WW1 Diary – October 10, 1918

Seventy-seventh 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. It is with this entry here that the calendar in Latvia changed from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar.

October 10, 1918

What a beautiful and lovely day, haven’t seen one in a long time. It’s a miracle what can make people happy, after long days of rain, and now the dear sun is shining again and turning the autumn foliage gold. My heart is full of good feelings. Everywhere where my eyes can see is full of bounty and wealth. If God protects you, then life will be good going ahead. Now, things in town are still expensive and getting more so – they ask 20 rubles for butter, same for pork, etc. Clothes are unbuyable. We read newspapers impatiently. When everything returns to normal, then life will be different. We all survived the new Spanish flu, which is cutting a wide swathe across the world and is an epidemic here in our region. There are homes where no one is healthy.

Debunking Latvian Genealogy Myths: My Family Name is Only Spelled One Way!

This is the second in a series about myths relating to Latvian genealogy. Go check out the first one about record availability here!

Today’s myth: “My ancestors only spelled their surname one way.”

Wrong. Very wrong. Very incredibly wrong. If you have a Latvian ancestor, unless their name is on a very short list of very short names (Apse, Egle, Irbe and the like) I can absolutely guarantee that it has at least one other possible spelling. And even the names I noted in the previous sentence could appear in derivative forms.

This is one of the most important, if not THE most important, thing that people need to remember when doing Latvian genealogy. Why? It all comes down to various occupations and various languages that names were spelled in.


Just a sampling of the different ways to write “Mucenieks”, meaning “barrel-maker”. Stock photo from Pixabay.

Latvia only became an independent country in 1918. This means that it was only then that Latvian became an official language of a country. Occupying powers considered Latvian a peasant tongue that was best ignored and hoped it would die out (it didn’t). This means that standardized spelling was only introduced when Latvia became an independent country. Prior to that, Latvian didn’t use macrons (the horizontal lines on Ā, Ē, Ī, Ū) or carons (the Vs on Č, Š, Ž), and the use of cedillas (the commas over or under Ģ, Ķ, Ļ, Ņ) was not consistent. This means that if you know the modern spelling of a name, and it has any of those three, there will automatically be a different spelling in the old records. And the reverse is also true – if your ancestors emigrated prior to standardized spelling, looking in documents written in the modern era that could mention your ancestors, you will need to know the modern spelling of your name to be able to find them.

Even if your name does not have macrons, carons or cedillas, remember that Latvian was also written according to German spelling rules prior to the 1920s, so some letters may be different – Zs were used in place of Cs, Ss in place of Zs, and so on (for a full primer on these letter differences, see my post O is for Orthography). This adds yet another dimension to name spellings.

Then there are diminutives. Latvians love diminutives on names (the endings -iņš/iņa and -ītis/īte). The German and Russian authorities, however, did not. This means that people with diminutive names might have sometimes appeared with them in the non-diminutive forms – or vice versa, if a Latvian happened to be doing some record-keeping. So the names I mentioned above – Apse, Egle, Irbe? They could appear as Apsītis, Eglītis, Irbītis, and the old spellings thereof.

It is also important to note that when spelling was standardized, and consequently name spellings were standardized, this standardization according to Latvian spelling rules happened to *all* surnames – not just ones with roots in the Latvian language. This means that Germanic names such as Rosenthal and Andersohn became Rozentāls and Andersons in Latvian spelling, while Slavic names such as Wojtkewich or Bredowsky became Voitkevičs and Bredovskis.

If different orthographies aren’t enough, then there’s the possibility that a name was translated from one language to another – if you can’t find your independence-era Zaļkalns (green hill) in the old records, they might be appearing as Grīnbergs instead. Liepas could appear as Lindes, Puķulauks as Blumenfelds and so on. It is also possible that people just changed their name entirely (see my post Surname Changes and Popular Surnames for more) – and changes like this in the independence era can be found through a Periodika search, by searching for either the new name or the old name, because publicly announcing the name change was mandatory.

If you have any questions on how your family name might have appeared in different eras, and the posts linked in this article haven’t helped, then please let me know in comments!

This post and others like it are made possible by my patrons on Patreon. If you find the information on my site valuable, please consider becoming my patron too!

Tombstone Tuesday – Edvards Blūmbergs, 1874-1937

In this series, I am providing pictures of tombstones from Latvian cemeteries, all with death dates prior to 1945. I do not have any further information on the people mentioned.


Photo taken by me, August 2015. Click to enlarge.

Top Inscription: “Kundziņsalas Brīvp. Ugunsdzēs. biedrības biedris-līdzdibināt. goda biedris un valda loceklis” (Kundziņsala Volunteer Firefighters’ Association Member-Founder, Honorary Member and Board Member)

Name: Edvards Blūmbergs, born June 13, 1874; died January 9, 1937.

Location: Sarkandaugava Hill Cemetery, Rīga

Mappy Monday – Territorial Changes in Interwar Latvian Territory

As mentioned in the last Mappy Monday post, now we’ll be talking about interwar territorial changes and names.

After the First World War and the subsequent wars of independence, the world gained the three independent Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Since prior to this they had all been a part of the Russian Empire for a number of decades, borders did not always correspond to the ethnic realities. As a result, some compromises needed to be made between Latvia and its northern and southern neighbours in order to establish new borders.

