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Rīga Passport Database Index is Available!

Okay, so admittedly, I’m late with this post, since the database I’m going to talk about came online a few months ago, but with the other projects I’ve got going on, I hadn’t gotten around to this post yet. Better late than never!

If you’ve been paying attention to Raduraksti over the past few months, you’ll see that a new category has appeared – the “Database” section, which contains one item right now – “List of Latvian inhabitants 1918-1940″. Sounds exciting, right?

It is an exciting resource, however, it is not as exhaustive as it might sound. More accurately, this should be called an “Index of Rīga internal passport holders, 1918-1940″. “Internal passport” is important – in the interwar period, this was a document that everyone over the age of 15 was supposed to have as proof of identity. Not only did it record one’s vital statistics – photograph, birthdate, birthplace, father’s name – but also addresses that the person lived at, stamps confirming participation in different elections, and so on. An internal passport can really help track someone who moved around a lot because of this.

The other important thing to know is that this collection only encompasses passports of Rīga residents – now, how they define “Rīga residents” can be a bit confusing. There are many people who lived in Rīga who officially “belonged” somewhere else – for example, my great-grandfather Pēteris Eduards Celmiņš is found in this index, though he was born in and officially belonged to Vijciems parish in northern Latvia, despite living in Rīga during that time period. His wife, Anna Liepa, a born-and-bred Rīgan, was also officially registered in Vijciems parish due to her marriage to Pēteris. The passports will list all addresses that the person lived in during the passport’s validity, including those outside of Rīga. But whenever the passport’s validity was up is presumably when the passport was returned to the government and then became a part of this archival collection. However, since there’s nothing saying that everyone returned their passports, and many could have been lost or stolen along the way, this collection is not a firm determinant of everyone who lived in Rīga during this time period. Plenty of people who lived in Rīga might not appear in this database, especially if they were born in the 1920s or later, since they might not have had their own passport yet (or still had it in their possession when the Second World War started, and thus may not have turned them in to become a part of this collection).

Now, the database does not provide all of the information that is on the passport. It just provides the barebones outline – name, surname, father’s name, birthdate, birthplace, and place of registration (“place of origin” in the English-language version, but that doesn’t seem accurate, based on what I describe above). But if you find this information in the database, then you know that the passport is there, and you can look at it at the Latvian State Historical Archives and make copies.

It is possible to search the database, but they don’t make the process easy – you need to enter the name you’re looking for and press “Enter”, and only then “Search”. You also have to enter all of the proper diacritic marks – ā, ē, ī, ū, č, ģ, ķ, ļ, ņ, š, ž – otherwise you will not get any results. Don’t forget to search both male and female variants of surnames, since they will be listed separately. To search for both at once, enter the stem of the name (for example, “Celmiņ” for Celmiņš/Celmiņa), and then search using the “>” sign instead of the “=” sign, and your results will include all names starting with that stem.

Unfortunately, the database does not provide the entries for “maiden name”, which is a shame, since they are available in the on-site database in the archives. This means that if a woman is married, she will be listed under her married name, and she will not appear in the index under her maiden name, unless she had a previous passport issued under her maiden name.

Now, what about passports for places other than Rīga? In some cases, some local parish document collections will have these passports available, but this is relatively rare. A few parishes have well-preserved collections, but unfortunately most do not. The ones that do exist are not found in this database, and I don’t know if they intend on adding them in the future.

Have you had any luck finding your ancestors in this database? Made any new discoveries? Any other questions about this database? Please share in comments!

4 comments to Rīga Passport Database Index is Available!

  • Silva Young

    I found several of my relatives on my father’s side in this database. So is it possible to write to the Latvian State Historical Archives for copies of the passports?

  • Antra

    Yes, it should be possible to write to the Latvian State Historical Archives for copies. Quote all of the information provided in the database. The database they have on-site provides the relevant record numbers as well, I’m not sure why they are not included here, since it would speed up the process, but using the information you provide, they should be able to retrieve the documents relatively quickly. Be aware that copying fees are quite high – typically around $2 per page, so you may want to ask for a quote on the price from them before the copies are made. If the price is too high, then ask what each of the pages in the documents contain – there could be some that don’t provide any additional information, and can thus be skipped without worry of missing something.

  • Silva

    Fantastic! This has been the first breakthrough because at least I’ve learned the birthdates of my grandparents, great uncle and what parish they came from.

  • Natalya

    I am looking for my possible relatives, the last name for the family who lived in Latvia at the beginning of 20th century is Tete.
    Thank you!

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