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WW1 Diary – October 5, 1916

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

October 5, 1916

Summer passed so quickly and now fall is here, strong and brash, not promising any mercy. When I was last able to write, we were celebrating the beautiful summer. Now yellow leaves fall to an eternal sleep, making the heart sad and reminding me how easily nature languishes. Eventually we will also be so – having been and now forgotten. Still, the beautiful leaves and flowers growing in the summer give us a good example. So summer does not mourn that it dies in the fall.

Now the air is cold and rainy, rarely a nice day. I have little time to dream, which I used to love doing in the fall, but I do still dream every so often, but then awaken back in the prosaic life of home. Fall work is very hard, due to the heavy rains. The potato furrows are full of water, so potatoes cost 9 rubles a pood. Yesterday we sold a pig for 355 rubles. Milk costs 20 kopecks a quart and still those prices, how terrible they are for the poor. There is mobilization after mobilization. The “white ticketholder” lines have arrived. That must mean a soon end to the war, the end must come! If it doesn’t, famine is inescapable.

Life for us is very carefree and sunny, if only God protects us and sends away the clouds, which gather over our heads without a will of their own.

I only hope that our provider is not called up, what would we do then, and how would Trūte survive this, she idolizes her father.

Research on Second World War Displaced Persons

I am posting this on behalf of a member of the FEEFHS (Federation of Eastern European Family History Societies) Facebook group, since I know a number of readers here are descendants of Second World War Displaced Persons, and could thus help in the research.

She says:

As part of my master’s thesis on the legacy of WWII displacement, I’m looking for people who lived in displaced persons camps and would be willing to share their stories. If any of you have family members or oral histories that fit that description, please [contact] me. All ethnicities/nationalities/religions/experiences welcome.

[...]I’m also looking for perspectives from descendents of DPs and how they relate to their heritage[...]

Ultimately, I’m trying to discover what stories about the war and DP camps were shared, which ones weren’t, and why. I’m hoping that the answers to these questions will help me (and others) understand the legacy of displacement, as well as the way in which the war is and is not remembered.

I’d like for people to get in touch with me no later than October 15, and I’d like to have initial interviews conducted by October 31.

Her name is Cate Hodorowicz Hennessey and she is with Goucher College’s MFA program in Creative Nonfiction. She can be reached at

Bringing Out the Great-Grandfathers, Part 2

Part 2 in my series on my great-grandfathers. Part 1 is here.

Today’s great-grandfather is Arvīds Vilhelms Francis. Arvīds was born on August 7th, 1894 (Old Style) at one o’clock in the afternoon at Kroņi farm on the Nābe estate, south of the town of Limbaži in northern Latvia. His father was Roberts Jūlijs Francis (parents Jēkabs and Jūlija Vilhelmīne, nee Roop) from Milīte estate near Lake Burtnieki. His mother was Doroteja Matilde Plūme (parents Mārtiņš and Dārta, nee Andersone) was also born on the Kroņi farm and had inherited it from her parents. Arvīds had two brothers and four sisters that survived to adulthood, Alīse (1885), Vera (1890), Bruno (1891), Jānis (1898), Velta (1903) and Margrieta (1906). There were two more children in the family who died in infancy, Milda (1886) and Hugo (1888).

Arvīds attended the town school in Limbaži and spoke German and Russian as well as Latvian. During the First World War and the Latvian War of Independence he served in the 4th Valmiera Infantry Battalion. According to Soviet-era documents, he worked in counter-espionage in the Latvian army from 1919 to 1921. He married Mērija Alīde Eglīte on September 28, 1919. My grandfather Aleksandrs was born on September 24, 1920, and his sister, who is still living, was born in 1923. The family lived on Mērija’s family farm, Samši, just a few kilometres up the road from Kroņi.

At some point after the war, Arvīds joined the “political police”, a division of the criminal police force dedicated to intelligence and counter-intelligence regarding extremist groups. In the 1920s and 1930s, with Soviet Russia to the east and Nazi Germany to the west, this was a busy job. The family spent the late 1920s and early 1930s living in western Latvia, in the towns of Liepāja and Kuldīga. Arvīds became the regional leader of the political police in Kuldīga in 1928.

Arvīds Francis, c. 1930. Photo from family collection.

