The Rule of Russian Empire in Lithuania (1795-1918) | True Lithuania
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The Rule of Russian Empire in Lithuania (1795-1918)

What initially started as a mere change of the ruler from a Polish-Lithuanian king to a Russian czar eventually led to a major russification drive.

Administratively Lithuania was divided into the area directly acquired by Russia in 1795 and the area acquired from Prussia after the Napoleonic wars (in 1815). The latter was part of the nominally autonomous Kingdom of Poland and lived under the Napoleonic Code whereas the earlier was directly ruled by the Russian Empire.

Napoleon's Grande Armee crosses Nemunas to start the doomed invasion of Russia (Kaunas, 1812). The 500000-strong army both advanced and retreated through Lithuania, leaving 80000 dead troops and hopes for Grand Duchy restoration unfulfilled.

In 1831 and 1863 the local nobility led revolts against the Russian rule attempting to restore the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Both were crushed despite some initial successes and their leaders were dispossessed. Some of the Lithuanian countryside and cities were then settled by Russians.

In the year 1832, the Vilnius University was closed. By the year 1865, printed Lithuanian language was banned. A policy of “Restoration of the Russian beginnings” was initiated as the Russian propaganda claimed that before Polonization the Lithuanian lands were, in fact, Russian.

The Roman Catholic Church was persecuted, with some church buildings torn down and some others handed over to the Russian Orthodox church. New Russian Orthodox churches sprung in the New Towns of the largest cities. The Uniates, regarded as schismatic Orthodoxes, were disbanded altogether. Mikhail Muravyov, nicknamed “The hangman”, was made the governor-general of ethnically Lithuanian governorates.

Russification era construction and destruction in Vilnius. Left image: Baroque St. Joseph church undergoing demolition (1877). Right image: a pompous unveiling of M. Muravyov statue in 1898.

The persecutions failed to defeat Lithuanians. Knygnešiai (literally “bookcarriers”) smuggled the banned Lithuanian books from the Lithuania Minor (a historical fact declared to be completely unique by UNESCO). Illegal Lithuanian-language schools were set up in villages. Catholic priest Motiejus Valančius led the Abstinence Movement aimed at resisting the Russian policy of weakening the masses through making them addicted to alcohol.

It was during the late 19th century when the popular idea of liberation among ethnic Lithuanians switched from restoration of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to an establishment of a smaller independent state on the Lithuanian ethnic lands, leaving the rest of the former Grand Duchy to the Belarusian, Ukrainian, and Polish ethnic states. These events (altogether known as the Lithuanian National Revival) tamed the long-term assimilation-induced decline of the Lithuanian-inhabited area and their share therein.

Economically Russia was backward compared to the Western Europe and while there was some infrastructure development, such as the Saint Petersburg-Warsaw railroad of 1861 that went through Vilnius, this was far from the Western standards. Moreover, the official class division of the society was rigorously supported by the state and only in the year 1861 the farmers ceased to be regarded as a property of the local nobles.

Rietavas Palace of Oginskiai family, built in mid-19th century. Lithuania's first telephone line (1882) and power station (1892) were established in this Samogitian manor. Those were the final decades before cultural/technological hubs moved from manors to the cities. Painting by Napoleon Orda.

Unlike Latvia (where Riga was among the 5 largest cities of the Russian Empire) Lithuania was expected by the Russians to remain an agricultural hinterland. The industrialization and urbanization that defined 19th century elsewhere in Europe, therefore, remained limited but the towns and cities were still growing much faster than ever before.

Lithuanians seeking industrial jobs migrated elsewhere: some to the major cities of the Russian Empire such as Riga or Saint Petersburg, others to the USA. In 1900 there were more Lithuanian speakers in Riga and Chicago than in any city in Lithuania (where the few cities that existed were dominated by Polish speakers and Jews).

In Lithuania Minor, the cities were largely German while some Lithuanian towns and villages gradually Germanized over the century. In spite of this Lithuania Minor, technologically advanced and devoid of discriminatory Russian policies, remained a fortress of Lithuanian National Revival.

'Nauja Lietuviška Ceitunga' and 'Nauja Aušra' Lithuanian newspapers, both published in 1890s Tilžė, Lithuania Minor. 'Nauja Aušra' was to be illegally distributed inside Russian-occupied Lithuania by knygnešiai (so it used Polonized orthography) while 'Nauja Lietuviška Ceitunga' was aimed at Lithuania Minor market (therefore it preferred fraktur typeset and more German loanwords).

The Russian Empire started to crumble in 1904 when it lost the war to Japan and had to give in to some demands of its minorities. Lithuanian language was permitted once again and the Lithuanian countryside sprung up with new Roman Catholic church spires.

In 1915 the Germans captured Lithuania-proper during the First World War. In 1917 Russia surrendered to Germany (after the war hardships led to a revolution in Russia) and renounced any claims to the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea, while the subsequent German losses in the Western Front led to a possibility to declare the independence of Lithuania on February 16th, 1918.

Simplified map of the ethnic-linguistic situation of Lithuania ~1900. It could not depict the mixed areas, numerous ethnolinguistic enclaves, diglossia and dual identities that prevailed alongside ethnolinguistic boundaries. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

See also:
Top 10 Russian Imperial era sites in Lithuania
Ethnic relations in Lithuania during Russian Empire (1795-1918)

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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  1. thank you I am grateful to learn of the life of my grandparents

  2. Russia did not surrender to Germany in 1917. Russia’s revolutionaries were not in favour of Russia’s involvement in WW1. On 3rd March 1918 Russia signed a peace treaty with Germany, Austro-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey, to end Russia’s involvement in the war. This treaty is known as The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. There was no Russian surrender as claimed in the above.

    • What you probably meant by saying “Russia did not surrender” was that “Russia did not surrender unconditionally” (like Germany or Japan did after World War 2).

      However, unconditional surrender is just one type of surrender and a pretty rare one. There were no unconditional surrenders in World War 1.

      “Exit from war” through a treaty ceding many lands and gaining nothing comparable in return (as happened with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk) is also a surrender, though not an unconditional one.

      Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was not any different in substance than the treaties Germany, Ottoman Empire, Austria or Hungary signed at the end of World War 1, each of them also alienating vast areas (mostly inhabitted by non-titular ethnicities).

