During the Soviet era, there were few buildings so feared and dreaded in Latvia as the “Corner House” – an otherwise nondescript building on the corner of Brīvības and Stabu streets (though of course Brīvības street – meaning Freedom Street – was called Lenin Street during the Soviet era, couldn’t have any references to freedom). This building was the headquarters of the local KGB, and NKVD before them. Many of those who entered for questioning never left through the same doors that they entered through – either they stayed in the building until they were executed, or they left in a prison truck to be taken further afield to prison or the gulag.
The building was then taken over by the Latvian police force after independence was re-established, but they abandoned it in 2008. It stood empty for a number of years, until this year – as part of the Rīga 2014 European Capital of Culture – the Corner House is open once again, but not as a prison or place of terror, but a place of exhibitions that commemorate the terrors that took place here and the wartime experiences of the Latvian people.
At the entrance to the Corner House. Photo taken by me, August 2014.
It is possible to go on guided tours of the “Cheka basements”, where the prison cells were located, and see where and how prisoners actually lived. You get to see an interrogation chamber, and learn why windows on the fourth and fifth floors had bars on them.
On the first floor, there is a free-of-charge exhibition by the Occupation Museum of Latvia that goes through the history of the Soviet occupation and some of the events in the Corner House itself. The fourth and sixth floors of the building require payment, and have a collection of exhibitions from many different museums and organizations, including the Latvians Abroad – Museum and Research Centre that I work with.
The Latvians Abroad – Museum and Research Centre’s exhibition is called “A Latvian’s Suitcase” – and exhibits items that people brought with them when they were leaving Latvia for new lives someplace else (most are from the Second World War era). The main room of the exhibition is designed to look like a luggage storage room, with the tags describing the objects looking like luggage tags.
“A Latvian’s Suitcase” exhibit. Photo taken by me, August 2014.
There are the items that you would expect – clothing, suitcases, documents – but also items that might seem overly sentimental or bulky, not items that you would think to pack if you were fleeing for your life – but people brought with them anyways, as they were a testament to what could not and should not be forgotten. Folk costumes were one of the major items – impractical as daywear, but a vital part of maintaining the Latvian identity abroad.
People bringing bread along would not sound too unusual – after all, you need something to eat while you are on this long journey. But what is surprising is the number of people who kept the crusts from this bread – and then used it as a starter for making bread in their new homes. One of the rooms of our exhibition mentions one family that still bakes bread from that same starter now, 70 years later, but from the stories I’ve heard, I know that a number of other families do the same. Totally amazing!
The exhibition at the Corner House is open until October 19th. If you are in Rīga during this time, I highly recommend you visit.
A question we ask of visitors to the exhibition – and they write their answers on a card we give them and put it up on the wall – is “if you had only minutes to pack before leaving your home, probably forever, what would you bring with you?” So now, here on this Internet wall, I ask the same question. What would you bring with you?
Time for Week 32 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 Mārtiņš Baburs, born January 9, 1844 and died 1870. He is my great-great-great-grandfather, by way of my paternal grandmother’s paternal grandmother Karoline Matilde Baburs.
Mārtiņš Baburs was born to Ādams Baburs and Anna Ronis (Bonis?) on Suntaži estate in central Latvia. When he was very young, they moved (back?) to Stopiņi estate, where there were other known Baburs, who could be family members, since this name is extremely uncommon in Latvia.
Mārtiņš married Ēde Jansons on October 16, 1866 in Ikšķile, which is not far from Stopiņi. Soon afterwards, they moved to Rīga, where their daughter Karolīne Matilde was born in 1867/1868 (depending on the calendar being used). The Rīga tax lists attest to the fact that his parents and brothers also moved to Rīga, probably around the same time.
Mārtiņš died in 1870, but where, on what date and how, I do not know. His death is not recorded in the Rīga Jēzus church (where other family events such as Karolīne’s baptism and his father Ādams’ death are recorded) or in the Ikšķile church. He died at the age of 26 – that is certainly the youngest death of an ancestor that I have. Had he been recruited into the army, and died there? Was he the victim of some sort of workplace accident? A disease of some kind? I want to know. I’ll have to consult all of the other Rīga churches for this time period, to see if for some reason he was recorded there instead, then expand out from there. Possibly also check military recruitment registers, to see if he was called into active service, but the Russian Empire didn’t have any wars going on that I’ve been able to find at that time. So for now, it remains a mystery.
