Before I went to the Latvian State Historical Archives for the first time, I didn’t pay much attention to farm names. Sure, I knew the name of the farm where one of my grandfathers grew up, but I didn’t attach a significance to it beyond an address.
My work in the archives showed me just how important these names are, and they are now what I look at first when looking at an old record.
So what changed? What did I learn?
Knowing farm names makes looking at a census easier and faster. For rural parishes, census records for 1935 and 1941 are usually arranged alphabetically by farm name. It is a great time saver if you know the name of your ancestor’s farm.
Farm names help distinguish individuals with the same name. I have encountered this in my research in Limbaži parish. I was looking through birth records to locate all of my great-grandmother’s siblings when I discovered there were at least four separate men with her father’s name – Ansis Eglītis. Since I knew the name of the farm my great-grandmother was born on, I could identify who her siblings were. I was also helped by the fact that I knew her mother’s full name – Līze Graumane – and that this was also listed. If only the mother’s first name was listed – as is common, particularly in older records – I would have been in trouble, since there were two Ansis Eglītis’ who were married to women named Līze. But because I knew the farm name, I had an extra confirmation that I had the right person.
Farm names can be connected to surnames. This can, sometimes, be a chicken-or-egg situation, but in most cases, farm names came first. Farm names are often based on physical characteristics of the land, and are therefore duplicated many times over throughout Latvia (and these farm names are, consequently, the roots of the most common surnames). In Vijciems parish, where my Celmiņš ancestors are from, there are three farms in a 20km radius called “Celmiņi”. As far as I’ve traced my ancestors, they lived on a farm called “Stampvēveri”. This farm is almost in the centre of the triangle formed by the three Celmiņi farms. I have a suspicion that my ancestors were originally from one of the Celmiņi farms, and then moved to Stampvēveri. Why are there so many farms called “Celmiņi” in Vijciems parish? The area is known for forestry, so it does not seem odd to me that there would be numerous farms called by the diminutive of “tree stumps”.
Knowing a farm name provides insight into another type of history – house history. I have not utilized rural land books yet, but they do exist. I have utilized their urban equivalents, that list occupants and their vital information. I’m given to understand that rural land books provide more information such as farm equipment, animals owned, etc. Some of this information is also available on the 1935 census forms. Depending on its size, there may also be other families living on the farm. They will also appear on the census forms. Census forms will also indicate who is the owner of the property.
Farm names identify concrete places within parishes, which can be located on maps and visited. If you are planning a research or family history trip to Latvia, having concrete locations connected to your family history to visit will make your visit more meaningful. I have only visited one of my ancestral farms thus far (it is owned by my half-uncle), but there are several more I have yet to visit. Contact the current owners ahead of time so that you can obtain permission ot explore the property. You might even happen upon a distant relative by doing so! If you explain your reasons for wanting to visit, most people will be amenable and helpful.
Farm Name Features
- Farm names almost always end in “i” – this is a plural noun ending.
- If there are farms that were established by family members, the names could indicate connections, for example: “Jauncelmiņi” and “Veccelmiņi” (New Celmiņi and Old Celmiņi, respectively). This is not a guarantee of blood relation, however, since farms can change hands, and several families can live on one farm.
- “Leja” means “valley” and “kalns” means “hill” – these are frequently added to the beginnings of farm names as well. It is possible that these come from related properties, or two properties that used to be one, and so on.
Are there any farm names you are particularly curious about? Trying to place a farm on a map? Let me know and I can try to help!