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Getting Started with Jewish Genealogical Research in Latvia

By: Paul Cheifitz
JewishGen Research Coordinator for Latvia

Congratulations! You have discovered that you have Jewish family roots in Latvia. How should you begin your research?

Beginning genealogy researchers should start by contacting all living relatives who can help with details of family names, births, marriages, deaths and places of origin. Photos can be very helpful especially if there is writing on the back that identifies the people and/or places. If the inscriptions are in Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian or another language, get a translation (see ViewMate paragraph, below).

The best overall source for Jewish genealogy research is right here at JewishGen - so you have come to the right place!. Review the advice for beginning researchers, which includes FAQs, InfoFiles and other helpful information. Subscribe to both the JewishGen and JewishGen Latvia SIG mailing lists , which are discussion forums for topics relating to Jewish genealogy and Latvian Jewish genealogy, respectively.

Register surnames and towns at the JewishGen Family Finder (JGFF) .

Profiles of Latvian shtetlach (towns) may be found at the JewishGen KehilaLinks site .

JewishGen also has a site called ViewMate where researchers can post photos for identification of people, clothing, buildings, scenes, objects, artifacts, letters, documents, book pages, maps, headstones, etc. for analysis or translation. Before writing to overseas archives, you should find as much information as possible from domestic sources. You need to know your ancestorís first and last names in the Old Country, rather than the Anglicized version e.g., Moshe Goldberg rather than Morris Gilbert. It is also critical to know the exact town of origin. Be aware that the names of Latvian towns have changed over the years, depending on what country controlled the area you are researching. Names may be German, Russian, Yiddish or Latvian. See the following for a list of old and new town names.

Domestic sources of genealogical information include the following:
  • Vital Records (births, marriages, deaths)
  • Steamship records (depending on the year, these can be a good source to locate town of origin)
  • Naturalization Records
  • Will and Probate records
  • Newspaper entries
  • School Records
  • Passport applications
  • Military records
  • Criminal Records
  • Trade Directories
  • Synagogue Records
  • Cemetery Records

Information on contacting the Latvian State Historical Archives may be found here.

Many of our Latvian ancestors originated in Lithuania, and some relatives may have lived in both countries. Neither the Lithuanian State Historical Archives or the Kaunas Regional Archives does personal research any longer, but they will make copies of specific records (for example, records indexed by the LitvakSIG, available both through JewishGen or to members of LitvakSIG District Research Groups). See the LitvakSIG website for further information.

Last Update: 02/11/2019   Avraham Groll
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