The term meschanin (мещанин) appears often in records from the Russian Pale that refer to Jews. It refers to a social class and is often translated as Petty (Petite, Petit) Bourgeois. Some sources, however, point out that this definition may be somewhat misleading in that this was primarily a derogatory term referring to a class of people in communist post-Revolution (after 1917) Russia. Another possible synonym may be tradesman or townsman.

However it is specifically defined, finding this word in a record of your ancestor is crucial, because it indicates the specific shtetl that they "came from." This last point is nuanced though and very important. Where they are a meschanin doesn't necessarily mean that they were born there or even actually lived there for any long period of time (although in many cases this will be the case). In particular, it signifies where they were registered. But when people moved, they did not always change their registration. So they could be living in one place but registered elsewhere. For instance, one might find an individual listed as a Kurenetzy Meschanin (Kurenetz townsman) in a record from Dunilowicze.

Another potential source of confusion could be where the place listed is both a town/city as well as a larger district or province. One example would be Minsky Meschanin (i.e., Minsk townsman). In this case, it is my understanding, the individual can be assumed to have come from/was registered in the smallest administrative region, the shtetl or town/city.