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Surname Saturday – Latvian Surname Project Update, July 11, 2015

New format of Surname Saturday here on Discovering Latvian Roots – if you want surname meanings, go check out the Facebook and Twitter pages, here on the blog it will be a summary of what’s new on the Latvian Surname Project, as funded by my supporters on Patreon!

New this week!

Parishes added – Bērzpils, Kursīši, Sabile

Names added – Auzulauks, Bļodnieks, Knauķis, Krūmkalns, Pērle, Ratiņš, Turks

… and over 50 other names have been updated to reflect their presence in more parishes!

The Surname Project currently includes 1316 surnames from 459 parishes, towns and cities. Many parishes only have a few names listed so far, but I’m working every day to add more for each parish!

Finnic Influences in Latvia: Place Names

This is the first in a series of posts regarding Finnic influences in Latvia, which will discuss places, names, language and population, as well as the relevance that this will have on your genealogical adventures. Since Finnic peoples were never an occupying force in Latvia, as much attention isn’t paid to their influence when compared to Germans, Russians and Swedes, but the influence is actually quite substantial, thus why I’ve decided to discuss it here.

First of all, who are the Finnic peoples that I’m referring to? In brief, these are the people who speak Finnic languages, a language family in Europe that is unrelated to the Indo-European language family that dominates the continent. Included in the Finnic language family are Estonian, Finnish, Livonian, Seto, Karelian, Võro and more, and these languages are a part of the broader Finno-Ugric language family which also includes Sami and Hungarian. For our purposes, the most relevant languages for us to focus on are Livonian, Estonian, Seto and Võro. Livonians are a Finnic ethnic group indigenous to Latvian territory, though they are, at this point, almost completely assimilated to Latvian, with few speakers of the language, though it is starting to make a resurgence. Estonians are, of course, our northern neighbours. Setos and Võros are minority groups in southern Estonia, in the regions bordering northeastern Latvia and Russia.

Modern Livonian territory is considered to be in western Latvia, around the cape of Kolka and south towards Ventspils, on the Livonian Coast. Historically, however, the Livonians extended also across northern Latvia and the districts of Valmiera and Valka and down to the Daugava river. The settlement that would eventually become Rīga was founded by Livonians, and they also gave names to many of the towns and villages across northern Latvia.

One easy way to identify a place name as being of Livonian origin is the suffix -ži. At least that is what all the different resources I’ve consulted say, but none of them have been able to tell me why. It is true that most places with this suffix – Ainaži, Lugaži, Ropaži, Vidriži, to name a few – are found in northern Latvia in formerly Livonian lands, so this would make sense. But if the -ži suffix has a specific meaning on its own, that I can’t say. Ainaži comes from the Livonian “āina” and Estonian “hein” meaning “hay”, while for the hamlet Aijaži, the name comes from the Livonian “aigi” and Estonian “aia” meaning “fence”.

Beyond this suffix, a number of other well-known places – as well as many smaller places – have Finnic roots. Take Turaida, for example – home of the famous Turaida castle:

turaida_castle

Turaida Castle ruins, September 2014. Photo taken by me. Click to enlarge.

The name Turaida is an ancient one, and linked to the Finnic god Taara – also believed to be connected to the Scandinavian god Thor. The name Turaida comes from the Livonian “Tara aida” and Estonian “Taara aed” – God’s garden. That Taara was a god worshipped in the Baltic by the Finnic people is attested to by Henry of Livonia in his Chronicle, written in the thirteenth century.

The town of Tukums also takes its name from Finnic languages, most often interpreted as the Livonian “Tukā mō” and Estonian “tukk maa” – end or fringe of the land. Another interpretation is the Estonian “tukkuma”, a conjugation of the verb “tukkuda”, meaning “to snooze”. Rūjiena, in the north of Latvia, is believed to come from the Estonian word “ruhi”, meaning “dugout canoe” (the town name comes from the Rūja river, which flows through Rūjiena, and originates in Ruhi lake in Estonia). Nearby Ipiķi has two possible Estonian sources: “hüpak” meaning “jump” or “ööbik” meaning “nightingale”. On the other side of Rūjiena from Ipiķi, there is the hamlet “Piksāri”, Estonian “pikk saar” – “long island” (however, there are no visible islands anywhere in the vicinity, let alone a body of water big enough to have one, so perhaps the name comes from the fact that the area has many little rivers, so Piksāri looked sort of like an island, even if it really wasn’t).