In 1929, Arvīds was a member of the “Democratic Centre” political party, but I do not know of any other political involvement. According to family members, much of Arvīds’ work focused on the monitoring of far-right extremist groups such as Pērkonkrusts. His wife Mērija was often worried about how dangerous his work could be.

Working in government intelligence meant that when the Soviets invaded in 1940, he was immediately marked for arrest. He was arrested on August 3, 1940 by the Soviets, imprisoned and tortured at the Daugavpils fortress. Soviet documents of his “trial” state that he was arrested for “actively fighting” against the working class and taking an active role in the arrest and interrogation of Communist revolutionaries during the interwar period. He was found guilty of being “dangerous to society” and the Soviet order and was sentenced to execution. He was shot on June 22, 1941 and buried outside the fortress walls with some of his co-workers. He was 46 years old. He was officially rehabilitated on November 14, 1996 after Latvia had regained independence.

Arvīds’ execution was just one of a series of wartime tragedies for the family. His younger brother Jānis was also executed during the Second World War. His older brother Bruno was missing and presumed killed in action in the First World War. Arvīds’ brother-in-law Georgs, husband to Alīse, was also killed during the First World War. Mother Doroteja Matilde died of the Spanish flu in the last months of 1918. The interwar period also had its deaths – father Roberts Jūlijs died in 1922, and sister Velta died of tuberculosis in the 1930s. While the family numbered nine before the First World War started, by the end of the Second World War there were only three sisters left – Alīse, Vera and Margrieta, all of whom lived to the 1980s.

Next up: We’re moving out of law enforcement and into banking with my third great-grandfather, Pēteris Eduards Celmiņš.

Bringing Out the Great-Grandfathers, Part 1 (updated)

I was looking through old blog posts recently, and realized that I started a series of posts on my great-grandfathers (almost four years ago now), but that I never finished the series. I only talked about one of my great-grandfathers!

So I’m going to finish this series now, and I will start by expanding on the first post I made, because I have much more information now than I did then. So here we go!

If you compare this post to its original version, you can see all of the new information that I’ve found on him in the past four years. This is just an example of everything you can learn at the archives by doing research that goes beyond the names and dates. Of course, this isn’t possible for every person, especially as you go further back, but if your ancestor was a public servant, or prominent in their field, this does give you a peek into what might be available to be found.

So, on to the life of my great-grandfather Augusts Roberts Lūkins. He was born on August 30, 1898 (Old Style, September 11 in New Style) in Daugavgrīva, now one of the northernmost neighbourhoods of Rīga. His father was Jēkabs Lūkins (parents Līberts and Līze, née Mildere), a worker/vendor/farmer from the Jaunate estate in northern Latvia, south of Mazsalaca. His mother was Karlīne Matilde Babure (parents Mārtiņš and Ēde, née Jansone), who was born in Rīga shortly after her parents arrived there from Suntaži parish in central Latvia. Augusts had four brothers, Ernests, Antons, Jānis and Vilis, and two sisters, Olga and Vera. Some of these siblings may be half-siblings, since Jēkabs Lūkins was married and widowed prior to his marriage to Karlīne, and I have yet to locate all of their birth records.

He graduated from the Rīga City Gymnasium and started to pursue medical studies at the University of Tartu, but this was interrupted by the First World War. He served in the 5th Cēsis infantry battalion during the Latvian War of Independence. After the war was over, he enrolled at the University of Latvia in Rīga in the Faculty of Law. He married Lilija Marija Šīre on September 4, 1921.

Presumably to finance his studies, he also worked as a police officer with the Rīga Criminal Police during this time. He received a number of commendations while doing this work, and traveled to assignments all across the country. On March 25, 1922 he was awarded 2000 rubles (approximately $500 today, based on gold exchange rates) for solving case involving the theft of furs and a revolver. On June 20, 1922, he left his position in the criminal police “by his own choice” to take up a position with the Rīga district court.

He stayed with the Rīga district court for the rest of the year, and in January of 1923 was invited to take a position as an assistant prosecutor at the Latgale Regional Court. I assume that this was in the city of Daugavpils, because this is where my grandmother Zenta was born on June 24, 1923. Since he was living far from Rīga, he never finished his legal studies, but this did not impede his career. In March of 1925 he moved his family to Krustpils, where he became the justice of the peace. My maternal grandmother, who grew up in Krustpils, recalls the family, since they were prominent in the community, and remembers my paternal grandmother Zenta as a pretty girl with blond braids.

