Background

This database owes its existence to the remarkable, indeed unique, contribution of Christine Usdin, a noted artist and sculptor, who set out to translate all surviving Jewish vital records held in the Latvia State Historical Archives.

This introduction serves as a memorial to Christine Usdin who set out on this remarkable journey and who has shared the benefit with the descendants of these communities who now live and thrive throughout the world.

***

The database is the first that has benefited from the project set up in 2007 by the Latvijas Valsts vēstures arhīvs [Latvian State Historical Archives] to digitize their primary holdings relating to family history and to make them available on-line on their website http://lvva-raduraksti.lv/.  Tragically, Christine passed away on 10 June 2013, aged just 66, while working on this project. Her work on these records remains a unique testament to her dedication to preserving the memory of Latvian Jewry. The over 100,000 translations which she left us form the basis of this database. May her memory be a blessing…

​The database has 100,112 unique entries, for the places and dates set out in the tables below.  The records usually provide additional names:

  • Birth records include the name of the child, their mother and father and usually, their maternal and paternal grandfathers,
  • Marriage and divorce records include the names of the bride and groom and each of their fathers,
  • Death records include the name of the deceased and their father, and sometimes their spouse.

Thus, the total number of individuals mentioned could be over 400,000.  Although the Latvijas Valsts vēstures arhīvs [Latvian State Historical Archives] generally has a “cut-off date” of 1909, it has records that are more recent in some cases.  For example, there are also records for 1919-1921 for Mitau [now Jelgava], the capital of Courland.  However, most records for any period post-1909 can only be obtained from the bureau dealing with contemporary vital registration.  In common with most European countries, issues relating to security and privacy have resulted in a policy that is more restricted relating to access to individual records for genealogical purposes, and are only available on limited personal application.

The story of the survival (and loss) of Jewish vital records remains to be told.  Much has been lost as a result of invasion, dispersal, incursions of war, and other social upheaval.  It is interesting that some small but important Jewish communities such as Sassmakken [Latvian name, Valdemārpils] have an excellent run of surviving vital records, whereas the other, larger Jewish communities, have only limited vital record registration books, for example, the important Jewish communities of Pilten, Goldingen and Friedrickstadt [Piltene, Kuldīga and Jaunjelgava, respectively].

Records count:
Births 62,297
Deaths26,343
Marriages/Divorces11,021
Total99,661

Place Name
Historic

Place Name
Modern

# of Entries
in Database

Years Covered

Bausk

Bauska

4,460

1854-1860, 1862-1889, 1891-1897, 1900-1905

Dvinsk

Daugavpils

14,542

1868-1870, 1872-1875, 1878, 1887, 1889-1895, 1898-1899, 1903, 1905-1906, 1908

Friedrikstadt

Jaunjelgava

181

1838, 1841, 1847

Glazmanka

Gostiņi

589

1889-1890, 1893-1895, 1897, 1899, 1904-1906, 1908-1909

Goldingen

Kuldīga

151

1854, 1856

Griwa

Grīva

322

1903, 1906-1907, 1911

Hasenpoth

Aizpute

2,812

1854-1858, 1860-1862, 1864-1873, 1875-1897, 1899-1905, 1914-1915, 1921

Jakobstadt

Jēkabpils

1,574

1857, 1859. 1867, 1877-1893, 1907

Libau

Liepāja

12,050

1836-1854, 1857-1909, 1915

Ludsa

Ludza

273

1867-1870, 1872, 1875, 1894

Malta

Malta

64

1872, 1874-1881, 1885, 1888-1889. 1891, 1895

Mitau

Jelgava

6,305

1854-1855, 1857-1858, 1862, 1864-1883, 1886-1889, 1892, 1895, 1900, 1902-1903, 1908, 1919-1921

