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P is for Parish

Let’s continue the Family History Through the Alphabet challenge!

The important word of the day is “parish” – and in Latvian, it has a name with a P too – “pagasts”. Now, this refers to civil parishes, rather than religious ones. A religious parish or congregation in Latvian would be called a “draudze”.

There are hundreds of parishes in Latvia – as of 2010, there are 494. In 1937, there were 519. This might seem excessive for such a small country, but it is what it is. Most of them are based on the boundaries of old manorial estates. Many also take their names from the Latvian names for these same estates. Smaller estate territories would have been added to larger ones to create the civil parishes.

These parishes started to take official form in the 1860s, with the formation of parish courts (“pagasta tiesa”) to adjudicate matters between peasants. These parish courts, and their corresponding parish councils (“pagasta valde”), left many documents in parish fonds that are available at the Latvian State Historical Archives. Availability of records varies from parish to parish, but many have parish registers of inhabitants from the 1870s to the 1890s, passport registers, council minutes, and so on. All of these goodies are hidden under the names of the specific parish, so when looking for the fond number, enter the parish name (though entering a partial name is best, due to the different declensions of the names, you want to make sure to catch all instances!) and see what you can find.

Keep in mind also the name changes that parishes underwent throughout the years – most are linked in that archives database, but not all are. Some parishes that changed their names after 1920 include Briņķi (became Nīkrāce), Emburga (became Salgale), Nurmuiža (became Lauciene) and Mežmuiža (became Augstkalne).

Along with name changes, there are of course name variations between the different languages used – Latvian, German and Russian. These are too numerous to reproduce here, but if you have any specific questions, don’t hesitate to ask!

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