While ruling powers – Germans, Swedes, Russians, Poles, etc. – changed over the centuries, one constant in the ruling class remained: Most local gentry in Latvian territory were Germans. As a result, many documents related to Latvian genealogical research prior to Latvian independence are written in German. But German writing then did not look like German writing today – most records are written in a script called Kurrent (which in the 20th century also developed into Sütterlin script, and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably). Kurrent and Sütterlin are no longer used today, but the old records are almost exclusively written in them.
Through practice and the use of material guides, one can begin to puzzle out what this script says – but here there is a bit of a shortcut! If you are just beginning to learn this script, or even if you’ve got years of experience in trying to puzzle it out, sometimes you will come across a word that is unfamiliar, and you think you know what it might say, but you’re not sure… enter this script generator that was mentioned on the Genealogy Translations Facebook group!
Alte deutsche Schrift‘s (“Old German Handwriting”) script generator can help you determine whether or not something says what you think it says. If you think you know what some old writing says, enter it in the box. Then press Enter, and it will pop up an image of how that word would appear in Kurrent. Click on the different styles under the text box to get different variations (in terms of what I see in Latvian records, I find the first, fourth and fifth style options most useful). Does the resulting image look like the word you’re puzzling out in the record? Fantastic! If not, try again with new possible letters.
The important part of the German instructions that non-German speakers need to be aware of: If you need to include the “long S” (ß), but don’t know how to type it on your keyboard, you can use the colon (:) instead.
May this resource help you in your search for your ancestors! Please share any successes in comments!
Time for Week 19 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 Kārlis Graumanis, born August 23, 1755 and died November 29, 1838. He is my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather by way of my maternal grandfather’s maternal grandmother Līze Graumane.
Considering the lack of recordkeeping prior to the early 19th century in Latvian territory, insofar as it concerned peasants, it is remarkable that I have these precise dates. Now, they are both from secondary sources – a parish register from 1834 – but it is the best that I have available. Most revision lists give ages five to seven years younger, so it is possible that the dates are somewhat off.
I am not certain where Kārlis was born, but I know that one of his sons, Tenis, was born on Morēni farm on Dikļi estate in northern Latvia on January 10, 1793. Unfortunately, I don’t have a source that mentions his eldest son’s birthplace or birthdate, and this son – Jānis – is the one I am descended from. He was five years older than Tenis, and may or may not have been born on Morēni farm as well. Morēni could well be the birthplace of Kārlis as well.
Regardless of Kārlis’ birthplace, I do know that he spent much of his life on Grotūzis farm, also a part of Dikļi estate, about 2 kilometres west of Morēni south of the main estate lands. There are three men of the right age group – that is, a father Kārlis with sons Jānis and Tenis born five years apart – as the managing family on Grotūzis farm in 1811, and since there is no mention of them having arrived there from another farm, it is likely that they were there in 1795 as well. However, since there are no surnames in 1811, nor female family members mentioned, I cannot say with 100 percent certainty that this is the right family. I’ve had it happen before where families were replaced with a group with all of the same first names and age spacings before.
At the time of the 1826 revision list, Kārlis is living on Grotūzis farm, with both of his sons and their families. No wife is mentioned. However, by 1834, they have all left Grotūzis – eldest son Jānis and his family have moved to Spurītis farm, while Kārlis, younger son Tenis and his family have moved to Skrīvelis farm, and now Kārlis has a wife, Ilze. Did he remarry when he was well into his 60s, or was his wife somehow left out of the 1826 revision list? There is a widow named Ilze Devika living on Skrīvelis farm in 1826, and while her age is a few years off to be the Ilze married to Kārlis in 1834, ages have been off before. And she is not listed in the 1834 revision list (though revision lists do not usually mention if a woman has died or moved elsewhere, so these are also possibilities as to what happened to her). Did Kārlis marry Ilze Devika? There are no records to definitively prove it, but it is a possibility.