Pilten

Piltene

135

1854, 1878-1879, 1887, 1889

Ribinishki

Riebiņi

399

1870-1872, 1874-1880, 1882-1886, 1888-1891, 1898-1900, 1902-1905

Rezhitsa

Rēzekne

3,290

1871, 1879-1880, 1882, 1884-1885, 1887, 1889-1892, 1895-1897, 1899-1900, 1902

Riga

Riga

4,653

1854-1865, 1869-1877

Sassmakken

Valdemārpils

1,766

1860-1886, 1888-1893, 1895-1905

Tukkum

Tukums

2,331

1853-1855, 1866-1870, 1876-1878, 1881-1884, 1886-1888, 1891-1899

Varaklani

Varakļāni

964

1868-1872, 1874-1876, 1882-1892, 1895-1896, 1901-1903, 1905

Vindava

Ventspils

2,494

1854-1865, 1868-1870, 1872-1887, 1889-1906, 1908-1909

Vilyaka

Viļaka

75

1871, 1873-1875, 1878, 1880

Vishki

Višķi

403

1889-1908

Shubitz

Subate

865

1857-1861, 1864, 1879

Zabeln

Sabile

1,009

1860-1861, 1864-1874, 1876-1877, 1881-1885, 1890-1891, 1894, 1899-1900

Total Records

61,707

 

Place Name
Historic

Place Name
Modern

# of Entries
in Database

Years Covered

Bausk

Bauska

841

1854-1861, 1863-1876, 1878-1879, 1890-1905

Dvinsk

Daugavpils

1,632

1868-1869, 1871, 1875, 1878, 1889, 1894, 1904, 1906-1907

Friedrikstadt

Jaunjelgava

48

1838, 1841, 1847

Glazmanka

Gostiņi

177

1889-1890, 1893-1894, 1897, 1899-1902, 1904-1906, 1908-1909

Goldingen

Kuldīga

37

1854, 1856

Griwa

Grīva (including Subate & Ilukste)

105

1865, 1890, 1893, 1903, 1905

Hasenpoth

Aizpute

649

1854-1858, 1860-1905

Ilukste

Ilukste

13

1865

Jakobstadt

Jēkabpils

260

1876-1893

Libau

Liepāja

1,549

1854-1881, 1884-1906

Ludsa

Ludza

9

1868, 1872

Malta

Malta

3

1875, 1887, 1891

Mitau

Jelgava

1,689

1854, 1856-1868, 1875, 1877-1884, 1886-1887, 1889-1891, 1893, 1895-1897, 1919-1921

Pilten

Piltene

25

1878-1879-1889

Ribinishki

Riebiņi

49

1870-1903

Rezhitsa

Rēzekne

1,075

1868-1872, 1874-1876, 1878-1880, 1882, 1884-1885, 1887-1892, 1895-1897, 1900, 1902, 1904

Riga

Riga

1,217

1854-1879

Sassmakken

Valdemārpils

327

1860-1864, 1866-1878, 1881-1886, 1888-1892, 1895-1897, 1903-1905

Tukkum

Tukums

454

1853-1854, 1866-1870, 1876-1877, 1880-1888, 1891-1898

Varaklani

Varakļāni

192

1869, 1871-1872, 1874-1880, 1882, 1884-1885, 1887-1888, 1890-1892, 1895, 1897, 1901-1902

Vindava

Ventspils

390

1854-1857, 1860-1883, 1888-1904, 1906-1909

Vilyaka

Viļaka

13

1871, 1873-1875, 1878

Vishki

Višķi

71

1889-1908

Zabeln

Sabile

161

1859, 1864-1867, 1870-1872, 1874, 1876-1877, 1880-1882, 1884-1885, 1894, 1899-1901, 1903

Total Records

10,986

 

Place Name
Historic

Place Name
Modern

# of Entries
in Database

Years Covered

Bausk

Bauska

72

1854-1902

Dvinsk

Daugavpils

72

1867-1890

Friedrikstadt

Jaunjelgava

4

1838

Goldingen

Kuldīga

1

1854

Griwa

Grīva

12

1879, 1890, 1896

Hasenpoth

Aizpute

17

1856-1894

Libau

Liepāja

137

1877-1909

Rezhitsa

Rēzekne

60

1872-1895

Riga

Riga

698

1855-1909

Sassmakken

Valdemārpils

11

1866-1888

Tukkum

Tukums

33

1865-1893

Varaklani

Varakļāni

5

1871-1889

Vindava

Ventspils

8

1880-1900

Zabeln

Sabile

1

1873

Total Records

1,131

 

