Surname Saturday – Latvian Surname Project Update, September 19, 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 – Gramzda, Strazde

Names added – Vītolbergs, Žagariņš

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

The Surname Project currently includes 1383 surnames from 495 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 – Christian and Emilie Boehm

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.

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

Names: District School Inspector Christian Boehm, born February 7, 1823, died December 14, 1888; Emilie Boehm née Reimers, born March 13, 1830, died August 13, 1902

Location: German Cemetery, Cēsis

Surname Saturday – Latvian Surname Project Update, September 12, 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 – Ance, Spāre, Valdemārpils

Names added – Akmeņlauks, Arkliņš, Asaris, Bumbulis, Frīdenbergs, Kalviņš, Lode, Pāvilsons, Vecbrālis, Vēzītis

… and over 35 other names have been updated to reflect their presence in more parishes!

The Surname Project currently includes 1381 surnames from 493 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!

Debunking Latvian Genealogy Myths: The Records Are All Destroyed!

So today we’re starting a new series of posts, debunking myths about Latvian genealogical research. I did this in brief five years ago, but now we are going to get more in-depth about each of these myths, addressing how they probably came about, why they continue to survive, and what the truth of the matter really is.

Today we are going to start with the big one, the one that prevents a lot of people from getting started with research into their Latvian families – they don’t get started in the first place because they don’t think there is anything to find.

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Wanted: Latvian records. Often thought destroyed, they are still here!

As this blog can attest, these people are most definitely wrong! There are so many records out there. Of course, availability can vary, and I’ll address some of these issues below, but on the whole, there’s a huge amount of records out there, just waiting to be looked through.

So where did this myth come about? A big reason is because of Latvian history. They think, “Oh, there have been so many wars and occupations in Latvia. There’s no way any of the records survive.” I’ll admit, this myth caught me too at the outset. I didn’t know there was anything for me to find about my family. I’m glad I learned otherwise! While war and occupation can certainly lead to record destruction, it can also lead to record amounts of record survival as well.

That sounds backwards, I know. But for some documents – namely, the 1935 and 1941 census records – war and occupation are what saved them. A friend who works for the archives here in Latvia tells me that it was standard practice for the Latvian Statistical Office to destroy individual census forms after ten years. This is why we do not have the records for the 1925 census. On the other hand, the 1935 and 1941 census records survive, because by 1945 Latvia was under Soviet occupation, and they most certainly did not destroy records. Nor, incidentally, did the Nazis during their occupation. Totalitarian governments like the Nazis and the Soviets avoid destroying records whenever possible – the more they know about people, the easier it is to find and control them. The archives had a busy time during the Nazi occupation of Latvia, since many people had to use their holdings to prove their ancestry (it is a surviving document of this time period listing ancestry that kick-started my research into my paternal grandmother’s family). So just because there has been a war doesn’t mean that records aren’t still there!

There are other reasons why this myth persists, and that is due to online records collections and repositories such as Ancestry and FamilySearch billing themselves as “one-stop shopping” for genealogical research. This means that a novice will see their advertisements and assume that if something can’t be found there, it doesn’t exist. Again, very false! Most records in the world are not available on Ancestry, FamilySearch (the digitized records collection), or even in the FamilySearch microfilm collection. Their Latvian collections, for one, are non-existent in digital format, and rudimentary at best for the microfilm collection. There is so much more that is only available from Latvian record repositories.

So what is the truth of it? Well, I can’t speak to all of the specifics, because that would take days – everything is very much on a parish level. Sometimes one parish has great records, sometimes the neighbouring one doesn’t. The reason isn’t always clear. But I can paint a general picture.

Many of the religious records are often missing a year or two, or sometimes entire decades – but the rest of the years survive, so there were isolated cases of some record books going astray. Some records are quite likely legitimately missing as a result of war – this is very likely why Kurzeme and Zemgale have a lower rate of record survival than Vidzeme does, since the First World War went right through the first two, but barely touched the second (at least until the Russian Civil War started). There aren’t very many documents in the archives relating to pre-war Latgale, but I am uncertain at this time whether it was because there weren’t as many documents created there as in other places (there was a very different administration than in the other provinces), because of document destruction or because the documents might be in some archives in Russia or Belarus, since Latgale was a part of the Vitebsk province, and thus a part of the Russian Empire proper, rather than having the special status of the Baltic provinces.