      In fact, the total European lands Germany lost under Treaty of Versailles were even smaller than what Russia lost with Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

    • The website is full of hate against russian. And propagate allot of lies, it must be the work of an American. The Lithuanian people will believe anything. But they do not know that it was poland and Lithuania that invaded russia four hundred years ago and they do not want to know…

      • My grandparents from Zuvantai, Lithuania were murdered by the Russian Army in the late 1890s and their land and farm was taken. Their sons were hid by the monks and they were snuck out of the country to go to the U.S. I don’t know where their property was in Zuvanai, I do not know where they were killed or buried. This is not propaganda in this case. This is cold hard facts. I want to know more about my family.

      • Searching for my Great Grandfather who in family lore was an Arch-duke in Kaunas area. Joseph Zukauskas became Jacusky when he emigrated and ended up in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania. Born about 1870, wife Rose Grobowsky. 8 children born between 1894- 1903- Catherine, Charles, Eva were born in Lithuania. Anthony, George, Isabell and William were born in the United States. He died in 1945. He left during the Russian persecution of Catholics and may have been contacted to come back to Lithuania. Any help appreciated

        • It’s also my great-grandfather. His 8th child I believe was my grandmother born in Lithuania. Her name was Margaret or Magdalina (sp). My mother was her daughter. Margaret married Raymond Busnauskas. My Uncle (Margaret’s son visited Lithuania about 20 years ago. He was more interested in the Busnauskas family. He was born in 1917 and passed in 2014. I have a picture of Joseph Zukauskas (Jacusky). It is a true photo not a printed pic.

      • Got a full dose of Russian History on a visit there and was highly amused and saddened

      • Thank You for sharing the truth.
        Hatred towards Russia and the Russian people seems to be in abundance these days.

      • Lmao what you guys did (russians) is way worse what we did. This is not russian hate this is just history, what has happened. And its our history, you are literally commenting on a lithuanian website😅

      • There were no lies. Russia 🇷🇺 Russified, stole the lives of people in the baltics. Just as they were barbarians for hundreds of years. They continue to strive for an empire that was never theirs. Much of my family was murdered by Russian genocide. My grandmother fled wilno in 1905. The abuse, murder, and genocide under Nicholas II remains in Ukraine today under Putler. There is a good reason Russians are hated and soon to lose their empire again. Murdering horde already getting theirs. It will get worse for the Z zombies once the war edges closer to their murdering doors. That’s the truth. Look at Russian history. Murdering thievess they are ….

  3. My great great grandfather came to New York from Lithuania in 1899.

    • My great grandparents also came to the U.S. from Lithuania in 1899. They reported in the 1910 US Census that they came from Polish Russia and spoke Polish. In the 1920 US Census, they reported that they were born in Russian Poland and spoke Polish. But in the 1930 US Census, they reported that they were born in Lithuania and spoke Lithuanian. I’m trying to figure out from where they emigrated.

      • See the article Poles in Lithuania. The thing is, due to the history of joint Poland-Lithuania state (before 1795) many Lithuanians considered themselves to also be Poles and the two nations finally separated (in the mindsets of the people) only during the interwar period when the Polish-Lithuanian conflict over Vilnius made it impossible for somebody to have a “double allegiance”. Both Poland and Lithuania were ruled by Russia in 1795-1915, thus they were also Russian citizens.

        So, I think your great grandparents were Lithuanians from Lithuania. They probably also spoke Polish as a second language (seen as prestige-language at the time by many), as well as Russian which was the language of the then-ruling regime. They were Russian Empire citizens. Until 1920 they still saw Polish as a more prestigious and well-known language and culture and thus reported it rather than the more obscure Lithuanian culture. In 1930, as the Polish-Lithuanian conflict was raging, they likely no longer saw Polish as a prestige language and may have hated Poland for its occupation of Vilnius region. So, they reported Lithuanian and Lithuania as answers.

        • Good information-thank you-I had the same questions when researching my Lithuanian heritage.

        • So if someone was born in either Grodno or Prussia around 1900, would they be considered Russian?

          • Prussia (including Lithuania Minor) was a part of Germany.
            Grodno was a part of the Russian Empire.

            So, by citizenship, people would be German citizens (in Germany) or Russian citizens (in Grodno).

            Take note that in this era (and to a large extent even today) citizenship mattered little in the Eastern Europe. Ethnicity and religion mattered more. So, an ethnic Lithuanian from the areas would consider himself a Lithuanian – rather than German or Russian, despite the citizenship. Citizenship was often seen as something forced upon by a foreign empire, akin to the situation in extra-European colonies.

            At the time, Grodno had Belarusian, Polish, and Lithuanian ethnic communities.
            East Prussia had German, Lithuanian, Jewish and Polish ethnic communities.

            If you asked any person of the area “are you Russian?” at this time, he would have answered “No” – except if he was a Russian immigrant to the area. This is despite the fact that most people of Grodno were citizens of the Russian Empire but they would have still said “I am a Pole”, “I am a Belarusian”, “I am a Lithuanian”, “I am a Jew” rather than a Russian.

        • Thank you. This is starting to clear up confusing information from now deceased grandparents & great grandmother (mid to late 1800s). They say on different documents Litwa, Lituania or Russia versus my mother and aunt (also now deceased) growing up speaking polish and swearing their parents were from Poland. I have more research to do. Thanks again!

        • My great-grandparents left Lithuania (Selena) in the 1890s.
          Antanas Grinius and sp. Josephine.
          It happens that Antanas’ brother was Kazys Grinius, pre-wwII prime minister and president.
          I can find no evidence that either of them naturalized, which seems as though they would retain the rights to citizenship
          It is unclear to me whether my ancestors had the right of citizenship that would be afforded those born in pre-1918 Lithuania. If not, what would be their citizenship?
          On the other hand, some things appear to suggest that Lithuanian citizenship was not automatically granted to those not residing in Lithuania after 1918.

          I’m thinking of seeking a descendant’s Lithuanian Citizenship.
          I understand that the 1918 rule allows one to maintain US Citizenship. But that another path exists for those who have clear Lithuanian heritage, but that path requires surrendering US citizenship.

