January 10, 2008
By unveiling the online service Raduraksti in December, the Latvian State Historical Archives (Latvijas Valsts vēstures arhīvs) has put a smile on many peoples’ faces. For various archive users—from professional researchers to amateur genealogists—this new service will make researching family histories much easier.
It will no longer be necessary to physically turn up on the archives’ doorstep to access some of the records. Admittedly only a small percentage of records are online so far, but by the end of 2008 the plan is to have all church records of all denominations digitalized. Headway also is expected on making available census data from 18th and 19th century tsarist Russia (which Latvia was a part of intermittently). So far on offer are Lutheran church records dating back to the middle of the 18th century, searchable by region or congregation. Available records only go forward in time as far as 1905.
The records contain a register of births and baptisms, including the names of parents and their profession, godparents’ details and name of the person who performed the baptism. Also available is a register of confirmations, engagement announcements, marriages and deaths.
You will be required to register as a user of this online service. Having reached the digitalized records, you will find that they are usually handwritten in German (using the old German orthography) or in Russian. Although you can zoom in to try to make more sense of the text, bear in mind that by increasing the size of the text you lose resolution and the text will become distorted. Deciphering the records may be tedious and time consuming.
The Latvian project was inspired by the Estonian Saaga service launched in 2005 by the Estonian Historical Archives. All Lutheran and Russian Orthodox church records from Estonia, as well as other documents, are available online.
Various other places provide tips and offer access to information regarding Latvian genealogy. One such site is the Ciltskoks blog, where an enthusiast shares his tips (in Latvian only) on searching the Web for specific Latvian genealogy sites.
Meanwhile, ciltskoks.lv provides an online tool to create your own family tree, complete with a photo and video gallery, a calendar and a travelogue section. You will need to register before you can use the site, but click on “Kas ir ‘boon’?” for a preview of what the site offers.
Also worth a mention is Roots=Saknes. The site was originally started in 1993 by Bruno Martuzāns at LATNET (the Latvian Academic Computer Network). Having received numerous requests for help from all over the world, and not being able to reply to many of them initially, he decided to set up a Web site that would at least point people in the right direction and contain tips on how to go about researching genealogy in Latvia. The site is in English and doesn’t look that flashy, but it is very helpful.
Don’t forget the Latvians Online Looking for Friends and Relatives Forum where some of our helpful members also have a wealth of genealogy information to share with others.
Daina Gross is editor of Latvians Online. An Australian-Latvian she is also Chair of the Education Board of the World Federation of Free Latvians and the translator into English of various books on industrial history in Latvia.
The Raduraksti site created by the Latvian State Historical Archives allows users to peruse church records, such as this one from Sunākste, to find information about genealogy.