Estonia Names, Personal

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Introduction

Family names in Estonia are important for researchers, as they often contain a great deal of information. These surnames can lead the researcher to the very commune (a relatively small administrative-territorial unit) the family lived and to associated archival records. The number of surnames in Estonia is quite large.

There are about 41,000 different names, about 29,000 of them can be localized in a concrete commune. The remaining 12,000 surnames can be determined by a parish, county, or neighboring parish or county. At the time when surnames were given, there were (on average) 12 different names per 100 people in Estonian parishes. There were approximately 29,000 unique surnames in Estonia. These names are more numerous in the southern province of Livonia. Unique surnames occurred most numerously on the Vormsi Island off the West-Estonian coast.[1]

History

From 1822-1826 all peasants in South Estonia (the Livonian province) who had been liberated from serfdom were given family names. In 1835, this also happened in North Estonian (the Estonian province). In some places, this happened even earlier. The source of surnames for peasants were derived from their everyday world, including household commodities, seasons, clothing, farm names, occupations, and other such things. Based on the dialect, surnames may have different meanings.

Interest in surnames started in the 1920s and 1930s. By appeal, local clergy provided data on about half of the family names registered in their congregations. Based on the initial data of the 1934 census, the state Central Bureau of Statistics compiled a catalog of already existing names. Unfortunately, this catalog was not thoroughly studied and only part of the original has survived.

Between 1935-1940 there was a major campaign for the Estonianization of family names. During this time, almost 200,000 people chose a new surname. Unfortunately, some family members chose different surnames or unrelated families chose the same surname, making it more difficult for researchers. Most surnames were derived from German or Russian names. Typically, names related to animals were discarded. Records of name changes could not be compiled at this time because of Soviet occupation in 1940. Some of these names have been compiled by Aadu Must (see www.history.ee/ono).[2]

Research Strategy

Because of their great number, Estonian surnames can be effectively used in geographical surname distributions. Surnames can be distinguished by the region they cover; surnames may be localized to a parish, county, province, or the entire country. This can be extended to localized surnames throughout the world, which may help in migration questions. The distribution of surnames did not always follow administrative-territorial divisions; instead, surnames often followed existing cultural or dialectal areas or they followed geographic feature. For example, a surname may be generally found in a specific county or it may be found long a river or in a specific valley. Because of the amount and variety of Estonian surnames, it is said that the majority of these surnames can be localized quite exactly.

Surnames can also be used to detect migration patterns. [3]

Record Types

Name change records

Research use: These records must be consulted to determine the old names in order to research parish registers before the 1830s.

Record type: Card file and application forms.

General: All Estonians between 1830-1836 received Estonian names. Prior to that time, the names were German, Russian, Swedish, etc.

Time period: 1830-1836.

Contents: Record lists old and new names.

Location: Central Civil Registration Archive, Tallinn.[4]

References

  1. Must, Aadu. "The Sources of Estonian Family History." In Eestlaste perekonnaloo allikad. Estonia: Kleio, 2000.
  2. Must, Aadu. "The Sources of Estonian Family History." In Eestlaste perekonnaloo allikad. Estonia: Kleio, 2000.
  3. Must, Aadu. "The Sources of Estonian Family History." In Eestlaste perekonnaloo allikad. Estonia: Kleio, 2000.
  4. The Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Family History Record Profile: Estonia,” Word document, private files of the FamilySearch Content Strategy Team, 1994-2002.