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The Genealogical Research Division of

The Jewish Families of Dvinsk

[Latvian: Daugavpils; German: Dunaberg]

Commissioned and Donated by
Arlene Beare and Mike Getz on behalf of the Latvia SIG

Introduction by Constance Whippman


This database is an amalgam of information from three separate sources held in the collections of the State Historical Archives in Riga, Fond 4936.  The earliest entries date from 1876, but the lists were worked on and updated throughout the period up to 1917, the eve of the First Latvian Republic.  The lists were originally compiled for the purpose of establishing liability for tax and/or military service.  In addition information has been added from lists of Jewish Merchants and Petit Bourgeois (small shopkeepers and business owners) who were registered as part of the Dvinsk/Daugavpils Jewish community during this period.

The database consists of some 8,300 entries and refers to some 14,000 named individuals when father's names (patronymics), maiden names or other family connections are included.  The data has been professionally extracted in Riga from the original lists in Russian (handwritten Cyrillic).  These lists give a good coverage of Jewish families of the period.  They are not fully comprehensive but they are an excellent starting point for any one searching family connections in Dvinsk or the Dvinsk area.

How do I use the Database? The Entry Fields Explained

The database contains a number of "fields" which set out the data contained in the original list.

  • Family Name: This refers to the family surname.  Because the list is transliterated from Russian, it is useful to use the "Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex" search option to ensure that all family names with a similar sound are identified and displayed.  For example, Russian makes no distinction between the "G" and the "H" sounds.  Thus the surname 'Hurwich' may be spelled 'Gurwich' and each form is accurate depending on the transliteration system is employed.  Where a surname for the same family is found in two forms, then these are included in the database separated by a forward slash, e.g. 'DIMANSTEIN / DIMANDSTEIN'.

  • Maiden Name: In the case of a married woman the maiden name is sometimes recorded.  If so, it is included in a separate column.  The search system picks up maiden name entries as well.  Maiden names are important in establishing and researching the female line of descent, something which is often more difficult than following male lines of descent.

  • Given Names: This refers to the name by which a person was known.  Hebrew and Yiddish name forms are common.  Occasionally, names such as "Leopold" or "Max" which are neither Yiddish or Hebrew are encountered, although these are still the exception.

  • Father: This column can be particularly useful as it gives the patronymic or father's given name according to the Russian style of name construction.  A Patronymic takes research back a further generation.  Where there are multiple entries for a large family such as Lurie or Jakobson look at the patronymic.  With luck it should be possible to create provisional family trees since brothers in one generation may each have children so that the various family lines can be distinguished.

  • Age (in year): This is the age of the person in the year stipulated.  For example "12-1876" indicates that the individual was 12 years old in the year 1876 when the list was initially compiled.  There are many entries indicating age after 1876 such as 42-1890 which means that that civil servant updating the list has noted the person's age at the date of amendment.  Not all entries have age information, but where it is available it is obviously of considerable interest.

  • Died: In some cases a person is marked off the list with the year of death indicated.  Occasionally just the word "died" with no date has been entered.  Obviously all of the people in this list have now died, but we have retained the original format.

  • Comment: This includes a variety of information on family connections, second marriages, notations that an individual had become a widow, etc.  Read and enjoy.

  • Residence: This is the place where the person resided when the list was drawn up.  The great majority of entries are listed as Dvinsk/Daugavpils, as most people both lived and were registered where they actually resided.  However in a number of cases the person is listed as resident in say, Courland, though registered for tax and recruitment purposes in Dvinsk.  Discrepancies in this field can provide important information about new geographical areas to pursue when looking for family roots.  It also indicates that despite the fact that Dvinsk was within the Pale of Settlement (unlike Courland), there was more movement of peoples both in and out of this important commercial settlement than has sometimes been assumed.

  • Place of Origin: This is a particularly interesting field which makes it clear the diversity of origin of the community of Dvinsk.  There are many entries from shtetlach in Kovno gubernia (now in Lithuania), Vitebsk gubernia (now in Latvia, Russia and Belarus), and other parts of Russia.  The variety of backgrounds and cultural traditions was a feature of Jewish Dvinsk.

  • Type of list: This indicates whether the information was extracted from the main "Family List" - compiled for a number of reasons including tax and liability to military service - or from the special "Merchants List".

  • Fond Number: Each of the lists comes from Fond 4936 held in the collection of the State Historical Archives in Riga.  The original documents are written in Russian Cyrillic.

The Jewish Community of Dvinsk (Daugavpils):

Dvinsk (now Daugavpils, Latvia) was one of the leading Jewish cities of the Russian Empire and a centre of high Jewish culture and debate.  At the time of the lists forming this database, it was part of the Russian Gubernia (province) of Vitebsk, and its commercial importance was well established.  Jewish gravestones found in the area date from the 17th century are evidence of an early Jewish presence.

