What did the phrases крестьянин из государственных and крестьянка из государственных mean in the Russian Imperial Census of 1897? State-owned serfs had been emancipated long before, in 1866.

If I search the Web for those exact phrases, in quotation marks, virtually all hits appear to be copied from the 1897 census. This suggests to me that these phrases are not naturally used in Russian, but were coined by the census administrators. On the other hand, the similar phrase государственные крестьяне occurs in many different contexts on the Web, but appears to always refer to a state-owned serf, a status abolished in 1866.

The 1897 census applies крестьянин из государственных and крестьянка из государственных not only to people born before 1866, where they might possibly mean former state serf, but it also applies these phrases to people born long after 1866, including infants born shortly before the census was taken.

Update: Is there any significance to the fact the census takers wrote крестьянин из государственных instead of the more common государственные крестьяне? Does their phrasing convey a sense that this is a slightly different status, or is it simply an alternative way to say the same thing?

3 Answers 3


Although the serfdom of state-owned workers had been abolished long before, the abolition itself was not a momentous revolutionary action.

The state-owned serfs were gradually introduced into their new status, partially by a system of graduate payments to the government and partially by a system of state-employment commissions.

Since the status of state-owned serfs was not abolished at once, their emancipation was happening step by step (and not at equal pace everywhere along the Russian Empire).

Hence, the term refers to the same thing as before: state-owned serfs.

UPD: It has just come up to my mind that the term could refer to a former status of the serfs - that is, 'a serf who originates from the state-owned class'; 'a descendent from the class', provided that there was no new name for the emancipated serfs. The meaning of the Genitive case in this phrase could be similar to that oif Exessive in Votian, Finnish and Estonian. The ultimate solution should be based upon the context of the Imperial Decree, I guess.

  • Did this transition also apply to their children (and possibly grandchildren) born after abolition?
    – Lee C.
    Apr 5, 2017 at 2:56
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    Since a social estate had been a 'naturally born' status and since the reform was taking a gradual pace, I think some people could be born as state serfs after the abolition at least to those parents who were by that time still serfs. If metrics show any facts of state serfs born to emancipated parents, then the abolition might be happening not 'by a hearth', but 'by a soul'. I wouldn't make any final decision without seing the texts of the empiral decree regarding the issue.
    – Manjusri
    Apr 5, 2017 at 6:12
  • @Lee C. Pls see the UPD in my response. I'm afraid I might unintentionally mislead you.
    – Manjusri
    Apr 5, 2017 at 6:39

This is designation of сословие (social estate). It is a status of a person, intermediate between class and caste. Like caste (but unlike class), social estate is legally formalized, but like class (but unlike caste), there are ways one can change social estate: via military service, exceptional merits, education, marriage, baptism etc.

In Russian Empire there were a lot of different social estates: nobles (hereditary and non-hereditary), clerics, merited citizens, merchants (several categories), bourgeois (мещане), peasants, cossacks, aliens (non-Slavs except Jews), Jews etc. There were also разночинцы, the people who did not belong to any estate (for instance, children of non-hereditary nobles).

In this case it simply says the person belongs to the social estate "state peasants", e.g, peasants working on state-owned land. The "from" word does not mean anything: for instance, "bourgeois" would be reflected as "из мещан".

To what social estate one belonged determined the rights of the person, for instance, whether he could be recruited to the army, be subject of corporal punishment, the number of votes one had on the elections of different types, where one can live and be admitted to the university, what taxes one paid etc. Some estates had their own courts to deal with.

Social estates are common to all formerly slave-owning societies after massive emancipation of slaves: the former masters still want to have higher status in society and be separated from former slaves.

  • See also 'солдат из мещан', 'купец из евреев'.
    – Manjusri
    Apr 6, 2017 at 13:38

Each 1897 census form had a usage guide on its back, which among other things read:

  1. Сословiе, состоянiе или званiе

Здѣсь отмѣчается сокращенно то сословiе или званiе, къ которому приписываемое лицо относится по своему рожденiю или прежнему состоянiю или вновь прiобрѣтеннымъ правамъ, напр.: … крестьянинъ непремѣнно с обозначенiем, какого онъ именно разряда, напр.: изъ бывш. владѣльч., изъ бывш. государств., удѣльн., горнозаводск., и т. д.

So из государственных крестьян means "comes from a family of former state serfs" indeed, with бывших ("former") omitted for brevity.

  • Your suggestion proves right if there is no both "из государственных" and "из бывш. государственных" within a same census form.
    – Manjusri
    Apr 6, 2017 at 13:40
  • That usage guide is very helpful. Is the rest of it online?
    – Lee C.
    Apr 10, 2017 at 14:42
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    @LeeC. of course, right in the wikipedia article about the census: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Empire_Census#/media/…
    – Quassnoi
    Apr 10, 2017 at 17:30

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