Both Kārlis and Ilze were deceased by the time of the 1850 revision list, and it specifically states that Kārlis died in 1838, as does the parish register I mentioned above – though I have not yet found said death record. They would have died on Skrīvelis farm, which was located just one or two farms north of Morēni farm.
Considering the time period, I am amazed that I have as much on Kārlis’ life as I do – but I have even more on his son and grandson. But that is for a different day!
Time for Week 18 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 Andrejs Eglītis, born c. 1774, died 1858. He is my great-great-great-great-grandfather by way of my maternal grandfather’s maternal grandfather, Ansis Eglītis.
Andrejs Eglītis was born c. 1774 on Limbaži estate, Skuduli farm, according to his death record. Skuduli was located northwest of the town of Limbaži, and approximately 6km north of Langači farm, where he spent much of his life. Langači was located southwest of the town of Limbaži.
He is enumerated as a resident of Langači farm in 1826, 1834 and 1850, with the mention of his death in the 1858 revision list. His father is listed as Jānis. Andrejs had a brother Ansis, who was also enumerated at Langači farm in 1826 and 1834. It is unknown if they had any other siblings.
Either Andrejs and his wife Līze married later in life than was the custom of the time, or Andrejs already had children grown and out of the house by 1826, though the numbering present in the 1826 revision list makes the latter unlikely. In 1826, he is listed as 52 years old, with his wife Līze 45 years of age. There are three sons listed – my great-great-great-grandfather Ansis, age 8 (“first son”), Kārlis, age 6 (“second son”) and Jespers, age 4 (“third son”), as well as a daughter Anna, age 2 1/2. If Andrejs already had grown children, it is unlikely that Ansis would be listed as his first son. As such, it appears likely that Andrejs and Līze had their first child when they were approximately 44 and 37, respectively. Unusual, but not outside the realm of possibility.
Līze died sometime between the 1834 revision list and the 1850 revision list, however I have not been able to find her death record, since a number of the records for the 1840s are missing for the Limbaži Lutheran Church. Andrejs died on March 14, 1858, at 3:30 in the morning at the age of 84. His cause of death is listed as chest trouble.
What ancestor will be next? Find out next week when 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks returns!
Time for Week 17 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 Kārlis Radziņš, born c. 1816 and died after 1877. He is my great-great-great-grandfather by way of my paternal grandfather’s paternal grandmother, Marija Radziņa.
Kārlis is an ancestor I do not have much information on. He lived on Lugaži estate in northern Latvia, on what is now the border between Latvia and Estonia, but at the time period would have been little more than a linguistic border (and even then, it was somewhat porous – Latvians and Estonians co-mingled across this boundary). According to the 1857 revision list, he was 41 years old at the time, making his birthdate c. 1816. According to this document, his father’s name was Jānis. He was married to a woman name Marija, whose surname may have been Kaukulis (this guess is made based on the families found at the farm she is alleged to be from according to her death record). They would have been married in 1840 or 1841, but the marriage records for Lugaži parish are missing for that year.
Kārlis and Marija had six known children who lived past infancy: Liene (c. 1841), Pēteris (c. 1844), Ieva (c. 1847), Kārlis (c. 1851), Jānis (c. 1854) and Marija (1856, my great-great-grandmother). Their seventh known child was a stillborn daughter in January of 1864, which also resulted in Marija’s death from complications due to the birth. I don’t see any sign of Kārlis remarrying in Lugaži in the years immediately following her death, but it is possible that he did later, or in a different congregation from Lugaži. He may not have remarried if his older children could be counted on to care for the younger ones.
I’m not certain yet when Kārlis died, but according to my great-great-grandmother Marija’s marriage record, he was still alive when she married Pēteris Celmiņš in Lugaži Lutheran Church on October 23, 1877.
After seventeen weeks, we are almost at the end of my “most ancient known ancestors” – just a few more to go, and then we will be moving on to more recent ancestors!
Time for Week 16 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 Plūme, born c. 1825 and died after 1884. He is my great-great-great-grandfather by way of my maternal grandfather’s paternal grandmother, Doroteja Matilde Plūme.