          • Interesting! My grandfather and his family fled Lithuania in very early 1900s. We lost the family when he ran away after he got here- he was 13 years then, and a step-father whom he didn’t fare well with. Millius was the step-fathers last name. Grandfather and siblings were Neverdauskas. We didn’t learn this until he was in his 90s!
            We searched for years, on, through ship manifests and we’ve search census records. We had leads over the years, but nothing solid. Much to our surprise, after 100 years of separation, the family found us! They were looking too. It’s a shame my grandfather never saw his family again- they had moved to near Chicago. Still, what a blessing to have found each other..

      • My great parents story was simulated. I remember hearing from my dad how they hid with their first child in haystacks and the Russians were stabbing in the haystacks looking for them. I was always told Never say u r Russian u r not Russian u r Lithuanian!!!! And genetically Ian 50% Lithuanian. Wish I knew more. Also our last name is Straugh but it must have been changed or misspelled along the way!?!?

  4. Hi , thank you for the information on Lithuania , my grandfather was born in Kaunas , Lithuania and my grandmother was born Vera kulbok in Vilnius , Lithuania . My grandfather list on the us census that he was born in Russia and my grandmother in the republic of Lithuania . I don’t understand and they left Lithuania in 1910 for the USA .

  5. My grandfather was born in Laizeva Lithuania June 1875. I would like to find family records for him — his parents, siblings, school records, marriage records and any genealogical information. How can I accomplish this?

    • We (the True Lithuania website) provide heritage search services in Lithuanian achives. We can contact you by e-mail you have provided when writing this comment with more details (you may also contact us at ).

      • To : Augustinas Zemaitis
        Your History of Lithuania is great information.
        How can I get more information on my father Alexander Lileikis born 1893 in Schogaiten, Lithuania. My Grand father Ludwig Lileikis was also born in Schogaiten, Lithuania

  6. I enjoyed your article. Are you related to Algis Zemaitis? He is a relative of mine and I was wondering if perhaps we are also related.

    • I don’t know Algis Žemaitis as related to me, however if you’d say where he is originated from and it will be the same villages / part of Lithuania then there may be relation. However, Žemaitis is a somewhat popular surname, meaning “Samogitian”.

  7. I happend across this website trying to determine information about my great-grandfather who left Lithuania between 1903-06. I recently received his military records from a relative which suggests he was discharged to the Reserves (to 1917) in Butrimonys in Troki. I don’t know if it is typical to be discharged to the region from which you grew up?

    I would love to get an accurate translation of the contents and a cyrillic rendering of his name (which is hand-written in the document). Any suggestions as to where? It is interesting how Franc Mixajlov Vasilevskij (what somebody deciphered back in the 30’s) became Frank Waselefsky

    I am finding the information on this site quite fascinating, as it provides context for my great-grandparents’ immigration.

    • Hi

      I came across your name in 23 and me. We have common ancestor and I am wondering if it is Frank Waselefsky


      • Hi Lucy,
        Just seeing this today. Not sure which kit you matched (could be up to four, but not me). Please contact me at 23andMe and mention this sight.

        • Hi; sorry, I did not see your previous message on time. If you are still interested in a translation, we do offer translation services.

  8. I’m trying to find any information about the families on my grandparents names for Zebellis and Yanueshes. How do I get started ? I need help I know very little about my grandparents in Lithuania. I have my grandmothers letters received from her family before ww11. The letters are in Lithuania.

    • It is the best to start at your own location collecting as much information as possible (names, approximate dates, locations in Lithuania, etc.). The more you collect, the easier it will be on the “Lithuanian side”. Not every name or date is truly needed for a successful search and some missing details may be filled. In the letters, there may be locations in Lithuania written and such, so they are useful to read.

      After you collect all the possible information, in Lithuania, an archive search is needed whereby the details you collected would be used to learn more about the family and even more generations.

      We may offer translation services of the letters. We may also offer archive search services.

      • Lithuanian census reports are not publically available online. In Lithuania, archives are the main location to seek for the personal data of ancestors.

        • So happy to find this website. I have been searching for data about my grandfather who emigrated to the USA in 1895 then resided in Cleveland. He told us that he was Polish and came from Vilna. His name here was Walter Nagrodsky or Nagrodski. I have a feeling his family could have been Jewish. He may have left Vilna beccause of the pogroms at that time. Somewhere along the way he married an English woman who had some Jewish background in England. She died giving birth to my mother.I have found the Nagrodski name or variations in the Lithuania Jewish website but not any Walter. Any help would be so welcome.

          • While everything is possible, from what you write, it is unlikely he was Jewish. As during the rule of the Russian Empire everyone in the Empire was a Russian subject, what people would say they were meant ethnicity rather than citizenship or nationality. Jews, Lithuanians, Poles are all different ethnicities (see our articles on ethnicities of Lithuania: ). So, if somebody would have said he was a Pole at the time, that meant he was not a Jew (in which case he would have said he was Jewish, not Polish). You would probably also remember if he would have been Jewish by religion. Walter is an anglicized version of the original name in any case. Numerous surnames could have been held by people of different ethncities, and surnames were often translated (i.e. the same person would use different surnames when writing them down or saying in different languages). Poles, Lithuanians, Jews all faced discrimination in the Russian Empire.

  9. it’s right Russia has very interested country

  10. My grandfather arrived in the USA in 1907 and he said he was from Wilna. His name was Adolph Chadiko. My grandmother arrived in 1909 and stated she was Russian and was from Zwirbic. Her maiden name was Marya Pakelins. I have not been able to fin a city named Zwirbic. She always said she was from Vilnius and I don’t know if there might be a section of Vilnius named Zwirbic?
    The above information is registered at Ellis Island, New York, USA.

    • The closest name of Vilnius area to Zwirbic would be Žvėrynas. More info: .

      It should be noted, however, that, under the Russian Imperial rule, Vilnius was not just a city, but also the capital of the Vilnius governorate. Sometimes “from Vilnius” would have meant “From Vilnius governorate”, and this governorate covered the whole modern-day Eastern Lithuania as well as Western Belarus. Some emigrants who were of rural origins wanted to create urban roots for themselves this way, others simply used a name of the city somebody at least heard in America (capital of their governorate) rather than a name of some unknown village.

