In 1874, universal conscription was introduced in the Russian Empire. Prior to this, recruits were either conscripted forcibly or chosen through drawing lots. The defeat in the Crimean War (1853-1856) prompted the realization that significant reforms were necessary for the imperial military
It was decided that the number of those serving in the army during peacetime should be reduced, but it was important to maintain a large number of reservists. Therefore, conscription would now apply to all men, aged 21 to 40.
The service would last for 6 years, followed by 9 years in the reserves. After that, the discharged individuals would be enrolled in the national guard. The naval service would last for 7 years and 3 years in the reserves.
Fortunately for some of our ancestors, the law had various exceptions or 'privileges':
Only sons were not conscripted.
Those responsible for dependents were not conscripted if there were underage siblings or sisters in the family.
Those with an older brother in service or discharged were not conscripted.
Exemptions from service applied to doctors, teachers, and clergy.
Finally, conscripts were drawn by lot, and luck played a role here as well.
All others, including the privileged, were enrolled in the state militia if not conscripted.
The new law also required the compilation of list of conscripts. If these lists can be found, they are a useful tool for researchers.
They not only contain information about potential conscripts but also details about their families – parents, siblings. Birth dates or ages of relatives are indicated. Information about religion, literacy, and occupation is also included.
Young men were entered on the list when they reached the age of 21. If you are looking for a specific person, you should search the lists compiled 21 years after their birth.
Conscription lists are sometimes found in the fonds of parish boards, sometimes in the fonds of county conscription commissions.
Currently, the Familysearch.org website provides access to Riga District conscription lists (Fond 24). These documents are in various languages – Russian, German, and even Latvian.
Link to the scanned documents should be searched in Ciltskoki.lv site under Dokumenti> Dokumenti no Familysearch> Karadienestā iesaucamo saraksti (Documents > Documents from Familysearch > Conscription lists)
Below is an example from the conscription list of 1882 in Latvian (Riga District, Mengele Parish conscription lists, File No. 24-2-511, Latvian National Archives, State Historical Archives of Latvia)
In the list, it is mentioned that Jānis Liepiņš, the son of Jānis, was born on March 22, 1861. It is recorded that his father is 54 years old, and Jānis has 4 brothers.
Among them, 26-year-old Dāvis "through the draw from 1877 is currently in active military service."
Brother Mārtiņš is 24 years old and "through the draw from 1879 has been discharged from the national guard."
The youngest brothers are Kārlis (17 years old) and Reinis (6 years old).
We also learn that Jānis Liepiņš is unmarried, literate, and works as a farmer.
On the right side of the list, it is noted that he drew lot number 2 and was entered as number 4 on the conscription list.
And how was it for your ancestors - where they lucky in lots?