Time for Week 12 of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge! As noted in my first post of this challenge, I am starting with my most ancient known ancestors.

This week’s ancestor is IndriÄ·is Å telmahers, born c. 1833 and died 1917. He is my great-great-grandfather by way of my maternal grandmother’s mother JÅ«le Å telmahere.

Unlike most of my “most ancient” ancestors, most of what I know about IndriÄ·is comes from family, because the records are scarce and surnames even scarcer. This is what the records tell me: according to the 1897 All-Russia Census, IndriÄ·is was born c. 1833 in VarieÅ¡i parish, north of Krustpils, in what was then the Vitebsk guberniya of the Russian Empire, now the province of Latgale in Latvia. His family line is the only one of my family lines that comes from Latgale (meanwhile, his daughter’s husband – my great-grandfather – has my only family line from Zemgale, all of my other ancestors are from Vidzeme – I have no known Kurzeme ancestors). His father’s name was Jānis. At the time of the 1897 Census, he was living with his wife Ieva, daughters JÅ«le (my great-grandmother), EmÄ«lija and KarlÄ«ne, and son Jānis. My great-grandmother JÅ«le was born on May 19, 1874, and her baptism was recorded in the Krustpils Lutheran Church records. That is all of the documentary evidence that I have regarding IndriÄ·is.

My family stories, however, provide a lot more. Before he married my great-great-grandmother Ieva, Indriķis was married to another lady whose name I believe was Māde, and they had a daughter Ieva. Then Māde died, and Indriķis remarried, and had his other four children. His daughter Ieva would go on to have many children, and the descendants of these children make up most of my known relatives in Latvia.

At any rate, IndriÄ·is was a wheelwright, as indicated by his surname (Å telmahers is the Latvianized form of the German Stellmacher, which means wheelwright). Being as surnames in that part of Latgale didn’t become common until after the 1860s, it is quite possible that IndriÄ·is was the first person in his family to hold a surname, if his father was already deceased at the time the requirements came about. He worked at the Krustpils estate. I have a family photograph with him holding one of the wheels that he made.

When the First World War broke out, Indriķis was quite elderly. Nevertheless, since the war front was often concentrated along the Daugava river, he and his family had to flee. While his daughter Jūle (with her husband Brencis Līcītis and daughter Marta) fled almost all the way to Moscow, Indriķis, his wife Ieva and daughter Karlīne only went so far as Rēzekne, about 100km east of Krustpils. It is here that Indriķis allegedly died of dysentery in 1917, though I have not been able to find a death record to that effect.

Family stories are important. Without them, I’d barely know anything about IndriÄ·is – but since he is within the memory of people that I knew, and people that I know that knew people who knew him, I am able to know more about his life than what is in the records. I hope that eventually the records will tell me more, but thus far, I have not found very many from that part of the country.

Do you have family stories that have provided much more information than records have? Share your stories in comments!

52 Ancestors #13: IndriÄ·is Å telmahers
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