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WW1 Diary – November 25, 1916

Thirty-first 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. For more background, see here, and click on the tag “diary entries” to see all of the entries that I have posted.

November 25, 1916

The Sicaus visited us. We spent the evening happily, because I had all sorts of treats with which to feed them, which is a big deal in these empty hungry times. We owe God so much! He has visited us with riches for the moment.

WW1 Diary – November 20, 1916

Thirtieth 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. For more background, see here, and click on the tag “diary entries” to see all of the entries that I have posted.

November 20, 1916

We were at church at 6pm, where they had organized a musical liturgy service. The Old Valmiera church was full to the last spot. Artists Kornets and Mediņš participated with musical presentations. These soft sounds awakened a deep religious feeling. No eye stayed dry. One could cry from the heart. Everyone was thinking of their loved ones who rest in the cold sands – about all of them. Pastor Pavasars reminded us of the fallen soldiers with an enthusiastic and moving speech. No one to tidy the sand on their graves, only the wind to move it, only the rays of the sun to greet them, I suppose also my brother’s grave, for it has been a whole year since we have heard anything from him.

Latvia and the World

Happy Latvian Independence Day!

What have you done today to show your appreciation for Latvia? Sang a song, made some traditional Latvian food, attended a Latvian celebration of some kind?

Something that anyone can do to celebrate Latvia today is to tell people about our country. We may be small, but that doesn’t mean we should be ignored! We need to take our place on the world stage, and make sure that everyone everywhere knows about us, our culture and our land.

Take the time to share our history with your friends. Tell them about the struggle for independence – gaining it, losing it, and gaining it again. Tell about our folk hero Lāčplēsis. Tell them about the Baltic Way, where millions of Latvians, Estonians and Lithuanians joined hands to protest Soviet occupation.

Share our traditions – a love of nature, the countryside and public access to lands for mushroom and berry-picking. Midsummer’s Night. Mārtiņi, Miķeļi, Ūsiņi and all of the other seasonal celebrations. Eat some Jāņi cheese and rye bread.

Remember our heroes – the men and women, both known and unknown, who fought for Latvia’s independence and freedom and would not give up the cause. Who hid the Forest Brothers for decades. Who petitioned Western governments for acknowledgement of the occupation. Who dedicated their lives to ensuring that our people would have a home to call their own, where their language would be freely spoken, supported and encouraged, and their history taught to its fullest.

So, what are you doing today to celebrate Latvia?

Surname Saturday – Rudzītis

Today’s Surname Saturday name is Rudzītis!

This Latvian name is the diminutive of “rudzi”, which means “rye”. It is a relatively common surname, found in many Latvian parishes, including Bauņi, Galgauska, Dauguļi, Krāslava, Lēdurga, Limbaži, Nabe, Sece, Sidgunda, Skaņkalne, Stopiņi, Taurupe and Umurga.

Rye is a popular Latvian foodstuff, its most popular form being rye bread, which is a Latvian staple food. Though I have yet to see anyone with a surname meaning “rye bread”!

Rudzītis is also the surname of my genealogy fiction heroine, Aila Rudzīte, “Rudzīte” being the feminine form of the name. You can read her first adventure in short story form here, and if you see promise in a series of novels featuring this genea-fiction heroine, then please support my Kickstarter which is raising funds for the production of the first novel!

Short Story - Now Live!

Head on over to my fiction blog and read the genea-fiction short story, “A President For His Country”!

As I’ve said, this short story is only the beginning. I’ve started a Kickstarter campaign to fund the first novel! All of the information is over on my fiction blog!

If you’ve enjoyed the content on this blog over the past four years, put the tips to use in your research, found something of value in the Latvian Surname Project – I hope that you can support this Kickstarter campaign. The more support I receive from people like you, the more I can focus on Latvian genealogy in my professional life, and the more content there is for you! If you don’t have the money to make a contribution right now, that’s okay – just share this project with your friends, and hopefully some of them can contribute. The more people that know about it, the more support there will be!

Thank you!

Happy Halloween!

No new puzzle today, Aila is taking the day off for every Goth’s favourite holiday – Halloween!

Now, Latvia doesn’t strictly speaking celebrate Halloween, but there are a number of Latvian pagan traditions that do mimic this holiday – most notably the practice of “ķekatas”. Now, in Latvian tradition, this going around to people’s homes dressed in costume was not a one-night-a-year event – they were more akin to the British practice of “mumming” than modern-day Halloween. The period when people would go out for “ķekatas” seems to vary, but traditionally from mid-autumn, through the winter, until early spring.

