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).

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