Place Name
Historic

Place Name
Modern

# of Entries
in Database

Years Covered

Bausk

Bauska

3,581

1854-1859, 1861-1905

Dvinsk

Daugavpils

4,342

1870, 1872, 1876-1878, 1888, 1894, 1901, 1905, 1908

Friedrikstadt

Jaunjelgava

57

1838, 1847

Glazmanka

Gostiņi

169

1889-1890, 1893-1894, 1896-1899, 1902, 1904, 1906, 1909

Goldingen

Kuldīga

98

1854, 1856

Griwa

Grīva

147

1890, 1900, 1911

Hasenpoth

Aizpute

1,317

1854-1858, 1860-1862, 1864-1905

Jakobstadt

Jēkabpils

818

1870, 1876-1878, 1880-1893

Libau

Liepāja

3,820

1854-1906

Ludsa

Ludza

72

1867-1868, 1875, 1893

Mitau

Jelgava

4,676

1855-1871, 1873-1875, 1878-1883, 1885, 1887, 1890-1892, 1895-1897, 1903, 1906, 1909, 1919-1921

Pilten

Piltene

61

1878, 1887-1889, 1901

Ribinishki

Riebiņi

53

1870, 1882, 1884, 1898-1902, 1904

Rezhitsa

Rēzekne

2,823

1865-1866, 1868-1872, 1874-1880, 1882, 1884-1885, 1887-1892, 1895-1897, 1900, 1902

Sassmakken

Valdemārpils

704

1861-1890, 1892, 1896-1897, 1899-1900, 1902, 1905

Tukkum

Tukums

1,397

1853-1855, 1865-1870, 1874, 1876-1877, 1880-1888, 1890-1898, 1901

Varaklani

Varakļāni

492

1868-1872, 1874-1880, 1882, 1884-1885, 1887-1892, 1895

Vindava

Ventspils

926

1854, 1858-1862, 1864-1879, 1882, 1884, 1886-1901, 1903-1905, 1907-1909

Vilyaka

Viļaka

1

1874

Vishki

Višķi

100

1891-1893, 1897-1908

Zabeln

Sabile

398

1859, 1862-67, 1869, 1872-1873, 1876-1877, 1879-1884, 1889-1890, 1894, 1901, 1903, 1913

Total Records

26,288

 

General Tips for Using this Database

  • Vital records usually show the place of birth, marriage or death, which is not always the place where the individual lived his or her daily life.  The Register formats, which followed a state-mandated form for the whole of the Russian Empire, required the place of event and place of residence, which may be different.
  • The vast majority of the translated records are translated from Russian, the authorized language for vital record registration in the Russian Empire.  Courland was a German-speaking enclave that now makes up modern Latvia.  Some records, particularly early ones, are in German.
  • The soundex search facility is particularly important for these records, because the Jewish community lived and operated using German [particularly in Courland and Riga], Yiddish, and Hebrew.  The transliteration of these records reflects the fact that many records will have V’s instead of W’s [for example, “Vipman” instead of “Wippman”], G instead of H [for example, “Germer” instead of “Hermer”], and so on.  It is strongly suggested that you take advantage of the wide-ranging soundex facility and use alternative patterns of spelling.  For example, I, J and Y are sometimes interchanged in the process of transliteration, such that “Joelsohn”, “Yoelson”, “Ioelson” can all be used to refer to the same Courland family, who would probably have described themselves as “Joelsohn”.
  • This is a rich and varied database.  Please do visit Christine’s websites at rigavitalrecords and usdine.pagesperso-orange.fr, where you may find additional family material, for example, cemetery records, photographs of surviving tombstones in Jewish cemeteries, and other sources such as directories, maps etc., that may have additional material relating to the named individuals in this database.
  • All “Christian” dates before 1918 are according to the Julian calendar, as was used throughout the Russian Empire before 1918.  After Latvian independence (1919), the Gregorian calendar was used, so the Christian dates after 1919 are according to the Gregorian (modern) calendar.  For the Gregorian (modern) calendar date, add 12 days for dates from March 1800 to February 1900, or add 13 days for dates from March 1900 to February 2100.  Hebrew dates are unchanged.