For more information, check out these two blogs – Crossing the Baltic and Hello Latvia – for their descriptions of this tradition in English.

Time for the Third Puzzle!

What do you have to solve this week? Just a simple keyword puzzle. By solving this puzzle, you’ll reveal the tools that you need to solve the puzzles *within* the “A President For His Country” short story, which is coming soon!

Advance knowledge on how to solve the puzzles will be a great asset – you’ll be able to whip through the challenges quickly, and move on with reading the story!

Come solve the third puzzle right here! Still a few bookmarks to give away, so solve solve solve and let me know you’ve done so!

And don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about my regular genealogy blogging activities. New content coming here soon!

Come Solve The Next Puzzle!

The newest puzzle is available on my fiction site!

This time, you will be revealing the name of the short story – and by doing so, find your way to the prologue of the story!

As before, first ten comments get a free story-themed bookmark! Good luck solving it!

My Fiction Project is Live!

So today I’m celebrating my fourth blogiversary! I started this blog on October 10, 2009, and it has been quite the adventure! More and more people are coming here to learn about how to find their Latvian roots. This is fantastic! Thank you all for reading, and I hope you’ve learned a lot! I know I have. You’ve shared so many different family stories with me, Latvians truly are everywhere!

And it is on that last part that I wish to focus today – Latvians are everywhere!

Today marks the beginning of my fiction project… starring, of course, a Latvian-Canadian genealogist! But she’s not your ordinary genealogist.

She’s young. She’s tattooed. And she’s got the boots to break down any genealogy brick wall.

Nor is this an ordinary fiction venture. The first offering to you will be a short story, and from there, we’ll see how it grows into a novel series.

But there’s more to it than just the stories. I’m embarking on a mixed-media storytelling adventure – that means there will be images, codes and puzzles to solve, and eventually hopefully also short videos, apps and who knows what else!

If you want to join in the adventure, head over to my fiction blog here! Subscribe to that blog as well to follow along, though big updates will also be mentioned here. If you follow both, there could end up being some puzzle-solving clues for you in the future! (hint hint)

The story is not up yet… you need to do a little detective work first! So head on over to that blog and solve the first puzzle to learn our hero’s name!

Have you solved the puzzle? First ten comments with the answer win a story-themed bookmark! (So make sure to include a valid email address in the email field!)

The Spanish Flu Epidemic in Latvia

Most of you are probably familiar with the Spanish flu epidemic that ravaged the world from the beginning of 1918 to the end of 1920 and killed somewhere between 3 and 5 percent of the world’s population. But do you know how the epidemic took place in Latvia?

Since my great-great-grandmother Dorotea Matilde Francis (maiden name Plūme) was one of its victims, I decided to find out. She died on October 18, 1918, so I decided to consult the newspapers from around that time period to see what was happening. Now, of course, wartime censorship influenced how it was reported, but it can give a glimpse of what the general attitudes towards the illness were at the time. As if the First World War, Russian Civil War and Latvian War of Independence wasn’t enough! But I’m hoping that the utter chaos of this time period in Latvia meant that, maybe, the newspapers were reporting more honestly than they were elsewhere.

The Spanish flu appears to have started in Latvia sometime in the middle of the summer of 1918. Still at the beginning of October, there did not appear to be panic. While deaths were happening overseas, newspapers did not report any in Latvia just yet. They knew what it was, but containment did not seem to be on anyone’s minds.

It is being reported by a number of places that the Spanish flu is raging throughout the Vidzeme countryside. In Smiltene, for example, a performace of the National Theatre was postponed from last Sunday because of the illness. From Lubāna we’ve heard news that schools have been closed for an unspecified time. No deaths have been reported. – Līdums, October 9, 1918

My great-great-great-grandmother lived in the region south of Limbaži. A week before her death, the newspapers were concerned about the epidemic, but still not mentioning any deaths:

From Limbaži regarding the epidemic. In the last few days, the Spanish flu has spread rapidly in the city and has taken on epidemic proportions. Signs of the illness: Strong headaches and sore throat, tiredness and high temperature, and in some cases bleeding from the nose. The illness is particularly virulent amongst students: only 25 of 150 students at the boys’ high school are healthy; and only 16 of 180 students at the girls’ high school are healthy. Now both schools are closed for a week. No deaths have been reported. – Līdums, 12.10.1918

Now the day before her death, the newspapers take on more of an alarmist tone. I wonder if she ever saw this paper, or if she had died before it reached her home.