The Livonian Coast in Kurzeme around the Cape of Kolka also has Livonian names for the communities found there. Out of respect for the Livonian people, there is a growing usage of these names both in public and private communications. These communities are (Latvian/Livonian): Lūžņa/Lūžkilā, Miķeļtornis/Pizā, Lielirbe/Īra, Jaunciems/Ūžkilā, Sīkrags/Sīkrõg, Mazirbe/Irē, Košrags/Kuoštrõg, Pitrags/Pitrõg, Saunags/Sǟnag, Vaide/Vaid, Kolka/Kūolka and Melnsils/Mustānum.

There are a variety of Estonian and Livonian words to keep an eye for in Latvian placenames, remembering that they could be rendered through several different alphabets and languages, so they might not at first glance look to match, but do. These are words to do with natural features – “saar/kǭla” (island), “jõgi/joug” (river), “järv/jǭra” (lake), “maa/mǭ” (land), “org/luoik” (valley), “nurm/nuŗm” (field), “mägi/mäe/mäg” (hill/mountain), “küla/kilā” (hamlet) and “soo/sūo” (swamp). Also important could be popular tree names – “tamm/täm” (oak), “kask/kõiv/kõuvõ” (birch) and “kuusk/kūzõ” (spruce).

Next up: We will be talking about Finnic influences on personal names – both given names and surnames. There are a lot of them, so to prepare keep in mind the last paragraph above – remembering the crossover between Latvian place names and surnames, these elements will repeat!

This post is made possible by my supporters on Patreon. Sign up there to support my work and be the first to know about my new projects and products!

WW1 Diary – July 8, 1918

Seventy-third installment from the diary of my great-grandfather’s sister Alise, written during the First World War. When the diary starts, she is living just a few miles from the front lines of the Eastern Front, and is then forced to flee with her husband and two young daughters to her family’s house near Limbaži as the war moves even closer. Her third child, a son, was born there in February 1916. The family has now relocated (again) to a home near Valmiera, and the Russian Revolution is in full swing. For more background, see here, and click on the tag “diary entries” to see all of the entries that I have posted.

If there is mention of a recognizable historical figure and event, I will provide a Wikipedia link so that you can read more about the events that Alise is describing.

July 8, 1918

And so the longing has been fulfilled. I visited Lēdurga, I visited Kroņi, I visited all of my old acquaintances. It felt like in each place I was greeted with the phrase “Do you remember?” Do you remember, how in the quiet blue evening, on my way to the cradle of dreams I was thinking about life, and I dreamed that Lēdurga was destroyed, especially sad and terrible was our church, the wind howls through the broken windows and doors. I don’t want to believe that people can do such mindless destruction.

It was nice in Kroņi, we lived as our hearts desired. It was sad to say goodbye to my old dear lake, where once the sun lit it up like gold and that which I felt, I believed… and so passed the days in my homeland’s paths and memories.

Now back at Anna estate, it is also very good here, everything is bountiful and peaceful and it is good to be alive!

Wordless Wednesday – Jaunpils Lutheran Church

jaunpils_baznica

(Click picture to enlarge)

Jaunpils Lutheran Church, Jaunpils, Latvia. Construction on this church started in 1592. Photo taken by me, May 2015.

Mappy Monday – The Many Names of Freedom Street

We’re starting off the Mappy Monday series on Discovering Latvian Roots with the most famous and iconic of Latvian streets – Brīvības iela, in English – Freedom Street. This is also one of the streets that has undergone the most name changes, especially in the 20th century, so it makes a good starting point for this series.

