Language can be one of the biggest obstacles to tracing Latvian genealogy. However, it is not an insurmountable one. Most records follow specific patterns, and once you know what to look for in the patterns, you can easily find what you are looking for.
Most Latvian religious records are not in Latvian. They are usually in German or Russian. I have seen some old church records in Latvian, but these are generally quite rare. Most religous records after 1891 will be in Russian, since it was at that time the czar handed down a decree that all vital records should be recorded in Russian. Not all congregations followed this, however, and some records remain in German, which was the most common language in the records prior to this time. However, some denominations already kept records in Russian before 1891, namely Orthodox and Old Believer congregations. Jewish records are often kept in two languages, one being Yiddish and the other German or Russian, depending on time period and location.
The formats for records vary widely, therefore it is important to be able to recognize the German or Russian words for the types of entries you are looking for. Below is a list of keywords, in English, Latvian, German and Russian of words commonly appearing in records (brackets show words as they appear in the records in old Russian orthography). Keep in mind that the endings may change, since Latvian, German and Russian all have a noun case system.
- Births – Dzimušie – Geborene – Рождений (Рожденныхъ)
- Baptisms – Kristītie – Getaufte – Крещений (Крещенныхъ)
- Marriages – Laulātie – Getraute – Браки (Бракъ)
- Deaths – Mirušie – Verstorbene – Умершие (Умершіе)
- Given name/Surname – Vārds/Uzvārds – Name/Familienname – Имя/Фамилия (Имя/Фамилия)
- Child – Bērns – Kind – Ребёнок (Ребёнок)
- Father/Mother – Tēvs/Māte – Vater/Mutter – Отец/Мать (Отец/Мать)
- Godparents – Krustvecāki – Taufpaten – Крёстнии (Восприёмники)
- Day – Diena – Tag – День (День)
- Month – Mēness – Monat – Месяц (Мѣсацъ)
- Year – Gads – Jahr – Год (Годъ)
If there are any other words you’d like to know, just ask!