      There are numerous villages known as Žvirbliai and the like. Back in those days, there was no standard spelling, and people of different ethnicities would use different spellings for the same cities and locations (e.g. Vilnius / Wilno / Vilna / Wilna / Vilne).

    • I wonder if your grandfather and my grandfather were on the same ship that landed at Ellis Island. My grandfather arrived in Nov. or Dec. of 1907.

    • Not far from Vilnius there are several villages with a similar names, in Lithuanian it is Žvirbli, but now it is the territory of Belarus, the name of the village in Russian is Жвирбли. Pakelins – it cannot be the female surname in Lithuanian and Russian, Lithuanian female surnames have an ending- aitė or -enė. And like a Russian female last name Pakelins sounds very strange too. Maybe Latvian?
      And there is not section of Vilnius named Zwirbic

  11. I am seeking information on Petras and Eva Daugird from Lithuania. They had two sons William and Alex who were came to the U.S. around 1903 with their uncle Joseph Daugird (Dougert). William and Alex were hidden by monks before they left. It is said that there were hidden because of fear of the young boys being forced into the Russian Army. The parents of William and Alex were murdered and their land taken.

  12. Add to the fact that De La O means of the vino. And in the German languages it is: ‘Von A’ Also to add most names were taken away and hidden. Its why my grandma used her first name and that single first name Jetrudis. Hrethudies’ Since I remember her clearly she was definitely Russian or . Von A must clearly be Hethra-Este house, Hretha is the anglo-saxon form to say Hungary-Austria or Haustria and the Este house is Modera but they lost it and later Karl Ludwig must have added the Modena family too. Funny thing too though he really was an Anglophile Archduke of Lithuania since he used the “De LA O’” also and not just her first name. Angliophile means liking the Anglo-saxonian language and studying it. De could easily be Deutschland. LA for Lithuanian Archduke and O for The Bloodline or Össtria. So many meanings for the letter O. My Grolier Encyclopendia just referred to him as an Angliophile Archduke without the actual name and it is why i call him that. It does name his palace though. Before 1924 of course.

  13. Thank you very much for this site. I know from 23 in me and family history that I am mostly Lithuaniuan and very proud. I just started researching family history (Kamarauskas and Rochkes) I found that my great grandfather, George Rochkes, immigrated to the US in 1898. I almost had a heat attack when it said from Russia (my family was never fond of Russians). Thank goodness your history research cleared that up for me! As best I can find the Kamarauskas family came from Kaunas and the Rochkes family came from Vilnus. Again, Thank you!

    • I am glad the website helps you!

    • My maternal grandmother’s name is Kamarauskas and was from Birštonas. My mom has been researching our family tree. By dumb luck, I was happy to have happened upon this site and very surprised to see reference to the Kamarauskas name. I will mention this site to her — perhaps we are related!

  14. I have ancestors named Blum who emigrated from Marijampole in the 1890s. According to family lore, they once owned a horse farm where they raised white horses for army generals. I am aware of the state stud farm that was in Trakehnen (now Yasnaya Polyana in Kaliningrad, not far from Marijampole). Are you aware of any other horse farms in that area in that timeframe that could match the family description? Thanks for your help.

    • I am not aware of any. However, it does not mean there weren’t any. Horses farms, like any businesses today (i.e. hotels, restaurants, shops, etc.) may have been both famous and not, big and small, and most of such undertakings fade into oblivion and only some remains well-known as with Trakehnen horse farm.

      For those not famous, the best place to start a research may be the Lithuanian archives. We may offer archive search services if needed.

  15. Hello, I found your site while researching. My G-Grandfather brought his family over to America in April of 1903. Family story is he was a General (but for who?) and lived in Taurage/Tauraggon Prussia. So I believe he may have been a Prussian General!?. His children were all born in the 1880’s. Many other related families came to America in the 1890’s, but it is said he stayed behind to fight for the mother country (?). Apparently the Kossacks(?) were raiding/killing/raping, and my G-grandmother said “enough..we leave now”. They left behind a business (tavern/restaurant/rooms) took one trunk and 5 children and crossed the ocean. According the the manifest, he had a large sum of money (compared to the other travelers) Also I was told the Russians were trying to make him become part of their army? and also his sons. How could I find more info regarding him/our family?

    • We at True Lithuania provide heritage search services and search for the information in the Lithuanian archives (especially if you know more information, e.g. approximate locations and dates of birth).

    • The city of Taurage belonged to Prussia until 1793, after that it was Russian Empire. If your ancestors were engaged in trade, then they had no chance of becoming a Prussian officer or general – this was a special caste. There were no Cossacks in Taurage))). Cossacks – is was irregular cavalry; they lived (and live now) in southern Russia, not far from the Black Sea.

      • Not completely true – actually, Tauragė belonged to Grand Duchy of Lithuania (Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) until 1795, at which point it was taken by the Russian Empire until 1915, when it was conquered by Germany in World War 1. Tauragė never actually belonged to Prussia, although it was near the Lithuanian-Prussian border of the time, and later Russian-Prussian border.

  16. Hello thank you for being here for us.I’m look for any info on my family I know my grandfather was born in Dauginava kaimas Lithuania around may 21 1894 then came to Boston.I would like to know of any family. His name is Simon Jakubauska. Thank you

  17. Russia did not surrender in Great War.

  18. Hello,
    I am trying to research my husband’s family (grand parents): John Charles Misheikis born 1/24/1886 in we think Laizvua, Lithuania. The town was spelled Lazowo on his 1942 United States World War II Draft Registration Cards. We also have his 1918 US WWII draft card and he is listed as Russian. He migrated from Lithuania to the U.S. in the early 1900’s. We have been told that he was in the Russian army, he was also taken by cattle car to Siberia. His wife was Anna Victoria Stulpinas Misheikis, born in Lithuania in 1894. We are tying to find John’s birth record which would reveal who is parents were. We have no information on his wife.
    Thank you so much for any direction you can provide.