Base of the Freedom Monument with the three Baltic flags on the 25th anniversary of the Baltic Way. Photo taken by me, August 2014. Click photo to enlarge.

Freedom Street starts, appropriately, at the Freedom Monument – though the street, and its name, came first. In centuries past, the old trade road to Pskov and beyond to Saint Petersburg followed a similar path, and terminated in Old Town Rīga. Freedom Street is one of the longest roads in Rīga, and can almost be considered one of the longest roads in Latvia, since it still continues on as the highway to Pskov, but after it leaves Rīga city limits, the name changes from Freedom to the Vidzeme highway.

The modern Freedom Street developed as the main boulevard of Rīga in the early to mid-19th century. Rīga’s suburbs (which at that point constituted most of Rīga outside of Old Town) were destroyed in 1812, in anticipation of Napoleon’s invasion (which never ended up coming to Rīga). This event, along with the dismantling of the city walls along the city canal in the 1850s and 1860s, meant a fundamental restructuring of the Rīga environs. The boulevard system was developed, and masonry construction was permitted in the suburbs. This construction was particularly intensive along Freedom Street, particularly in the first half of the 19th century, and the road stretched to a triumphal arch named the Alexander Gate, built in 1818 in honour of Czar Alexander, and thus the road was also given the name Alexander Street (Aleksandra iela in Latvian).

It retained this name until Latvian independence, when it was renamed Freedom Street in 1923. The Freedom Monument was built in 1935. The iconic name of this street, and what it represented, meant that occupying forces would not accept such an idea, and thus the occupation of Latvia meant the name changed. During the Nazi occupation during the Second World War, the road was known as Adolf Hitler Street. Once the Soviets occupied Latvia, they also eliminated the name of Freedom, and called it Lenin Street.

Upon the restoration of independence, Freedom Street regained its name, and maintains it to this day.

Surname Saturday – Latvian Surname Project Update!

New format of Surname Saturday here on Discovering Latvian Roots – if you want surname meanings, go check out the Facebook and Twitter pages, here on the blog it will be a summary of what’s new on the Latvian Surname Project, as funded by my supporters on Patreon!

New this week!

Parishes added – Asīte, Gaiķi, Misa, Pasiene, Rāva, Saka, Tirza, Zalve

Names added – Kalvāns, Kristapsons, Kukulis

… and over 50 other names have been updated to reflect their presence in more parishes!

The Surname Project currently includes 1309 surnames from 456 parishes, towns and cities. Many parishes only have a few names listed so far, but I’m working every day to add more for each parish!

Wordless Wednesday – Kuldīga Castle Guard House

kuldigas_pils_sarga_maja

(Click picture to enlarge)

Guard house for the former Kuldīga Castle, Kuldīga, Latvia. The castle itself was mostly destroyed in the 18th century, only ruins remain today. Photo taken by me, May 2015.

Patreon Debut!

This week marks the start of a new era of Discovering Latvian Roots!

I’m committing to a new blogging/social media schedule, and the reason for that is I’m also opening up my offerings to include Patreon! You can find the details of that new blogging/social media schedule at the link.

In brief, Patreon is a website that allows people to pledge regular support to creators – bloggers, independent musicians, etc. In return for pledging a certain amount of money per month or per creation (blog post, video, etc.), patrons receive different types of perks. I’ve decided to join the site and pursue the per month model, because that lends itself better to what I do – not just blogging, but also information via social media (Facebook and Twitter), as well as additions to the Latvian Surname Project, which can’t really be quantified appropriately for a per-creation type of pledge, so monthly is the best model for me.

The fact that this is a recurring monthly pledge is what makes it different from a one-time project like a Kickstarter campaign (and don’t worry, I’m hard at work at that fiction project too!). However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with specific goals – for example, for my Patreon campaign, once it reaches a pledge level of $100 per month (not $100 from one person, $100 from everyone all together) then I will start publishing indexes to the First World War refugee registers every month.

