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WW1 Diary – September 16, 1917

Forty-sixth installment from the diary of my great-grandfather’s sister Alise, written during the First World War. When the diary starts, she is living just a few miles from the front lines of the Eastern Front, and is then forced to flee with her husband and two young daughters to her family’s house near Limbaži as the war moves even closer. Her third child, a son, was born there in February 1916. The family has now relocated to a home near Valmiera, and the Russian Revolution is in full swing. For more background, see here, and click on the tag “diary entries” to see all of the entries that I have posted.

New! If there is mention of a recognizable historical figure and event, I will provide a Wikipedia link so that you can read more about the events that Alise is describing.

September 16, 1917

The time has come, that nothing surprises me anymore. Yesterday, refugees from Lēdurga arrived at our home. Mrs Pudis and her children and their rescued belongings. We must accept them and take care of them until we can find a place for them. It is impossible to count the crimes and experiences and the whole story of what they have experienced. Now anyone who has a good house and property isn’t safe, the possibility of being called “bourgeois” and being robbed or burned down is great. Bands of thieves and deserters are rampaging across Vidzeme, and there is no protection to speak of anymore. Now we are being destroyed by our own country. Only God knows, how all of this will end. Even our familiar, dear churches are being destroyed, altarpieces turned into toilets.

Not looking at all of the madness, we are still doing very well, even if the current situation is writing harsh and gloomy words on the page of our country’s history, still personally we are not suffering.

WW1 Diary - September 6, 1917

Forty-fifth installment from the diary of my great-grandfather’s sister Alise, written during the First World War. When the diary starts, she is living just a few miles from the front lines of the Eastern Front, and is then forced to flee with her husband and two young daughters to her family’s house near Limbaži as the war moves even closer. Her third child, a son, was born there in February 1916. The family has now relocated to a home near Valmiera, and the Russian Revolution is in full swing. For more background, see here, and click on the tag “diary entries” to see all of the entries that I have posted.

New! If there is mention of a recognizable historical figure and event, I will provide a Wikipedia link so that you can read more about the events that Alise is describing.

September 6, 1917

The Provisional Government has proclaimed the Russian Republic. Rationing has grown, and soldiers are participating in destruction and theft. Our old Lēdurga is completely destroyed, residents driven out, all of our old acquaintances have fled to the forest and are living there. Mr Šmits came to us and told us about his crazy experiences, which would require a lot of time to write down. So many terrible stories are coming from all directions. How long will we remain saved? Each day brings with it its own horrors. Still, the soul quietly hopes for what God will decide, who has Him in his heart will survive, when life is hard, God sends help. Destruction cannot be greater than the Saviour…

WW1 Diary - September 4, 1917

Forty-fourth installment from the diary of my great-grandfather’s sister Alise, written during the First World War. When the diary starts, she is living just a few miles from the front lines of the Eastern Front, and is then forced to flee with her husband and two young daughters to her family’s house near Limbaži as the war moves even closer. Her third child, a son, was born there in February 1916. The family has now relocated to a home near Valmiera, and the Russian Revolution is in full swing. For more background, see here, and click on the tag “diary entries” to see all of the entries that I have posted.

New! If there is mention of a recognizable historical figure and event, I will provide a Wikipedia link so that you can read more about the events that Alise is describing.

September 4, 1917

Kerensky and his followers have ordered the destruction of all of the railway splits in the Petrograd area. Kornilov and his accomplices have been arrested. For now, civil war has been prevented, the revolutionary government remains.

WW1 Diary - September 2, 1917

Forty-third installment from the diary of my great-grandfather’s sister Alise, written during the First World War. When the diary starts, she is living just a few miles from the front lines of the Eastern Front, and is then forced to flee with her husband and two young daughters to her family’s house near Limbaži as the war moves even closer. Her third child, a son, was born there in February 1916. The family has now relocated to a home near Valmiera, and the Russian Revolution is in full swing. For more background, see here, and click on the tag “diary entries” to see all of the entries that I have posted.

New! If there is mention of a recognizable historical figure and event, I will provide a Wikipedia link so that you can read more about the events that Alise is describing.

