A wonderful resource for researching Latvian genealogy is the house book collection at the Latvian State Historical Archives. They are available in fond 2942 for Rīga and in fond 2110 for the rest of Latvia.
During the Czarist era, as well as during the interwar period, every residential building in Latvia had to keep a record of its inhabitants. Not all of these books survive, but a good number of them do. The survival rate for Rīga is better than other places – they don’t exist at all for a number of cities and towns, but Liepāja, Jūrmala and Jelgava are some places for which they do (Jūrmala’s are grouped with Rīga’s).
So what information can a house book provide? All kinds! The most basic information it provides is name, birthdate/place, occupation, dates of residence at that address, previous address and next address.
There are, of course, advantages and disadvantages to house books over other kinds of records.
- Can lead you to family members that you might not have known about – aunts or uncles living with the family, other siblings of your ancestor, etc.
- Provides a physical address to make a visit to, to bring a personal touch to your trip to Latvia (though be sure to check beforehand if street numbering has changed since the house book was compiled – this has happened in some places).
- Depending on how much you know about the people you’re looking up, could give you new information that you hadn’t known about them.
- If you don’t know when someone died or got divorced, the house book might tell you this information as well, if it happened during their period of residence at that address.
- You actually have to know the address, and have somewhat of an idea of the time frame, to be able to use them effectively.
- Some surviving house books only cover a short period of time, so if your ancestors lived there outside of that timeframe, they will not be mentioned.
- With the exception of minor children being listed with their mother, house books will not always name relationships between people, so even if you see a bunch of people with the same surname in one residence, you would need to verify their relationships to one another elsewhere.
- Sometimes all the fields aren’t filled out – and as not-luck might have it, it might be that one field that you’re trying to find out about.
Tips to make house book searches more fruitful…
- Use the Rīga address directories to find addresses for the ancestors you’re looking for. Address books, like telephone directories of the modern era, will list families alphabetically, and typically also mention occupations. The Latvian National Library has most of the directories between 1880 and 1930 in their “Small Prints” (Sīkiespieddarba) Section at Tērbatas iela 75.
- Documents such as passports will often have addresses written in them, as well as any changes of address. Other documents that could contain addresses include school records, military records, employment records and so on.
- Familiarize yourself with the names of your ancestors’ streets of residence in all three relevant languages – Latvian, Russian and German. Prior to Latvian independence, the address directories are in German, with a Russian-German index included for street names. There are also a variety of books about Rīga streets, and street name changes, that you can consult. If you don’t have access to any of those, Wikimapia can sometimes be helpful.
- In many cases, the street names were just straight translations – so Akmeņu iela in Latvian is Steinstrasse in German and улица Каменная in Russian (“Stone Street” in English). Where it gets complicated is when it comes to streets named after people, or important concepts – for example, the street now known as “Brīvības iela” (Freedom Street) was known as “Alexander Street” during the Czarist period (presumably after the czar of the time when it was given that time, Alexander I), during the Nazi occupation it was known as “Adolf-Hitler-Strasse”, and during the Soviet occupation it was “Lenin Street”. Similarly, the street known during the Czarist period as “Romanova iela” is now known as “Lāčplēša iela”, after the character in the Latvian national epic.
Have you explored house books in your research? Do you have further tips to share? Questions you want answered? Share in comments below!