And what kind of perks do patrons get? Besides the thank-you and insider news on all of my new projects, different monthly pledge levels get increasing amounts of perks, starting with a weekly newsletter that will have translations of birth, marriage and death records at the $5/month level, and then at the $100/month level you get not only that newsletter, but also a newsletter on revision list and census records, you get to submit ideas for blog posts and records for the newsletter, access to print-and-play games related to Latvian history, genealogy and migration, access to all of my ebooks as they’re published (fiction and non-fiction) and I will also manage a Latvian One-Name or One-Place study for you. That’s a lot of stuff! Of course, there are also several other pledge levels – $10, $25 and $50 per month – between the $5 and $100 options.

And if you sign up before 23:59pm Eastern European Standard Time on June 30th – that’s about 24 hours from now – regardless of your pledge level, you will get a bonus personalized THANK-YOU video from me, filmed at a Rīga location of your choice. So don’t delay!

WW1 Diary – June 28, 1918

Seventy-second installment from the diary of my great-grandfather’s sister Alise, written during the First World War. When the diary starts, she is living just a few miles from the front lines of the Eastern Front, and is then forced to flee with her husband and two young daughters to her family’s house near Limbaži as the war moves even closer. Her third child, a son, was born there in February 1916. The family has now relocated (again) to a home near Valmiera, and the Russian Revolution is in full swing. For more background, see here, and click on the tag “diary entries” to see all of the entries that I have posted.

If there is mention of a recognizable historical figure and event, I will provide a Wikipedia link so that you can read more about the events that Alise is describing.

June 28, 1918

Yesterday I celebrated my birthday according to the old style, and tomorrow I will pack my traveling bag and head off to my father’s house for a visit. What a joy it will be to see all of those dear places, how I want to be there after so long!

New Genealogy Courses Starting in May!

As you may recall, in February I started my first beginners’ course in Latvian genealogy. It is still running, and it has been an intense experience for all involved! But everyone (including me!) is learning a lot, so I think that further sessions of the course can help more people, so the next sessions will be starting on May 11!

Now, based on feedback that I’ve received on this course, I’ve made some changes. Read on to find out more!

Beginners’ Course in Latvian Genealogy – Intensive and Non-Intensive versions

This is essentially the same 12-week course that started in February (read there for more details), but with two main differences. Firstly, there will be intensive and non-intensive versions. The intensive version will be more or less the same as the current course – and let me tell you, it will be intense! Current participants report sometimes spending six to eight hours a week on the course, but they are learning a lot. The non-intensive version will follow the same curriculum, and assignments for the first four weeks will be the same, but after that, there will not be an obligation to translate full records – rather, participants will use the techniques learned in the first four weeks to identify records of interest and then submit them to me, and I will provide the translations. So this version of the course is suitable for people who want to participate in the search process for their ancestors, and have an idea as to what they’re looking at, but don’t have the time to commit to learning all of the details of each record.

The other difference is that there will be an open-ended number of assignments for each week – do as many as you can for the time you have, for either version of the course. If you want to do all of them, then great, if you can’t, that’s okay too. It is up to you how much time you want to take.

No prior knowledge of Latvian, German or Russian required – everything you’ll need to know to locate villages/towns, find your ancestors’ records on Raduraksti and then understand what the records say will be included in the course. The course will be conducted in English.

Both course variants will follow the same schedule as the current course:

  • Week 1 – Historical Context and Migration Patterns
  • Week 2 – Spelling and Orthography
  • Week 3 – Location, Location, Location
  • Week 4 – Names
  • Week 5 – Relationships and Occupations
  • Week 6 – Baptism/Birth Records
  • Week 7 – Marriage Records
  • Week 8 – Death Records
  • Week 9 – Other Religious Records
  • Week 10 – Revision Lists
  • Week 11 – 1897 Census
  • Week 12 – Wrap-Up and Next Steps

All assignments you complete will be focused to your own particular regional needs (that is, where your ancestors lived), as well as your ancestors’ religious confessions. While this first session focused on Lutheran records, this next session will have Catholic, Jewish and/or Orthodox options if requested.

