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Latvian belongs to the Baltic branch of the Indo-European language family and is related to Lithuanian. It was written in the Gothic script until the early 20th century when Roman script was adopted. While ethnic Latvians obviously speak their mother tongue, only a quarter of the ethnic Russian minority are fluent in Latvian.
Latvian records were written in a variety of different languages. Lutheran records were mostly recorded in German, while both Greek and Roman Catholic records were written in Latin or Polish. Russian was also prevalent in church records of all faiths towards the late 1800s and early 1900s. Revision lists and the 1897 Census are primarily in Russian, but German and Latvian can occur. After Latvian independence was achieved in 1920, Latvian became the language of the records.
For word lists and translation help in pre-1920 Latvian records, see:
- Russian Genealogical Word List
- German Genealogical Word List
- Polish Genealogical Word List
- Latin Genealogical Word List
For word lists and translation help in post-1920 Latvian records, see:
- The Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Family History Record Profile: Latvia,” Word document, private files of the FamilySearch Content Strategy Team, 1995-2002.