Just like in the case of his wife Dārta Andersone, it is difficult to find out more about his ancestors due to the lack of revision lists prior to 1858. Like Dārta, it is likely that he was born on the Nabe estate, probably on Kroņi farm. His father’s name was Ādams, as indicated by the 1858 revision list entry for Kroņi. It is possible that a woman listed in the entry as “Ādams’ widow”, Trīne, is his mother, but since it does not definitively say that, I cannot be certain without a different source of proof. Ādams must have died prior to the 1850 revision list, since otherwise he would have still had an entry mentioning his death in the 1858 list. His date of death can be estimated to be between 1834 and 1850, since there is another son of his listed, also named Ādams, who was born c. 1835. I do not know at this time if Mārtiņš and Ādams Junior had any more siblings.
Mārtiņš Plūme married Dārta Andersone on December 9, 1845 at the Lēdurga Lutheran Church. Details of their children can be found in her 52 Ancestors entry, linked above. As I mentioned in that entry, Mārtiņš Plūme was able to purchase Kroņi farm in 1871 from the Nabe estate owner, Johann Adolph von Sievers, a scion of that famous Baltic German noble house. The purchase price was 4608 rubles, and Mārtiņš made a downpayment of 508 rubles. The rest was on credit, and at least 300 rubles needed to be paid every 3 years. The contract also stipulates that Mārtiņš retained the right to fish in the lakes of Nabe estate, and that von Sievers retained the right to create irrigation canals on Kroņi farm (until 1900).
I am not certain when Mārtiņš died, only that it was after Doroteja Matilde’s marriage in 1884. He probably remained on Kroņi farm until he died. Doroteja Matilde inherited Kroņi farm, which passed to her husband upon her death in 1918 and then passed to their three youngest daughters (Vera, Velta, Margrieta) after his death in 1922.
Property records can be a great source of family information – I have not looked at the entire Kroņi property file yet, but it has already provided great information for me – one key document listed all of the birth and death information for Doroteja Matilde and her husband Roberts Francis, as well as all of the birth information for their children, and later marriage information (if applicable). Somewhere in there I’m sure will be the information I need about Mārtiņš’ and Dārta’s deaths.
What goodies have you found in property records that aren’t related to property? Share your stories in comments!
Fortieth 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 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.
April 18, 1917
Apparently it is *prohibited* to work hard on a workday. Leaflets are seen everywhere, the town is decorated with red flags. People wearing red ribbons are also everywhere, singing and dancing about the new “Freedom celebration”. What kind of good they will bring us is still a big question. All sorts of meetings, rallies and disagreements. Socialist revolutionaries want to take everyone’s homes, land and belongings, without compensation, and to divide them up so everyone gets their share. Social-democrats want to work against such foolish notions and soon we can expect a civil war amongst brothers…
Even though it is only a few days until Jurģi [NB: Traditional Latvian spring celebration], the weather is still cold, in the mornings only about 5 degrees, and the land is covered with a thick layer of snow. The heart sorrows, that in the place of greenery and bird-cherry flowers, there is still white snow, that does not let anything to blossom or grow.
At the beginning of the war, no one had experienced a summer that hot. Day after day, the sun traveled across the sky like a huge burning coal. It was sad to see the fields, which in May rippled so beautifully and freshly green, turn to yellow and then brown as if burned, and finally it looked like they were crumbling to dust. The people were waiting for rain. Clouds formed, but then scattered and the sun was red, blazing across the withered land. I remember, how the nights were dry – completely without dew, when we opened the window at night for some cool air, but instead the room filled with heavy smoke, for all of the forests were burning. They burned not only for one or two days, but for months. Even the flocks of bats and dragonflies raised the alarm, as in every case, that defies explanation.
Then one day, July 19, 1914, right around lunchtime – the hot breath of the land, quiet forests, empty roads and a lonely rider on a big horse, that belonged to our doctor, where was he going in such a hurry? What kind of horrible news is he carrying? At once I remembered the alarming news in the papers. Mobilization, war – and now that war has not yet ended, that war of horror, blood and so many terrible events. Even though the end might be soon, these horrible fateful days, where countries and thrones hang in the balance… and the weather is cold, very cold, compared to the beginning.
