Mappy Monday – All Roads Lead Out of Rīga

I know the saying is typically “all roads lead to X”, but in this case, both are true, though I’ll be talking more about Rīga rather than the rest of the country for this.

Many old cities have pretty some pretty unimaginative street names. One type of street name particularly common in Latvia is naming streets after major cities in neighbouring countries. More often than not, these were the roads that once led (or still lead) in the direction of the named city. Some important Rīga streets that fulfill this task – Maskavas street (Moscow), Tērbatas street (Tartu), Pērnavas street (Parnu) and Tallinas street (Tallinn street). Of course, at the time they were named, they were all a part of the Russian Empire, but these names still remain today. Many Rīga streets, as we discussed last week, have changed over the years to reflect different political powers, but these street names have remained (for the most part, Tērbatas had a few name changes, but always reverted to the old name), presumably because there’s not really anything offensive to political sensibilities about a street named after the city it (eventually) leads to. One that does not survive to present day, however, is the Saint Petersburg highway, which formed part of what is now Brīvības boulevard/street/avenue.

Once we’ve got the major international cities out of the way, there are plenty of Latvian towns and villages that get their own street names (it is only fair after all, most of them will also have a Rīga street – according to BalticMaps, 86 towns, villages and cities in Latvia have a Rīga street, all the way from Liepāja in the west to Krāslava in the east and everywhere in between). In most cases, they point in the direction of the town they’re named for, but not always. Central Rīga has Cēsis and Valmiera streets. The southeastern Moscow suburb has many streets named for eastern Latvian towns and cities – Aglona, Daugavpils, Jēkabpils, Krāslava, Ludza, Rēzekne and Zilupe. Going northeast from the city centre, into the Teika suburb, there are streets named after central Latvian towns such as Aizkraukle, Dzērbene, Lielvārde, Piebalga and Ropaži.

Crossing to the other side of the Daugava, one will predictably find cities named after western and southern Latvia – Bauska, Jelgava, Ventspils, even smaller parishes like Bāta and Tadaiķi get street names. In fact, go south of Kārlis Ulmanis avenue and almost every street name is also the name of a Latvian parish.

The only part of Rīga that isn’t overrun with place names as street names is Old Town – but Old Town street names are the subject for a different post! Perhaps we’ll tackle them next week? Stay tuned!

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!

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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!

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!

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!