Sorting Out Ethnicity

Location – Where in Latvia did your ancestors live? Vidzeme and Kurzeme, the northern and western provinces of Latvia, had (and still have) the highest percentages of ethnic Latvians. Zemgale (the southern province) also had high numbers of ethnic Latvians – particularly in the west – but as you head east and into Latgale (the eastern province), percentages of Russians, Belarusians and Poles increase. Rural areas were predominantly Latvian, with the exception of the southeast, where there were larger numbers of Belarusians, Russians and Poles. Urban areas were very mixed. Latvians had pluralities in most cities at the end of the nineteenth century (except for in the southeast), but majority populations only in the north in cities such as Cēsis, Limbaži and Valmiera. In the southeast, cities were predominantly Jewish and Polish. In this same time period, there were two rural pockets that were predominantly German, one south of Ērgļi in central Latvia, the other in Kurzeme north of Saldus. The rural areas southeast of Ludza and west of Rēzekne in the east were predominantly Belarusian. Majority Russian rural parishes were found west of Rēzekne and east of Daugavpils.[1]

I hope that these tips can help you narrow down your family’s background and learn more about their traditions. Anomalies do occur, so nothing can be certain, but as a general guideline, these should help your research.

Any other tips? Share in comments!

[1]Population distributions taken from Latvijas Vēstures Atlants, ed. Jānis Turlajs, 1998, p. 28 – “National population at the end of the 19th century”.

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2 comments on this post.
  1. Joanne Schleier:

    Congratulations – I am giving you the ANCESTOR APPROVED AWARD! Keep up the good work; I enjoy reading your blog. Follow the guidelines on my post to accept:

  2. Antra:


    Thank you so much! I’ll make a post with those soon :)

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