All of this isn’t to say that there hasn’t been deliberate record destruction in Latvian history – there most certainly has been, but it hasn’t been a result of war or occupation, but rather revolution – the 1905 Revolution in particular. And the record destroyers were not any sort of foreign powers, but rather the people themselves – so it could be that you have your own ancestor to blame for missing records! In the context of the 1905 Revolution in particular, many men were seeking to avoid military service in the Czar’s army in the war against Japan – so they set out to destroy records that could provide information about them being eligible for service, such as military records, revision lists, family registers, and so on. Some records were better protected than others, and this destruction didn’t happen in every parish, but these sorts of activities were particularly prominent in southern Latvia. As it so happens, many of the migrants who left Latvia at this time to avoid military service and because of revolutionary activities also came from these same regions – southern and western Latvia.

So what does survive? Religious records are pretty reliable for most places, sometimes missing some years, but on the whole, they survive. Revision lists have great survival rates in Vidzeme, not so hot survival rates in Kurzeme and Zemgale, and almost non-existent in Latgale. 1897 All-Russia Census goes the opposite way – best survival in Latgale, worst in Vidzeme. Generally speaking, records kept by towns and cities survive quite well all over the country. Parish records are really on a case by case basis, but typically best in Vidzeme, though some other parishes don’t do too badly either. Land records are pretty reliable everywhere but Latgale, but again, a large collection does not always mean that the specific record you need is there.

The big lesson to learn here is that even if not all record types exist for your ancestors’ home(s), at least some will. Which means that research is possible for just about everyone!

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 – Jānis Ābols, 1860-1913

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.

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

Top Inscription: Jāņa Ābola ģimenes kapi (Jānis Ābols’ Family Grave)

Name: Jānis Ābols, born June 5, 1860, died December 24, 1913.

Bottom Inscription: “Dzīvs ar vien es traucu steidzu, Ātri dzīves gaitu beidzu, Klusums svēts uz kapa valda, Sapņu (?) ilgas – dusa salda.” (“When I lived I rushed, And quickly finished life’s road, Holy silence rules here on the grave, dreams (?) and longings – sleep is sweet”).

Location: Ikšķile Lutheran Cemetery, Ikšķile

Mappy Monday – Medieval to Early Modern Names for Latvian Territory

Picking up where we left off last week, talking about ancient names for Latvian territory – and now we’re moving into the Middle Ages, and then medieval and early modern eras!

After the German crusaders invaded and gradually conquered the Baltic and Finnic tribes, they created Terra Mariana – which was first a principality of the Holy Roman Empire, but was then subject instead to the Holy See directly. It was divided into several bishoprics – Courland, Dorpat (Tartu), Osel (Saaremaa) and the archbishopric of Rīga, in addition to the land directly administered by the Livonian Order. With the church, nobility and merchants in constant power struggles, this patchwork of administration was necessary to maintain order (and then there was the local peasantry). Rīga and Tallinn were both rising city powers in their own right, as members of the Hanseatic League.

Terra Mariana – also known as the Livonian Confederation – as such came to an end in 1561, as a result of the Livonian War. The northern part of the confederation became Swedish Estonia, while the southern parts – including all of present-day Latvia, as well as southern Estonia – became a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Here, they formed two duchies – the duchy of Livland, encompassing modern-day southern Estonia and the Latvian provinces of Vidzeme and Latgale, and the duchy of Courland-Semigallia, encompassing the modern-day Latvian provinces of Kurzeme and Zemgale. While under the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the German nobility retained most of their power and privileges and controlled day-to-day affairs in the duchies.

Further territorial divisions took place as a result of the Polish-Swedish conflict, and in 1621 the Swedes took over most of Livland, leaving Poland with just a tiny piece – modern-day Latgale, which became the Inflanty Voivodeship. This brought Latgale under direct Polish control and under the control of Catholicism (the Reformation having taken place a century earlier, bringing Lutheranism as the dominant religion in the rest of the Latvian territories). With this division, the stage was set for the future Latvian provinces to arise as they did.

Gradually, all of these Latvian territories – Swedish Livonia (Vidzeme and southern Estonia) in 1721, the Inflanty Voivodeship (Latgale) in 1772 and the Duchy of Courland-Semigallia in 1795 – all came under the Russian crown, and became provinces of the Russian Empire.

Stay tuned next week, when we will talk more about the Russian Empire era!

Surname Saturday – Latvian Surname Project Update, September 6, 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 – Laža

Names added – Audējs, Jabloks, Kuģītis

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

The Surname Project currently includes 1371 surnames from 490 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!