Do you have an ancestor who died young, but can’t find why? Maybe we can help each other! Leave a comment below!
Time for Week 31 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 Ansis Eglītis, born c. 1818, died after 1858. He is my great-great-great-grandfather by way of my maternal grandfather’s maternal grandfather, Ansis Eglītis.
Yes, as you can tell, we have another case of repeating names – my many generations of Pēteris Celmiņš’ are not the only repeating name I have. In this case, however, there are only two – a father and son. Today, we are talking about the father, who was the son of Andrejs Eglītis and his wife Līze. He was born and lived all of his life, to my knowledge at least, on Langači farm on Limbaži estate in northern Latvia.
I now know I made a bit of an error in the entry on Ansis’ father Andrejs – looking at the 1816 revision list (without surnames, but ages match up to 1826), it turns out there were three children born before Ansis – Trīne (born c. 1798), Brediķis (born c. 1803 and died 1813) and Marija (born c. 1806). Since Ansis was the oldest surviving son in 1826, that is probably why he is listed as the first son, even though he was technically second. So it seems that Andrejs and Līze married at a “normal” age after all, and simply had a number of kids raised and out of the house before the younger group were born. Though I do still suspect that Līze may have been a second wife – her age compared to Trīne would have made her about 17 when she was born – not impossible, but it was unusual for Latvians to marry that young, and given the five year gap between Trīne and Bredikis, this could also be a sign.
At any rate, back to Ansis. Given the ages, Ansis married Anna sometime between 1840 and 1848. However, the marriage does not appear in any Limbaži records from that time, so that probably means that Anna was from another parish, and the marriage took place there. I have not yet had the opportunity to search the other nearby parishes for their marriage. But I do know that wherever she was from, the family was living on Langači farm in 1850 at the time of the revision list, where Ansis and Anna are listed with two sons, Andrejs and Ansis Junior. The 1858 revision list adds another brother, Mārtiņš. I’m not certain if Ansis Senior had any more children afterwards, but if he did, it is important to be careful looking through the records for them, since there are numerous other Ansis Eglītis’ from other related families running around as well. Though Ansis Senior and Junior were the only ones living in Langači in 1858, so that will help with accuracy.
The 1858 revision list is the last news that I have of Ansis Senior. I have not yet had the opportunity to look for a death record. But again, like above – any death record needs to be vetted carefully, since there are numerous other potential matches.
I have more information on his son Ansis and granddaughter Mērija – but for them, we’ll have to wait for different weeks!
Time for Week 30 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.
We are on the Celmiņš trail once again, and we now have the second (out of three total) non-Pēteris in seven known generations. This time we are talking about Kārlis Celmiņš, born March 6, 1825 and died February 2, 1886. He is my great-great-great-grandfather, by way of my paternal grandfather’s paternal grandfather.
As described in the post about his father Dāvis, he was born on Stampvēveri farm in Vijciems parish, south of Valka in northern Latvia. His mother’s name was Baiba, and he was the third son. Like most of his family members, he was probably baptized in Trikāta Lutheran Church.
Kārlis married Kače Rožlapa on September 29, 1846 at Trikāta Lutheran Church. They had four children: Pēteris (b. 1847, my great-great-grandfather), Marija (b. 1850), Minna (b. 1855) and Dāvis (b. 1858). I don’t know what happened to Minna, but I do know that Marija, after having an illegitimate daughter, married a man by the name of Pēteris Svešītis (Svesītis?). Dāvis married a woman named Marija and had at least five children.
As to my great-great-grandfather Pēteris, well, you’re just going to have to wait until his post for the details on his life!
