Baltic Genealogical Profile
Estonia. 1.4 million people (64% Estonian, 29% Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Finn) traditionally Lutheran.
Latvia. 2.4 million people (57% Latvian, 30% Russian, 4% Belarusian, 4% Ukrainian, 3% Pole, 1% Lithuanian) traditionally Lutheran.
Lithuania. 3.7 million people (81% Lithuanian, 8% Russian, 7% Poles, rest Belarusian and Ukrainian) predominantly Roman Catholic.
Estonia. Estonian language closely related to Finnish (state language in 1988). Records in German and Russian.
Latvia. Latvian language related to Lithuanian (state language in 1989). Records in German and Russian.
Lithuania. Lithuanian, oldest extant Indo-European language (state language in 1989). Records in Latin, Polish, Russian, etc.
German crusading orders subjugated the territory of modern-day Estonia and Latvia in the 13th century. Later, Sweden dominated the northern area and Poland-Lithuania the southern. Russia gained control during the 18th century. From 1918-1945, Estonia and Latvia enjoyed an interlude of independence before the Red Army imposed Soviet power. The Soviets brought in masses of Russians to industrialize the area. The Estonian share of the population decreased from 90% to 61% in 1989 and the Latvian portion of the population dropped from a high of 76% in 1935 to 57% in 2005. With the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, both states regained their independence.
Under Grand Duke Vytautas, 1392-1430, Lithuania became a large and powerful state, its boundaries extending from the Baltic to the Black Sea. It merged with Poland in 1569. Russia annexed Lithuania at the end of the 18th century. In 1918, it regained its independence. In 1920, Poland occupied a portion of eastern Lithuania around Vilnius. In 1923 Lithuania seized the area of Klaipeda (Memel) on its western edge, formerly part of East Prussia. The Red Army established Soviet rule in 1944. It regained it independence in 1991.
Places/Jurisdiction Reference Aids
The administrative structure of the Baltics under Imperial Russia consisted of:
uezd (county) or gorod (city)
guberniya (province or state).
Modern Estonia includes the Estonia Guberniya and the northern half of Livonia Guberniya; modern Latvia the Kurland Guberniya, the southern half of Livonia, and a small piece of the Vitebsk Guberniya; modern Lithuania the Kovno Guberniya, half of Vilno, and half of Suwalki (Polish) Guberniyas.
There were 6 Lutheran consistories: Kurland (including Kurland, Vitebsk, Mogilev, Minsk, Vilna, Grodno, Kovno), Estonia, Livonia, and the cities of Oesel, Reval (Tallinn), and Riga. There were two Catholic dioceses: Samogitia (Kovno, Estonia, Livonia), and Vilnius (Vilna south to Brest). Orthodox dioceses were coterminal with civil jurisdictions.
Use these research aids to identify place names, locations, and jurisdictions:
Estonia and Latvia. Feldmann, Hans. Baltisches Historisches Ortslexikon (Baltic Historical Dictionary). Wien: Böhlau, 1985. Teil 1: Estland (Estonia), Teil 2: Lettland (Latvia). 947.4 E5fh. Historical jurisdictions (German and native names), parishes, name changes.
Estonia. Spisok naselennykh mest Estliandskoi gubernii (List of populated places in the Province of Estonia). Revel : Estliandskoi Gubernskoi Statisticheskoi Komitet, 1913. Film 2212971 item 8. Russian place names.
Lithuania. U.S. Board on Geographic Names. Gazetteer of Lithuania. Washington DC: Defense Mapping Agency, 1994. 947.5 E5g. Place names and geographic coordinates.
All. Hofmann, Harry v. Baltische Postorte 1858-1916 (Baltic Postal Places). Hamburg: Harry v. Hofmann Verlag, 1986. 947.4 E8h. Lists post offices by their Russian and then their native name(s).
All. Names changes between German and native languages. Kredel, Otto. Deutsch-fremdsprachiges (fremdsprachig-deutsches) Ortsnamenverzeichnis (German-Foreign and Foreign-German Place Names). Berlin: Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft, 1931. 940 E5kt (film 0583457 or 0590387).
All. Euro-Reiseatlas 1:300.000: Baltische Staaten Estland, Lettland, Litauen. Berlin: RV Verlag, 1993. 947.41 E7b. Indexes and shows locations by modern name.
