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Ņ is for Ņižņijnovgoroda

Wow! That sure looks like a mouthful, doesn’t it? Don’t be too afraid though. This latest edition of Family History Through the Alphabet is just the Latvian name for the Russian city and oblast of Nizhny Novgorod.

Nizhny Novgorod is located in the eastern part of “European Russia”, and the oblast straddles the Volga River. The city was founded in 1221. In the modern era, the city of Nizhny Novgorod is the fifth largest city in Russia, behind Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Novosibirsk and Yekaterinburg.

Why do I mention Nizhny Novgorod in a post about Latvian genealogy? Well, during the First World War, many Latvians left their homes and moved east, seeking to escape the front lines of the war. Some of the refugees did not go far and stayed in northern Latvia, close to home but far enough away from the front to be safe. Others traveled into the far reaches of Inner Russia. A number of these refugees ended up in Nizhny Novgorod. They founded Latvian associations and worked to improve their situation as refugees.

After the war was over, the refugees began returning home. The War of Independence, as well as the chaos in Russia in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution and the ensuing Civil War, meant that the return was fraught with obstacles and often delayed, both bureaucratically and physically. It wasn’t until 1920 that many refugees were able to return home.

Being scattered across Russia meant that the refugees encountered different sides trying to convince them of different things. Nationalists insisted that Latvians return to Latvia. Meanwhile, the Bolsheviks tried to convince Latvian socialists and communists to remain in Russia rather than return to Latvia, where, they said, “life was very hard and difficult for the working people”. Some Latvians did stay. As well, while the refugees were returning to Latvia from Russia, a number of Latvian socialists and communists headed the other way into Russia and what would then become the newly established Soviet Union. Quite a few Western socialists and communists also transited through Latvia on their way to the Soviet Union.

Latvians who stayed in the Soviet Union, or went to the Soviet Union as a matter of conviction, participated in building the new Soviet state. A number became top government officials, such as Jēkabs Pēterss, one of the founders of the Cheka, and Jānis Rudzutaks, a top government minister. However, most of the Soviet Latvian officials were killed in the Great Purge in 1937 and 1938.

Next up in O… we tackle a big challenge for Latvian genealogy researchers: Orthography!

1 comment to Ņ is for Ņižņijnovgoroda

  • Ok, now THAT place is a mouthful, but I’m sure its easier to say than it looks. I’m also in awe that you have places that date back to the 1200s – what history you have to discover. Australia is such a young country compared so much of world, as we were only ‘technically’ first settled in 1788.

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