    Sue Forbes

  19. My grandfather’s family, Bukraba, lived for many generations in the regions of Grodno; they were Poles, Roman Catholic, and several with this surname and crest are registered as having voted in the Sejm for two or more Kings of Poland, farther back, the research was done by my grandfather and taken from books in libraries in London, Warszawa and Chicago. I only have definite verbal record of my grandfather’s family going back one generation before his father, and it may not be completely accurate. It would be nice to have more information on the more archaic history of the peoples who populated that region and why they formed into the tribes they did which evolved into Lithuanian, Polish,etc. The ties between Poles and Lithuanians were strong for a very long time.
    We have no clear record, only anecdotal, of my grandmother’s family, Zaremba, who lived in that same region, but a bit farther south, I believe. She described her father Mieczyslaw as a forester. She and my grandfather met in Mozyr in 1919/20, and married in Warszawa in 1920. So the ties to Grodno and that region were cut when the family property was sold and the immediate family moved to Pinsk, during WWI, where my grandfather’s brother Kazimierz was a bishop; their father died in Nowogrod in 1923, but was later buried, along with their mother, who passed a few years later, in Pinsk. These things were written by my grandfather and later corroborated by photos from the cemetery and articles about Bishop Bukraba, but it would be great to go farther back if records exist. Would you be able to do some research for us?

  20. My great grandparents emigrated to the US in 1914, documented as from Russia to NYC, settled in Massachusetts. The towns they have listed as birthplaces are “Butka” and “Lubano” in Lithuania, although I’m having a hard time finding those names. I’m wondering if perhaps spelling of those towns was lost in translation between Lithuanian and English. Any ideas as to where/what those towns might be? Thanks for any direction/help!

  21. My grandparents came from Slonim, now in Belarus, in 1913. Was that part of Lithuania then?

    Thank you for any help you can provide.

    • At the time (during teh Russian Imperial rule) Lithuania did not exist as any official single administrative unit. There were governorates (gubernyas), some more Lithuanian than others but they were not created on an ethnic, religious or historical basis.

      Slonim was part of Gardinas (Grodno, Hrodna) governorate of the Russian Empire in 1913, which was considered Lithuanian by some (as it had Lithuanian parts) but Slonim never had a Lithuanian majority since prehistory at least. The last time it was part of Lithuanian state was Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1795.

  22. Hello this is a great sight as I am trying to figure out where my great grandparents came from. I would so appreciate any insight from you when you have time. I have found my great grandfather in a Hamburg passenger list 4 Apr 1909 and arrived NY 16 Apr 1909. The Hamburg document said nationality was Russian and his residence was Opino the arrival in New York said nationality Lithuanian and and the residence was Gruev I cant find these on a map. Also one has his name spelled Telesfor Ploszansky and one has his name spelled Telespor Plossanski and my mother thinks it was spelled Placzankis I have not been able to find any of these spellings would you have any Idea?

  23. I’m interested in determining my eligibility for Lithuanian citizenship in order to obtain
    a second passport. I had thought I would be eligible because my grandparents were born in Lithuania. However, I read that if they left before 1918, I wouldn’t be eligible. I came across some information on an ancestry website that indicated my grandmother left Lithuania and came to New York in 1913. Can you explain why I’m not eligible for citizenship?

    • I explain a lot about citizenship restoration here (including in many comments):

      The thing is, the Republic of Lithuania was established in 1918, having been under Russian rule before. So, Lithuanian citizenship began to be issued only after 1918. If somebody emigrated before 1918, it is likely they had no Lithuanian citizenship. In such a case, their descendants cannot apply for citizenship restoration, which is the path that leads to dual citizenship.

      However, there were cases when somebody who emigrated before 1918 was considered a citizen automatically, especially if emigrated in 1914-1918, and thus his/her descendants would then be also eligible for dual citizenship.

      Moreover, there is another path to get citizenship in such a case for Lithuanians whose forefathers never had Lithuanian citizenship. This path may only lead to single citizenship, however (renouncing your current one) or, alternatively, to a residence permit or a right-to-citizenship certificate.

      If you are interested in a Lithuanian archive search or citizenship application services, we may provide them and would send you an offer by e-mail.

  24. Hello! I have read a lot of your replies to other people and yet I have questions about my heritage. I believe I understand you to say that people took allegiance to their ethnicity and wrote that on US census forms no matter who ruled at the time in Lithuania. My family wishes to know if we are Polish or Russian or Lithuanian. Here are more details:

    My grandfather was born 12/5/1894 in Wilno, Poland according to the US 1930 and 1940 census. He immigrated to the US in 1909. On his marriage document in 1920 it states he was from R. Poland. Finally, his obituary in the 1940’s stated Wilno, Poland. Considering his birthdate and how he wrote Wilno, Poland, was he from Poland (or Russian occupied Lithuania in 1894) and was he therefore Polish or Russian or Lithuanian? Thanks so much for helping me out!

    • It is impossible to say from this data alone, unfortunately.

      Vilnius/Wilno was ruled by Russia until 1915, then hotly contested between Lithuanian, Polish, and German armies until 1920 when Polish took the upper hand and ruled it until 1939 (but the city remained to be claimed by Lithuania, see “First Independent Republic of Lithuania (1918-1940)“). Then Lithuanians 1939-1940, Soviets 1940-1941, Nazi Germany 1941-1944, Soviets 1944-1990, Lithuania since then.

      In the years you specify Poland may have been written simply as a country that actually ruled Vilnius at the time, and Wilno as the official Polish name. Somebody strongly identifying with Lithuania would have still used “Vilnius, Lithuania” probably, as it was claimed by Lithuania.

      But there were many people in between. Read the article on ethnic relations in Lithuania, especially Lithuanian-Polish sections, to understand better: Ethnic relations in Lithuania

      If he lived in an area of USA with both Lithuanian and Polish churches, it would perhaps tell more if you could know which church he attended in the USA. Although some Lithuanians still attended Polish churches (but vice-versa was very rare).

      • I’m glad i came across this site ( i was looking for a convent maybe in Marijampole) i’m trying to find out more about my Great granny & grandad Rouski nee Bagurski ( not sure if the spellings are correct or just the way the UK spelt them) both down as being born in Lithuania 1890 & 1891 , my nan was born in Lithuania too 1911/12 but came to Widnes UK as a baby with her parents. My ancestry DNA shows 17% Baltics , south Lithuania , 6% Easturn Europe & Russia , 1% Jewish Peoples of Europe . Siauliai an Panevezys show on the map . Granny Rouski couldn’t speak English an my nan always classed them as poles ? on the 1921 census when living in Widnes their birth an marriage is down as what looks like Marijampole and Wilcoviski Poland ? as i say the spellings could be how it sounded to the UK as i know one of my nans brothers changed his surname to Russell to find work easier. My mum told me that my nan’s younger sister sent parcels to the Nuns in the convent in Lithuania but not sure where . Also my great grandads sister Kate wrote to him and her brothers in the UK from Riga Latvia . Where would i be best looking to try and find more information , would records still be held in Lithuania from them times , please . Thanks for reading . Sue .

