In my last post, a reader requested that I talk about records after 1905. So here we go!
There are lots of different types of records available for the post-1905 period – however, as of right now, none of them are available online. The main online genealogical resource for Latvian records – religious records on Raduraksti – ends at 1905. But later records are accessible through a variety of avenues, depending on the specific years you’re looking for. Unless mentioned otherwise, all documents are located in the Latvian State Historical Archives (LVVA).
Civil registration of births, marriages and deaths did not begin until the 1920s. Records prior to this time are religious in nature, so it will be necessary to know the religion of your ancestor.
While Raduraksti only goes to 1905 for now, most available records from 1906 to 1909 have been transferred to the LVVA. A list is available on their website here (PDF, the list is organized first by religion, then by parish). However, some records from this time period may still reside with the Ministry of Justice’s Registry Office Archives. This is because of how some records were organized – the registry entries were made into books, so if it happens that earlier years (say 1908 and 1909) are in the same volume as later years (such as 1910 and 1911), the entire book will remain at the Registry Office Archives.
For vital records between 1910 and 1921 (and earlier years as relevant based on the criteria above), it is necessary to contact the Ministry of Justice’s Registry Office Archives (page in Latvian only). This can be done by phone, email or in person. I went in person. You will need to provide as much information as you can, including the religion of the person you are inquiring about. It will then take at least two weeks for them to issue a transcript to you. However, just like with all records, there are no guarantees that the information you are looking for will be found, even if you know for certain what happened where – for example, they could not find my maternal grandmother’s birth record, even though I know for certain when and where she was born and baptized, as these were events witnessed by her older sister, my great-aunt, who confirms the information provided in later official documents. While this record does not seem to exist, numerous others that I asked for do, and I was able to solve the longstanding mystery of where my maternal grandfather was born – in some documents, he says he was born in LÄde parish, in others that he was born in RÄ«ga. His birth record confirms that he was born in LÄde parish.
For vital records after 1921, it is necessary to contact the regional registry office for the area that a person lived. Note that this may not be the local registry office of today – many smaller towns now have their own registry offices, but older records will still be found in the regional office. If you need help figuring out which regional registry office you may need to contact, let me know and I can try to help you.
Latvia carried out a national census in 1935 (fonds 1308 abstract 12), and again in 1941 (fonds 1308 abstract 15), a few months after the beginning of the Nazi occupation. The records are arranged by parish or town, and are usually alphabetical based on street or farm name – though beware of only going by street/farm name, since sometimes they will be out of order. As well, sometimes a farm may have been part of a smaller hamlet falling under the purview of a parish and thus grouped by hamlet name first, then farm name. And, of course, just like with censuses in other parts of the world, people may have been somewhere else either for the night of the census or for a longer period of time. The 1935 census is on loose sheets of paper, the 1941 census is bound in book form. The 1941 census has additional fields that the 1935 census does not that are of particular interest to genealogists – namely, full birthdates (the 1935 census only asks for birth year) and places of birth. Of course, this information may not always be accurate, but it does provide a starting point to work from.
I talked about school records in this post. As a summary: school records can provide more than just your ancestors’ grades – they can also potentially lead to previous school attendance information, birth certificates, and more.
Passports and Immigration/Emigration
In the interwar period, everyone in Latvia needed to have an internal passport. These passports provided the basic details on a person, such as birthdate/place, father’s name, address, occupation, etc. When moving to a new home, it was necessary to register this with the local authorities and have a stamp placed on the passport providing this new information. Stamps were also made to confirm that someone had voted in an election or paid various types of local taxes. For women, it also listed the birth of children. Thus these passports can be a source of all sorts of useful information for the genealogist. However, the collection is not comprehensive – the most extensive collection is available for RÄ«ga (fonds 2996), but some exist for other Latvian cities as well (fonds 2258).
Was your ancestor an international traveler in the interwar period? Numerous external passports and passport applications are also available (fonds 3234, abstracts 24, 32, 33). I found the passport application that was made on my grandfather’s behalf so that he could spend a semester in Sweden to do his practical work (what we’d probably call a co-op or internship these days) while studying at an agricultural secondary school. I knew he had studied agriculture and that he had spent time in Sweden as part of his studies, but I didn’t know where in Latvia he had gone to school, since his family moved all over the country – with the information this passport application provided, I was able to get his full set of secondary school marks, as well as a copy of his diploma.
Did your ancestor immigrate to Latvia during the interwar period? Document collections on immigrants, both legal and illegal, as well as citizenship applications, might be able to provide more information. In the time period directly after the First World War, there were many non-permanent residents in Latvia that needed to be sorted out and either repatriated or settled – refugees, prisoners of war, and so on. Many people fleeing from the Soviet Union chose to settle in Latvia. Documents on legal immigrants and citizenship acquisition can be found in fonds 3234 abstracts 2 and 5, documents on refugees, POWs and illegal migrants in fonds 3234 abstract 1a and 13, and documents on loss of citizenship and expulsion from Latvian territory in fonds 3234 abstracts 21 and 23. Since all of my ancestors were already in Latvia at this time, I only took a look at the abstracts, but since they are mostly organized by surname, it should be easy to find if your ancestors are in them or not.
For emigration from Latvia during World War 2, and subsequent time ancestors would have spent in Displaced Persons Camps, see my post on the International Tracing Service.
As well as addresses being recorded in internal passports, the movements of people were also recorded in “house books” kept for each address. These books recorded the names of the people, birthdates, supporting document numbers (usually those of internal passports), when they moved to this address, previous address, when they left this address, and the address they moved to. It is thus theoretically possible to follow a family’s moves around the country using only house books. However, like the internal passport collections, the house book collection is far from comprehensive. The books exist mostly for the interwar period, though some individual books may extend beyond those dates (both backwards and forwards). For RÄ«ga, consult fonds 2942, for the rest of Latvia, fonds 2110.
… and more!
What kind of job did your ancestor do? There might be documents relating to trade unions they could have been members of, social clubs or even employment files. If you know where specifically they worked, you could find information on the company that could mention your ancestor. I was able to find two employment files for one of my great-grandfathers – one for his time with the police force (fonds 5604), another for his time as a justice of the peace (RÄ«ga district court, fonds 1536).
Did your ancestor change their name? Throughout the interwar period, but especially in the late 1930s, there was a push for Latvians who had names that were not of Latvian origin to change them to something Latvian-sounding. Records for surname changes can be found in fonds 3234, abstracts 1 and 31, though they appear to be arranged by pre-change surname, so if you don’t know what the earlier surname was, it could be a challenge. I will be addressing the topic of name changes and regulations involved in this in a post later this week.
These are only the most popular types of records. Many others exist as well – look at local court documents, to see if your ancestor was involved in any civil or criminal cases. Rural land records, which I will discuss later, may also cover this time period. Consider all aspects of your ancestors’ lives to try and figure out what may have generated a written record. There are many possibilities!
Did I miss an important type of record? What kind of records have you had success with? Share in comments!