Marcus C. Levitt

Expedition to Siberia

The roots of the Semeiskii Old Believer community—which may be said to be an ethnic sub-group within the larger Russian ethnos—probably stem back to the schism within the Orthodox Church.  “Probably” because their historical identity was mostly fixed by the fact that they were forcibly re-located to Transbaikal by Catherine the Great, and their pre-history shrouded in conjecture.  The label “Semeiskii” probably derives from “family” and the fact that they were deported to Siberia not individually as convicts usually were but as an entire community, in families (Catherine apparently appreciated their value as colonists).  They were apparently moved from somewhere in Poland, where they had sought asylum after the schism, but this evaporated as the lands in which they were living which were incorporated into the Empire by Catherine’s partitions.  Little information survives concerning their origins and relocation; community records, often written into or kept in books, were mostly destroyed during the Stalinist repressions of the 30’s, and only fragmentary data remains (Bolonev 1994: 48-59).

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