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mazpuke3.GIF (425 bytes) Preface

This Preface and most of the texts of the Website ROOTS=SAKNES are written in the first person - I, me etc. The narrator is the author of the Site - Bruno Martuzāns, unless another person is specifically mentioned. B.Martuzāns is the only person responsible for the information published herein. The maintainer of the Site - the Academic Computer network LATNET has no responsibility for the texts.

 

History of the Site

I started my work for the Academic Computer network LATNET in Rīga in 1993 when the Internet in this country was in its initial stages. Even then we frequently received emails with queries from various people about their ancestors in Latvia. One of my duties was to answer these queries. To tell the truth, I did not consider this particular duty very important, and really it was not expected that I could always find the right answers, but I had to do what I could. Unfortunately, I could help people only in very rare cases. Mostly I postponed writing answers to some future time when I would hopefully have learnt more. It is for me personally very regrettable that some people have not received any answer from me. Because of workload, I was limited by time constraints and could not undertake research in archives and libraries, but I did regularly go to old-book shops and search them for helpful resources which I then gathered in my office room. Firstly, gathering books and later documents and other resources relevant to the research of family history.

Then I decided to make a homepage, to inform users about the content of the gathered resources and to answer some questions frequently asked on the Internet. Unfortunately, I have gathered too many resources, and now I know answers to too many questions, but only to some of those that are actually asked. The preparation of this information for publishing was taking much longer than I initially anticipated, and finally I decided to open the site ROOTS=SAKNES immediately, even though it is far from complete. I hope that it will be a satisfactory start, and that you will join me and/or other people who are using the Internet as a tool to gather family history resources.

It should also be added that the work on the Site was never directly financed by anybody, and all expenses for the resources used in the Site were covered from the budget of my family and by the investment of my time. All of the documents and all of the books here described or referred to are my concrete property, except the specifically mentioned cases.

 

Addressees and Language

The Site is targeted at the people whose ancestors are from the region of Latvia including those who are now living outside the country. Perhaps it would be better to say - "including those who are living inside it", because I estimate that more people with ancestors from the region of Latvia are now living outside Latvia than in Latvia. By this I mean with ancestors of various ethnic origins who lived in the region of Latvia during the reference period of this Site - 1800-1950.

I also estimate that the majority of people with possible interest in ancestors from the region of Latvia do not read Latvian, and for this reason the eventual visitors are not expected to have much, if any, command of the Latvian language, and, of course, it is not obligatory that they or their ancestors be Latvians by ethnicity. For these reasons I wrote the texts in English. I have done my best to express my thoughts into English but because of the intricacies of interpretation and expression you may at times need to reread a sentence to understand exactly its meaning. It was not easy to make the decision to write in English because it would take so much more time and allow me much less freedom of expression than my mother tongue, and by doing this I violated the principle I was told a lot of times in my life - "Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well". Fortunately, I found on the Internet a quote of G. K. Chesterton that "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly" and I accepted this maxim gladly. It has, however, not been my intent to do something badly. It would be greatly appreciated, if you have time to communicate to me any improvements that you think would be beneficial to users, especially you find a text that you were not able to understand. It should be noted that there is nothing similar to this Site available in Latvian either in electronic or printed form.

 

Resources on this Site

This Site should be considered primarily as a resource site. There are two distinguishable types of resources published here.

Firstly, resources related to genealogy, or family history, or the history of real people. I am gathering family history resources observing the following definition: a piece of family history resources is any non-empty list of real people. So on this site will be published information found in books, newspapers, official documents, leaflets, albums, diaries, postcards, letters etc. If I find something, I pick it up in the hope of publishing it here.

The second group comprises the sources that describe the social milieu of the time periods belonging to the reference period (1800-1950). These sources should bring answers to the questions - what the ancestors did, and why they behaved in the way they did. There are a lot of historical investigations for the region of Latvia, but they mainly attack serious and general problems that concerned the rulers. It is fairly difficult to find answers to simple questions concerning everyday life of an ordinary individual here. Nevertheless, I have risked writing overviews of the problems of this type by gathering information from many books, other publications and from original documents.

If I was lucky, I discovered some published papers relevant to the problems of this site. They are or will be published here in their full extent or in other cases only partially. Unfortunately, practically no texts in English were found. There are relatively long texts in German and some in Latvian on this Site. I fully agree, it would be very useful also to have most of them in English, but I am afraid I have no time to work with the translations. I always attempt to explain the contents of the non-English texts and to translate the short texts from leaflets, letters or postcards, and also the documents presented here.

It was difficult to translate old texts written in German, Latvian or Russian, because the languages in that form are archaic, and in many cases the documents are written even in an archaic bureaucratic jargon. Firstly, I can not guarantee that I have understood the texts as their readers understood them 150 years ago, and secondly, I do not possess the necessary skills to translate the texts in the modern bureaucratic jargon.. Even more difficult were the cases where I worked with texts written by not very educated people. Again, I have never studied incorrect English and I doubt that my own still inevitable mistakes probably reflect the language of a less-educated native English speaker. So what I proudly call a translation, in many cases may be only an overview. And in some cases I in fact did not try to translate but only reviewed the texts that were too long or too complicated for me to translate, if I decided the information therein could be interesting to the Site user. As a rule, I added the original texts to my translations (reviews), in the hope that someone better qualified could check my translations and improve them.

