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mazpuke3.GIF (425 bytes) Principles

 

It seems that some general principles, that I followed for the construction of ROOTS=SAKNES, should be clearly stated. You might not choose to accept them, but I think it is important that you are aware of them.

First of all, let's deal with universality. The Site deals with the region of Latvia, and no single person or any group of people that lived there should be filtered out of studies. No attempt should be made to separate any indivudual, to make claims of good or evil persons or intent, to label anyone as important and negligible amongst the people mentioned on this Site. Anybody who lived in this region has indisputable rights to be recorded here. You could find a description of a person here and exclaim - why he was mentioned here, he was nobody!

Please, remember - nobody was nobody! Everybody was somebody.

In spite of the fact that there are no generals in genealogies - only privates, it is quite clear, however, that one can find much more information about a person who was remarkable in some sense. It frequently happened that I bought in an old-book shop, say, part of a family archive, brought it home, studied it and discovered that the names mentioned could be found in an address book of officials from previous time periods or in other sources.

Similarly, you may read here information about somebody and exclaim - why was he included here, he was so wicked and sinister! Yes, he was a villain, but some of his family members could have a different opinion to yours. It is important to acknowledge that a villain's children or grandchildren or other family members are not, simply by association, villains. They should not be held responsible for the crimes their ancestor committed, and realistically they might be very unhappy to discover that an ancestor was a villain. Without doubt, a family history (or any other history) with bad guys excluded can not be complete.

It was relatively easy to follow the universal approach in cases where real people were being considered. It was a much more difficult task to describe historical events or facts. The universal approach assumes that nobody could be held responsible for the deeds of their ancestors and therefore implies no difference in genealogical activities of victims or their butchers. For these reasons I have been desperately trying to be politically neutral and have no intentions to be politically correct in any sense. I tried to follow the approach which in Soviet times was denigrated as bourgeois objectivism - the instance of scientists recounting reality without taking into account the interests of the working class. Now that I have much more information about the investigations of real bourgeois scientists, I suspect that they follow objectivism in rare cases, which does not however mean that they necessarily care about the interests of the working class. An even more striking discovery for me was that the thinking of the ordinary people of the former free world is quite frequently, though not always, even more biased within political propaganda, than the thinking of the ordinary people of the former communist world. So I expect, I will be misinterpreted quite readily and will be slanderously labeled, but I am not complaining, I know what is waiting for me if I open the door of the Internet snake pit.

The second principle is historicism in the sense that each historical age should be interpreted within its own terms and one should not read his own beliefs and motives of his own day into the period which is under consideration. Unfortunately, historians (no difference between professionals or amateurs) quite frequently find in previous periods not only the basis for their beliefs but also the basis for their biases and hatred. It is of primary importance for a family history researcher to realize that the way of thinking of ancestors could be quite different to yours, because they operated within the appropriate constraints of their time period, and they had no idea how their current events would be understood or interpreted later.

Another principal concern was to avoid overgeneralizations - not to jump to general conclusions having only a single fact, which is a very easy trap to fall into for family history researchers who are dealing with unique facts.

As an example of the approach with overgeneralization and lack of historicism that is absolutely not acceptable on this Site, I propose a paragraph from the book on history of Saldus [Frauenburg] town /Dunsdorfs/. The author of the book is Edgars Dunsdorfs (1905-2002), a historian whom some fellow historians consider as the greatest historian ever to have worked in the science of history of Latvia.

In this book the events of 1812 in the vicinity of Saldus were shortly discussed, and the author wrote about the burning down of Riga's suburbs by the Army of the Russia Empire to prepare for combat with Napoleon's General McDonald: "Makdonalda spēki nebija pārcēlušies par Daugavu, un Rīgas priekšpilsētu nodedzināšana bija pārsteidzīga un lieka. Tā notika tikai krievu postīšanas kāres dēļ." that could be translated as "McDonald's corps had not yet crossed the Daugava river, and the burning down of Riga's suburbs was rash and superfluous. It occurred only to satisfy the Russian's desire for destruction." It should be noted that in the Latvian text the description Russian is not an indicator of Russian citizenship.

It is to be assumed that the author's personal life history was badly dislocated as a result of Soviet annexation of Latvia, however it would perhaps have been more appropriate for a historian to concentrate more on understanding ramifications of war than allowing hatred to show, and to avoid making generalized statements about any ethnicity. I do not believe that events of July 1812 allow anybody to draw any conclusions about the group of people identified as Russians. What is worse, I am sure the author knew very well that the decision and the order to burn down the suburbs came and could only have come from the General Governor J. von Essen, who was a German by ethnicity, that he followed the same tactics as his Commander-in-Chief Barclay de Tolli, who was of Scottish descent, and that he based his orders on the information he received from his scout - lieutenant-colonel Tiedeman, who was also a German. But, please, do not think that I am going to ascribe to Germans or Scots the mania to destroy everything including suburbs. And I insist that it would not be correct to blame Russians for that, even if some of them were involved in the decision making of the Great Fire case. At best case it would be possible to draw only generalizations about the generals, and only about the generals of that time. But perhaps I should explain the deeds of the generals.

Burning down of suburbs at that time was a common, well-known, sometimes successful though a slightly outdated tactic to defend towns when an enemy approached. Most people hid themselves inside the town walls and the suburbs i.e. the buildings outside the town walls were burnt down to make possible to observe what the enemies did and to make life more difficult for them. For example, it was very important to see, if they were digging a hole under the city wall to blow it up. It is known that Riga's suburbs were burned down on average each 30 years during the 17th-18th centuries.

Riga city in 1812 was quite ready to defend itself - the churches inside the walls were filled with grain and munition, the houses there were supplied with water, the houses nearest to the walls from outside were specially prepared to be easily set alight etc. Then, when McDonald beat the Russian troops at Iecava (30 km from Riga), and it became known that he had a force twice as great as the defendants of Riga, when Essen received information from Tiedeman that the French troops had crossed the river - we know now that this information was false, but Essen did not, we know now that McDonald overestimated the real force of Riga city and decided not to attack it, but Essen did not know that -, then Essen decided that it was the last moment to set fire to the houses in suburbs. It was done, and about 800 buildings were destroyed. Unfortunately, much more damage was wrought than had initially been planned, because the fire became uncontrollable.

It is known that Riga's inhabitants of that time were very angry for this decision and blamed von Essen and Tiedeman enormously but only for the reason that they were both perceived to have been stupid and not because they were Germans, or Russians, or military men. Incidently, J. von Essen was discharged from his position in the autumn 1812 and committed suicide some months later. The people of Riga assumed that he could not live with the great guilt of burning their homes, but nobody knows the real reason for his suicide.

I do not wish that the information on this Site be used/abused for any kind of similar generalization or oversimplification, and thus I have formulated the main disclaimer of the Site:

The information herein is not intended to be used to draw general conclusions or to attempt to prove or disprove anything about any group of population or any family or any person and it is not permitted to be used or referred to for this purpose.

 

© Bruno Martuzāns. 1995-2002