September 2, 1917

The news has come, that a civil war is brewing. The head of the army, General Kornilov, along with many battalions of soldiers, has risen up against the Provisional Government, and is heading for Petrograd with 70 echelons to bring the government down.

52 Ancestors #35: Ansis Eglītis

Time for Week 35 of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge! As noted in my first post of this challenge, I am starting with my most ancient known ancestors.

This week’s ancestor is Ansis Eglītis, born April 13, 1850, died prior to the mid-1920s. He is my great-great-grandfather, my maternal grandfather’s maternal grandfather.

As mentioned in his father’s post, Ansis Eglītis (junior) was the son of Ansis Eglītis (senior) and Anna (last name unknown). His birth record has not been found, since the Limbaži records are missing for that year, thus this date comes from a revision list supplement. I would assume he was born on Langači farm on Limbaži estate, since his family lived there earlier, and he appears on Langači farm as an infant in the 1850 revision list.

Ansis Eglītis married Līze Graumane sometime between 1873 and 1876, however, these marriage records are also missing from the Limbaži church records. The next time we meet Ansis is when he is moving to Lāde estate in 1878 with his wife and first son Vilhelms Leonards (b. 1876). They moved to Lejas Samši, the farm that Līze had grown up on, and that remains in my family to this day.

Ansis and Līze had nine children, according to a family story told to me by my great-aunt. The records provide me with the following: the aforementioned Vilhelms Leonards, Johanna Malvīne (1878), Hugo Samuels (1882), Emma Marija (1884), a stillborn daughter (1886), Kārlis Eižens (1887), Jānis Alfreds (1890), my great-grandmother, Mērija Alide (1892) and Ella Elizabete (1897). I’m not sure if the stillborn daughter was included in that count of nine, or if there is yet another child I have not found yet. I’m pretty certain several of the children died in infancy, though the only one I have confirmed thus far is Hugo Samuels.

Ansis died prior to the mid-1920s, when and how I am not yet certain. I only know that my great-aunt has no recollection of him, but she does remember her grandmother Līze. So I would say that he probably died before my great aunt was born, or when she was just a baby. Ansis is buried in the family plot in Limbaži cemetery, however the gravestone also does not provide any information – it just says “Eglītis family”. His wife Līze, his son Vilhelms Leonards and Līze’s parents Marcis and Trīne Graumaņi, are also buried there.

Where do we go next week? Back to the other family of repeating names!

WW1 Diary – August 31, 1917

Forty-second installment from the diary of my great-grandfather’s sister Alise, written during the First World War. When the diary starts, she is living just a few miles from the front lines of the Eastern Front, and is then forced to flee with her husband and two young daughters to her family’s house near Limbaži as the war moves even closer. Her third child, a son, was born there in February 1916. The family has now relocated to a home near Valmiera, and the Russian Revolution is in full swing. For more background, see here, and click on the tag “diary entries” to see all of the entries that I have posted.

August 31, 1917

It’s fall. Fall in the hills, valleys, fall also dwells in the heart. I’m sad that I did not bring my diary when we fled to the seminary, there are all sorts of crazy events that I have not been able to describe. Now we returned home with our belongings, and the war is right at our doorstep. Many are fleeing, to wherever each person thinks it might be safe. The announcements are varied – don’t flee, for if you flee into the unknown, you will die of starvation. Rīga has fallen. After a year of battles across the Daugava, Rīga has fallen and the Germans are already in Sigulda and at the Līgatne river. We are visited by “zeppelins”, who drop bombs, which create panic among the residents, and terrible fear. It is a new era knocking on Latvia’s door, with cannons and zeppelins’ bombs. Crazy events are expected, so big and terrible that the heart races. Soon Latvia’s fate will be decided…

Vidzeme’s roads are again full with processions of refugees, full of worry and long faces. They’ve stayed over even at our house. They are trouble for peaceful residents, for they destroy and take what they can. When asking a refugee, why they fled, they respond – one can’t live in a pile of ruins. And so they burn, steal, destroy, at will. Even our old Lēdurga has been destroyed, robbed, the residents fleeing into forest homes. Dagiņa’s godmother was robbed of all of her money, her home emptied. You cannot even enter Lēdurga without permission anymore. And so it is in all of the regions closest to the front, the same fate. It is not possible to describe all of the horrible events, I’d fill all of these white pages.

