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Struggling with German Script?

While ruling powers – Germans, Swedes, Russians, Poles, etc. – changed over the centuries, one constant in the ruling class remained: Most local gentry in Latvian territory were Germans. As a result, many documents related to Latvian genealogical research prior to Latvian independence are written in German. But German writing then did not look like [...]

Three Years!

This blog is three years old today!

As I’ve said in previous blog anniversaries, when I first started this blog, I never imagined that I would get the response that I have. I’ve had people contact me from all over the world to share their stories, ask questions and solve the riddles of their family trees.

It [...]

G is for German

What’s next in the Family History Through the Alphabet challenge? Germans!

Germans and the German language have a long history in Latvia. Ever since the first bishops of Bremen came to Latvian territory in the late 12th century to Christianize the local populations, Germans have been coming to the Baltics. Today, however, they are mostly tourists, [...]

Making Sense of Exonyms

So after puzzling through the various alphabets and orthographies, you have been able to establish what your ancestors’ names would have looked like back in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. This is a great first step towards tracking them back through the years.

Now you get to do the same for the places they lived! [...]

Important Latvian/German/Russian Words

Language can be one of the biggest obstacles to tracing Latvian genealogy. However, it is not an insurmountable one. Most records follow specific patterns, and once you know what to look for in the patterns, you can easily find what you are looking for.

Most Latvian religious records are not in Latvian. They are usually in [...]

Navigating Raduraksti

I make many references to LVVA’s Raduraksti. It is the best resource for people researching their Latvian family history if they’re not able to go to the LVVA itself. The collection of documents available there is growing – recently they also added revision lists for some towns and cities.

But the website can be a bit [...]

The Big Three

Bērziņš, Kalniņš, Ozoliņš – these are what I call the “big three”. They are the most common Latvian surnames. With these names more than any others it is imperative that you know where your ancestor was from.

But what do these names mean?

All three are in a diminutive form, but for surnames, this can also mean [...]

Changes in Orthography

What happens when you apply the orthography of one language to a fairly unrelated language?

A right mess, that’s what.

As mentioned before, up until the 1890s most church books in Latvia were written in German. German is, as its name implies, a Germanic language. The Germanic language family also includes English, Dutch and Danish, and is [...]

Languages in the Records

If in the course of your research you have come across a Latvian ancestor, and you do not speak Latvian, you may feel like you have hit a big stumbling block to continuing your research.

Good news! The block may not be as big as you think. You may not need to know any Latvian at [...]