the fact that in 1893 the ratio of recorded male births among the Jews in Russia was 1459, while in 1901 it was only 1295 to 1000 females, indicating a more complete registration of female births in later years.”
Such phenomenon did not happen everywhere, for example in Warsaw the masculinization ratio was about 1,06 according to Maurice Fisberg.
Białystok was a fast growing city with a huge number of Jews coming from nearly every part of Russian Empire and probably it was not easy to control all the births among such numerous and diversified society.
Anyway, anyone researching his/her Jewish roots in tsarist Russia, has to consider this problem with research of his female ancestors and relatives.