Epidemics are rife, and Death is cutting a wide swath through Valmiera and the area, taking people in huge numbers. Most deaths are from dysentry, young people. Epidemics grew from famine. There is a shortage of food. You cannot buy bread anywhere, and forget about anything else. A pound of butter costs 475 kopecks, a quart of milk 40 kopecks, and so on. Thank God that we still have enough, and that huge thefts have not occured. Still, the two months of strikes were difficult, when we were tormented and we weren’t allowed to take anything that belonged to us. We had to steal our own property and buy it. I was not even allowed to pick a leaf of the parsley I planted myself in the garden without shouts from the farmhands to not go in their garden, this has made their backs soft.

They were crazy times. Worker-soldier committees and councils, meetings and rallies, sedition and swearing, I’m surprised that we are still alive. Madness! Now all of the organizations have fallen apart, a line has been drawn through all of their achievements, and good!!! Most of them have been sent to the front, all of the world-changers and destroyers.

52 Ancestors #34: Jānis Šīrs

Time for Week 5 of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge! As noted in my first post of this challenge, I am starting with my most ancient known ancestors.

This week’s ancestor is Jānis Šīrs, born October 20, 1819 and died after 1868. He is my great-great-great-grandfather, by way of my paternal grandmother’s maternal grandfather, Jēkabs Šīrs.

Jānis Šīrs was born on Staiceles farm on Pučurga estate, near the west coast of Lake Burtnieki in northern Latvia. His parents were Marcis and Anna. Jānis married Kristīne Kvante on November 21, 1851 at the Matīši Lutheran Church.

Kristīne’s entry describes their migration pattern – from Pučurga to Stāberģi in 1858, to Milite in 1863, to Vilzēni in 1868. It is here that their path appears to stop, though there is a notation next to the name of their son Jēkabs (my great-great-grandfather) that he moved to Limbaži and became a part of the petty bourgeois at some point (I’m assuming a great deal later, since the bulk of the revision list registers are in German, but the notation is in Russian, and I would assume that a five year old did not amass the wealth necessary to achieve that status on his own). Whether there is any truth to this, I don’t know, because I have not found him in Limbaži records and the next news I have of him is the baptism of his daughter Lilija in 1899 in Daugavgrīva, near Rīga.

The different revision lists provide a listing of children of Jānis and Kristīne – Jānis (c. 1852), Antons (c. 1854), Augusts (c. 1856) are listed in the 1857 revision list and their 1858 move to Stāberģi. The 1863 move to Milite lists four sons – Jānis and Antons again, then Pēteris and Jēkabs (1862). The 1868 move to Vilzēni loses Antons, but adds Marcis as the youngest son. So it seems that Jānis and Kristīne had six sons all together, but two (Antons and Augusts) died in childhood. There is never a mention of any daughters, but starting from the move to Milite, there appears to be a girl called Marija Brants traveling with the family – eight years older than their oldest son, but maybe she worked with the family as an extra caregiver? That’s what I would guess, anyways. She moved with them from Stāberģi to Milite, and again from Milite to Vilzēni.

Since I have no sign of them moving anywhere after Vilzēni, it is probable that Jānis died in Vilzēni, but when, I cannot say. Perhaps if I could finally find a marriage record belonging to his son Jēkabs (to the mysterious Kristīne Kukure), that might help narrow down when he died. But since I haven’t had any luck with Jēkabs’ marriage record yet (aggravated by the fact that 31 years of his life – from 1868 to 1899 – are unaccounted for, and Kristīne Kukure’s life prior to her daughter’s birth is also a mystery), perhaps marriage records for his brothers might help, since they may have stayed in the Matīši area. It is an option to look into.

Next week we return to one of my family’s repeating names – no, we’re not going back to a Pēteris Celmiņš again yet (though there is still another one to come), but to the other repeating name! Do you remember which one that is?

Pay Close Attention to Document Numbers

Many genealogical documents contain not only information about your ancestor, but clues on how to find out even more. But do you know how to read those clues?

