Jewish Familiant records in Bohemia


   Since 1650 till 1849, the Jewish population of Bohemia and Moravia was repeatedly subdued to several systemic campaigns to reduce its number. The reduction campaigns peaked in the Familiant Decree issued in 1726. The Decree dramatically changed the social life of Jewish families by imposing a population restriction allowing only firstborn sons to marry. The wave of migration was induced along with other social phenomena. Two different record collections were formed during the period of „administrative anti-semitism“, e.g. Censuses that were carried out horizontally in years 1723/1724/1729, 1783, 1793, 1799 and 1811, and so called Familiant books covering vertically three consecutive generations of Jewish Familiants. Familiant books were kept in different format in Bohemia and in Moravia. Familiant Books nowadays represent a valuable family data source and can substitute the missing vital records. Study of Familiant books can bring a notable insight into the family history, especially the family structure, family name adoption dynamics and migration pattern. Familiants books also provides a solid base for further research in other archival collections.




   The Jewish records in former Austrian Empire can be divided into several categories depending on what kind of relationship to other subject(s) the records reflected. The basic layer of the pyramide is formed by the records that show the general history of Jewish community: notes on first settler(s), on hiring or buying houses, on establishing the cemetery and the prayer room, on building up the synagogue(s), etc. Mostly, family names were listed but it does not represent genealogy records in its depth.

  Another layer of recordings was formed by the relationships to central authorities. The records often reflect several anti- and pro- concepts towards the Jewish community. There are specific records collection that portray the era of so called official and/or administrative anti-semitism; the term is used for a systemic government-organised effort to reduce the Jewish population. The era can be defined as a period between the year 1726 when the Familiant law was issued and the year 1849 when the law was abolished. However, the effort to reduce the Jewish population as a whole comes already from the year 1650 when Czech Land Diet issued a discriminatory resolution againts Jews living in Bohemia and Moravia. The resolution claimed a tendency to reduce the number of Jewish families down to the number of families who lived in the area in 1618. In practise, this would lead to expulsion of 2/3 of the Jewish families. However, Moravian Land Diet was retarding such effort. The state administration of Moravia lands, incl. the demographic structure of Jewish  population and its governing bodies were quite different compared to Czech lands. This was the reason why several reduction campaigns and accompanying documents are differently organized.

   A short history preview shall help to understand why and when the several registers were collected, and what family data the registers reveal. In 1702, a special commission ordered a census of Jewish families in Prague. Another commission was established in 1711. Finally, Commissio in Rebus Judaeorum was established in 1714. The latter commission collected the results of previous ones and was supposed to launch the campaign to reduce the Jewish population in Bohemia and Moravia. The Commission was ceased in 1781 and its agenda was transferred to Czech Gubernium. All the records that are subject of this paper are the results of those two bodies.

   In 1723-1724, the Commission launched the Census of Jewish Families in Czech and Moravian Lands; in 1729 the Census of Prague 13 Jewish quarters was organised. The collected data were supposed to serve as a basis for the campaign to reduce the number of Jewish families down to year 1618. This is why the information whether the family dwelled in the country in 1618 (or not) was implemented in Census columns. It also shows the year when the family came. Nowadays, it can be significant information for the family historians. The census further contain the name of father and mother, father´s profession, names of children, their age and status, the servants, teachers and other people who stay with the family. In case that the family already used the family name, the census can bring significant details on the particular family history. Census 1723/1724 sheets represent a „top of the iceberg“. Agenda of the Commission is nowadays organised into different archival unit (Commission files, Czech gubernium files, Czech Chamber files, etc) and awaits further exploration.


   After several rounds of negotiation, the emperor Charles IV. (1711-1740) decided to respect the status quo and he issued so called Familiant Ordnung (further as Familiant Decree) in 1726. The calculation resulted in the residence permission for 8 541 families in Bohemia and 5 106 families in Moravia. The numbers were slighty lifted up to 8600 and 5400 resp., in 1797 due to Systemal patent issued by Franz II. According to the Decree the heads of families (father and/or widdow with unmarried sons) who lived in the country during the 1723/1724 census were called the Familiants and received Familiant licence, incl. the family number. To prevent an increase of Jewish families, first-born sons inherited Familiant licence and only they were allowed to marry since then. The Decree dramaticaly changed the social life of the families. We will further discuss the family data that can be recovered from Familiant books.

   As indicated above, the Census 1723/1724 (1729 in Prague) was aimed to register Jewish families, to show which Jewish families were dwelling in the country in 1618 and to identify those who were supposed to leave the country. Then, several other Censuses were performed - mostly locally - but not in a form of systemic campaigns. Due to several pro-Jewish interests of the government, the Commission´s determination and its strength was gradually loosened. The work of Commission was mostly reduced to deal with the application forms, to issue marriage permissions and to register the newly formed families. Finally, the Commission was abolished by the decree in 1781, and its agenda was transfered to Czech Gubernium within 1781-1783. In 1783, the systemic census was again organized, this time by Czech Gubernium. It was not aimed to produce data for reduction population policy but to produce data for taxation purpose. This need resulted in the different form of Census. Sheets of 1783 Census show name of the domicile, name of town/village, name of father, father´s profession, number of children and their status (married / total), the value of the tax payed to the Jewish community and the tax payed to the landlord. The family names were mostly the patronyms (Joseph Abraham) but also some toponyms can be found (Prager, Bechynski, Wotitzki, etc).

    Jewish families were forced to adopt family names by the decree issued by Joseph II. in 1787. In many cases, both names (alte und neue, sonts, früher, etc.) can be found in Familiant books records.

    In fact, it was the incompleteness of the Censuses 1799 and 1811 that alarmed the Czech Gubernium and led in 1823 to the formation of so called Familiant books. Familiant books were aimed to provide a preview how many Jewish families live in Bohemia and Moravia under the rules of Familiant Decree. In Bohemia, the books were compiled in standartized form while in Moravia the books were compiled in various style and manner. The books cover the period aprox. 1770-1849. In 1849, the Familiant decree was abolished due to the emancipation of civic rights in the whole region.

    As indicated above, the Familiant Decree induced many social changes, including the waves of emigration (and sometimes also the entry to the army and /or conversion to christianity). Familiant Decree was introduced in Bohemia and Moravia but not in other lands of Habsburg monarchy. During 1730-1790, thirty thousands of Jewish families allegedly migrated from Bohemia and Moravia to Hungary.

   A particular issue was how to obtain a familiant licence for non first-borns. If some other familiant did not have sons, the licence became “available” for others, e.g. to negotiate with the officials and to purchase it. The person who obtained a status received a number of his precedestor - a person that was not necessary related. Newly appointed familiant  was then listed as “nachfolgen” person at the same page.

    Familiant books of Bohemia enlist a short outline of every family that had Familiant status. The record in Familiant book show the domicile, country´s family number, domicile´s family number, name of the familiant (or familiant´s widdow), name of familiant´s parents, name of his wife, date and place where marriage licence was issued, and names and birth years of the sons. Familiant books represent an outline of male descendancy while the daughters were not listed in the document. The page also contain helpful information about former and newly adopted name, and former dweling place.









Data obtained from Familiant Books can enrich our understanding of the history of Bohemian and Moravian Jewry, including the demographic pattern, the migration pathways, family name forming dynamics, etc.

Synthesis based on different type of Jewish records represents valuable comparative methodology for family history reconstruction, esp. if the vital records are in fragments.





Julius Müller, PhD.

director of Toledot, public interest institution, Prague, Czech Republic.