In 1910 the city numbered 111,000 of which 50,000 were Jews.  Unlike its immediate neighbour Courland, Dvinsk was within the Pale of Settlement.  Its ethos derived more from Russian, Lithuanian and Polish influences than from Courland which was broadly German in character and cultural background as a result of nearly 700 years of de facto domination by the Baltic Germans.

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia (Funk & Wagnalls), commerce and manufacturing in Dvinsk were largely in Jewish hands.  The 1893 census showed 330 industrial establishments owned by Jews and 99 owned by non-Jews.  The census records only 741 Jewish artisans, but this figure has been challenged by Herman Rosenthal in his article on Dvinsk published in the Jewish Encyclopaedia (1916), citing "private investigations" as the source for the claim that in 1898 there were 4,862 Jewish artisans including 2,193 Masters, 1,700 journeymen and 909 apprentices.

The most important trades followed by the Jews were tailoring (1,210) and shoemaking.  Some 32 factories are identified including button manufacture, a sawmill, match factory, tannery etc, all owned by Jews with a total of 2,305 employees recorded.  A further 684 day-labourers are noted.  Dvinsk was one of the chief artillery depots of the Empire and many troops were garrisoned there.

The poverty of the Pale was a feature of Dvinsk Jewish life and it is estimated that 30 percent of Jewish families applied for aid from the community in 1898.  There were numerous Jewish aid societies recorded, including a Mutual Aid, founded in 1900 and with more than 1,200 members by 1901.  A loan fund was established in memory of the Merchant M. Vitenberg.  Loans, secured by personal property, were advanced without interest.  Other charitable institutions included a society for aiding the poor founded by the Jewish governor, with an income in 1899 of some 8,917 Roubles, soup kitchens, a charitable dining hall, a bikkur holim, a dispensary and a lying-in hospital all organised and run by the community.  These testify to the traditions of self help and community organisation that reflect the high value placed on charity to those less fortunate.

Dvinsk was an important centre of Jewish thought and culture and nurtured a number of Rabbis known and respected throughout the Jewish world.  Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Kuk [Kook] of Palestine was a pupil of Reb Reuvele Dunaburger.  Meier Simcha HaKohen, Rabbi of Mitnagdim for 39 years, while Rabbi Yosef Rosen served as the Chassidic rabbi for 50 years.  Both were formidable Talmudic scholars and vivid personalities.

A wonderful account of Dvinsk Jewish life and culture seen through the eyes of the young Sarah Feige Foner who lived in Dvinsk for part of her childhood can be read on line at  Her account "Memories of the Days of My Childhood or a Look at the City of Dvinsk", published in Hebrew in Warsaw 1903, gives a lively account of the impact of the Haskalah (Jewish enlightenment movement).  Her account of the struggles between the followers of the Hassidim and the Mitnagdim and the extremes this sometimes took is a treasure.  It also contains many references to specific individuals and rabbis in the Jewish community during the period including many names found in this database.

Finally, the important American painter Rothko was born in Dvinsk from a Dvinsk family and a family portrait of the Rothkowitz family from which he was descended can be seen at

Further reading on this important and most Jewish of Russian cities can be found in the Latvia SIG Newsletter See: Vol. 1, Nos 1,2 and Vol. 5, Nos. 1,2,3 - which contains the "Jews in Dunaburg" extracted from the Jews of Dunaburg, published in 1993 by Z. I. Yakub.  See also Dvinsk, the Rise and Fall of a Town, by Yudel Flior (translated from the Yiddish by Bernard Sachs), Johannesburg, Dial Press [1965].  Unfortunately this book is out of print but it is an excellent evocation of the flavour of Jewish life in Dvinsk at the turn of the century and above all records the enduring affection of the writer for his home town following his emigration to South Africa in 1928.


The project has been nearly a year in the making and represents a major database effort by the Latvia SIG for the benefit of Jewish families all over the world.  Particular thanks is due to Arlene Beare, the President of the Latvia SIG, who recognised the importance of this data for family historians and who together with Mike Getz, former President of the Latvia SIG commissioned the work.  Their donation will be valued by many generations to come who now have access to this material.  Michael Whippman has provided computer support and further data entry.  We are indebted to our web masters Michael Tobias and Warren Blatt.

If you have any further inquiries about the work of the Latvia SIG please feel free to contact either Arlene Beare, the President or Mike Getz, the Project Director for the Latvia SIG.  If you would like to subscribe to the Latvia SIG Newsletter and become a member the details are available on the Latvia SIG website.

Constance Whippman, All Latvia Database Co-Ordinator
Copyright ©2001, Latvia SIG
February 2001

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