Latvia Finding Town of Origin

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Finding the Town of Origin[edit | edit source]

In order to research your family in Latvia, it is essential that you identify the place they came from. It is not enough to know only ‘Latvia.' You must know the city, town, or parish that they came from. This article will discuss ways you can find the hometown by searching home sources, records in the country they immigrated to, and emigration/Latvian records.

What You Need to Know to Begin Research in Latvia[edit | edit source]

Prior to performing research in Latvian records, it is essential that you know:

  1. The given and surname of your ancestor.
  2. The exact place name.
  3. The time frame.
  4. The religion of your ancestor

Name[edit | edit source]

Before you can embark in meaningful research, you need to be clear about the name of your ancestor. Following the paper trail of your ancestor in the United States or the country that they immigrated to may give you clues. Search ship lists, naturalization records, church records, civil records or any record where your ancestor's name may have been recorded. Also keep in mind that many record keepers Americanized names or recorded them according to sound. For example, your ancestor may have been Jānis in Latvia, but when he immigrated to the United States, he may have taken on the name John. Or, if your ancestor immigrated to Latin America, Janis may have become Juan. Also remember that spellings were not standardized, so you may come across a variety of different spellings for both your ancestor's given names and surnames. Just because the spelling may not be what you are familiar with does not mean that it is not your ancestor.

Place Name[edit | edit source]

Another very important piece of evidence to find is the correct town of origin of an ancestor. Again, a given place name may be spelled according the recorder’s understanding. It is not enough information to just know that your ancestor came from Latvia. Even to know the Russian Empire jurisdiction of gubernia (state) or uyezd (county), is helpful, but not enough. The best places to locate information about the hometown

Time Frame[edit | edit source]

It is also most helpful to know the time frame when you search for a Latvian ancestor. All successful research is based on knowing the availability of records for a given time period.

Religious Affiliation[edit | edit source]

As civil registration wasn't begun until after the early twentieth century, for research prior to then, you will rely upon church records. Knowing which religion your ancestor belonged to will help you locate the proper records.

Search Home Sources[edit | edit source]

Thoroughly go over all home sources available to you, including family history papers, copies of records, pictures, old letters (i.e. with an old address), family bibles, journals/diaries, copies of vital record certificates and church records, memorabilia etc. Interview extended family and close relatives as well as former neighbors--all of which may prove very helpful in gathering as much knowledge about an ancestor as possible.

Questions to Ask Relatives[edit | edit source]

Find the oldest living relatives that you can and ask them:

  • What do you know about our first ancestor to come from Latvia? (open-ended)
  • Have you ever heard mention of towns in Latvia where the family lived?
  • Do you have contact with any relatives in Latvia?
  • Do you have contact with other branches of the family in the U.S.?
  • When _____________ came from Latvia, did he/she travel with other family members?
  • Do you know when _________________ arrived and which port city?
  • Did _______________ ever become a citizen?
  • Did_________________ fight in World War I or II?
  • When they first came, were there already family members here who they joined?
  • Did_______________ ever mention their parents, siblings, or other family members in Latvia?
  • What religion did they belong to?
  • Do you have any old letters or postcards from family in Latvia?
  • Do you have any pictures of family members in Latvia?

Records to Search Created in the United States[edit | edit source]

Census Records[edit | edit source]

Search census records, available for the United States, Canada, England, and other countries. Censuses are often taken every ten years.

  • Try to locate your ancestor in every census during which he or she was alive. This information provides a good framework for further research.
  • Censuses may state "Russia" rather than Latvia, as Latvia was a part of the Russian Empire at the time.
  • The censuses for 1900 to 1930 ask for the year of immigration and whether or not the person was naturalized. This information can help you find naturalization records or a passenger list.
  • State census records vary in availability and the type of information they contain, but they are always useful as another source to document an ancestor in a specific locality.

Vital Records[edit | edit source]

Vital records are birth, marriage, or death records. Locate all vital records for your ancestor. Keep in mind that the birth, marriage, and death records often contain information about other people (spouse or parents) besides just the primary person the record is focused on. As such, locate vital records for your ancestor's spouse(s) and children. It may even be useful to locate the vital records of any known siblings.

  • It is important to remember that a birth certificate for a child might tell about parents' birthplaces.
  • Marriage certificates might name birth dates and places of the bride and groom. They might also give the names and birth places of the parents of the bride and groom.
  • Death certificates are very important. Birth and marriage certificates might not have kept by a state during the earlier years of your ancestor's life. There is a greater chance that your ancestor died after detailed record-keeping began. Death certificates frequently state birth date and place. They also state the names of parents and their birth places.
  • There are wiki articles giving details on how to find vital records in each state and/or county. Look up the state or county your ancestor immigrated to in the FamilySearch Wiki to find more information.

Newspapers[edit | edit source]

Newspapers, specifically obituaries often list birth date and place and parents' names.

Military Records[edit | edit source]

Draft records for World War I and II ask for birth place, which can be listed as just Russia or Latvia, but may provide the name of a town.

Passenger Arrival Lists[edit | edit source]

Passenger lists, especially in the 20th century, may list birth place, last residence in mother country, and name and residence of a close relative in the mother country.