Documents and records lead to more documents and records. This is a given. However, the path a genealogist needs to take to get from one to the other can be incredibly difficult and time-consuming – but sometimes, those little notes, numbers and scribbles can provide more information than you may have expected, and cut that time in half – or even better than that, eliminate that difficulty all together.

In Latvian genealogy, the best document that can provide straightforward clues to other documents is the internal passport – that is, the identity document everyone over a given age had to carry with them in Latvia. Just like passports today, people needed to provide supporting documentation to be issued a passport. Sometimes this would be a previous passport, but often – particularly for the passports from the early 1920s – this document (or documents) would be something else, anything else that a person could present to confirm who they were. And the official wouldn’t just write down “birth record”, “marriage record” or “refugee document” – they would include the number of that document, and using that number, you can track down that record as well.

This number is especially important when it comes to refugee documents. Refugee documents are not organized in a way that is simple to search. They are organized as they were issued – by date, record number and location. So if you have that record number in a passport, the procedure is greatly simplified for you. Yes, after the refugee documents were finished, alphabets were created, but there are dozens of these alphabets, often with overlapping years, and plenty of spelling variations for people’s names, so you can imagine how much more complex the procedure gets without the record number. With the record number, you can go directly to the book that contains it, and easily find the person you are looking for. If for some reason you don’t find the person you expect at the record number, consider two possible alternative scenarios – one, you are looking at the wrong location, or two, there was a small mistake in the document number. For the first, it is easily solved – just look at the corresponding record number for the other locations. The second is harder, but the passport will also usually mention the date the refugee document was issued, in which case you can look by that instead.

Internal passports also provide an important link to the housing registers – these documents recorded every address change a person had, and sometimes these could be quite frequent. While housing registers often contain much the same information as a passport, they can also provide information on people who may not have crossed your radar before – relatives who lived in the same apartment, and so on. And not everyone in a family has a surviving passport in the archives, and thus these housing registers will provide information on them. Of course, not all housing registers survive, but a great deal of them do (for the city of Rīga at least, survival rates are lower outside of Rīga).

If someone got married, had children, or died, these events as well as their corresponding record numbers would also be recorded in the passports. So all in all, an excellent resource!

Other documents that can contain useful notations and document numbers are the Rīga tax lists for the late 19th century. If a person was a relatively new arrival to Rīga, the record could mention where they were from, as well as the record number for the document granting them permission to live in Rīga. These documents provide the date, ages of the people arriving in Rīga, as well as the social estate into which they were sorted. The tax lists are also sorted by social estate, so this would not be new information, but if for some reason you know the date your ancestor settled in Riga, but not their social estate, then looking at these records by date would be useful to find out the social estate, which would then help you find them in the tax lists.

The last record type I want to mention where watching out for extra notations is important are the revision lists. The revision lists frequently have almost-illegible scribbles that will reference if the person has recently arrived on the estate (or, in the case of cities, changed social estate), and if so, when and from where. Then you can use the incoming/outgoing registers to find out further information (including hopefully a more legible version of the place name). I talk more about these registers here. These extra notations will also sometimes reference if someone was recruited into the army.

Do you have any tips for other Latvian records that then lead to other records that I’ve forgotten to mention? Share in comments!

52 Ancestors #33: Jānis Graumanis

Time for Week 33 of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge! As noted in my first post of this challenge, I am starting with my most ancient known ancestors.

This week’s ancestor is Jānis Graumanis, born c. 1789 and died 1851. He is my great-great-great-great-grandfather by way of my maternal grandfather’s maternal grandmother Līze Graumane.

Jānis Graumanis was presumably born c. 1791 on Dikļi estate, quite probably on Morēni farm like his brother Tenis. He was the son of Kārlis Graumanis. His mother is unknown, since a wife of Kārlis does not appear in the revision lists until 1834, when Jānis was already grown and married with children of his own. Unfortunately, due to the peculiarities of the parish register in Dikļi, for some reason Jānis does not appear, though his father and brother do.

Jānis married a woman named Grieta who was 10 years his junior sometime between 1811 and 1820. They had three sons, Pēteris (c. 1820), Marcis (1823, my great-great-great-grandfather) and Juris (c. 1828), and one daughter, Līze (c. 1835). They left Dikļi in 1842, moving to Pociems estate, and then they moved onwards to Sigulda estate in 1849, where they were enumerated on the 1850 revision list.

