All genealogists know that “killing off” – that is, establishing precise death dates and places – your ancestors is important. It helps prevent them from being confused with other people, explains why they weren’t at later events/places, and so on. But if you don’t have a clue as to when they died, this can be a long and labourious process.
Nowhere is it more labourious than in records that you need to read handwritten page by handwritten page, in a jumble of different handwriting styles, languages and alphabets, as is the case for Latvian records. While a good number of birth records have been indexed by Ciltskoki, the number of death records indexed is still relatively small.
So, how can you reduce the amount of time you spend going through pages and pages of records to find that one death record? It depends on a lot of factors.
The easiest way to find a death record is to have another document that mentions when that death occurred. There are various documents that can do this – church member registers, revision lists, tax lists and so on. Church member registers are generally the most detailed, but they do not survive for most churches. Revision lists exist prior to 1858, so if you’re looking for a later record, you’re out of luck. Another point against revision lists is that they will rarely provide this information about a woman – she’ll simply disappear from the records. Tax lists are also problematic, because their existence in rural communities can be sporadic, and the tax lists that do exist for Rīga, while detailed and covering most of the 19th century, are only available on-site at the archives. So if you’re not able to go to the archives or have someone go for you, then you’re once more out of luck. So if those options aren’t available to you – what next?
Sometimes marriage records can be helpful – obviously a dead person isn’t getting married, but if one of their children is getting married, the record might mention if the parents are living or not. This detail is generally only available in the detailed long-form marriage records, which are sporadic in their existence, but they do tend to survive more for the later time periods, depending on the area. While this doesn’t give a precise date, this at least narrows the time frame for your search. If you have long-form marriage records available to you and you’re attempting this sort of search, be sure to check for marriage records of all of the siblings – this could narrow the search down further, if you know that your ancestor’s mother was alive at the time of his marriage, but deceased when his sister married five years later. These records are also useful for establishing when a widowed spouse may have remarried (and thus narrowing their first spouse’s death date range).
Don’t forget the death record of a spouse – if you have the death record of one spouse, see if they have been recorded as “married” or “widowed” – this can tell you whether you have to look earlier or later for the other death record. Proceed with caution, though, since it is always possible that someone remarried, particularly if a spouse died young.
You can also try looking up the name in Periodika, to see if their death was mentioned in a newspaper. This is particularly useful for Rīga deaths, since you might not know which congregation to search in, and doing all of them would take a lot of time.
If you have the opportunity to consult records on-site at the archives, and you’re looking at passport collections, if someone died in the interwar period, this information will appear in his passport when it was subsequently reclaimed by the government. This will then aid you in requesting the death record from the registry office.
Important thing to note which is NOT proof of death: Lack of appearance in a family census or revision list grouping. It was not unusual for family members to be apart. It could be that the missing family member was working somewhere else at the time the document was created, so you might find them in a completely different parish than you would expect.
Do you have any tips to add for searching for Latvian death records? Share them here!