Kārlis died on February 2, 1886 of gastric troubles. As far as I’m aware, he lived his entire life on Stampvēveri farm. How far away did he ever get to travel from there, I wonder? Probably not too far, given the time period. His grandson, my great-grandfather, eventually moved to Rīga, and had attended school in Valka before. Valka is about 23 kilometres north of Vijciems – did Kārlis even get to travel that far in his life? He was born after serfdom ended, but movement was still pretty restricted. But sometimes people did travel unimaginable distances anyways. Oh how I wish our ancestors could somehow answer all of those burning questions. Records don’t tell you everything!
Census records are typically heralded as the Holy Grail of genealogical documents: Family groups, relationships, ages, occupations, and more, easily accessible (as long as there is a search function, or if you know precisely where they lived) right at your fingertips.
Clearly, whoever says this has never tried finding anyone in the city of Rīga in the 1935 Latvian Census. The 1897 All-Russia Census records for Rīga are bad enough – but at least they are organized by street and address. In 1935, there is no such luxury.
There is some organization to the 1935 Census. However, surnames are not it, nor are street addresses, nor are families, even. Each person has their own sheet, and they aren’t filed together (with the exception of twins – they were the only family members I ever saw filed together). So you don’t have to find just one family – you have to find each family member separately, and as you’ll see, that is easier said than done.
The first level of organization in this Census is statistical district – however, statistical districts encompass entire districts of the city. I was examining the records for one of the smaller districts, geographically speaking, and it still took hours upon hours to get through it – and then just the men.
Because that’s the next level of organization – by gender. Though this isn’t foolproof – I saw a few women interspersed with the men, so mistakes were made when everything was being filed.
Next up – ethnicity. While this might narrow the field if you’re looking for someone who was a member of a minority group, if you’re looking for a Latvian, this doesn’t narrow the field very much. Also take care here if a family had a mixed marriage – there isn’t any consistency as to whether a child is filed under their mother’s or father’s ethnicity.
After these three levels of organization, then it becomes trickier. People born in Rīga are in separate files from people who were not born in Rīga, and then the Rīga-born folks are separated further by rough age groups – though these are very rough, so don’t rely on them. People who are not born in Rīga are filed in groups according to the regions they were born in – but again, no hard and fast rules. Generally speaking, people born in Latgale were grouped together – but also interspersed with people who were born in Russia. Most people born in Zemgale were filed together, but there is some crossover with Kurzeme. Vidzeme districts are all mixed together, and sometimes also grouped with people born in Estonia or Russia. And then if you don’t know where someone was born, and you were relying on the census to tell you – well, you’ve got a long road ahead of you.
And that is just about it when it comes to organization. No alphabetical order. No order by street names and numbers. All the typical things you rely on in a census – they do not apply here. I don’t know why they were arranged like this or who did it – though given the state of the folders that hold the documents, I’m guessing not long after they were created, so probably by the statistical office – but this is how they are. For now, at least.
I desperately want to reorganize these documents, so that people can access them in an effective manner, because these census entries provide a great deal of information, if you can finally find what you’re looking for. But the archives are unlikely to do it themselves – like cultural organizations the world over, they are strapped for cash and have so many projects that demand their attention first over such things like reorganizing document collections.
I’ve toyed with the idea of asking them if I could do it. I’m not sure if they’d let me, but it would be worth asking. But it would demand a great deal of time on my part, and I can’t afford to do that right now, as I have paying work to focus on, as well as plenty of other volunteer tasks that I undertake. The archives certainly couldn’t afford it either. But perhaps if enough people are interested in seeing this done, we could establish a fund that provides a certain amount of remuneration – either for me or for someone else – to make it happen.
Is anyone interested in making it happen? It would be so useful for future researchers, and, thinking ahead to when they eventually do digitize these collections, it would help to have them organized in a coherent manner so organizing and publishing the digitized files would be a piece of cake.
Time for Week 29 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 Jēkabs Lūkins, born November 15, 1862 and died June 28, 1929. He is my great-great-grandfather, my paternal grandmother’s paternal grandfather.
