It is too easy, especially when reading records that require interpretation of handwriting in an unfamiliar language, to pick out the main details – date of birth and parents – but ignore the details that are “not strictly necessary” – godparents, occupations, and so on. It is also easy to just scan for the surnames you’re looking for and ignore the other records.

But eventually you may get stuck in your research. Someone seems to have spontaneously appeared in a parish with no previous connections to it – no birth record, not even a marriage record, but suddenly they are there and having babies with a legal spouse. How can you find where they came from?

Pay attention to the “not strictly necessary” details!

I had a situation like this come up with a pair of my great-great-grandparents, Roberts Francis and Dorotea Matilde Plūme. They were living on the Nabe estate, where they had many children, including my great-grandfather Arvīds. Dorotea had a historical connection to the estate – I could find her birth record – but I could find no sign of her marriage to Roberts or of his birth record. Thus it seemed likely that he was from somewhere further afield.

The key to solving this mystery lay in the birth record of my great-grandfather’s sister Alise. In her birth record, one of the godparents is a woman by the name of Natalie Francis, who was listed as living in Vilceni, an estate approximately 35km northeast of Nabe. The surname Francis is not common in Latvia, therefore it is possible that Natalie was Roberts’ sister or sister-in-law. It gave me a new idea of where to try searching – the closest church to Vilceni was the Matīši parish church, so that was my first stop.

And I hit gold! In a short period of time I had found Roberts’ and Dorotea’s marriage record, proving that my hunch was correct. Happily, this parish also maintained the detailed marriage records, so it gave me everything I needed to know to work further back, as well as confirmation that I had the right couple. Roberts Francis of Lielmārens farm on the Milīte estate (born March 1859, parents Jēkabs and Jūlija) married Dorotea Matilde Plūme of Kroņi farm on the Nabe estate (born August 1865, parents Mārtiņš and Dārta) in August of 1884. From here, I was also able to also find Roberts’ birth record.

It also pays off to know the surnames of other people living on the same farm, or nearby farms, since your ancestors may have appeared as godparents to their children. These references can also help narrow down dates of marriage or death. For example, my great-great-grandmother Līze Eglītis (b. Graumane) appeared as the godmother of many children who also lived on her family’s farm – which helped narrow down when her father died, as well as when she got married. In 1873, she was referred to as the “landlord’s daughter” Līze Graumane, but in early 1875 was referred to as “landlady” Līze Eglīte. This shows that between mid-1873 and early 1875 two significant events happened in Līze’s life – her father probably died, and she got married. Sure enough, Līze’s father Marcis died in December of 1873. The marriage records for this time period in Limbaži are missing, so I can’t be certain as to the precise marriage date of Līze and her husband Ansis Eglītis, but I’ve got a much smaller window now – all thanks to paying attention to the listings of godparents in the records of other families.

Have you gotten lucky following a hunch based on the “not strictly necessary” details? Have you found useful data about your family in the records of other families? Share your stories below!

Paying Attention to Details
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6 thoughts on “Paying Attention to Details

  • January 8, 2011 at 12:31 am

    Nice work, Antra. And excellent advice to wring every detail out of a record for clues. This is what Elizabeth Shown Mills (prominent North American genealogist) calls the ancestor’s FAN club … Friends, Associates, Neighbours.

  • March 24, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    I am beginning research on my Grandmother, Marie Goldt, of Riga, Latvia. Born 21 Dec 1883, I think from 1 document.. she may have lived at 121 Ritten Str… and her father may have been David???

    I actually have her original passport, issued in 1912… she emigrated in 1914.. through London I believe.

    What is best way to research ??

  • March 25, 2011 at 2:56 pm


    Please read my blog post Getting Started with Latvian Research for advice on how you should proceed.

    Since you know the street name, you might be able to find her in the 1897 census (providing she lived at that same address then). Is it possible that the street name is Ritter Str., rather than Ritten? Ritter Strasse is now known as Bruņinieku iela, but I can’t find a record of a Ritten Str. The 1897 census is available on Raduraksti.

    Good luck and let me know if you need any other help!

  • May 17, 2011 at 10:00 am

    Hello – I am not sure if you can help or not. I have come to a shift in the layers of my eastern european genealogy search. I have been working on my grandfathers side (Lithuanian) when all of a sudden I unearthed quite a few photographs with writing on the back. I sent them to a contact with the hope of translating and surprise surprise, they are now the Latvian layer. Do you have any tips for transcribing the Latvian cursive letters so that I might begin to identify who is who and when and where they were?

  • July 22, 2011 at 4:33 am

    Hi Antra, I posted this question in your item about working with revision lists, but did not get any response, so am directing it to you in the hope that you can help!

    Hi, my sister and I who are researching our family history have had such fun working with the country Revision lists after having read your blog. We have followed our ancestors around various farms and areas all the while following the “clues” left in each entry. However, we have reached a stage where our main relatives have left the country and moved to Riga. We are wanting to use the Revisions lists for Riga, but have found it very daunting after the country versions. Any suggestions?

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