Combining of Censuses and Familiant records in Bohemia : powerful research method



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. The Censuses and Familiant books were kept in different format in Bohemia and in Moravia. The paper deals with the records in Bohemia. Jewish Censuses and Familiant Books nowadays represent a valuable family data source and can substitute the missing vital records. Moreover, the matching of data obtained from Censuses with data from Familiant books brings a notable insight into the family history, especially the family structure, family name adoption dynamics and migration pattern. Censuses & Familiants book data combination also provides a solid base for further research in other archival collections. Censuses and Familiant books are gradually available for „offline“ study - outside of the local archives in Bohemia and Moravia, nowadays Czech Republic.




   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.


Picture (HBS 1724.jpg):

Legend (in Czech): The number of Jewish families dwelling here in 1618 / The number of Jewish families coming here after 1618. Census of Kolin 1724.


   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. The combination of 1783 Census and 1793 Census perfectly bridges the period of name adopting era and it represents valuable tool for studying the name adopting dynamics. Census 1793 contain similar information as the one of 1783 but in much detailed form. Besides the domicile and name of town/village, the sheets show name of head of family (father and/or widdow), his/her age (not always), name of the spouse, her age (not always), house number, names of offsprings, their age and status incl. the grandchildren if the male offspring was already married and lived in the same house. Also, the names of servants, teachers and other people who stay with the family were recorded. Morever, the census sheets enlist the dwelling place (besitzt) and place where the person was registered (gehört nach). The both places were not necessarily the same. If the places differ, the latter mostly indicate previous dweling place. It helps to trace the person´s whereabouts backwards. From the practical point view, the recent genealogists are fortunated to have printed version of 1793 Censuses. The Censuses from all 16 regions of Bohemia were compiled, edited by the students of Philosophy Faculty, Charles University, and recently published (2002-2005).


   Censuses 1799 and 1811 enrolled in very simple manner the lists of Jewish families in the regions of Bohemia. The Censuses 1799 and 1811 provide father´s name and name of first born son, date of marrriage licence and - quite importantly - the place where the person was registered (gehörtig nach). In fact, it was the incompleteness of latter two Censuses 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.

   Whereas Censuses represent horizontal register of the families in particular year (1723/1724/1729, 1783, 1793, 1799 and 1811), the Familiant books represent vertical picture of 1-2-3 generations of the family who was lucky enough to get familiant licence (and to have male descendants).

    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 page A of 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. The page A also contain helpful information about former and newly adopted name, and former dweling place. The page B show some other family details, e.g. date of familiant´s death, when the firstborn received his father´s status, whether the licence was transfered to another domicile or not, and what happened with the second-borns, third-borns, and others. In the column for notes, it refers whether the other sons obtained a licence elsewhere and/or whether they migrated. Then, the destination was mostly listed : Hungary, Kingdom of Terst, England, etc.

    An effort to make the Familiant books of Bohemia avalable online was recently undertaken. Family names indexes were compiled and presented online at



    As shown above the Censuses and Familiant books represent very different kind of documentation, though both record collections were the products of the policy of „administrative anti-semitism“. There was also certain variability within the group of Censuses. In contrast to other Censuses, 1723/1724 Census data included the information when the family came to Bohemia - now we understand why was the information implemented. The other censuses collected within 1783-1811 mostly enlist more or less detailed family data - father´s name, his profession, mother´s name and names of children, information on other people dwelling in the  house, place of their township. Familiant books represent an outline of male descendancy while the daughters were not listed in the document. Due to its specifity based on different angle, the


Censuses and Familiant books provide valuable data for a research synthesis at the „crossing points“.








Data obtained from Censuses and 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 records represents valuable comparative methodology for family history reconstruction, esp. if the vital records are in fragments. From practical point of view, the

Censuses and Familiant books are gradually available for „offline“ study - outside of the local archives in Bohemia and Moravia, nowadays Czech Republic. The data are becoming open to academic studies.





Julius Müller, PhD., is  a director of Toledot, Jewish Family History Centre, a non-profit institution established recently in Prague, Czech Republic.



Krepelova, A.: Inventory to Jewish Censuses (HBS). State central archive, Prague 1965.

Mrazkova, L.: Inventory to Books of Jewish Familiants (HBF). State central archive, Prague 1960.

Müller, J.: Introduction to Jewish Genealogy I-V. Maskil, vol. 4 (8,9,10,12,13), Prague 2005.

Müller, J.: Introduction to Jewish Genealogy VI. Maskil, vol. 5 (1), Prague 2005.

Pekny, T.: History of Jews in Bohemia and Moravia. Sefer, Prague 2001.

Prokes, J.:  Official antisemitism and Prague ghetto in post-Bila Hora era. Yearbook of Society for the history of Jews in Czech republic, ed. S. Steinherz, vol. 1, Prague 1929.

Census of Jewish families in 1793, published as: Soupis zidovskych rodin v Cechach z roku 1793, vol. I-V. State central archive, Prague 2002-2005.