Like so many of the Lūkins clan, Jēkabs was born on Jaunate estate in northern Latvia. He was born on the Tauži farm, just south of the town of Mazsalaca. His parents were Līberts Lūkins and Līze Mildere. He had a plethora of siblings, most older, believed to include Meļķis (1845), Jānis (1847, died age 5), Anna (1849), Ēde (1851, died in infancy), Indriķis (1852), Jānis (1854, died age 13), Marija (1857, died in infancy), Tenis (1860), Marija (1864, died in infancy) and Ieva (1866). You’ll note several names repeat, due to the death of the child at a young age. Also, I say “believed to include” because I have not yet verified all of these myself, so there could be mistakes.
I don’t know much about Jēkabs’ early life, only that he was married (to a woman named Kate?) prior to 1892, and that she died, for the next news I have of him is his marriage to my great-great-grandmother Karoline Matilde Baburs in Daugavgrīva, near Rīga, on October 11, 1892, where he is listed as a widower.
In this marriage record, it states that he is a “worker” in Daugavgrīva. Other professions attributed to him throughout his life include “farmer” (1920 passport), “vendor” (a 1938 family overview written by his son Augusts) and “meat vendor” (another document by his son). He also lived in the district of Bolderāja, near Daugavgrīva.
The family attaches three children – Jānis, Vera and Antons – to Jēkabs’ first marriage to this Kate. The children I know the most about are those from his second marriage, including my great-grandfather Augusts Roberts (1894). Augusts’ full siblings were Olga Paulīne (1896), Vilhelms Eduards (1903) and Ernests (date unknown).
Jēkabs died on June 28, 1929. I have this photo of the family taken at the funeral. His widow Karoline is in the middle of the row of seated women (third from the right). On her left is her daughter-in-law, my great-grandmother Lilija Šīre, and right below them, the little blonde girl with a bow in her hair is my grandmother Zenta. My great-grandfather Augusts (Lilija’s husband and Zenta’s father) is fourth from the left in the third row (well, really, in a row of his own in the dark jacket between cousin Natālija and nephew Alfrēds).
Photo provided by a relative. Click to enlarge.
The Lūkins family of the Mazsalaca area is absolutely massive, as I mentioned in Liberts’ post, and I haven’t had the opportunity to sort them all out myself – but thankfully, a lot of the work has been done for me. The Mazsalaca area has been very active in the gathering of genealogical data, both pre-Internet and in the Internet age. There is a “Family Tree Room” at the Mazsalaca district museum (that reminds me, I should get up there sometime this summer…) which contains trees compiled by a genealogist several decades ago. Now in the Internet age, the regional family tree is the largest Latvian tree on MyHeritage, and includes over 34,000 names. This is where I learned that I am distantly related by marriage to interwar Latvian president Kārlis Ulmanis. This family tree also helped me sort out my precise relationship to Augusts Kirhenšteins, the first leader of the Latvian SSR, after Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union. After I saw in a museum exhibition that Augusts Kirhenšteins’ mother was a Babe Lūkina from the Mazsalaca area, I knew we had to be related, but I didn’t know precisely how. Now I have the answer – Babe Lūkina was a third cousin to my ancestor Jēkabs Lūkins.
This massive family tree does have some mistakes, but we’re working on it. But I find this to be a bit of a novelty – this is the first family tree that I’ve been involved in researching that has already been “done” and now just needs to be corrected! This isn’t something that happens often in my line of work, since genealogy is still a developing field here, but in time, I think we’ll have things pretty well sorted out – not just in this tree, but for all of Latvia! It isn’t a huge country, after all. Maybe in my lifetime, we’ll have the whole country’s genealogy “done”, as much as one can say it is “done”!
Summer is in full swing, and this starts to be the time when many Latvian emigrants and their descendants make a summer trip to the homeland. Will that be you?
Latvia is a beautiful place to visit in the summer, especially the countryside. Also remember that this year Rīga is one of the European Capitals of Culture, so there are all sorts of extra-special events going on. The World Choir Games are also in full swing right now, with tens of thousands of singers and supporters from all across the globe in town, performing and touring around in their spare time. The museum I work with, Latvians Abroad – Museum and Research Centre, has an exhibition as a part of the larger Corner House exhibition in the former KGB building on the corner of Brīvības and Stabu streets (when visiting our “Latvian Suitcase” exhibit, after you visit the first four exhibit rooms, don’t forget to walk down the brightly lit white corridor to the rest of the exhibit!).