To the north, with Estonia, lines were drawn through the middle of the Livland province fairly easily, but there were several points of contention in relatively mixed parishes. In the end, Latvia kept the parishes of Ipiķi, Lode, Ape and Jaunlaicene, while Estonia kept the parishes of Lauri, Rotova, Karula and Taheva. The town of Ainaži voted to be a part of Latvia, while the island of Roņi (Ruhnu in Estonian) voted to become a part of Estonia. The city of Valka was divided between the two countries.

The southern border between Latvia and Lithuania became more contentious. Some agreements were made relatively easily – Latvia ceded the territory of Palanga to Lithuania (due to its ongoing border dispute with Poland, Lithuania did not at the time have sea access), and in return gained the mostly Latvian parishes of Aknīste, Panemūne and Ukri from what had been a part of the Kaunas province of the Russian Empire. On more pragmatic levels, Latvia wanted the town of Mažeikai and the surrounding territory because of the railroad links, and Lithuania had eyes on all of Ilūkste county, even going so far as stationing soldiers there during the independence wars, but in the end, Lithuania kept Mažeikai and Latvia kept Ilūkste.

Beyond the border changes, there was also a lot of renaming to be done throughout Latvian territory – while most places did have Latvian names that had been “unofficial”, now they did become official. In some cases, names that were particularly Germanic or Slavic were Latvianized. For example, the abovementioned Panemūne parish was previously called Budberga. Bornsminde became Īslīce, Pustiņa became Robežnieki, Izabelina became Skaista, and so on. This did not, however, prevent members of the international community from continuing to use the old German or Russian names of places – just looking on Ancestry.com shows that Liepāja was still called Libau on passenger lists into the 1920s.

Are we done with territorial reorganization and renaming? Not even close! There’s still the Soviet period and the modern era to discuss! Stay tuned!

Surname Saturday – Latvian Surname Project Update, October 3, 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 – Graši, Kraukļi

Names added – Mednītis, Stabulnieks, Upesleja

… and over 20 other names have been updated to reflect their presence in more parishes!

The Surname Project currently includes 1386 surnames from 497 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!

Tombstone Tuesday – Anton and Amalie Petersenn

In this series, I am providing pictures of tombstones from Latvian cemeteries, all with death dates prior to 1945. I do not have any further information on the people mentioned.


Photo taken by me, September 2014. Click to enlarge.

Names: Anton Petersenn, born February 15, 1819, died June 18, 1890; Amalie Petersenn née Apping, born November 23, 1821, died April 4, 1900.

Location: German Cemetery, Cēsis

Mappy Monday – Russian Empire Era Names for Latvian Territory

Back to Mappy Monday – sorry we missed last week, but I was down with a bad cold and headache, so I couldn’t get this out last Monday! But continuing on from where we left off, at medieval to early modern names for Latvian territory, we now move into the Russian Empire age, which started in 1721, 1772 and 1795, depending on where in modern Latvia you were.

As I mentioned in the last post, those three divisions and times that these territories were incorporated into the Russian Empire set the stage for the modern Latvian provinces.

Swedish Livonia became the Russian governorate of Livland (Lifland in Russian, for a time it was also called the Rīga governorate). In Latvian, it was called Vidzemes guberņa. Vidzeme literally means “Middle Land” or “Middle Earth” – something Tolkien fans can really enjoy! I know I like telling people my ancestors are from Middle Earth. The Duchy of Courland and Semigallia became the governorate of Courland (Kurland in Russian), in Latvian Kurzemes guberņa.

As two of the three of the Baltic governorates of the Russian Empire (third being Estland – northern Estonia), Courland and Livland enjoyed various privileges – or should I say, the local Baltic German nobility enjoyed various privileges. While being nominally under the Russian Empire, the Baltic German nobility still maintained most of the control until the late 19th century and the beginning campaign of Russification at that time. The peasantry did gain one advantage sooner than in the rest of the Empire, however, and that was the abolishment of serfdom in 1817 (Courland) and 1819 (Livland). Otherwise, the peasantry were subject to the laws and administration of the Baltic German nobility and not the laws that governed the rest of the Russian Empire.

The third Latvian territory, on the other hand, did become a part of “mainland” Russia so to speak – the Inflanty Voivodeship became a part of the Russian Empire after the First Partition of Poland. After a few territorial changes and divisions, it became a part of the newly created Vitebsk governorate in 1802. This territory encompassed what is now eastern Latvia, northern Belarus and a part of western Russia. It was under the direct rule of the Russian Empire and thus subject to its laws. This meant that serfdom was not abolished there until 1861. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, the three Latvian districts of Vitebsk – Dinaburg (from 1893 known as Dvinsk, in Latvian Daugavpils), Lucyn (Ludza in Latvian) and Rezhitsa (Rēzekne in Latvian) – became a part of the Latvian Soviet territory known as Iskolat, which encompassed parts of Vidzeme as well. After the Soviets were removed from Latvia during the Latvian War of Independence, these three districts would become the Latvian province of Latgale.

And this brings us to post-First World War independent Latvia! Well, for the most part. There are a few territorial changes during the initial years of independence that we will get into next week!