This 1850 revision list presents us with a possibility as to where Jānis was when he was not included in the parish register – in 1850, Jānis and his family lived at the school on Sigulda estate, and he is listed as the “schoolmaster”. Perhaps when that parish register was created, Jānis was away studying somewhere? I’m not certain what kind of education was required to become a schoolmaster at a parish school at the time, but it is something to consider.

The 1858 Sigulda revision list tells us that Jānis died in 1851, however these records are missing for Sigulda for that time period, so I cannot confirm a date. His widow Grieta was still living there at the time, and his eldest son Pēteris may have taken over the position of schoolmaster, but he no longer lived at the school (I think that is what the scribbled notation is telling me). Marcis and his family had departed for Stalbe estate in 1851, though I do not know if it was before or after Jānis’ death.

Jānis has got to be one of my earliest ancestors that was something besides a farmer. My other ancestors only started diversifying into other occupations in the latter half of the 19th century. I should read more about education in the 19th century – could provide some important tidbits on what Jānis’ life would have been like!

The Dreaded Corner House of Rīga

During the Soviet era, there were few buildings so feared and dreaded in Latvia as the “Corner House” – an otherwise nondescript building on the corner of Brīvības and Stabu streets (though of course Brīvības street – meaning Freedom Street – was called Lenin Street during the Soviet era, couldn’t have any references to freedom). This building was the headquarters of the local KGB, and NKVD before them. Many of those who entered for questioning never left through the same doors that they entered through – either they stayed in the building until they were executed, or they left in a prison truck to be taken further afield to prison or the gulag.

The building was then taken over by the Latvian police force after independence was re-established, but they abandoned it in 2008. It stood empty for a number of years, until this year – as part of the Rīga 2014 European Capital of Culture – the Corner House is open once again, but not as a prison or place of terror, but a place of exhibitions that commemorate the terrors that took place here and the wartime experiences of the Latvian people.

CornerHouseEntrance

At the entrance to the Corner House. Photo taken by me, August 2014.

It is possible to go on guided tours of the “Cheka basements”, where the prison cells were located, and see where and how prisoners actually lived. You get to see an interrogation chamber, and learn why windows on the fourth and fifth floors had bars on them.

On the first floor, there is a free-of-charge exhibition by the Occupation Museum of Latvia that goes through the history of the Soviet occupation and some of the events in the Corner House itself. The fourth and sixth floors of the building require payment, and have a collection of exhibitions from many different museums and organizations, including the Latvians Abroad – Museum and Research Centre that I work with.

The Latvians Abroad – Museum and Research Centre’s exhibition is called “A Latvian’s Suitcase” – and exhibits items that people brought with them when they were leaving Latvia for new lives someplace else (most are from the Second World War era). The main room of the exhibition is designed to look like a luggage storage room, with the tags describing the objects looking like luggage tags.

LaPaRoom

“A Latvian’s Suitcase” exhibit. Photo taken by me, August 2014.

There are the items that you would expect – clothing, suitcases, documents – but also items that might seem overly sentimental or bulky, not items that you would think to pack if you were fleeing for your life – but people brought with them anyways, as they were a testament to what could not and should not be forgotten. Folk costumes were one of the major items – impractical as daywear, but a vital part of maintaining the Latvian identity abroad.

People bringing bread along would not sound too unusual – after all, you need something to eat while you are on this long journey. But what is surprising is the number of people who kept the crusts from this bread – and then used it as a starter for making bread in their new homes. One of the rooms of our exhibition mentions one family that still bakes bread from that same starter now, 70 years later, but from the stories I’ve heard, I know that a number of other families do the same. Totally amazing!

The exhibition at the Corner House is open until October 19th. If you are in Rīga during this time, I highly recommend you visit.

A question we ask of visitors to the exhibition – and they write their answers on a card we give them and put it up on the wall – is “if you had only minutes to pack before leaving your home, probably forever, what would you bring with you?” So now, here on this Internet wall, I ask the same question. What would you bring with you?