As some of you may already know, I’ve recently made the more permanent move to Latvia, so I can work on genealogy projects more full-time. So if you’ve got a project for me, get in touch as soon as you can! You can view prices and contact information here on my Services page.
If you’re planning a visit to Latvia this summer or fall, and want to visit some key sites that are a part of your family history, do get in touch as well! I can help you plan your excursion to your ancestral homes, either by putting together a self-guided tour for you, or accompanying you on your trip, and helping by giving directions, explanations, helping to translate if you happen to meet Latvian-speaking relatives, and so on. I’m not a regular tour guide, but I can help you with the family history parts of your trip. Please contact me if you have any questions or want some help planning your trip!
And oh – if you happen to come to the archives this summer to do some research of your own (though do note they are closed in August), let me know if you want to say hello! I’m there almost every day.
Time for Week 28 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 Doroteja Matilde Plūme, born August 19, 1865 and died October 18, 1918. She is my great-great-grandmother, my maternal grandfather’s paternal grandmother.
The early part of Matilde’s life – yes, her first name might be Doroteja, but most documents I’ve seen that mention her go by her middle name instead, so I will do the same – was detailed in the posts about her parents, Mārtiņš Plūme and Dārta Andersone. She was born on Kroņi farm on Nabe estate in northern Latvia. As mentioned in her mother’s post, Matilde was probably the youngest of at least four siblings. She may have gone by the name Matilde to distinguish herself from her mother, whose name is a more Latvian form of Doroteja, and the names are often found interchangeably in old records.
Matilde married Roberts Jūlijs Francis from Milīte estate – several parishes over – in August of 1884. I haven’t the faintest idea how they met, considering how far away he lived. Perhaps they met through his mother’s family, since she was originally from Limbaži, which is just north of Nabe estate. Roberts moved to Kroņi, and it was here that most of their children were born, with the exception of Vera Emīlija (1890) and Bruno Maximillian (1891), who were born at the Stāle tavern on Remberģe estate while Roberts was the tavernkeeper there. The children born on Kroņi farm were: Alīse Vilhelmīne (1885), Milda Veronika (1886, died in infancy), Hugo (1888, died in infancy), Arvīds Vilhelms (1894, my grandfather), Jānis Jūlijs (1898), Velta Leonija (1903) and Anna Margrieta (1906).
Matilde inherited the family farms – Kroņi and Putniņi – from her parents after they passed away, which was sometime after her marriage in 1884, but before her own death in 1918. I have not had the opportunity to find their death records yet. Matilde died on October 18, 1918 of the Spanish flu, and based on the research I did in this post last year, she would have been one of its earlier victims in Latvia, since the newspapers did not start reporting in alarmist tones about widespread deaths until the day before her death. I’m not sure if other family members caught the flu during this time, but if they did, they all recovered, at least sparing the family further grief (until Roberts would die four years later).
That’s it for this week’s 52 Ancestors. Come back next week for a new ancestor, but come back later this week for some new content that is not 52 Ancestors posts!
Time for Week 27 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.
Though I am cheating a bit this week. I will not be talking about a direct ancestor, but rather, the brother of a great-grandfather. With all the First World War commemorations that are starting to happen now to commemorate the centenary of the start of the war, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about a life that could have been, but was tragically cut short by the war. That would be my great-grandfather Arvīds Francis’ brother, Bruno.
Bruno Maximillian Francis was born on March 23, 1891, while his family was living on Remberģe estate, just northwest of Rīga, while his father Roberts was the tavernkeeper at the Stāle tavern. He was still, however, baptized in the Lēdurga Lutheran Church on April 21, near the family’s usual home of Kroņi on Nabe estate. His older sister Vera was also born at Stāle tavern, but the rest of the children, both older and younger, were born back in Nabe.
