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Latvian Cemetery Culture

The title of this post may seem a bit odd to most readers – how is there a culture revolving around cemeteries?

In Latvia, cemeteries (“kapi” or “kapsētas”) are a very important part of life. Great care is taken to keep the graves of family and loved ones looking tidy and pretty. While in many Western countries you will probably never meet the family members of the people buried next to your loved ones, in Latvia it is not entirely unusual to be on a first-name basis with them.

Cemeteries also host “kapusvētki” – social celebrations at cemeteries. These usually involve a religious ceremony, singing, a socializing portion, and sometimes lighting of candles. I have not yet had the opportunity to attend one, but hopefully I will when I start living in Latvia for more of the year.

To reflect the importance of cemeteries in Latvian national consciousness, a new magazine was released this summer. Called “In Memoriam”, it talks about the phenomenon of “kapusvētki”, gives suggestions for flowers and shrubs to plant at gravesites, provides recommendations for styles of gravestones, comments on the continuing debate of whether or not to include photos on gravestones, and much more. If you want to see a preview, you can do so here. According to this news article (in Latvian), two issues of “In Memoriam” will be released this summer, and number of copies sold will decide if they will release it again next year.

When I visit cemeteries in Canada, I rarely encounter other people. But cemeteries in Latvia, especially in the summer, are full of people caring for graves. Outside the front gates of most larger cemeteries you can find numerous flower and candle vendors. Proper upkeep of family graves is considered a reflection on the family, and thus socially encouraged. For those who may not be able to make the trip out to the countryside regularly to care for family graves, or for those who live abroad, some people in local communities will often offer grave care services.

Have you read the latest issue of “In Memoriam”? Does your family have its own cemetery traditions? Share your stories in comments!

5 comments to Latvian Cemetery Culture

  • Brenda

    This custom of caring for ancestors and cemeteries also resonates with Dia de los Muertos in Mexico (All Saints Day and All Souls Day, November 1st and 2nd in some calendars)when families make the special effort to repair and refurbish their ancestral plots, making it a day of picnics and togetherness. In my travels, I have seen too many burial grounds which are sadly unkempt, with indecipherable stones, no attempt to transcribe them or locate those fallen beneath the turf.

  • Margret McPharlin

    I AM LOOKING FOR ANY GRAVES WITH THE NAMES ‘GRASIS’ GRASE OR BRUVERIS.
    ANY IDEAS?

  • lee lewis

    Hello Margaret. I have letters dated 1920 and 1928 from Latvian relatives named David Bruveris and his son Zhanis and daughter Berta. They were written from Pampali, Krashas, and Riga (Pernavas Street 12-10). I don’t know whether this is a common name in Latvia. David seems to have been my great-grandmother Antonia Burkewitz’s (nee Radzin)nephew or cousin.

  • William Reeve

    Lee Lewis, you mention an Antonia Burkewitz. I have a contact who is searching for family information concerning one Isaac Berkowitz. It is a rather common name but I always look for references to it. Isaac was Jewish and was born 10 June 1876 in Pokroi, now in Lithuania near the border with Latvia. In 1882 he was taken by his father to Southern Africa. My contact know almost nothing about his family or the circumstances of his early life in The Russian Empire.

  • Margret McPharlin

    To Lee Lewis, I have only just seen your comment. Sorry about the delay.
    Alise Bruveris was my Grandmother, she had a sister Olga, and a brother name not known.
    I know she had a nephew named Pavels, who is in his 80,s now. These are the only ones I know about.

    I now they lived in Bauska… Jelgava and Iecava.

    Thanks Margret

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