How to View the Original Records

Using the links embedded in the database to view the original records

  1. Go to http://lvva-raduraksti.lv/en/register.html and complete the registration process.  This step only needs to be completed once.  If you wish to view records again, begin at step 2.
  2. Click on the person’s underlined name, in the far left column of the search results.  (If nothing happens, then follow the instructions as the end of this section to attempt to locate the correct book.  Otherwise, proceed to step 3.)
  3. If the cover page of a book of records appears, then proceed to step 4.  If prompted to “Sign in”, then enter the Username and Password that you selected in step 1.  (Note: Signing in will not work in some versions of Internet Explorer.  If you have problems, then try a different browser.)
  4. Compare the numbers shown on the cover page for “FONDS”, “APRAKSTS”, and “LIETA” to the numbers shown in the “Archive / Fond / Aprakst. [List] / Lieta [Item]” section of the search results.  If the numbers match, then you should have the correct book, and should proceed to step 5.  (If the numbers do not match, then please e-mail Stephen Weinstein so that a correction can be made in the next revision of the database.  Also, if the numbers do not match, then you may have the wrong book.  If you do not find the desired record, then follow the instructions as the end of this section to attempt to locate the correct book.)
  5. In the top right-hand corner of the screen, there should be two arrows, a number, a /, another number, three rectangles, and the word “Back”.  These arrows and numbers are used to navigate from one page of the book to another.  Click the first number, type the number shown in the “Image” field of the search results, and press the “enter” key on the keyboard.  The first number should then match the number shown in the “Image” field of the search results.  If this does not work, then use the two arrow keys to navigate through the pages of the book until the first number matches the number shown in the “Image” field of the search results.  The image you see should be the correct page of the book.
  6. Use the arrows in the top left-hand corner of the screen to move the image around the screen until you find the correct record.

Finding the books of original records without using the links embedded in the database

  1. Go to http://lvva-raduraksti.lv/en/register.htmland complete the registration process.  This step only needs to be completed once.  If you wish to view records again, begin at step 2.
  2. Go to http://lvva-raduraksti.lv/en/menu/lv/7/ig/7.html.
  3. If a list of places appears, then proceed to step 4.  If prompted to “Sign in”, then enter the Username and Password that you selected in step 1.  (Note: Signing in will not work in some versions of Internet Explorer.  If you have problems, then try a different browser.)
  4. From the list of places, select the place shown in the “Place Recorded” field of the search results.  (Be careful to use the “Place Recorded”, not the place shown for “Residence” or “Town”.)  Do not be concerned if the spelling does not match exactly.
  5. There will be a long list of ranges of years.  Each of these is in its own “book” of records.  Select the range that (i) includes the year shown in the search results under the place recorded (not the year shown for “Date of Death”) and (ii) is followed by the word “Died”.  For example, if the Date of Death is 31/12/1854 and the “Year” is 1855, then you would select the entry that includes the year 1855 and the word “Died”.  This will open a book of records containing deaths recorded in that year.  Compare the numbers shown on the cover page for “FONDS”, “APRAKSTS”, and “LIETA” to the numbers shown in the “Archive / Fond / Aprakst. [List] / Lieta [Item]” section of the search results.  If the numbers match, then you have the correct book, and should proceed to step 6.  If the numbers do not match, then you have the wrong book, so click the back button and try again.  (If there are multiple ranges that include the correct year and the word “Died”, then try each of them, until you find the correct book.)
  6. In the top right-hand corner of the screen, there should be two arrows, a number, a /, another number, three rectangles, and the word “Back”.  These arrows and numbers are used to navigate from one page of the book to another.  Click the first number, type the number shown in the “Image” field of the search results, and press the “enter” key on the keyboard.  The first number should then match the number shown in the “Image” field of the search results.  If this does not work, then use the two arrow keys to navigate through the pages of the book until the first number matches the number shown in the “Image” field of the search results.  The image you see should be the correct page of the book.
  7. Use the arrows in the top left-hand corner of the screen to move the image around the screen until you find the correct record.

