Myths About Latvian Research

Fact: Just like the inverse above, this is also not necessarily true. The family surname was chosen by the patriarch – he chose the surname that he, his wife, his unmarried daughters, his adult sons and their families, would bear. If the family patriarch was deceased, the brothers could each choose a different surname for their families. Since this only happened in the nineteenth century, it is important to be aware of these potentially different surnames within a family, especially if you are interested in finding living distant cousins. To trace family groups through this time period of surname acquisition, family numbers in population registers and revision lists are invaluable. Since this number remained the same from year to year, it can help match up families in the times before and after surname acquisition.

Any myths that I’ve missed? Questions? Let me know and I’ll try to answer them!

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12 comments on this post.
  1. Brenda:

    Thanks for that, Antra. I am learning a lot from you!

  2. P. Szelewski:

    Hi Antra,
    Well done for all the work that you have done so far. Are you interested in receiving other people’s backgrounds? I have documentation and photos from my Dad’s time prior WW2 Smiltene, through to DP Camp in Germany and then transfer to DP Camp in England. I keep trying to find out more but not speaking Latvian, German or Russian and with the reluctance of Dad to share details of his traumatic past it’s a bit of a slog. I would really like to join the dots and perhaps visit his birth place at some time but would like to be sure that I’m not just doing the tourist run. Good luck with all your ventures.

  3. Antra:


    I’m not quite sure what you mean by “receiving”. Do you mean researching other people’s backgrounds, or compiling/translating the documents they have, or something else?

  4. P. Szelewski:

    Hi Antra,
    Certainly I would be interested in having some items translated for my own use, likewise, if they could further your own research I would be happy to share them with you via e-mail attachments. It is clear to me that you have a genuine passion and if I can add information to your pool that would ultimately benefit others that would be good too. It’s obvious to me that there are a lot of us trying to make out the past with little information. Could be that I have photos that include others. I am not trying to be pushy. I have followed your suggestion to look at the Raduraksi and think that I might have found Janis Jakobsons on the Smiltene list but will need to have a look closely with a dictionary to be sure. Any how keep up the good work Antra I will definitely be following your blogs. Best wishes, P

  5. Holly:

    Hi Antra,
    My last name is not in your database, nor is it particularly common. I’m a little stumped as to how to research it. My grandad was latvian and came to england in ww2 but he died a number of years ago. He left his first wife and brothers and extended family in latvia but we lost touch. We believe the last name could have been spelt differently and changed to match the pronounciation? I was planning on visiting latvia for the first time this february 2011 and was wondering if you had any tips for getting started.
    Thanks for any help,


  6. Antra:

    Hi Holly,

    What is your last name? You can email at admin at if you don’t want to share it in public here. I might be able to help you figure out what it might have been originally, and from there, we can figure out the best way for you to proceed with the research.

  7. Morrison birznieks:

    My last name is birznieks and it’s from Latvia for all I know
    is it from German Latvia or Russia ?

  8. Antra:

    Hi Morrison,

    “Birznieks” is Latvian, and would mean “someone from the grove”.

  9. morrison birznieks:

    well i have had some pepole say its latvian and sum just think its german for sum unkown reson anyway

  10. Victoria Gross Chase:

    Hi, My father was Latvian and both his parents came to the US in the early 1900′s. All are now passed away and yet I am sure I have Latvian relatives. I am going to Riga and Auce (where my grandmother lived as a child) to see what/who I can find. Please, any direction or help would be welcome. I have postcards written in Letish up to about 1933. I live near San Francisco, California and would love some translation and assistance with names and locations. Thank you in advance, Vicki

  11. Tony Skuja:

    Hi, my father was from Riga, during WW11 he escaped and changed his name. I belive it was either Embers/Rainer, will I have any hope of finding if I have any relatives? His father was Herman, and dad had a brother and I think two sisters, possibly in Germany. How can I progess? Best regards.

  12. What Are You Looking For? « Discovering Latvian Roots:

    [...] on the context of Latvian records, and then you’ll be ready to dive in. Also check out Myths about Latvian Research to dispel popular [...]

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