Last week on Mappy Monday, we made the journey north to Estonia, to learn different names of Estonian places that could come up in your research. This week, we will be doing the same with Lithuania!
Historically speaking, Latvia has a lot more in common with Estonia, especially given that Livland stretched across Latvian and Estonian lands. The border between Latvia and Lithuania was a lot more defined, but that doesn’t mean that Latvians and Lithuanians didn’t live on the other sides of the borders – they definitely did. The Latvian communities in northern Lithuania are particularly important for people trying to find their Latvian roots, since a lot of the Latvians who emigrated to the US and Canada in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were actually from the Lithuanian side of the border.
According to the All-Russia Census of 1897, approximately 35,000 Latvians lived in the Lithuanian provinces of the Russian Empire. The majority of them would have lived in the districts that bordered Latvian lands – the northern districts of the Kaunas province. These were the districts of Telšiai, Šiauliai, Panavežys and Zarasai (also seen as Novoaleksandrovsk in the old records).
The district of Telšiai is the westernmost of the group, bordering Liepāja district. In Latvian, it would appear as Telši. The towns of Skuodas (Škoda/Skoda in Latvian) and Mažeikai (Mažeiķi in Latvian, for a brief period Muravyov in Russian) had notable Latvian populations, the latter being the birthplace of sculptor Kārlis Zāle, who was designed Rīga’s Freedom Monument.
The district of Šiauliai borders Jelgava district. In Latvian it would be known as Šauļi. There was a significant Latvian community in the border regions, particularly in Akmene and Žagare. The Latvian parishes of Ukri and Panemune were, in the time of the Russian Empire, part of the province of Kaunas, likely both in Šiauliai district (Ukri could be in Telši, it is in that border area), but were transferred to Latvia as part of the border agreements after independence, since they had predominantly Latvian populations.
Moving eastward, the district of Panavežys (Paņevēža in Latvian) also had a significant Latvian community, particularly around Biržai (Birži). It had the largest Latvian community out of all of the Lithuanian districts – Latvians comprised almost 7% of the population in 1897.
The last district, Zarasai (Zarasi in Latvian) also had a large Latvian community, and prior to independence contained the predominantly Latvian parish of Aknīste, which was also granted to Latvia in the border agreements after the war. Known as Novoaleksandrovsk in Russian, its Latvian community was not as large (1.8%) as the other districts, but many Jews who later settled in Latvian cities, particularly Rīga, and then emigrated abroad, were from the district. A number of Poles from this district also migrated to Rīga and other Latvian cities.
Next week – we cross Latvia’s eastern border!