Time for Week 15 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 ancestors is Līberts Lūkins, born 1819 (allegedly on September 3), died sometime after 1892. He is my great-great-great-grandfather by way of my paternal grandmother’s paternal grandfather Jēkabs Lūkins.
I say he was “allegedly” born on September 3, 1819, because I have not been able to independently confirm this fact. It is listed and sourced in a family document from 1942, but the source mentioned – birth records for Latvian members of the Mazsalaca Lutheran congregation – does not appear to survive to present day. At the age of seven, when the 1826 revision list was compiled, he was living at the Jauntauži farm on Jaunate estate in northern Latvia, south of Mazsalaca, near Lake Burtnieki. He was the eldest son of Jēkabs and Mārīte, with known younger siblings Jānis (c. 1822), Meļķis (c. 1825), Ādams (c. 1828), Anna (c. 1831) and Laše (c. 1834).
By the time of the 1834 revision list, the family has relocated to Žagari farm, also on Jaunate estate, about two kilometres away from Jauntauži. It is while living here that Līberts married Līze Mildere on October 29, 1844 at the Matīši Lutheran Church. Līberts and Līze had a number of children, including my great-great-grandfather Jēkabs in 1862. Līberts was still living at the time of Jēkabs’ marriage to Karolīne Matilde Baburs in 1892, but that’s all that I have for him thus far. It was very lucky for me that the 1844 marriage records for Matīši were the long-form variety that listed the bride and groom’s birth years and parents’ names, otherwise I couldn’t have been sure which of the many Līberts Lūkins’ under the age of 15 could have been him in the 1826 revision list. There were even three of them – including mine – that were seven years old at the time. I never thought “Līberts Lūkins” would be a common name, but here it certainly was!
There are a LOT of Lūkins family members in the Jaunate/Vecate/Mazsalaca area in the 19th century. It is easily one of the most common surnames on Jaunate estate in 1826, competing only with Straubergs. This means, according to the laws of the time, that they should all be related, since surnames would have been granted only a few short years earlier, and surname duplication was not permitted (that is, if one family had already selected a surname, no one else could have it). I haven’t sorted them all out yet to show the precise relationships, but my suspicion is a number of brothers who had a number of sons, many of whom were about to be or already married at the time of the surname granting, and the patriarch of that whole clan was still living at the time, but died shortly thereafter.
Apparently there is also a Lūkins family reunion every so often, taking place at Jauntauži, which I have yet to have the opportunity to attend. I’m not sure if this reunion is just for descendants of Līberts and his siblings, or if it extends to all Lūkins lines in the area that are descended from this mysterious progenitor (whose name could be Tenis, based on the name of the father of the oldest Lūkins I can find in the 1826 revision list). I hope I can go someday!
Have you attended a family reunion? How far back was the common relation? Did you meet people you hadn’t known before? Share your stories in comments!
Thirty-ninth 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 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.
April 8, 1917 (Easter)
The heart shivers… soon, soon Easter morning will rise! May we rise along with Christ, may it be a big day for us all. May nature change and grow with new life. Onwards to spring, where the ice breaks on the rivers and streams, and quickly rages off towards the sea with all of winter’s grime and the earth’s cool breath. This year, the celebration of Rebirth also coincides with yet another cycle of change. This is the change of our spiritual and political life. Furthermore, this celebration of Rebirth also coincides with the monsoon of rapid changes. In all of Russia’s corners one can hear the noise of the huge and mighty breaking of the ice of society, that happened recently in Saint Petersburg. The old society’s winter fortresses are being destroyed, big changes are afoot amongst workers, and one hears the gentle echo in our Latvian homeland that this societal ice had collected in spades.