NEW! – Course on Historical Context of Latvian Genealogy Records

Perhaps before you dive into the minutiae of Latvian genealogy records, you want to learn more about the history and context of said records. This course will take you through an overview of the past four hundred years of Latvian history, and the records generated throughout different historical eras, what the records were used for and what genealogical information they can provide to us today. This course does NOT go into the particulars of each type of record, or how to read them, but provides an overview of the information these records can provide. Some of the records discussed are available online, others are only available on-site at the archives.

This is an eight-week course and will be conducted in English. No knowledge of other languages is required. Assignments will be methodological in scope – analyzing different provided scenarios and making suggestions or recommendations, and so on.

The course outline:

  • Week 1 – Early Records and History to 1800 (Different empires, guilds, courts)
  • Week 2 – Serfdom and Liberation (Surnames, church records, revision lists)
  • Week 3 – Urban and Rural Shifts (Land records, housing registers, parish registers, 1897 Census)
  • Week 4 – Education and Social Betterment (Social class, school records, tax lists)
  • Week 5 – 1905 Revolution and Its Causes (Russian Empire military records, secret police records, emigration)
  • Week 6 – First World War (Refugee records, Latvian military records)
  • Week 7 – Interwar era (Census records, passports, etc.)
  • Week 8 – Second World War (Occupying regimes – Soviets and Nazis, Holocaust, military records, refugee newspapers, International Tracing Service)

Requirements for Course Participation

These technical requirements are for all courses. You will need to have an Internet connection as well as a Google account, since we will use many Google features, including Gmail, Hangouts (text only) and Drive. A Google account is free. You will also need an account on the Raduraksti website, also free. A computer (desktop or laptop) would be best, but as long as you can see, read and navigate the embedded pages in the Raduraksti website, then a tablet would also suffice (be aware that not all tablets have this capability). The intensive course will typically take four to eight hours per week, the non-intensive course should take you about one to three hours per week. The historical context course should take one to two hours per week.

Prices (in US Dollars)

Beginners’ Course in Latvian Genealogy – Intensive: $159
Beginners’ Course in Latvian Genealogy – Non-Intensive: $129

This includes:

  • 12 modules, one each week, which will consist of readings, exercises and applying lessons learned to your own family history (see outline above), new modules will be released on Monday and you have until the following Monday to complete the exercises
  • corrected exercises returned to you within 48 hours
  • access to a group chatroom where you can discuss the course material with other students and ask the instructor questions
  • *Special offer! If your family knowledge isn’t as extensive as it needs to be to participate in the course yet (that is, you do not have knowledge of ancestors born in Latvia prior to 1909), then upon registering for the course, you can receive four hours of on-site research for the price of three – $75 instead of $100 – to be conducted by me before you start the course so you will be able to participate effectively.

This course (intensive and non-intensive combined) is limited to 15 participants.

Course on Historical Context of Latvian Genealogy Records – $89

This includes:

  • 8 modules, one each week, which will consist of readings and exercises to apply your understanding of the history and record types. New modules will be released on Monday and you will have until the following Monday to complete the exercises.
  • comments provided on your exercises within 48 hours
  • access to a group chatroom where you can discuss the course material with other students and ask the instructor questions

This course is limited to 20 participants.

To Sign Up!

Please send an email to (note: this is an image to prevent spam, you will need to type it into your email program) expressing your interest, and tell me which course you are interested in. For the intensive and non-intensive courses, please outline for me your Latvian family history as far as you know it, including when approximately they emigrated from Latvia, names and dates, ethnicity, religion, and so on, so that I can make sure that the course is appropriate for you. For the historical context course, just outline your interest in the topic. Once I’ve given you the go-ahead, you can send payment via Paypal, and you’ll be welcomed into the course!

Looking forward to hearing from you soon!