He lived at his family’s farm until the time of his conscription into the Russian Empire Army in 1915, when he was 24 years old. From his sister Alise’s diaries, we know that he was unhappy about going to war, and not eager in the least, as other young men were. This makes me think that he was not a part of the Latvian rifleman brigades, which were allegedly “volunteer” brigades, but who knows how voluntary they really were.
The diaries tell us that he reported to the army in mid-September of 1915, so he would not have been on the Eastern Front during the Great Retreat, which makes me think that he was sent to reinforce the Rīga-Jēkabpils-Daugavpils-Baranovichi-Pinsk-Dubno-Ternopil line. However, all contact was lost with him by the end of October – though I’m not certain that he died outright, since otherwise his family would have received notice of his death, but here they are left waiting and do not know, since still a year later Alise writes that she knows nothing of her brother’s fate, but assumes he is dead since he has not written. Did the Russian army send telegrams to families when soldiers died? I would have to check. If letters got through, I would imagine telegrams would as well. But maybe he was sent further afield, and only died later? Or was imprisoned and in a POW camp? I may never know. Maybe as I work into 1918 in Alise’s diary some answers will come (there were no answers in 1917), but right now, there are none.
If Bruno did die shortly after arriving at the front, he would have died when he was 24 years old. So young. Such a life unlived. This family photo – the only photo I have of him – tells me that he was a good-looking young man. I’m sure he had many women clamouring to marry him, but it was not to be. Did he leave a sweetheart behind when he headed off to war? Alise doesn’t mention anyone, but it is possible.
Or maybe… he survived? Maybe he was taken prisoner by the Germans, but then after the war was over, and the Russian Civil War was in full swing, he elected not to return, since he wasn’t sure what would result from the chaos? But surely, in such a case, after Latvia was established as its own free country, he would have communicated with his family, even if he had settled down elsewhere? All family lore says he died, but I have yet to have a record of it, or even a mention of a record, so I’m not giving up on him yet, though it may be a futile hope.
War is a terrible thing. While humanity didn’t learn from the First World War and did the Second, let’s hope that the Third never comes.
Time for Week 26 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.
Today we return to my Celmiņš line, with Dāvis Celmiņš, the son of the first Celmiņš I talked about, Pēteris Celmiņš. Dāvis is my great-great-great-great-grandfather, by way of my paternal grandfather’s paternal grandfather Pēteris Celmiņš (as mentioned in the earlier post, this is a popular name).
Other than the fact that he was born c. 1790 (too early for birth records) and died c. 1839 (according to the 1850 revision list, though I have not found a death record), and the fact that he was married to a woman named Baiba, Dāvis’ story is much the same as his father’s – quite probably born on Paukulītes farm, but moved to Stampvēveri at an early age, where his descendants would remain for decades (and even centuries) to come. Dāvis and Baiba had at least six (possibly seven) children. Five sons: Pēteris (c. 1814 – in this generation, NOT my ancestor), Jēkabs (c. 1821), Kārlis (c. 1823, my great-great-great-grandfather), Dāvis (c. 1827) and Jānis (c. 1831), and one or two daughters – there is a Marija mentioned in the 1826 revision list born c. 1825, but then the 1834 revision list mentions a daughter born c. 1825 or 1826 named Anna. So either someone got one of the names wrong, or there were two daughters, born relatively close together, but then the first (Marija) died in infancy.
To add a bit more to this post, I’ve been doing a bit of looking around at the Paukulītes farm, the farm of origin for my Celmiņš line. Predictably, it is full of Celmiņš residents as well, though at times they are referred to as “Celmītis” instead – same meaning, “-ītis” and “-iņš” are both diminutive endings, though the “-iņš” version is more common. Both the Stampvēveri and Paukulītes Celmiņš families are descended from the same progenitors. This also means that when surnames were assigned in the 1820s, the families on the two farms were still considered close enough relatives to be able to use the same surname – otherwise they would have had to use different ones.
If you are interested in the work I’m doing on my Celmiņš family – or in any Celmiņš family in general – or alternately, in Vijciems parish, watch this space, because I am in the process of developing both a One-Name Study for the name Celmiņš, as well as a One-Place Study for Vijciems parish. Stay tuned!