Metrical books begin in early 1700s. When the Baltics became independent in the 1920s they each continued the system of clergy registering births, marriages and deaths. The original was kept locally and the transcript sent to the civil registrar office. Lutheran records (Estonia and Latvia) are normally in German, Catholic records (Lithuania) in Latin or the native language. In 1892 the state required they be kept in Russian. Orthodox records (Estonia and Latvia) are in Russian. Jewish records are in Hebrew and Russian. Each country established the native tongue as the language of the registers in the 1920s. In 1940 the Soviet Union absorbed the Baltics and replaced ecclesiastical registration with civil registration. The records are in the native language and Russian. Divorces are also recorded. Civil registers are located in civil registration and not state archives.
Revision lists (Seelenlisten) were kept in the Baltics from 1795-1858 to support a national poll tax. Peter I originated the poll tax throughout imperial Russia in 1719. The first revision in Estonia was 1782 and elsewhere in the Baltics was 1795. They list individuals with their name, age and relationship to head of household. The last three revisions noted changes in families during the interim between revisions. Because the tax was imposed on male persons of the lower classes, nobility, clergy, officialdom, army, and higher strata of urban population were absent from the lists-about 5-10 % in the 19th century. Separate volumes were kept by social class: merchant (kuptsy), town dweller (meshchane), peasant (krest'iane), and others, so may be more than a single volume to check.
1897 census was the only universal census in tsarist Russia. It was conducted on January 28, in the middle of the winter because when the populace was least mobile. Census lists name, sex, relationship, age, marital status, social class, birthplace, registration place, residence, religion, native tongue, literacy, occupation, and military status. Provincial copies of the census exists partially for Estonia and Latvia, very little for Lithuania.
Conscription lists, 1874-1918 census substitute, of those entering military service or being drafted began earlier than 1874, but, as of that year, all 21 year-old males were subject to military service. Conscription occurred each year in October. Initially, the term of service was 6 years active and 9 years reserve. The length of active duty was reduced to 5 years in 1876 and then varied between 3-5 years thereafter. Deferments were granted for only sons, sole breadwinners, etc. Over 50 percent of the draftees were not inducted.
Nobility/genealogy collections, six collections in Estonia pertaining to the nobility of Estonia, the nobility of Ingermanland, the nobility of Oesel, the general population, the Estonian Bureau of Genealogical Research, and the Dorpat Genealogical Society; three collections in Latvia pertaining to descendants of the Teutonic Knights, the nobility, and the general population; and two collections in Lithuania pertaining to: Vilnius Province, and Kaunas Province.
Personal registers, 1926-1940 (Estonia, Latvia), provide alphabetical access to individual information for this period. Located in local civil registry offices.
Local censuses, 1860-1917 (Estonia only).
Resident books (Estonia, Latvia), pertain to capital cities only in the late imperial period and period of independence between the wars. Names and ages with inclusive dates of residence.
Passport applications (Latvia only), for use internally and when leaving the country contain names, birth date, birth place, parents, religion, occupation, and photograph of applicant.
Three basic approaches:
1) access information online
2) use the microfilms of the Family History Library
3) visit, correspondence or hire an agent
All historical archives are open to genealogical researchers. Latvia and Lithuania respond to research requests by correspondence, however, expect delays and charges vary significantly. Research service has improved considerably in the last few years for those who go there. Civil Registry Offices are not easy places to do research but they have records not found in the Archives, such as post-World War I records, church record transcripts and civil registers.
Archival documents are filed by in a fond according to the creating agency, i.e. a church or government office. Item are numbered sequentially within a fond and given a title based upon the record, contents and time period. They are usually filed chronologically by the earliest year of information. An inventory of items is an opis. While fond is a statement of authorship, opis is a statement of content. The opis is the key to finding records in a fond. It is usually an in-house document, either handwritten or typed. A fond may have more than one opis covering later accessions to the fond. In summary, each item is defined by three numbers: fond, opis, item. The number at each level is simply sequential. Later insertions in a sequence of items receive alpha qualifiers such as 21a, 21b, etc.
