|Here the administrative history of Latvia is described for
the reference period - 1800-1950
borders of the region of Latvia in Russia Empire
borders of the region of Latvia in Russia Empire
At the beginning of the 19th century the region of today's Latvia belonged to the following 3 provinces (in Russian gubernia) of the Russia Empire:
The first two provinces and the Igaunijas [Estland] province frequently were referenced to as the Baltic [Ostsee, Ostzeijskije] provinces. The name Latvia [Lettland] was proposed in the 1830s but was never used in the official documents of the Empire.
The map of the Baltic provinces (1882) and the Latvian part of Vitebskas province is available on the Net. However it does not seem to be quite reliable. For example, Viļaka [Marienhausen, Mariengauzen] is pictured eastwards from the railway Ostrava-Rezekne and as belonging to Pleskavas [Pleskau, Pskovskaja] province, but in the real life it is situated a long way westward, and I am quite sure that it belonged to Vitebskas province.
There were about 78 provinces (or gubernias) in the Empire and they consisted of apriņķi (sing. apriņķis) [Bezirk, ujezd] and each apriņķis was divided into pagasti (sing. pagasts) [Gemeinde, volost]. I am using the Latvian words for these terms throughout all the ROOTS=SAKNES site. The boundaries of apriņķi and pagasti were changed in time. Some of them were liquidated and other ones created. Initially the German names of pagasti were used, and they quite frequently coincided with the names of the manors, because many pagasti corresponded to the territory of manors.
For genealogical purposes the correspondence of administrative districts and church parishes is also of great importance, because if you are going to study church records, you should know which parish is of interest to you. The Latvians and Germans from Vidzeme and Kurzeme provinces were mainly Lutherans. The list of all the Lutheran parishes of the Russian Empire can be found in "Rigascher Almanach" for 1863 and is also available on this site. A parish covered several pagasti and could be considered as an administrative unit from the bureaucratic point of view. The information on the pagasti of a particular parish is available in some printed sources, though it is difficult to review it because the borders of pagasti and parishes changed in time. It should be mentioned that the Lutheran Church sometimes had separate parishes for Germans and Latvians of the same territory.
The Latvians in Vitebska province were mainly Catholic. I possess no information sources about the system of their parishes at this moment. The systematized analogous information for Russian Orthodox Church is available, but this religion did not impact the administrative division.
Formation of the territory of independent Latvia (1920s)
Only Kurzemes province with minor exceptions (see below) was included in the territory of independent Latvia (1918). 4 apriņķi from Vidzemes [Livland] province:
were included in Latvia, and other 5 went to Estonia. Vitebskas province was included in Latvia partly, namely
apriņķi became a part of Latvia, other apriņķi went to Russia and Poland. After several territorial changes now Vitebska itself and main part of Vitebska province are situated in Belorus.
The border between the Russia Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) and the independent Latvia Republic was set out in the Peace Treaty of both countries of August 11, 1922. According to the report of the head of the RSFSR delegation Adolf Abramovič Joffe to the People Commissariat of Foreign Affairs, the negotiators discovered at the very first meeting that both parts were going to use the same ethnographic publications of Pastor August Bielenstein to prove the proper border line separating the settlement areas of Latvian and Russian ethnicities, so the discussions of the border line went on without great battles.
The border line is described in the Treaty. One can conclude from this description that Rēzeknes and Daugavpils apriņķi were included in Latvia (with small exceptions) as they existed in the former boundaries of the Empire time, but the eastern border of Ludzas aprinkis did not coincide with the former administrative border - some part of Pleskava [Pleskau, Pskov] province went to Latvia. The map of this border line was appended to the Treaty and is available on this site.
Northern part of the map from the Appendix to Latvia
- Russia Peace Treaty 1920. (136 kb)
These maps could be useful also for checking the names of places in the Latgale region that were used in the Russia Empire, if one has necessary spelling skills in Russian.
Later on in the fall of 1944 the border line between Russian SFSR and Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic (then both of them were parts of the USSR) was changed, and the territories which corresponded to former Pleskavas province were included in Russian SFSR and namely, 6 pagasti of Latvia went to RSFSR. They were: Augšpils [Wyschgorodok], Gauru [Gawri], Kacēnu [Katschanowz], Linavas [Talkowa], Purvmalas [Bakowo] and Upmales (no German name because it was created at the end of the 1930s). These territories remained in Russia after the independence of Latvia was reestablished in 1991. The information on the postwar events in this region should be searched for in the archives of Pskov [Pleskau] or in the Central Archives of Russia.
Latvia signed analogous Treaties with both Estonia and Lithuania. However the negotiations were rather hard, and the international arbitrators were asked to help to set up the border line.
The group of English colonel S.G.Talent draw the border line between Estonia and Latvia. The main task of the group was to find out in which territories lived more Latvians and in which more Estonians. As the result of the efforts of the group, the border line they created differed from the administrative borders of the former aprinki. The main part of the Valka city (the center of the former apriņķis) was included in Estonia, as well as the northern part of Valkas apriņķis and some pagasti - Core pagasts, the northeastern part of Ipiķu [Ippik] pagasts, parts of Omuļu [Hommeln], Liellugāžu [Luhde-Grosshof], Kaģeru, Jaunrozes [Neu-Rosen] and Veclaicenes [Alt-Laitzen] pagasti. The Latvia/Estonia border line was not changed in the Soviet time.
It could be important for Latvian genealogists to know that a large Latvian colony Lavry in Pleskavas province went to Estonia according to the treaty between Estonia and Russian SFSR and was called there Leppuri. Later in the fall 1944 Lavry together with some part of Estonian territory became part of Russian SFSR. You can find the place on the map from the Appendix of the above mentioned Peace Treaty.
Detailed information about the setting of Latvia/Lithuania border line is available in /LKV/, 10 vol.
The following territories of former Kaunas [Kowno]
province were added to Latvia:
All these territories now are in Lithuania, and the information about their inhabitants should be searched for in Lithuanian archives.
Administrative history of Latvia in 1920-1999
Serious changes of administrative divisions were also carried out later. In the independent Latvia the Russia Empire system of aprinki and pagasti was restructured and to 1938 Latvia comprised 18 apriņķi and 516 pagasti. Then there were 56 towns in Latvia. The name lists of apriņķi, pagasti and towns are available here both in Latvian and German variants.
During the Nazi Germany time 1941-1944 the administrative division of Latvia by apriņķi and pagasti was conserved, though Latvia did not exist then. The region of Latvia was called Generalbezirk Lettland (General region of Latvia) and belonged to the Eastern land (Ostland).
During the Soviet time (1944-1990) the administrative borders in Latvia (then called Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic) were changed several times. The borders of rajoni (sing. rajons), that roughly correspond to former apriņķi, were especially frequently changed. The borders of pagasti also altered but perhaps not so frequently. Recently a review of all changes during the Soviet period was published in the book - Latvijas Valsts arhīvu ģeneraldirekcija. Okupētās Latvijas administratīvi teritoriālais iedalījums: vēsturiskās uzziņas un pārvaldes iestāžu arhīvu fondu rādītājs (1940 - 1941, 1944 - 1990). Zinātniska arhīvu rokasgrāmata. Rīga 1997.
The current situation is quite similar to the latest variant of the Soviet period. Now (1997) in Latvia there are 26 rajoni with 495 pagasti, and 76 towns, but the number of pagasti is still changing. Very roughly one can suppose that the contemporary pagasti correspond to the prewar pagasti, but, of course, it can not be said about apriņķi/rajoni.
© Bruno Martuzāns. 1995-2002