The sound of the breaking ice in Russia has not made gentle changes here, but rather it has disturbed our deepest ice fields, and these now break and crackle and fill the air with their roaring thunder. With great noise, they also destroy what is left of the old German charges. The old Russian reactionary builds are also unravelling. As if it is connected with this societal revolution, even our Daugava’s ice is cracking and breaking with more power and force this year. Our old, dear Daugava, what times we have to live in. The broken Russian and Latvian ice still hasn’t left – real summer is still distant.
There are many hard days ahead. Now the bread ration has been reduced, because the Russian stores have been depleted. Russia fears famine. We celebrated our Easter cosily at home. We had many guests and love was not lacking, since God smiles at everyone in His grace.
Time for Week 14 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 Dārta Andersone, born c. 1825 and died after 1884. She is my great-great-great-grandmother, by way of my maternal grandfather’s paternal grandmother, Doroteja Matilde Plūme.
Dārta was probably born on Nabe estate in northern Latvia, just south of Limbaži, but since there are no revision lists prior to 1858 or birth records prior to 1834 for the local Lēdurga church, I can’t be certain. At the time of her marriage to my great-great-great-grandfather Mārtiņš Plūme on December 9, 1845, she was living on Putniņi farm on Nabe estate, and was listed as “farm manager’s daughter”. Thus it is likely that her family had lived there for some time – if they were newcomers, they’d be more likely to be farmhands instead. It is possible that her parents were Jānis and Dārta – a “Dārta Andersone, widow of Janis, age 72″ is listed in the 1858 revision list record for Putniņi, but I can’t confirm that she is the mother of my Dārta. It is possible that her parents were both already deceased by this point and that the people listed are aunts, uncles and cousins.
Dārta and her husband Mārtiņš would go on to have a number of children – Marija (c. 1846), Anna (c. 1850), Jānis (c. 1857) and Doroteja Matilde (my great-great-grandmother, 1865). These are only the children I know about, there could be more as well. Also interesting to note that Dārta and Doroteja are names that are sometimes used interchangeably in Latvian records, meaning that mother and daughter technically had the same name. However, I have not seen Doroteja Matilde referred to as Dārta – always Doroteja, or, more commonly, by her middle name Matilde. Dārta was still living at the time of her daughter’s marriage in 1884.
Even though Dārta moved to neighbouring Kroņi farm upon her marriage, it would seem that Putniņi also stayed in her branch of the family, since by the early 1920s, when her son-in-law Roberts Francis died, he was the owner of both Kroņi and Putniņi. He willed Kroņi to his daughters and Putniņi to his sons. The fact that Roberts Francis was from outside of Nabe (see my post about his father Jēkabs Francis), combined with the fact that Doroteja’s father Mārtiņš Plūme had bought Kroņi in 1871, leads me to believe that both Kroņi and Putniņi were inherited by Doroteja, and then passed to her husband after her death in 1918. This means three generations of daughters inheriting – Dārta from her parents, and then Doroteja from hers – in both cases over siblings who were male – and then finally Roberts’ and Doroteja’s daughters. I know in many countries inheritances were typically only granted to male descendants, and sometimes even only the firstborn male, but in Latvian territory this was not the case, even before the fall of the Russian Empire. As I believe I’ve mentioned before, three out of four of my great-grandmothers were the property owners of the family, not their husbands. I haven’t found any scholarly references to this, but given how prevalent female inheritance and property ownership is in my own family, I believe that it has to be pretty widespread in late 19th and early 20th century Latvia in general.
Do you have female Latvian ancestors who also inherited the family properties? Share your stories in comments!
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 Indriķis Štelmahers, born c. 1833 and died 1917. He is my great-great-grandfather by way of my maternal grandmother’s mother Jūle Štelmahere.
Unlike most of my “most ancient” ancestors, most of what I know about Indriķis 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, Indriķis was born c. 1833 in Varieši 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 Jūle (my great-grandmother), Emīlija and Karlīne, and son Jānis. My great-grandmother Jūle 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 Indriķis.
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, Indriķis was a wheelwright, as indicated by his surname (Štelmahers 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 Indriķis 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 Indriķis – 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!