As previously mentioned, Austria controlled all armies in the Empire prior to 1867. Hungary did form a Honved during the revolt in 1848 but it was disbanded after the revolt was put down by Austria (with the help of Russia). During war time, Austria had as many as half a million men under arms. To maintain this force, it was necessary to conscript 80,000 to 85,000 men a year into the army. The length of service obligation and the age of eligibility changed several times during the 1800s.
At the beginning of the century, soldiers faced a lifetime obligation, which meant that once they finished active duty they could be recalled into the army at any time.4 By mid century, the obligation was ten years. In the infantry, recruits served one to three years of active duty. Engineers and the artillery served actively for three years and because it took longer to develop the horsemanship skills required for the cavalry, they served seven to eight years actively.
After completing the active duty phase, soldiers were put on furlough to their homes and called out annually for additional training. After a total of eight years in the service, men were then put into the reserves to complete their obligation.5 But even after the active part of their reserve obligation was completed, men were put into inactive reserves and could be called up in time of war.
Men were eligible to be drafted starting at the age of 20. If they failed the physical, they could be called back the following two years and retested. But after failing three times, they were declared unfit and dismissed. There were five military districts in Hungary and each regimental unit was assigned specific counties in these districts where they were allowed to recruit. However, these assignments changed over time, and consequently, it is necessary to know the “class” year to find a given individual.
This was usually twenty years after his birth but could be twenty one or twenty two years, if they were drafted late. Also note that young men could volunteer for the Army as early as age 17. Therefore, volunteers could have a class year below age twenty. The headquarters for the five military districts within Hungary were located in Bratislava (Pressberg), Košice (Kassa, Kaschau), Buda-Pest, Sopron and Oradea.
Determining which ancestors were in the Army
How does one know if they have an ancestor that served in the Austro-Hungarian Army? It may be as simple as having relatives knowing stories about a grandparent who was in the military, as was the case in my family. However, it can also come from actual documents, pictures or notations in church records. In addition, there are other clues that might suggest that an individual was in the army. The age at which a man got married will sometimes indicate military service.
Soldiers were not allowed to get married while on their first tour of duty. Therefore, if a man got married later than others in village, it may be because he had been in the service first. It is almost a given that if a man got married for the first time at the age of 27 or 28, he had been in the army.
Determining the Regimental Unit
As most of us have learned, the key to finding ancestral church documents is to identify the family home village or town. Similarly, the key to finding military records is to determine in which regiment the soldier served. In Alphons Wrede’s book: Geschichte der k. und k. Wehrmacht8 (History of the AustroHungarian Armed Forces) volume 1, there are charts for each region of the Empire called the Uebersicht der Werb- (Ergänzungs-)Bezirks-Eintheilung von 1781 bis 1889. These charts show in which counties each infantry regiment recruited during any period of time. This book is available from the FHL on film 1187917 item
2. Note that I have created a table extracted from Wrede’s book showing which regiments were recruiting in the Kingdom of Hungary by county listings over various periods of time. This table can be found at the end of this article in Appendix A. Now, by knowing your ancestor’s home county and his “class” year, you can determine the infantry regiment in which he may have served by using this table.
There are also a number of military maps that show the home depot of the various regimental units in the Empire. But these maps are only useful to indicate which regiments were recruiting in a general area and not specific enough to determine which regiment was recruiting in an individual county. Even when the regimental home depot remained constant, the counties nearby where they recruited often changed. In addition, these maps are only good for the year in which they were created. The Garnison-Karte von Österreich 1898,9 is an example of one of these military maps.
Consequently, for reasons given above, I believe the best method of finding your ancestor’s infantry regiment is to use the information extracted from Wrede’s book. Note that only infantry regiments are covered in the tables . Other kinds of units, such as the cavalry, artillery and engineers will be discussed later. However, most soldiers were in the infantry, especially those from the peasant classes. In addition, many soldiers started in the infantry before being transferred to other types of units. So, it is a good place to start your search.