Time for the letter C in the Family History Through the Alphabet challenge!
C is for Census
Census records are key genealogical records in most countries. Latvia is no exception. However, accessing and interpreting Latvian records can be a bit of a challenge.
The first census available for Latvia is the 1897 All-Russia Census. This is the only census related to Latvia that is available online on Raduraksti. However, it is not complete. The part of Latvia that is most represented in these records is the eastern part, modern-day Latgale, which was at the time part of Vitebsk guberniya. This is a pleasant change, since when it comes to 19th century records, Latgale is not as well represented as Kurzeme or Vidzeme. This is partially due to the fact that serfdom did not end in Vitebsk guberniya until 1861, while it ended in the 1810s in Kurland and Livland. This meant that peasants in Vitebsk guberniya often would not have had surnames until the 1860s. 1897 All-Russia Census records for the rest of Latvia are very hit-and-miss, even in major centres such as RÄ«ga – records for RÄ«ga are there, but they are not complete (which I’ve learned the hard way, trying to track down any trace of my great-grandmother Anna Liepa).
The next census that is available for the public to look at is the 1935 Census. This was conducted in an independent Latvia. There were others, in 1920, 1925 and 1930, but as of yet I have found no trace of individual surviving records, only the statistics. At any rate, the 1935 Census is not available online, probably due to a combination of the time needed to scan it, as well as privacy, since many people enumerated in it might still be alive. The records for 1935 are organized by parish or town (and then street name). It is possible that they were once in alphabetical (for rural farms) or numerical (for urban streets) order, but they are not reliably so, since since hundreds of researchers have looked through each packet of loose-leaf forms. These records also provide information about the dwelling – its owner, rooms, lighting (electric, oil lamps, etc.), source of water and the location of the toilet (in the house or in an outhouse).
The last available census is that for 1941. It is also not available online. It does not provide as much detail on the dwellings, though it does have an advantage in that it is bound in books, so the pages cannot be arranged out of order. It also gives full birthdates and places of birth, while the 1935 census only mentions the year of birth. The important thing to remember about this census, however, is that it was conducted while Latvia was under Nazi occupation. Nowhere do the forms mention this, but it is worth keeping in mind nonetheless, since it explains many cases of densely populated areas having many “empty” or “vacant” homes – Jewish homes whose inhabitants had been deported, either to camps or to ghettos. These forms will also mention if someone usually lives there, but was in prison at the time of the census (quite often due to political reasons).
The most recent Latvian census was conducted in 2011. This was the first time that people had the opportunity to fill out the census online. If they did not fill it in online, an enumerator would visit the household and collect the data that way. The statistical results are currently being published.
Have you had any luck in finding your ancestor in the 1897 Census? Have you found them in the 1935 or the 1941? Share your stories!