If you have ever thought that you were a unique person, or that your family was unique, or your family history was unique, you are quite right. There have never existed two identical family histories. So use the history resources of this Site or any other history resources prudently. This is similar to statistics - if you have learned that in a time period an average family had 4.6 children, you have achieved some knowledge about this period, no doubt, but you would not think that any real family with 4.6 children were in existence. Do not assume that your ancestor's family could not have 2 or 12 children. And while reading a politically correct history volume, do not imagine that any of your ancestors always behaved and thought in accordance with the prescriptions of today's historians.

 

Principles

It seems that some general principles namely universality, historicism, avoiding of overgeneralizations I ascribed to or thought I ascribed to, should be clearly stated. You do not need to accept them, but it is my opinion that it is desirable that you are aware of them. They are described in details in a separate Page in order to make this Preface shorter, but, please, spend a couple of minutes to study the Page, if you are intending to work with this Site.

 

Content

To some extent the Site is simulating the structure of a book with Volumes and Chapters - I can not guarantee that you will jump into any Page and understand everything without any difficulty. May be it would be preferable to browse the Pages one by one as they are grouped in the Home Page. But you may try your way and see what happens.

The Site begins with... well, Web sites do not begin anywhere, that's how books are structured. However, the Site begins with a general introduction related to family history research. It is explained what the word Latvia actually means (the Chapter Territory), how the country was perceived by visitors or by the people who lived there, how the fabric of life was woven of (the Chapter Country), and so on. Some of the most frequently asked, or may be not asked but thought of, questions should be answered in the Chapter History.

Quite frequently people ask questions about the languages spoken in Latvia and especially what a particular family name means. These are really interesting and difficult problems, and some information on this matter will be gathered in the Chapter Names, though I do not believe this Chapter will ever be totally comprehensive.

A living person is immersed in different worlds of multidimensional social space. In the olden days the space had even more dimensions than now. It is very desirable to know them in order to understand times past and to proceed with family history research. At this moment on this Site the information is presented for only 4 such dimensions:

- Estate (social group). The understanding of the system of estates is very important to anybody who wishes to touch life in the Russia Empire.
- Ethnicity. The life of people of different ethnic backgrounds was always different. The understanding of the word ethnicity was not always the same, however.
- Religion. Religion determined the everyday life of many people, and, what is especially important for genealogical research, the religious institutions kept civil records in the Russia Empire.
- Occupation. The way that people earned their living could bring additional information for the family history researcher.

Other possible dimensions of this kind - locations where the people lived, prosperity levels, political sympathies, health (disability) etc. are only touched on here. I advise you not to focus only on the social space regions you think are yours, but also to study the life in the neighboring areas. For example, the Page that describes the business of Jewish traveling salesmen can add some understanding to the life of Latvian peasants also.

The next Volume describes the thread of life - birth, education, marriage, death - how life went on and what kinds of things happened to our ancestors. At this moment only projections of real lives via a bureaucratic screen are discussed here, however they bring a lot of useful information to consider. For instance, I am really proud of the material on love and illegitimate births that you will find here.

Then I discuss the resources for family history research and not only discuss but also gather them on the Site (Chapter Pebbles). It is of utmost importance to realize my approach - however small a piece of information was, it was worth being picked up and saved in electronic format. The results I have obtained seem laughable, but, please, do not laugh, try to think what you can do to gather the unique information that you hold and to transfer it to coming generations.

 

What else is important

My correspondents sometimes complain that they have nobody to discuss the genealogy problems with, that they sometimes thought they were the only person in the world with interest in the family history matters for the region of Latvia. If you think they are right, do not give up for this reason; in the real Latvia there are plenty of people who share this interest and who are really researching genealogy and family histories; the problem lies in finding and contacting them. I also hope that this Site will serve as a contact place for serious researchers. For this reason I added to the Site the possibility of subscribing to the newsgroup ROOTS.

I feel it only honest to inform you that in some cases of successful search for relatives you find that as a newly discovered relative you are not welcomed as such by relatives here in Latvia. This may be the case, for example, if the possibility exists that you might be considered as a competitor in the ownership of real estate once owned by your ancestors. This type of property was be nationalized by the Bolsheviks in 1941 and then denationalized at the beginning of the 1990s. Only private dwellings, land in towns and farms in rural regions were denationalized, but enterprises were not. I am not sure that everyone here in Latvia realizes that in reality you can not be a competitor, because you can not apply for the reinstating of the property rights of denationalized real estate which already has an owner, because the term for such an application expired in 1994. Now you can try to regain such property through the courts, if you are the legal heir of the property but only, if nobody else had already reclaimed the property.

 


© Bruno Martuzāns. 1995-2002