Note: Some record books are not listed correctly.  If you are unable to find the correct book, e-mail Stephen Weinstein, who maintains an unpublished master listing of which records are from which of Christine’s webpages and may be able to help.

The Format of the Vital Records

The format of vital records (sometimes called “metrical records”) during the Czarist era can be seen below, in this example from the Death Record book from Bausk for 1856.  The headings indicate the mandatory fields, and each record book is supplied with the headings ready printed to be filled in by the Crown Rabbi for each town of record.

Each book opens flat.  The left side is completed in Russian [or very occasionally in German, in the case of Courland]; and on the facing page the same data is entered in Hebrew.

Death Records – Bauska, 1856 [Courland]
Click on the image above for a larger view.

The headings on each side translate as follows:

Record NumberPlace of Death and of BurialDate of DeathAgeCause of Death, illness or otherIdentity of Deceased
FemaleMaleChristian CalendarJewish Calendar
        

The Usdin database is a translation of the left (Russian) side only.  This database has benefited from the additional work of Anna Chosak, who has used the right (Hebrew) side to check some discrepancies and to obtain data that was listed as illegible on the left (Russian) side.  The task of translating the entire Hebrew side for any additional information or differences of spelling and name formation remains to be done.  Volunteers with the necessary skills will be able in the future to significantly enhance this remarkable transcription exercise.

The Database as a Historical and Social Record

These vital records date from 1838-1921, but most are from 1854-1909.  Each record is a moment in the life of an individual and his or her family and the community of which they were a part.  We see couples marrying, having children, and then coming to terms with the high infant mortality rate that is notable. Death in childhood, particularly in the winter months, when child death after child death is recorded, sometimes in the same family, from childhood illnesses such as scarlatina, measles, and croup.  There are multiple deaths from drowning, usually boys and teenagers in the various local rivers.  Outbreaks of the dreaded cholera were common, particularly in the early 1850’s to the 1860’s. Clearly, there were more children who survived, who went on to build their lives and families in the Latvian provinces and beyond. Through these records, we can see the life cycle of a number of generations of families. We are shown how individuals and families moved from small towns to the cities of Dvinsk and Riga, changed their occupations and social status and built their lives anew.

It is hoped that these records will be the basis for further study by one or more post-graduate students based at The Centre for Judaic Studies at the University of Latvia.

Acknowledgements

This database is a unique contribution first and foremost by Christine Usdin, whose interests rapidly expanded way beyond her search for her own family roots in Vishki and abroad.  She used her skills acquired at University in France to transcribe and translate all surviving records in honor of her own family, but in recognition of the importance of these records to the whole of the Jewish community who lived in this part of the Russian Empire.

The creation of the actual database would not have been possible without the extraordinary efforts particularly of Stephen Weinstein, who was able to unite and unify the variety of formats that were used over the several years this data has been collected and translated.  Thanks are also due to Bruce Dumes, who has supported the work of Christine Usdin and helped her to create her extensive websites, which support a whole variety of supporting material relating to Jewish families of Latvia.  Anna Chosak has contributed many, many hours proofreading and correcting where possible from the Hebrew data where this could be done to fill in gaps or resolve conflicts in data transcription. 

Special thank you to:

  • Constance Whippman – who wrote the basis for this introduction
  • Paul Cheifitz (Director of Latvian Research)
  • Arlene Beare

and the professional team:


If you have any questions, or would like to learn more about volunteering for JewishGen’s Latvia Research Division, please contact Paul Cheifitz (pcheifitz@JewishGen.org).

Volunteers who are able to read Cyrillic cursive and Hebrew are particularly welcome to contact Paul Cheifitz if they would like to participate in the phases to come

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