Historical Archive--Tartu, Liivi tänav 4. Original parish registers before 1834 and transcripts 1834-1940 (Lutheran and Orthodox filmed to 1907), revision lists, local censuses 1860-1917, nobility/genealogy collections (all except collections are filmed)
Civil Registry Archive --Tallinn, Loosi plats 1a. The transferred their original metrical books 1834-1926 to Tartu in , transcripts to 1940, and civil registers thereafter (Lutheran, Jewish and some Orthodox filmed), name change records for 1830-1836. Personal registers in local family registry offices. City Archive--Tallinn, Tolli tänav 8. Metrical books, revision lists, census records, and guild records for the Tallinn (filmed).
State Archive--Tallinn, Maneezi tänav 8. Resident books, 1918-1940.
Estonia has a very progressive website at <http://www.eha.ee/english/english.htm>. In a first for Eastern Europe, it not only provides inventories of records but also images, and these free of charge, though one needs to register in order to view them. To find this material, click on the Databases link in the left-hand column. Of the 15 databases currently available, at least 4 have value to genealogists:
- Number 8. Register of revision lists of the population. This is an inventory of census records. Search for a county (maakond) and the parish or place (kihelkond) by using the options in the dropdown boxes. Search at the county level if you do not know the specific place.
- Number 13. Kupits. Historic administrative boundaries. This database has clickable jurisdictional maps for various time periods where one can see, at multiple zoom levels, the boundaries between jurisdictions. The bottom layer is a historical map.
- Number 14. SAAGA - Digitized family history sources. This provides images of the original records. Currently the only images are for Lutheran and Orthodox church records and early tax records known as Wackenbuch (contract books). The images were digitized from the films created by the cooperation of the Archive and the Genealogical Society of Utah (now known as FamilySearch Record Services).
- Number 15. Personal name indexes of parish registries. This looks promising, but none of the text is in English, so it is not possible to decipher details about the extent of the index. However, an entry for a surname indicates in what parish register it may be found. A researcher then can go to the images and look at the original entry.
Historical Archive--Riga, Slokas 16. Metrical books, revision lists, 1897 census, recruit/conscript lists, passport applications, resident books, nobility/genealogy collections. A few pre-1836 revision lists were filmed during the 1940s.
Latvian Archives of the Registry Department (Latvijas Republikas Tieslietu Ministrija Dzimtsarakstu Departaments) Kalku Street 24, Riga, LV-1623, Latvia; and local civil registry offices. Vital statistics since 1921.
The Latvia State Archives <http://www.arhivi.lv/index.php?&3> and Latvia State Historical Archives <http://www.arhivi.lv/index.php?&110> provide a search engine for archival collections and a database of images. On the State Archives pages search for collections by using the link Database of the Central Fond Register in the lower right hand corner of the screen. Scroll down the dropdown list in the Sphere of creator's activity field to the "Y" category and select the religion of interest. Selecting Catholic, for instance, retrieves five collections. Clicking on the collection title provides additional information. The images are found at <http://www.lvva-raduraksti.lv/en.html> in a database entitled Raduraskati (Genealogy). Currently, there are over a million images of Lutheran church books. One must register to see the images but the registration is free.
All Latvia Database <http://www.jewishgen.org/databases/Latvia/>
Lithuanian State Historical Archive (Lietuvos Valstybinis Istorijos Archyvas), Gerosios Vilties g. 10, 2009 Vilnius, Lithuania - Lietuva. Metrical books (filmed except for Catholic), revision lists, 1897 census, recruit/conscript lists, nobility collection.
Central Civil Registry Office (Lietuvos Centrinis Metriku Archyvas), K.Kalinausko g. 21, 2000 Vilnius, Lithuania / Phone (+370 2) 637846; and local civil registry offices. Vital statistics since 1915.
The Lithuanian archival website offers a search of record groups in all of the state archives. Genealogists need only search for records in the State Historical Archive. From the home page at <http://www.archyvai.lt/archyvai/selectLanguage.do?language=en>, click the tab at the top for State Archives and select Lithuanian State Historical Archives. Contact information is provided on this page. In the left-hand column is a link to the database (National Archival Database) to search for collection descriptions. Descriptions of religious records in the historical archive can be retrieved by selecting “…(LVIA)” from the dropdown list under Repository and one of the topics under Tikyba (religion) in the dropdown under Subject. In the case of Catholic records, the result list is not only in Lithuanian but also in Latin, which is a little more understandable to English speakers.