Getting Started with Latvian Research

I’ll admit, this post is long overdue. It should have been one of the first posts on this blog. But it is here now!

For the purposes of this post, I am assuming several things. The main assumption is that you have utilized all of the records in the place where your Latvian ancestor migrated to – naturalization documents, death certificates, etc. I am also assuming that you are familiar with what different types of records contain – for example, that you know what you can expect to find on a census record versus a passenger ship list. All fonds numbers mentioned for records are from the Central Fonds Register of the Latvian Archives (a “fonds” is a collection of related documents).

So let’s begin!

Step 1: Do you know where in Latvia your ancestor was born? If YES, go to step 6. If NO, go to step 2.

Step 2: When did your ancestor emigrate from Latvia? In the POST-WORLD WAR 2 PERIOD, go to step 3. In the INTER-WAR PERIOD, go to step 4. PRIOR TO 1920, go to step 5.

Step 3: Consult DP camp records – you can write to the International Tracing Service (discussed in this blog post) for more information. When you have found a birthplace, move to step 6.

Step 4: If your ancestor emigrated from Latvia in the inter-war period, they could be found on passenger lists, most often departing from German ports such as Hamburg or Bremerhaven, but some people emigrated via the United Kingdom. You can also consult Latvian passport collections for major cities (fond 2996 for Rīga, other cities fond 2258), to see if your ancestor lived in one of them. Passports will list place of birth. Numerous emigration records and passport applications for the interwar period also exist. When you have found a birthplace, move on to step 6.

Step 5: If your ancestor emigrated from Latvia prior to 1920, you can consult passenger ship lists as above for step 4. If they immigrated to Canada, consult the Li-Ra-Ma collection, which documents immigrants from the Russian Empire between 1898 and 1922, including numerous Latvians. The Li-Ra-Ma website mentions that the National Archives in the USA has a similar collection. The Li-Ra-Ma collection website includes digital images of the immigrant files. When you have found your ancestor’s birthplace, move on to step 6.

Step 6: When was your ancestor born? After 1921, go to step 7. Between 1909 and 1921, go to step 8. Prior to 1909, go to step 9.

Step 7: Contact the registry office of the municipality. When you have learned all you can from these records, go to step 8. [Update October 2013: It looks like the Registry Office Archives of the Ministry of Justice is handling all inquiries after 1910, with the exception of the City of Rīga after 1921, which is still handled by the local office. See Step 8 for the Registry Office Archives.]

Step 8: Contact the Registry Office Archives of the Ministry of Justice in Rīga (in Latvian only), who hold BMD (birth, marriage, death) records from 1909/1910 (some records for 1906-1908 will also be held here, depending on the municipality and how their records are bound, see note on step 9). When you have learned all that you can from the records available there, go to step 9.

Step 9: Consult religious records, available online at Raduraksti. These resources will provide basic birth/marriage/death records. The records are organized by year and type of record. Records could be in Latvian, German, Russian or Hebrew (for Jewish records). [Update July 2010: Most records from 1905 to 1909 have been transferred to the Latvian State Historical Archives, who are responsible for Raduraksti. They have not yet been added to the website, but hopefully will be soon. Until they are, you will need to contact the LSHA directly.] If you get stuck, brick walled or want to consult other sources for more information, go to step 10.

Step 10: Religious records (and later civil registration records) will form the backbone of your research, but sometimes the records don’t exist anymore, or you want to find additional information about your ancestors that doesn’t appear in those kinds of records. In this case, you will want to consult other records that are available – from 1920 to 1945, go to step 11. From 1890 to 1920, go to step 12. Prior to 1890, go to step 13.

Page 1 of 2 | Next page