Canada[edit | edit source]

If your ancestors migrated to Canada (or came to the United States by way of Canada), check the Immigrants from the Russian Empire 1898-1922 LI-RA-MA Collection available through the Library and Archives Canada.

Latin America[edit | edit source]

Argentina

Naturalization Records[edit | edit source]

Naturalization records may also list an ancestor’s birth place. The naturalization process involved two sets of papers: a declaration of intention to become a U.S. citizen, and a petition filed some time later.

Prior to 1906 any U.S. court could naturalize foreigners. Many pre-1900 records only list “Russia” as the country of citizenship; however, there are notable exceptions, so these records should be checked routinely. Beginning in 1906, naturalization records became more detailed, as the responsibility shifted to the Federal government.

More information about naturalization records, along with helpful links, see Beginning Research in United States Naturalization Records.

Additional Records[edit | edit source]

The following record types and collections may also be useful to you:

Passport Applications[edit | edit source]

Social Security[edit | edit source]

The application for the Social Security card may also contain a town of birth. These records are available for deceased individuals who died after 1935 when Social Security began.

Records to Search Created in Latvia[edit | edit source]

Indexed Records Created in Latvia[edit | edit source]

Make Sure You Found the Correct Entry for Your Ancestor[edit | edit source]

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There may be many types of indexed records that cover parts, even large parts of Latvia. Searching those indexes by name only can turn up several entries of the same name. Never jump to an immediate conclusion that you have found an entry that matches your ancestor. Study the information for other clues that verify the match.

  • Make sure the person you found in Latvian records left Latvia. Look for them in marriage and death records of the same vicinity. See whether they have children a generation later in the vicinity. These things prove they remained in Latvia and would rule them out as your ancestor.
  • Match any other relationships. If you already know the parents' names, spouse's name, and/or siblings' names, make sure they match the parents' names, spouse's name, and/or siblings' names of the person you are considering in the Latvian records. The parents and grandparents will usually be listed in birth records found in church records or civil records. Search for siblings' birth records and any marriage before leaving Latvia in the same index.
  • Study all available entries for that name born at the same approximate time, not just the first possible match you see.
  • Consider the coverage of the database you are using. Does it cover all of Latvia? Or could there be many other records not covered that could hold your ancestor's record. For example, if the database is for just one province, there are 110 other provinces which could have your ancestor's record.
  • Make sure the details you have learned about the person after they immigrate have no discrepancies with the person you found in Latvian records.

Latvia Records Databases to Try[edit | edit source]

Records of the Country of Destination[edit | edit source]

  • Church Records: If your ancestor immigrated to a European or a South American/Hispanic country, church records can be detailed enough to identify a former residence or birthplace in the home country. These countries, unlike the United States, had state churches. In many countries, these state churches were used by the country to keep birth, marriage, and death records. Even though your ancestor was born in his former country, he may have married, and certainly died in his new country. Marriage and death records can state birthplace.
  • Civil Registration: Eventually, most governments began keeping birth, marriage, and death records. These tend to be quite detailed. Again, if your ancestor was possibly married and certainly died in their new country, those records can state birthplace.
  • Citizenship Records: If your ancestor became a full citizen, those records probably name birthplace and former residence.
  • Online Genealogy Records: See Online Genealogy Records by Location and find the online genealogy record page for your country to see other indexed collections that can be consulted.

Additional Latvian Records[edit | edit source]

If you've investigated the above sources for your ancestor's country of immigration, and still have not determined the hometown, in some cases, Latvian records may assist you in finding the name of your ancestor's hometown Try the following suggestions based upon the time period of emigration. Many of these records are located in the Latvian State Historical Archives. Some of their records are available online through the digital reading room Raduraktsi; however, many records are available only at the archive. To see what archival records are available, see Andrei Repin's Fonds of the Latvian State Historical Archives Inventory. The site is available in both English and Russian. Keep in mind that the Russian version is more complete. If you don't read Russian, simply use the Google Chrome browser, right click anywhere on the page and select Translate to English.

Post WWII Immigration[edit | edit source]

If your ancestors left Latvia following WWII, clues about their origins might be found in the Arolsen Archives, the International Center on Nazi Persecution. Search the Arolsen Archives Online Archive to locate displaced persons records.

Inter-war Period[edit | edit source]

During the inter-war period, Latvian citizens were required to register for a passport which served as identification papers. Latvian passports are available for major cities at the Latvian State Historical Archives. Rīga passports are found in fond 2996 and other cities are found in fond 2258. Use the Latvijas iedzīvotāju pases (Passports of Latvian Residents) database to determine if there is a passport record available for your ancestor.

Pre WWI Immigration[edit | edit source]

If your ancestor left prior to WWI, you may be able to find information about them in Passport and Police Registration Lists. These records are available through the Latvian State Historical Archives in fonds 51, 451, 491, and 6419.

Latvia Surname Project[edit | edit source]

If your ancestor had a unique surname, you may be able to determine their area of origin using the Latvian Surname Project. The Latvian Surname project is a database of Latvian surnames that can be browsed by location or surname. After you have searched for a surname, look under the Attested Locations heading to find locations that the surname has been found. These could be possibilities for your ancestral hometown. You can also find information about the surname such as meanings, Russian spellings, alternate spellings and more.

The database is still growing, so be sure to check back often to see if new information has been added.