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Ā is for Ārlaulības Bērns

Continuing on with the Family History Through the Alphabet challenge, using the Latvian alphabet!

Today’s challenge… “Ā”! This is the first of the Latvian letters that we’ve got in this challenge. This letter makes a long A sound.

Ā is for Ārlaulības Bērns

“Ārlaulības bērns” means “child born out of wedlock”. This notation happens sometimes in Latvian documents, but it is much more common to see that status be implied rather than stated outright. Patronymic-style forms of record-keeping were used in interwar Latvia. I say “patronymic-style” because they weren’t true patronymics, such as “Ivanovna” in Russian, or “Johansson” in Swedish, rather just “Friča dēls” or “Friča meita” (“son of Fricis” or “daughter of Fricis”). If there was no acknowledged father, then the child would have their mother’s name there instead, such as “Katrīnes dēls” or “Katrīnes meita”. This is the easiest way to see if someone was born out of wedlock prior to finding the actual birth record.

Births out of wedlock were relatively commonplace in 19th century Latvia – if you look through the birth records for any given year, there will usually be a smattering of them. A number have notations on the side that were added in later when the previously unwed mother then married and her new husband formally adopted the child. Whether or not this resulted in the child’s later documentation using that man’s name in the patronymic-style instead of their mother’s, I don’t know, as I have not had that come up.

I have one person who was born out of wedlock in my family tree – my great-grandfather Brencis Līcītis. His early origins and childhood are mostly a mystery to me. I know he was born to Ieva Līcīte in Sērene parish, south of Jaunjelgava, in 1866. He moved to Krustpils sometime prior to 1897, where he was enumerated on the All-Russia Census. He married my great-grandmother Jūle Štelmahere in 1909. His daughter Marta was born in 1911. During the First World War, the family evacuated to Inner Russia, living with the Kislev family outside of Rzhev. After the war, they returned to Krustpils where my grandmother was born in 1919. His daughters left for the West during the Second World War, and he died a few years later, in 1948 or 1949.

So who was Brencis’ father? I don’t know. I know he did have a brother Krišjānis, but I have no avenue to look for him, since I don’t know if he was also born out of wedlock, or if he was born after their mother married. I have some theories though. Allegedly, when he arrived in Krustpils, he had a lot of money – more than one would expect from a young peasant. I have read about a number of cases where the German baron of an estate, or one of his sons, would impregnate a local peasant girl, and then she would be either married off, and her husband given a better job, or simply paid off. This seems like a possible source of this money. I’ll have to look into the different barons in the area, and see if I can find any photos of them, to see if there are any family resemblances to my great-grandfather. It wouldn’t be complete proof, but an option to pursue nonetheless for curiosity’s sake.

Up next on the Family History through the Alphabet challenge… two very related B words – Baptists and Brazil!

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