[This post was written for the 27th edition of the Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy, hosted by Al’s Polish-American Genealogy Research.]
For this edition of the Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy, I will be talking about the town of Krustpils, where both of my grandmothers lived for a time. My maternal grandmother was born there, and lived there throughout her childhood, while my paternal grandmother, Zenta Lūkina, lived there between 1925 and 1934, while her father Augusts was the local justice of the peace.
Krustpils is found on the north shore of the Daugava, at a midway point between Rīga and Daugavpils. The name “Krustpils” translates to “Cross Castle”. It is first mentioned in 1237 as being a place where the Bishop of Rīga built a castle. The name came from the cross formation of the castle.
In the modern day, Krustpils no longer exists as an independent entity – it was amalgamated with Jēkabpils, the larger town on the south shore of the Daugava in 1962. What I find intriguing about Krustpils in this regard is that even though the two towns were across the river from one another, they spent most of history in different administrative regions. During the time of the Russian Empire, Jēkabpils was in the Kurland guberniya, while Krustpils was in the Vitebsk guberniya – the Daugava river was a powerful dividing force.
This becomes quite important when it comes to genealogy, since serfdom was abolished at vastly different times – in Kurland guberniya it was abolished in 1817, while in Vitebsk guberniya only in 1861. This meant surnames were acquired at a later date as well – and took even longer to appear in church records consistently. I have been able to identify my great-grandmother Jūle’s birth record in 1874, but not all records in her year have surnames. The advantage is is that I clearly know where her family got their surname – Jūle’s father Indriķis was a craftsman who made wheels and wagons, and has the surname Štelmahers – from the German “Stellmacher”, meaning “wheelwright”. Occupational surnames are not particularly common in Latvia, so I’ve lucked out here! As I’ve mentioned before, the language of a surname in Latvia has no bearing on the ethnicity of its bearer – ethnic Latvians often had surnames of German or Russian origin.
Krustpils has always been a multiethnic town. It was inhabited by Balts for centuries, and Germans arrived with the Rīga bishop. Russians also settled in Krustpils, as did Jews. In 1935, Krustpils’ population was 53% Latvian, 35% Jewish, 12% other. For those doing Jewish research in Krustpils, Jewish Gen’s ShtetlLinks has a variety of information, including lists of Jewish residents. During the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878), Turkish prisoners of war were interned in Krustpils, and many remained when the war was over. My grandmother and great-aunt grew up just down the street from the local Russian Orthodox church. Across the river in Jēkabpils – named for Jakob von Kettler, a 17th century duke of Kurland – there is also a very brightly blue-painted Old Believer church. Russian Old Believers and Polish/Ukrainian Greek Catholics fled from Russian territories due to persecution in the 16th and 17th centuries, and many settled in the semi-independent Duchy of Kurland.
Zīlanu street, Krustpils, December 2009. Picture taken by author. Click on the image for a larger version.
In this photograph, note the abovementioned Russian Orthodox church in the background. Note also the numerous Latvian flags – this picture was taken on the first Sunday of December, which is a designated remembrance day. By law, Latvian flags must be displayed on each of the eleven remembrance days, five of which, including this one, also require black ribbons of mourning tied alongside the flag.
Today, the town of Jēkabpils has approximately 29,000 inhabitants. Most refer to the area solely as Jēkabpils, since Jēkabpils was larger, but the train station, as it is on the Krustpils side of the river, is still the Krustpils railway station. There is a small cemetery on the Krustpils side, but it has mostly fallen into ruin, and most burials happen on the Jēkabpils side. My great-grandparents, along with several other members of my extended family, are buried at the Jēkabpils cemetery.