Augusts at his father’s funeral, 1929. Photo provided by a Lūkins family cousin.

Augusts had been involved in politics, and in 1930 he gained a seat in the 3rd Saeima (Latvian Parliament) after the death of M. Abuls, since he was the next person on the party list. He was a member of the Latgale Latvian Union party at this time, though in Parliamentary documents I’ve seen him listed as a member of other parties as well. He was re-elected in the 4th Saeima, and remained a member until the Saeima was dissolved by President Kārlis Ulmanis in 1934. During his time in the Saeima, he was a member of the judicial committee and the secretary of the criminal law commission. Shortly before the Saeima was dissolved, he was offered a position as a justice of the peace in the Riga district court. He said that if this conflicted with his mandate as a Saeima deputy that he would give up his mandate, but due to the dissolution of the Saeima this did not become an issue.

And so Augusts became the justice of the peace of the 10th district of Rīga. While in this role, he was paid 454 lats per month, which, based on gold exchange rates, is approximately $5800 in today’s currency.

How he survived the first Soviet occupation, from 1940 to 1941, I don’t know, but as far as I’m aware he stayed in his position as justice of the peace until late 1944, when he fled Latvia with his wife, daughter and son-in-law. His daughter Zenta had married my grandfather Juris Celmiņš on October 9, 1943.

The family lived in Displaced Persons camps in northern Germany, including Camp Noor near Eckenforde. They came to Canada in 1949, and after moving about through Ontario and Quebec for a few years due to his son-in-law’s work, they settled in Toronto in 1955.

Zenta died in 1959 of lung cancer, leaving her husband with three young children (he would later remarry). Augusts’ wife Lilija died on July 22, 1968, and Augusts died in Toronto on September 19 of the same year, a week after his 70th birthday. His death was reported in many Latvian emigre newspapers, and he appears in a book about Latgalian politicians.

Augusts’ life is a prime example of the opportunities that independent Latvia afforded the native Latvian population – while Augusts came from a poor family of peasant stock, he was able to rise much higher in society through his education and hard work. In this time period, it appears hard work mattered more than formal education – I very much doubt that anyone would be able to become a justice of the peace these days just through hard work if they didn’t have that formal piece of paper.

Next great-grandfather: Arvīds Vilhelms Francis. Coming soon!

Surname Saturday – Missing Parishes!

If you’ve been paying attention to the Latvian Surname Project, you’ll have noticed that I’ve filled in some gaps in the map on the front page – having added names from the parishes of Ainaži, Ipiķi, Lode and Vaidava, I now have some names for all of the parishes of pre-war Valmiera county! The parishes are no means complete – I’m not sure if they could ever be – but having something for each of them is an important step.

My next goal with the Latvian Surname Project is to increase the names that I have in the parishes I have already started. A huge number of them only have one or two names listed, and right now I’m in the process of fixing that. Before I add more parishes, I aim to have at least 5-10 names for each of the parishes currently active. Then I will build on that and add new parishes. A straightforward method I’m using to add names to parishes is by using the revision lists – you’ll see that a number of new estates have been added as a result.

New parishes added recently – Ainaži, Ipiķi, Lode, Vaidava in Valmiera county, Kārķi and Omuļi in Valka county

New surnames added recently – RUNGA (cudgel or bat), OGLE (coal), GRĪNBERGS (green hill), SELGUS (clarity).

Do you have any names to add? Read the guidelines on the front page of the project and add your comments here!

Tombstone Tuesday – Mārtiņš Gutmans, 1869-1923

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, October 2012. Click to enlarge.

Name: Mārtiņš, son of Brežs, Gutmans, born March 2, 1869, died March 26, 1923

Bottom Inscription: “Dusi!… Tavu bālo seju rotā smaidi, Šķiet – Tu saldu sapni sapņotu, Nobeigti ir visi sāpju vaidi, Izgaisuši līdz ar dzīvību” (Sleep!… Your pale face is decorated with smiles, It seems that you dream happy dreams, Finished are the cries of pain, Vanished along with life)

Location: Meža kapi, Rīga

Tombstone Tuesday – Dr Andrejs Priedkalns, 1873-1923

In this series, I am providing pictures of tombstones from Latvian cemeteries, all with death dates prior to 1945. In this case I do have some more information on this person. For the Latvian Wikipedia entry, click here. Short background, in English: Born in Tirza parish in central Latvia, studied medicine at the University of Moscow. He participated in the 1905 Revolution, and then became a deputy in the Russian Duma, representing the Latvian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party. After Latvian independence, he was chosen as the head doctor at the Rīga Children’s Hospital, a position he held until his death in 1923.

