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Ž is for Žandarmērija

So now we have come to the end of the Family History Through the Alphabet challenge! I’m happy that I’ve been able to complete the whole challenge. What next, I wonder?

So, Ž is for Žandarmērija… “žandarmērija” is the Latvian word for “gendarmerie”. This is typically a branch of military that also provides policing functions. This is precisely what the Special Corps of Gendarmes did in the late 19th and early 20th centuries of the Russian Empire. For the purposes of this blog, the specific divisions we’re interested in are the ones for the Kurland and Livland governorates.

If your ancestor was involved in any sort of revolutionary activity, there is a good chance that they are mentioned somewhere in the records of the Kurland or Livland gendarmeries. The Latvian State Historical Archives has the records for both organizations, located in fonds 4569 and 4568, respectively. Also useful in this category, though not strictly speaking “gendarmerie” records, is fonds 4621, which contains the records for the Rīga security service (including Okhrana agents, the Okhrana being the Czarist secret police). However, like most Latvian records, they are not indexed in any way, and the abstracts (which are in Russian) do not list all of the people mentioned in the documents.

What kind of documents can be found? Arrest records, surveillance notes, records of who was sent where (if a convicted person was sentenced to time in Siberia), details about people under surveillance (including where they were originally from, quite useful if you’ve got an ancestor in Rīga whose origins you are unsure of), copies of revolutionary pamphlets and publications, even codes and ciphers used by revolutionary organizations. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

In short, these documents have the potential to be a gold mine of information for genealogical researchers, especially for information about Rīga dwellers in the late 19th and early 20th century. In this explosive time period, it would be difficult to find a working-class Latvian in Rīga who hadn’t participated in the revolutionary movement in any way. Tens of thousands of people participated in some of the larger strikes and demonstrations, with numbers sometimes reaching over 100,000. Of course, it is unlikely that all of these people are mentioned in the documents, but anyone who participated in clandestine meetings, or was a due-paying member of a revolutionary organization is likely to be mentioned somewhere.

As I mentioned above, these documents are not indexed, which can be a barrier. Another potential barrier is the fact that most of the records are in Russian. But if you have the time and language skills (or desire to learn) to make your way through the abstracts and then through various documents, there could be great information in store for you.

Have you made use of any police records? Any interesting stories about revolutionary ancestors to share?

1 comment to Ž is for Žandarmērija

  • The Žandarmērija records sound like they really would be a goldmine of info. I know the Police Gazettes in Australia contain amazing reports of people and crimes (big and small).

    What a perfect way to finish off the Alphabet Challenge. Well done, and congrats on reaching the end. You’ve done an amazing job of making your way through it all, and each with interesting and informative posts. I thank you for participating, it has been a pleasure to have you join in.

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