Re: Escaping conscription in czarist Russia #general

Judith Singer

For those who do not want to read an entire book on the subject but
would like to gain more accurate information about conscription of
Jews into the Tsarist army, I recommend the article "Military Service
in Russia" in The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. It can
be found at

This will help dispel some of the notions Emily Garber appropriately
describes as "overblown". It was not the case that all Jewish males
were required to serve. According to the YIVO article, when conscription
was instituted in 1827, the usual annual quota was about four conscripts
for every 1,000 thousand Jews.

Judith Singer

From: Emily Garber <emilyhgarber@...>
Joseph Forsyth <joeforsyth@...> wrote:
Between 1827 and 1856 all Jewish boys except the first born were
conscripted into the army for 31 years.
I am researching a tale of a man who gave each of his 5 sons a different
name and, presumably, bribed the local conscription officer to brief
officials about these "only sons". The names I know are Gurstein,
Poshtar, Dudick and Boslik - the 5th remains a mystery..
If anyone has information about this practice or about these names,
please let me know. The Gurstein line is the one I am researching but
the others are also of interest. This family probably lived in Volhynia
Province, perhaps in Bilohirya or Belozerka.
I have been researching a similar story in my family: the four
brother's names were Utchenik, Garber, Reznik and (I was told) Lehman
(but it was likely Lederman). I began my research with something
completely different in mind - finding the relationship between my
family and a woman named on a manifest.

My research (which may be followed through 12 posts, thus far, in a
series on my blog) led me back to this seeming family bubba meintza. I
am still not ready to say it's true, but via DNA testing and
exhaustive traditional genealogical research I have successfully
linked my Garber males to Lederman males who share the exact same
Y-DNA at the 37 marker level of testing.

Where I may diverge >from the family story is causation. While I can
prove that my great grandfather Avraham Abba Garber was the brother of
Levi Yitzchak Lederman, I am not prepared to say this was due to
avoidance of conscription. In the nineteenth century Russian Empire
there were places where Jews likely did not adopt surnames until well
into mid-century. It may have had little to do with avoidance of

Certainly, popular information among Jewish genealogists regarding the
length of Russian military service and the Jewish experience in the
service is overblown. It does not take into consideration the fact
that rules of conscription were not monolithic. The role of the kahal
and the character and length of service changed through time in the
Russian Empire. I suggest you read Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern's book
"Jews in the Russian Army, 1827-1917." He has completed extensive
research in formerly closed archival records and has been able to
refute some notions about Jews in the military.

I am actually quite satisfied that I did not pursue this line of
research at the outset in order to prove the tale. That type of
research would likely not be based on solid genealogical methods. I
firmly believe that these stories should only be pursued when they are
ripe. By that I mean, when research into other questions lead you
inexorably back to the story.

For those interested in my series on this research, the first post was:
The most recent post is:

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