Photo taken by me, September 2012. Click to enlarge.

Top Inscription: “Slimo un Bērnu Draugs” (Friend of Children and the Sick)

Name: Dr. Andrejs Priedkalns, born November 24, 1873, died April 1, 1923

Middle Inscription: “Trešās Krievijas Valsts Domes Rīgas Strādnieku Deputāts” (Deputy of the Rīga Workers’ Party in the Third Russian State Duma)

Bottom Inscription: “Pats saulei būt un visus vest uz sauli” (To belong to the sun and to bring everyone to the sun)

Location: Mārtiņa kapi, Rīga

This gravestone looks like it would have had a picture attached – since this man was a politician in the Russian Empire era, it is likely that the photo was removed by the Soviets when they took power in the 1940s, even though he was a socialist politician.

Tombstone Tuesday – Kuznecovs Family

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 2012. Click to enlarge.

Names: Alexius Theodors Kuznecovs, born July 18, 1882, died May 15, 1912; Julius Kuznecovs, born December 30, 1855, died October 31, 1916; Katrina Kuznecovs (maiden name Leilands), born October 11, 1864, died February 14, 1937.

Inscription:”Kas ar asarām sēj, Tie ar gavilēšanu pļaus” (Who plants with tears will reap with joy)

Location: Mārtiņa kapi, Rīga

Tombstone Tuesday – Hans and Katharine Waldmann

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 2012. Click to enlarge.

Names: Hans Waldmann, born January 22, 1825, died July 20, 1903; Katharine Waldmann (maiden name Ligger), born September 1840, died September 1913.

Location: Mārtiņa kapi, Rīga

It is odd that Katharine Waldmann’s specific dates of birth/death are not present. While it might be that no one in the community knew her birth date, it would seem odd that they did not know her death date as well. Maybe since they didn’t know one, they chose not to include the other, for aesthetic purposes?

24th Anniversary of the Baltic Way

Twenty-four years ago today, on August 23rd, 1989, the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian people united in a show of Baltic unity not seen in history. Millions of people joined hands from Tallinn (Estonia), through the Estonian and Latvian countryside to Rīga (Latvia), and the through the Latvian and Lithuanian countryside to Vilnius (Lithuania). This date was chosen to draw attention to the continued occupation of the Baltics, since this was the date 50 years earlier, in 1939, when the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union was signed, dividing Eastern Europe into “spheres of influence”.

A song called “Baltics Are Waking Up” was composed for the occasion of the Baltic Way, and was recorded with verses in all three languages. You can see a video with the song, as well as footage from the Baltic Way, here. I did not make the video, but I enjoy hearing the song, and the similarities and differences in the languages (Latvian is first, then Lithuanian, then Estonian, and then all three do the chorus at the end again).

The Latvian lyrics (I believe the Lithuanian and Estonian ones are similar):

Trīs māsas jūras malā stāv,
Tās nespēks un nogurums māc.
Tur bradāta zeme un dvēseles,
Trīs tautu gods un prāts.

Bet torņos jau likteņa zvani skan,
Un jūra bangoties sāk.
Trīs māsas no miega modušās,
Par sevi pastāvēt nāk.

Atmostas Baltija, atmostas Baltija,
Lietuva, Latvija, Igaunija!

In English:

Three sisters stand at the edge of the sea,
They are oppressed by weakness and exhaustion.
Their land and spirits crushed,
And the honour and soul of three nations.

But the bells of destiny are ringing in the towers,
And the sea is starting to surge,
Three sisters are waking from sleep,
Coming to stand for themselves.

The Baltics are waking up, the Baltics are waking up
Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia!

I was only five years old on this day, so I don’t remember any of it, but I wish I did. I also wish that one could still see the Baltic solidarity that was seen here. You don’t see that much of it anymore, which is sad. I do hope that they are planning big celebrations next year, when it is the 25th anniversary.

Do you remember the Baltic Way? Share your story here!