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Anatomy of a Birth Record

So you want to use Raduraksti, but you’re intimidated, because you don’t know German or Russian. That’s okay! With a bit of work, you can find everything you need to know from these records, without needing to be fluent, or even proficient, in the languages. It is just a question of being able to extract the relevant information. Prior to 1891, most records will be in German, after 1891, usually in Russian, often (but not always) with Latin transliterations of names provided.

This is an image of a typical 19th century Lutheran baptism record (which serves as a birth record prior to civil registration). Records for other religions are different, and I will probably cover them later. This is the format used most often across the Latvian provinces, though there was a different format used in Kurzeme (the western province) occasionally, and I will look at that one later as well.

My great-grandfather’s birth record, Trikāta Lutheran church, 1888.

The first two columns are pretty simple – the date of birth and the date of baptism. In this case, the date of baptism says “eodem” which means “the same” – see higher up in the column. A number of children may have been baptized on the same day, and the scribe only wanted to write the date out once.

The third column has all the important bits in it, so this is where you really need to start paying attention.

The first item will be the record number – this will be what you want to cite when you are referencing your source in your genealogical records, in addition to the year of the record. While page numbers can be useful, they can also vary – I’ve seen numerous records where there are several page numbers in the corner of the scanned sheet, as well as the page navigation numbers within Raduraksti. Any of these can be changed again, so while you should record them for ease of retrieval, the “official” reference number should be the one that doesn’t change – that of the record.

Next is the city/town name, or, more commonly for rural parishes, the name of the manorial estate and the name of the farm. In this case, it is “Wiezemhof Stampwehwer” – in Latvian, Vijciems estate, Stampvēveri farm. A good (though not comprehensive) list of German names and their Latvian equivalents is available here.

Then we finally have the name of the individual who was baptized – in this case, “Peter Eduard Zelmiņ” – or, in modern Latvian, “Pēteris Eduards Celmiņš”.

The next section will show the names of parents, with later records usually also including the mother’s maiden name (indicated by “geb.” in German or ур. in Russian) – here, “Peter Zelmiņ” (Pēteris Celmiņš) and “Marri geb. Radsin” (Marija née Radziņa). Before the father’s name, a record will typically list the father’s occupation as well – in this case “Wirt”, meaning landlord/land manager (either the owner of the farm, or the person in charge if the farm was still owned by the manorial estate owner). In Russian, it would be хозяин (for men), хозяйка (for women). Other commonly listed occupations (German/Russian) are Knecht/батрак (farmhand), Arbeiter/работник (worker), Soldat/солдат (soldier) and Tischler/столяр (carpenter).

The little notation after the parent’s names indicates their religion. In a Lutheran church record, typically this will say “both Lutheran”, but sometimes one of the other parents (usually the mother, though not always) will be of a different religion (As noted in this post, I found a random British man living in southern Latvia, whose children were baptized in the Lutheran church, while he himself was Anglican).

The following names are those of the witnesses/godparents – this section might only list the names of the people, might list their occupation or their non-married state (“Junggeselle” for “bachelor” and “Mädchen” or “Magd” for “maiden”). Sometimes they also mention where that person lives – this is how I found one of my great-great-grandfathers, by consulting the church records local to a woman with the same surname that had been listed as one of his daughters’ godparents.

… and with that, you’ve retrieved the key data! There are, of course, other notations, but these are the key features that you need to find to further your research.

What have you managed to find? What key facts about your ancestors have you learned through Raduraksti recently? Share your stories below!

6 comments to Anatomy of a Birth Record

  • Pauline

    This is just so clear, it has inspired me to have another go at looking at Raduraksti. Hopefully I won’t be so intimidated. Thanks Antra!

  • Same here! Taking a closer look. The German is sometimes harder to read than the Russian for me. And I only speak English! Looks like a doctor wrote these records or something…

  • The Catholic church record in Russian I have been looking at has different headings see .

  • [...] Records you find on Raduraksti may be hard to understand for the English-as-an-only-language researcher such as myself, since are in old-German script, Russian Cyrillic, Russian translations of German translations of Latvian names and places, etc. I am still yet to use the Revision lists or Census, simply because I haven’t had the time to hunker down, figure out how to find what I’m looking for, and really go at them just yet. I can pick out my family’s surnames and first names now in Cyrillic, and make some really slow progress with the help of online translators, but the church books are really the only document I’ve gotten into just yet. I will get to the census and revision lists in time! Here’s an excellent guide to understanding these records by a fellow Latvian genealogy blogger: http://www.celmina.com/genealogy/2011/09/anatomy-of-a-birth-record/ [...]

  • Harold Lassman

    I have been provided with a “Geburts und Taufurkunde”, literally “birth news” document prepared in 1943 by a member of my family for German occupation authorities to prove the baptism of my Great Grandfather Peteris Lasmanis, presumably to avoid treatment of Peteris descendants as Jews. The document was executed at Sarraiken by the pastor of the Lutheran Church of Grobina for the Saraiku baznica, a small satelite church of the Grobina Church. Sarraiken is the German name for both Saraiki a small village near to Medze, and for Saraiku muiza an estate near to Saraiki. Peteris Lasmanis was born 25 October 1851, the son of Janis Lasmanis and his wife Latte. Peteris Lasmanis died 21 June 1931,at Medze,about four months short of his 80th birthday. According to a blog called “Surname Saturday” peasants in Latvia were required to adopt names in 1823 and a list of authorized names included the name Lassmannis, now spelled Lasmanis. Assuming that Janis Lasmanis was a typical age of about thirty years he would have been a child when the name Lasmanis was selected so that I probably have two more ancestors surnamed Lasmanis who very possibly attended the Grobina Lutheran Church’s satelite church Saraiku baznica between 1823 and 1851 when Peteris Lasmanis was baptized. I would like to locate the baptizmal and membership records of these affiliated churches if they still exist to see if my ancestors can be identified. I have my DNA tested and it shows that I am N1c1 with L550 predicted which would make me N1c1d when the new Y-Haplogroup designations are officially adopted and my STRs indicate that I am of the South Baltic branch. My Grandfather was Karlis Lasmanis, in America, Carl Lassman and my father Theodore Alexander Lassman, both his parents, Karlis Lasmanis, and my Grandmother Bertha Greezt were Latvian. My ancestors probably go back for thousands of years in Courland/Kurland in Latvia. Both Peteris Lasmanis and his father Janis Lasmanis worked for Saraiku muiza, possibly my family were serfs of this estate for hundreds of years. I am a lawyer in Florida, U.S.A., living in Deland, near to Orlando. I have a son Andrew Evans Lassman, a brother Carl Lassman, and a sister Alexis Lassman. My Lassman grandparents had four children, two sons and two daughters, all of these have descendants. My grandparents settled in Erie, Pennsylvanis; many of the family remain there, many live in Florida and many elsewhere in the U.S. My grandfather had a brother Janis Lasmanis who settled at Wooster in Massachusetts as John Lassman and who had children and descendants.

  • virginia everett

    Can anyone give the basic terms (in russian) used in a Latvian roman catholic baptism record in the 1880′s? I am searching Raduraksti for my grandfather’s record in a small parish in the Latgale region. I’m struggling to understand the wording. Thanks so much if you can help!

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