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T is for Tartu

So again, the Family History Through the Alphabet challenge has the name of a city that is not in Latvia. But this time it is closer to home – Tartu is a city in Estonia, which, at the time of the Russian Empire, was a part of the province of Livland, which, as I’ve mentioned before, also included northern Latvia. Tartu is only about four hours away from Rīga by car or bus.

Why am I mentioning Tartu here? Mostly for its university, which was founded in 1632. While it went through different names in different languages, as well as different affiliations (Swedish, Baltic German, Russian, Soviet and Estonian), it was the centre of learning in the Baltic provinces of the Russian Empire. The first institute of higher learning in Latvia was only established in 1862 (what is now the Rīga Technical University). Prior to the 20th century, most Latvian intellectuals were educated in either Tartu (known in Latvian as “Tērbata”) or Saint Petersburg.

While a number of Latvians studied at Tartu, the most famous is undoubtedly Krišjānis Valdemārs, a Latvian writer and folklorist, and considered the father of the First Latvian National Awakening, and one of the leaders of the Young Latvian movement. He made his commitment to the Latvian people very clear while at Tartu – the carte de visite on his door said “K. Valdemārs. Latvian.” This was quite radical at the time period (1850s), because education usually meant becoming Germanized. Instead, Valdemārs and a number of his Latvian compatriots (including writer Juris Alunāns and later Atis Kronvalds) organized “Latvian evenings” at the university where they discussed folklore and later began to oppose Baltic German control of Latvian institutions.

One of my great-grandfathers, Augusts Lūkins, spent some time at the University of Tartu prior to and during the First World War, studying medicine, however, it would appear that he set this career path aside when Latvian gained independence, and continued his studies in law at the University of Latvia.

Do you have any ancestors that studied at the University of Tartu? Were they Latvians, Estonians, Baltic Germans…? Share your family stories here!

1 comment to T is for Tartu

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