Mappy Monday – Second World War Name Changes

So we last left off on Mappy Monday with Interwar Territorial Changes in Latvia. Today, we move on to the tricky business of naming during wartime.

During the Second World War, Latvia was occupied three times, and the third occupation lasted until 1991. Latvia was occupied first by the Soviets in 1940-1941, then by the Nazis in 1941-1944, and then by the Soviets again until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The permanent name and territory change that these occupations created was the loss of part of the Abrene region in eastern Latvia. The lost territory included the town of Abrene and its railway hub, as well as six surrounding parishes – Augšpils, Gauri, Kacēni, Linava, Purvmala and Upmale. This area had been gained from Pskov province when Latvia declared its independence, and it was affirmed by the Latvian-Soviet Peace Treaty of 1920. In this peace treaty, the Soviet Union forever renounced any claims on Latvian territory. However, the Second World War showed that this treaty, in the end, wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. In 1944, after re-occupying Latvia, these six parishes and the town of Abrene were detached from the Latvian SSR and became a part of the Russian SFSR. This territory was not regained by Latvia after independence, and it remains within the Russian Federation, where Abrene is known by its old name Pytalovo, which is often believed to be a Russianization of the Latvian “Pie Tālavas” (“near Tālava”) – a name that takes us back to the ancient territories of Latvia (see here) and the Tālava mentioned there, which is close to modern Pytalovo.

Of a non-permanent nature were the street name changes introduced by the Soviets, then the Nazis, and then the Soviets again – many names celebrating Latvians, or virtues such as Freedom, had to be eliminated to suit the Soviet or Nazi purposes. As I described in my post The Many Names of Freedom Street, this was a key street for renaming. Others that were renamed included Bruņinieku iela (Knight/Crusader Street), which became Red Army Street, Pils laukums (Castle Square) became Pioneer Square, Jēkabu iela (Jacob Street) became Komsomol Street, and so on. Even innocuous-sounding streets, like Stabu iela (Post Street) became Friedrich Engels Street. These streets regained their Latvian names when independence was restored (and some earlier during Perestroika).

So what do we have left when it comes to Latvian territorial changes? A bit of the Soviet era, and then we get to the modern day! Then I will need a new topic for Mappy Mondays. Any suggestions? Leave them in comments!

Surname Saturday – Latvian Surname Project Update, October 10, 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!

Parish added – Lēdmane

Names added – Iesaliņš, Iesalnieks

… and over 10 other names have been updated to reflect their presence in more parishes!

The Surname Project currently includes 1388 surnames from 498 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!

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 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!