  25. Great site, I am an art student researching my ancestry to make a short film. My great grandparents Maria and juozas Valaitis emigrated to Hamilton in Scotland just before the first World War. I am trying to find out why they emigrated, if anyone could help that would be appreciated.

  26. Thank you for great service to all of our heritage. I’m three-quarters Lithuanian (hello from northeastern Pennsylvania here) and have been told that while some of my great-grandparents around 1900 came from Kaunas area, some came from “Krosnanose” in far western Lithuania, and neither my mother (visiting Lithuania 1997) nor I (visiting while in US military service 1976) have been able to discover its location and heard that it may have been wiped out in WWII. Closest town name I find today is Krosna. Any thoughts on it, or recommended further reading, please let me know. Long live the Brotherhood of the Forest! And what a DIVERSE history.

    • After reading the name I would have thought “Krosnėnai”, however, that is in southern Lithuania, where Krosna also is (although maybe as the generation passed the side of Lithuania may have been forgotten).

      Or “Kuršėnai” but it is not far to the west and the difference in the name is bigger.

      In theory, it may also be so that your forefathers came from Lithuania Minor. That part of Lithuania was essentially wiped out in the Soviet genocide. Most of it is now Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia; all the placenames were changed into Russian ones and many villages destroyed completely (while in those not destroyed the population completely replaced by Russians). In Lithuania itself, though, few-if-any villages were wiped out in WW2: while there were mass murders, there were always somebody left alive or people were moved in from elsewhere.

      That said, as the urbanization (and now EU-related emigration) increased, some villages naturally “died out” as the youth moved away.

      If your forefathers would have been from Lithuania Minor they would most likely (though not certainly) be Lutherans rather than Catholics.

  27. Hello Augustinas, my name is Sal Biondo. I’m 16 years old and very interested in my Lithuanian family history! I’ve been doing genealogy for two years now and I’ve now decided to dig into my Lithuanian side. Until two days ago I only knew my immigrant ancestor Silvestras (Sylvester) Ragelskas and his wife Petronella. However, I just joined a Facebook group who have found the marriage record for Sylvester and Petronele (Petronella) in the Lithuanian town of Šilalė! Unfortunately, I cannot read the Russian which is written on the document…could you possibly help? I also wanted to ask a question about the life of Silvestras as he grew up under the Russian Empire. I believe he was born in 1879 meaning he lived under the reigns of Alexander II, Alexander III, and Nicholas II. He was married February 9, 1899 and had a son (Silvestras Petras) in 1900. According to family lore, he fled Lithuania alone because he was chased by the “Russian Cossacks”. It is said that he hid on a cattle boat that broke down in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, where he then floated to America. However, I recently found records saying that he sailed from Hamburg Germany to the United States in 1901. The Cossack and cattle boat story was told by his youngest son Peter, so I believe that it happened, but perhaps not in the Atlantic ocean. Is it safe to assume that the ship broke down in the Baltic Sea, where he then floated to Hamburg? Unfortunately, I don’t know much more than that when it comes to his life in Lithuania, but I was really hoping you could answer some of these questions:

    1. Can you translate the Russian marriage record if I send it?

    2. Why would he have fled Lithuania to begin with? Was it the military conscription?

    3. Why would Peter mention the “Cossacks” chased Silvestras instead of Russians in general?

    4. What would the life of Sylvester have looked like in Lithuania under the rule of each Tsar?

    5. Do you think the story of the cattle boat is legitimate?

    I hope to here from you soon and I thank you for your time!

    • 1.We offer document translations from Russian but that is a paid service.

      2 and 4. We have an extensive article on the First Wave of Lithuanian immigrants to the USA: how was their life in Lithuania and why they fled and how did they live after that. It is here: First wave of Lithuanian emigration (1865-1915)

      3.It was common to use the word “Cossacks” as a kind of synonym to “Russians” and “Russian soldiers” of the time (pre-WW1). As Cossacks (a certain ethno-social group of Russian Empire’s inhabittants who often had military careers) were notorious for their brutality, often any Russian misdeed was attributed to Cossacks in vernacular speech (e.g. when speaking about minority persecutions, pogroms, etc.). Some (or most) of these Russian soldiers who participated in the discrimination or persecutions of the minorities may have been Cossacks for real but not necessarily. It is not so that the people of the era really thought every bad Russian is a Cossack – it was more like a replacement word / synonym. “Cossack” in this case of vernacular speech simply may mean “Russian” or “Russian soldier”. Still, it may have been so that actual Cossack military units participated in this chase as well.

      5.It may be legitimate to some extent, however, from what I noticed, such family stories tend to be romanticised over the time. As you have found out, the story of this happening in the Atlantic is not real. How did it change from the real one as it was retold in the family is not clear (maybe this happened somewhere else, or before the actual migration voyage, or after it in the USA [e.g. Great Lakes], etc.). At the time it was more common to reach Hamburg by land rather than by sea.

      • Thanks so much for the information! This will really help my search progress! How much would the translation cost? And do you offer on site research? The other records I believe I need aren’t available online.

        Also, I unfortunately don’t have a picture of Silvestras or Petronele, but do you know of any that might be in civil records? Maybe like a passport photo?

        • We will send you an offer by e-mail. Yes, we do offer on-site research. Sometimes we are able to find pictures – however, unfortunately, this is very rare, especially for 1899. That is because photography was still rare in Lithuania then. There were no photos on documents at the time.

          You may be more lucky to find photos on the USA side, as photos were already more common there in the early 20th century. E.g. when visiting Lithuanian cemeteries in the USA (dating to the pre-WW2 or even pre-WW1 times) we notice many graves have images of those buried on them. This is extremely rare for cemeteries in Lithuania from the same era where photography was still rarer.

