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Tips, Tricks and Websites

[This post is written for the 24th edition of the Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy, hosted by Al's Polish-American Genealogy Research.]

The topic for this Carnival is Tips, Tricks and Websites.

I’ve already outlined the websites useful for Latvian research, but I’ll list them here again, with some other potentially useful websites:

  • LVVA’s “Raduraksti” – the most useful Latvian genealogical website, with images of parish registers from all over Latvia for a variety of religions, in addition to the Latvian districts of the 1895 All-Russia Census.

  • ROOTS=SAKNES – provides a lot of historical context and background to Latvian research.
  • Ciltskoks – a blog (in Latvian only) on Latvian genealogy research.
  • Ciltskoks.lv – the main website that goes along with the blog above. It bills itself as an Internet portal that has a focus on genealogy, but I have only started using it, and have not seen much in the way of genealogical discussion.
  • 1188.lv – Telephone directory for modern-day Latvia (“personu katalogs” for personal directory, default is business), which may help locate living relatives. Registration is required to view phone numbers, but names and regions are visible without registration.

Now on to the tips and tricks!

  • Invest in dictionaries translating to German, Russian and Latvian. Most older Latvian documents are in German or Russian, while post-1918 documents will be in Latvian.

  • Familiarize yourself with Russian handwriting – it looks very different from typed Russian. Additionally, German-language records may be in Kurrent or Sütterlin handwriting, which can be quite different from standard Latin handwriting.
  • Russian records will sometimes have the name recorded in German as well. Comparing the Russian spelling of the name with the German spelling of the name can help determine its Latvian spelling. For example, my surname, Celmiņa, will often be spelled “Zelmiņ” in German, but in Russian – “Целминь”. The “Ц” indicates that it would be spelled with a “C” in Latvian.
  • Be prepared to spend a lot of time on your research. Unlike many basic US, Canadian or British records, Latvian records are not indexed, and may take many hours of scrolling through microfilms or clicking through Raduraksti images, deciphering handwriting, to find just one piece of information.
  • Do not assume that if someone has the same surname, that they are a relative. Latvian surnames were only granted in the 19th century, and this process took many different forms – they may have been chosen by the now-bearers of the name, they could have been assigned by a local official, they could have been a former nickname/occupation/manor name/farm name/location-based name. All of this can lead to the same surname being used by many unrelated groups.
  • Find out as much information as you can from living relatives – due to lack of indexes, it is imperative to know what parish relatives were from. For common surnames, it is further necessary to know as much as possible about a person – middle names, occupations, birthdates, etc. since there may be several people with that name in the parish.
  • Utilize different record sources – the availability of parish registers on “Raduraksti” differs from the availability of parish registers through the LDS Family History Library. If the time period/parish you’re looking for isn’t available at one, consult the other.

Thanks for reading my first Blog Carnival entry! If you want any help deciphering handwriting, or in converting surnames between languages, just let me know and I can try to help you!

5 comments to Tips, Tricks and Websites

  • Inta

    I’ve been researching my family roots for about 2 years now. On my father’s side I can not find the entries for those born in 1834, using Raduraksti. Since that was the time that the serfs were freed and people got to choose their last name, I may never be able to trace it back any further. Do you know who has the lists of the names when people picked them?

  • Inta

    About LDS, must you go to Utah to search their records? And what do they exactly have that is Latvian?

  • Antra

    For the LDS Family History Library, you don’t need to go to Utah if there is a LDS Family History Center close to where you live (there’s a directory of those on the FamilySearch website). If you go in to one of those centers with the number of the microfilm you want, and they’ll order them in (for a small fee), and then you can view them there.

    As for Latvian records, they have many of the church registers, and the selection can sometimes vary from what Raduraksti has. The FHL Catalog should tell you what they have. They also have some old reivison lists, but I haven’t viewed those, so I’m not sure of the completeness.

    The revision lists would be your best bet in finding out who acquired what surname. They go back (in some areas) to the late 18th century. The Ciltskoks blog has an entry on this – I’ll translate the section for readers who don’t speak Latvian: “The development of surnames can be found beginning with the revision lists of 1826 (Vidzeme) and 1834 (Kurzeme/Zemgale). Surname lists usually appear at the beginning of the revision list books, where it shows the surname, names of people with the surname, and the family number, by which they can be found in the previous revision list (1816), when peasants (serfs?) did not have surnames.”

    Hope that helps!

  • Inta

    thanks for the info! I think serf was the right term. Serfs were peasants that owed a debt to the landowner and couldn’t leave without his permission. There were peasants that owned land and I think these had a last name.

  • I have an experience of this problem for more than five years. Same name and surname makes terrible situation. It is absolutely correct that due to lack of indexes this problem reaches their climax. We need to come out from this situation. I appraise your bold attempt and hope some problem will be sorted out.

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