It can be said that the Spanish flu has taken over all of Latvia. It is raging in cities and in the countryside. In the countryside there are whole parishes where everyone is lying sick in bed. There is no one to take care of the animals. Doctors, however many there are in the countryside, are constantly on the move, day and night, to visit the worst cases. The effect of the illness is not the same in all parishes. There are parishes where the illness passes quickly, while there are others where many are dying. In this latter group, in Cēsis region, we find Kārzdaba, Kalsnava-Vietalva and other districts. Children are recovering quickly, but adults are dying. And not only the elderly, but strong young people. There are situations where a strong person has died in just a few days. This is explained by the fact that adults do not take the flu seriously, but rather when the fever has broken, return to work immediately. Then they get a cold and the illness becomes pneumonia, and then they die. Therefore it is important to take the time needed to get over the illness, and staying in bed is most important.

In the countryside, this illness is particularly troublesome, since now is the time when fields need to be plowed.

In the schools, hundreds of schoolchildren would get sick in one day’s time, so schools needed to be closed. Just one sick person at a public event can also cause the illness to spread in all directions. – Līdums, October 17, 1918

Doroteja was 53 years old when she died. Was she considered a “young and strong person”? Probably not. By this time, she had had nine children, seven of whom survived to adulthood. She was a grandmother. I have yet to get to this point in Alīse’s diary, but you will see it when I do. She did write about her mother’s death, but I still have to translate the surrounding entries. Other family members also had the Spanish flu, but survived.

After her death, there are more newspaper reports from all over Latvia, including growing numbers of deaths:

Due to the Spanish flu, as can be seen from Rīga papers, even the delivery of newspapers is suffering. This shows how much this plague is spreading. – Līdums, October 18, 1918

From Liepāja. Since many children are now ill with measles or Spanish flu, the city school chairman has extended holidays in all Liepāja schools to October 31, on recommendation from the region’s doctors. Now classes will begin on November 1. – Dzimtenes Ziņas, October 24, 1918

The number of people suffering from the Spanish flu in Rīga, as reported by the “Rigasche Zeitung” has greatly multiplied. According to the statistics reported by doctors last week, there were 403 cases. The previous week, from October 6 to 12, there were only 74. It is understood that there are still thousands that the doctors do not know about, so it can be safely said that the illness has grown by six times or more. – Dzimtenes Ziņas, October 26, 1918

The Spanish flu epidemic, as reported by “Baltijas Ziņas”, has not stopped, but it is spreading and creating more victims. Deaths from this plague are growing and so people need to be very careful. The sick should not leave their beds and need to get help from a doctor immediately. – Dzimtenes Ziņas, October 30, 1918

These reports continue into November. The parishes mentioned in these articles are near to Nabe parish, where Doroteja and her family lived.

Umurga congregation. The Spanish flu is spreading terribly here, claiming many victims. People are lying everywhere as if in a hospital, since there are not many places that can help the sick, nor are there people to feed the animals. Autumn work is being delayed or missed, many things are left undone, and so there are many material losses as well. In many homes 2 or 3 people have died. On the Peri farm in Vainiži, 7 people (adults and children) have died; in many families the flu has killed 2 or 3 people. Few people are turning to doctors, maybe that is why the death rate is so high. All of the schools are closed. – Līdums, November 21, 1918

The new Spanish illness – flu – has been raging in Lielstraupe parish for a number of months. Even though a long time has passed, the illness is not abating, but is spreading more widely. There’s barely a person who has not suffered from this illness, excepting a few elderly people. In some houses, everyone got sick at once, so neighbours had to come to take care of animals. Many have also died from this illness and death is most common amongst those who are young and strong – as if this illness seeks them out. On some days, there are seven funerals in the Straupe cemetery. Because of this illness, the school year in the local schools was delayed. Not only has this illness affected Lielstraupe parish, but it is also raging in Sigulda, Turaida, Lēdurga and Mazstraupe parishes, as well as in Limbaži and Cēsis. – Baltijas Ziņas, November 25, 1918

In this last article, it is interesting to note the mention that some elderly people are not suffering from the illness. It has been posited that they may have had partial immunity due to exposure to the Russian flu that had struck almost 30 years earlier. While this may have been the case for some, clearly this was not the case for Doroteja, since even if she did have exposure to the earlier strain, it did not help her in this case.

Did anyone in your family die in the Spanish flu outbreak? Do you know their story? Share in comments!