  28. Hello,
    I am researching family history and interested in applying for Lithuanian citizenship by virtue of ancestry. Could you please email me your rates for services such as searching for my father’s records in the National Archives?
    Thank you,
    Arista Maria Cirtautas

  29. Hello Augustinas,
    My name is Nadia Czechowicz and I have done a great deal of research on my husband’s family, Lachowicki-Czechowicz herb Ostoja who owned large properties in Lithuania near Svencionela’. They were Polish and lived in Lithuania as part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. They have also a Family Cemetery (Rackiske Cemetery)
    Their family chapel is now in one of your parks. Rackiske Chapel.
    My research has taken me back to 1550. I have also found photos of Romuald
    Czechowicz on a Lithuanian website.
    In 1863 many of the men were deported to Russia, and their lands were taken and
    sold off by the Russians.
    My husband”s Great Grandfather was sent Siberia.
    I have only touched on a tiny bit of information for you that I have found.
    I would like to fill in some missing information in my research.
    I have been able to make our Family Tree from 1550 till 2021.
    It has taken me several years, but a labour of love for our children to cherish.
    Are you able to help me?
    Thank you for your time on this matter.
    Nadia Czechowicz.

    • We may be able to help you, depending on what you need.

      The thing is that, from what you say, your research is already very extensive. So e.g. if you have already checked all the archives, and some data is missing (e.g. destroyed in church fires), then we would not be able to add anything.

      We oculd only help if there is some data availabel in the archives that you didn’t see yet.

  30. Hello Augustinas, thank you for you reply.

    I would like to know who were in the two coffins found in the Rackiske Chapel before
    it was taken to its new location in Rumsiskes.
    Is there an archive of the property manor house Raczkowszczyzna, I understand it has
    been destroyed? Svencionys district
    Who was Romuald Cachovic’s (Czechowicz) wife.
    Who was Paulina Czechowicz painted by Jozef Pitschmann in 1806, portrait now in the Lublin museum.
    Most of the information I have found on the net, and began my research from a small
    family tree given to us by my husband Romualds,s father Gustaw, who was born in Omsk when his grandfather Leon was deported there in 1863.The deportees where
    given an option of the salt mines or joining the Russian army. Most were very young men and chose to live, so reluctantly chose the army.
    We had planned to visit Lithuania , but because of COVID our plans changed.
    Perhaps one day?

    Again thank you for your time on this matter. Nadia Czechowicz.

    • Hello Nadia, I am from the Czechowicz-Lachowicki family. A descendant of Andrzej – the youngest brother of Leon and Gustaw. There were 4 brothers: Gustaw, Leon, Tytus and Andrzej. Their father was Romuald Czechowicz (Czechowicz-Lachowicki, Ostoja coat of arms), and their mother was Paulina Czechowicz née Kurkowska. Leon and Andrzej were sent to Siberia for their participation in the January Uprising in 1863. Gustaw and Tytus emigrated. Gustav – to France, Titus – to the USA. After returning from Siberia, Leon lived in Irkutsk, and in 1913 he returned to Vilnius. And he is buried there. There is no trace of the Raczkowszczyzna (Rackiske) manor, the chapel was moved to an open-air museum. Remains of an old brewery were discovered on the site of the former manor house. This area is now a monument. I have big genealogical tree of our family. If you would like to contact – it will be a pleasure for me. Best regards, Agnes

      • Hello Agnes, How great to hear from you. Thank you for your contact.
        We live in Australia.
        It would be great to communicate and compare notes.
        I have also been working on a family tree and would love to
        add to it, and add to your tree, my findings.
        Sorry for not answering sooner I have not checked this site in some time.
        Will be delighted to hear from you.
        Sincere thanks, Nadia.

  31. I love your site and it has been so well written and educational. I have just wrote a book about my ancestors in Lithuania and was wondering if the images on your site are public domain and can they be used on my book cover.

  32. Hello
    I’m trying to find out a little more about my Lithuanian great grand parents who left the country during 1917. I have their names but do not have any information about town from which they lived. I would like to learn more about them and my heritage. Could you help?
    Many thanks in advance, Cynthia Urbytes

  33. I apologize, I forgot to include my grandparents & great grandmother’s name. I’ve been told that there is no -wicz, -vitz or -vich in Polish or Lithuanian, but my grandfather’s name was Teofil Matulewicz. My grandmother’s name was Jadwiga Gregorovich & my great grandmother’s name, I think, was Matulevitz, or something like that. My father’s digging didn’t reveal much more except Teofil was born around the late 1880’s and came to America in the late 1890’s or early 1900’s. I’ll definitely have to come back to your site.

  34. I am interested in information of great grandmother, Helena Maciejanis, born in Gelvonai 1870. Migrated with her husband Wladyslaw and my grandad Bronislaw Dowgiello (immigration changed original spelling) to U.S. around 1910-1915. They insisted they were Polish, but recently found info on Ancestry her name and DOB which is in Lithuania. Back in 50’s & 60’s when they were still around, the whole clan refused to be identified as Lithuanian, I don’t know why. How can I find more info on Helena and her family?

    • The story of differing identities of the First Wave (i.e. pre-WW1) immigrants from Lithuania is explained hehre:

      As for their story, we can also help with a research in the Lithuanian archives on what data is available on them. We will send you information by e-mail.

      • I am looking for further information on my ancestry. My great grandmother’s name was Isabella Kuchanus Valowicz. Her immigration records state that she came to the United States from Russia but the name seems Lithuanian or Polish. What is your opinion?

        • Yes, as Lithuania and Poland were both ruled by Russia at the time, some of Lithuanians and Poles would have their origin listed as “Russia”. There was no consistency in what is written in that line – whether it is the ruling empire (Russia), the ethnic culture (which may have been Lithuanian or Polish) or the dominant elite culture (which was Polish in the area).

          • Thank you so much for replying! From my understanding, they immigrated to America before the Russian Revolution, so it would make sense that their documents indicated that they were technically born in the Russian Empire. However, I would like to know (from your expert perspective) if the last name “Kuchanus” is likely an ethnically Lithuanian name or not. I would assume that “Valowicz” originates from Poland but I could be wrong. If so, would you please provide me with the Lithuanian spelling and pronunciation of “Kuchanus”? I would greatly appreciate it!

