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The objective of this essay is to define the main goals of the 1874 Jewish Census in Russia from the perspective of genealogy. The Census of the Jewish males was conducted because of the introduction of general compulsory military service in the Russian Empire. The new law was discussed in the State Council and signed by the Czar on January 1, 1874. This legislation was in its essence rather democratic. All male population of the country of 20 years of age was obliged to serve. The term of active service was six years in the land forces and nine years in the reserve forces. In the fleet, it was seven years active duty and three years in reserve. After active service and reserve, the men were enlisted in the home guard until 40 years of age.

There were a number of exemptions (complete or partial) which provided for a release from service. Family exemptions were provided for a single son, a single breadwinner, and families with one member already in active service. About 15–20% were released because of their medical conditions All of those fit to serve were drafted by lottery and those who were not drafted together (with those who were exempted) were automatically recorded as reservists and after fifteen years transferred to home guard. In addition to postponements, the terms of service could be significantly less depending on the educational status of a recruit.

List of Jewish Men in the town of Lyakhovichi (Slutsk Uezd, Minsk Guberniya), 1874

Benis Busel, son of Faivel, born 1834.
His son, Nevach-Benzion, born 1866;
Benis’ brother, Itsko, born 1850;
Itsko’s sons, Yankel, born 1869;
and Abram, born 1872

National Historical Archives of Belarus in Minsk.
This document provides names of four generations
in one family, when each was born and how they
are related to each other.

In previous years, the attempts of young Jews to avoid the recruit drafts were widespread; however, the situation did not change since the introduction of a new legislation. The potential recruits presented the documents where their age was shown as older than the required 20–21 years. For this purpose the metrical books (birth records) were falsified and the records changed by the Jewish members of the town authorities and tax collectors. In the absence of a metrical record, often evidence was certified by the signatures of the six witnesses, who “lived in the same town as the subject and personally were present at his circumcision in … year”. In fact, this “evidence” was arranged for money.

Another way to deal with the draft was “creating” a single son situation. If a Jew had two sons, one was adopted by a childless father (or mother-in-law), or other relative, or just a stranger even from another community, naturally, for a fee. Thus, both sons become singles. If a Jew had three sons and between the eldest and the youngest was a big gap, for example 15 years, that is, the time between two censuses, the youngest (in most cases missed in the previous census) was recorded as the son of the eldest and again all children become eligible for the family privilege. Among the other measures was obtaining a false passport or the passport of a deceased person (or by emigrating to another country).

Confronting such diversified and persistent opposition of the Jews to military service, the authorities resorted to the decisive measures that resulted in a Jewish Census conducted in 1874. A special circular demanded from the executors to record the age according to the Revizski Skazki and passports, metrical books and other documents with the birth and personal information. Regardless of the age recorded in the documents, they should record the age by appearance also, if they did not look the same. All men whose age was recorded by appearance should be entered in a special list.

To make sure the Jews give correct information, they had to sign a special “Responsibility Notice” that made them liable in the case of providing false information.

Three separate lists were compiled during the Census.
1. General List of the male Jews residing in a town or a section of the town;
2. Special List of the male Jews residing in a town or a section of the town, whose age was determined by their appearance;
3. A List of the vagrant male Jews without passports who resided in towns or sections of the town.

These Census documents provide the researcher significant genealogical information:
1. The name, patronymic and the last name of a man and the family members;
2. The number under which the family was recorded in the previous revision;
3. The age (either documented or by appearance, or both);
4. The information about the family members residing separately (who and where) with reference to what document was the source of this information.

The following cities are represented in the 1874 Census documents
Vitebsk, Gomel, Gorky, Mogilev, Mozyr, Polotsk and Slutsk.


Translation from Russian to English:
Valery Bazarov
Chief, HIAS Location and Family History Service


Sergey Rybchonok was born in 1966 in Belarus. In 1990, he graduated from the History Faculty of the Belarus State University in Minsk. Since that time and to the present (2006) he has worked at the Central State Historical Archive of Belarusin Minsk. Since 2000, Sergey has headed the Department of Information and Scientific Usage of the Documents.

Sergey Rybchonok is researching a large scope of Belarusian Genealogy of the pre-revolutionary (pre – 1917) period, Belarusian nobility in particular. He has published his findings in a number of periodicals and books. Sergey is an author of the methodology compilation “Sources of Belarusian Genealogy, XVI–XX Centuries.” He has participated in a number of national and international conferences. Sergey Rybchonok is a recipient of the Honor Award from the State Committee of Archives of the Republic of Belarus (1998).

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