          • “us” would sound as a Lithuanian male surname ending (probably anglicized from “as” although “us” exists as well). See Lithuanian language article for more data.

            That said, Valowicz may be Lithuanian too (Valavičius). It was common to have different spellings of the same name in different languages, so e.g. a Lithuanian may have spelt his last name in Polish or Russian when speaking or writing such languages (they were all, e.g., written in Russian in the official data that was kept in Russian). The Lithuanian ending would then be removed. After emigration, some would use the Lithuanian versions of their names, some would use Polish or Russian (as these were shorter or they were used to using them for official contexts or they saw them as more “international”), some would anglicize.

            Read more in this article: First wave of Lithuanian emigration (1865-1915).

  35. Hello, I am a student and I used this website for my research on the Russian occupation of Lithuania in the 19th century. This website was quite helpful and I enjoyed it very much.

    • Thank you!

      • You are doing a tremendous job with research. Searching for my Great Grandfather who in family lore was an Arch-duke in Kaunas area. Joseph Zukauskas became Jacusky when he emigrated and ended up in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania. Born about 1870, wife Rose Grobowsky. 8 children born between 1894- 1903- Catherine, Charles, Eva were born in Lithuania. Anthony, George, Isabell and William were born in the United States. He died in 1945. He left during the Russian persecution of Catholics and may have been contacted to come back to Lithuania. Any help appreciated

        • We may help you with the archive search to see what is available in the Lithuanian archives. We will send you an offer by e-mail.

  36. Do you know much about the Suwalki region? My great grandfather was born in Michałówka, Suwalki in 1895. Immigrated to USA in 1905. Was that ares considered Prussia/ruled by Germany at the time?

    • It was ruled by the Russian Empire at the time. At the time, the region included all the Lithuania on the left side of Nemunas as well. It was formally ruled by Russia through Poland, which was at the time a territory of Russia. The rest of Lithuania was ruled directly by Russia at the time and not part of the territory of Poland. This area was part of Prussia only for a brief period between 1795 and 1807. In 1795, when Poland-Lithuania was partitioned by the imperial powers of Russia, Prussia, and Austria, this area was received by Prussia and named “New East Prussia”. However, then the Napoleaonic Wars came which Russia won. It used this opportunity to annex this area, and so it became ruled by Russia (through the nominal “Duchy of Warsaw” and then “Kingdom of Poland” which had no real power; the area was inhabited mostly by ethnic Lithuanians like entire northern Suwalki governorate, while the southernmost Suwalki governorate had more Poles living there). As both Poland and Lithuania became independent ~1918, there was a brief war between the countries on where their new border would be. Poland managed to be victorious and thus conquered some Lithuanian-inhabited areas here which are part of Poland since. Northern part of Suwalki Governorate, meanwhile, became part of Lithuania.

  37. Hello, I am trying to find information on my grandfather, known as Peter Chernow but am told he shortened his name when he came to the states. I am told it was something that sounded like Chernoshchuk or Cher*no*shook. He stated that he left in 1913 and entered Canada and then came into the states in 1915 to be with his American born cousins. His birthdate is listed as October 18, 1904 and sometimes he would list Lithuania as his place of birth and another document states, what looks like but unsure, Letomoroski, near I think it says, Kiev. He states that his fathers name was Jacob and his mother’s maiden name was Sophia Melnick. I am unable to find any trace of him until he marries my grandmother in the states. He died before I was born and I was unable to ever ask him more information and my father does not know much other than he may have had a sister named Pauline that stayed in his old country. He was 9 when he left and I am told that he travelled alone. Can you offer any guidance to help get me through this phase that I am stuck in. I have a double whammy as my grandmother that he was married to, her parents came from Austria and Poland and I am also searching that family. Oy yoy yoy

    • We may search in the archives for any data – however, we’d need a more accurate birthplace for that. What is beyond the modern borders of Lithuania (e.g. Ukraine) is not available in those archives.

      What do you know about him? What languages did he speak, besides English? Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, Yiddish? What was his religion? Roman Catholic? Russian Orthodox? Jewish? All that may help to answer with some probability on where he came from and what his original surname was. Some of the surnames exist in Lithuania (e.g. Melnick may be Melnikas) but they also exist, in different versions, in the other nearby countries too.

  38. My great grand father actually served on the Tsar’s army as a taylor for one year in Siberia but then went back to Lithuania. He didn’t want go back into the army so fled to U.S.A. in 1900. He escaped at the border dodging gun fire with 20 other men. Only 12 made it alive. My great grand mother bribed guards to leave Lithuania in 1898. Paid $20. to escape. Since Jews were so discriminated against in Kaunas, I often wonder how many of our ancestors were Jewish but changed religions when migrating to the states.

    • This would have been very uncommon for numerous reasons:

      1.While Jews were discriminated in Lithuania while it was ruled by the Russian Empire, ethnic Lithuanians were discriminated even more, with even their language banned. Moreover, while serfdom had been already abolished at the time, the fact that most Lithuanians either had been serves before or their parents were serfs meant that they were also economically underprivileged compared to Jews who never were serfs. The only socially advantageous culture and religion in Russian-ruled Lithuania was Russian / Russian Orthodox but conversions into it were still very rare.
      2.Jews were attached to their religion and most would not abandon it for temporary and dubious gains (that’s why Jewry survived without assimilating in many even more hostile enviroinments). In the era, religion was seen as truth and a road to salvation, people were very religious (Jews and non-Jews alike) – who would “exchange” eternal life they believed only their religion would lead to into dubious temporary gains?
      3.In the USA, discrimination was lower, so if the person did not convert “because of discrimination” back in Lithuania, there was little reason to do that in the USA.

      So, if somebody’s family was Catholic after emigration to the USA, it is nearly certain they had been Catholic in Lithuania as well (and the same for other faiths).

      Of course, there may have been other reasons for conversions, e.g. interreligious or interethnic marriages that were relatively common in the USA.

  39. Hello

    Hello Augustinas, I think your site is very informative, I have learnt a lot of history from it. Thank you.
    I am trying to contact Agnes Czechowicz, can you help?
    Nadia Czechowicz