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Exploring the history of a place: Ligatne Paper Mill Village

Updated: Apr 5

This week, I took a research detour into the history of the Līgatne paper mill village. Typically focused on family histories, I agreed to gather information on one of the historical buildings in the Ligatne Paper Mill Village."

View to Ligatne Village
Ligatne Paper Mill Village Today

The Ligatne Paper Mill is a unique 19th century complex - a factory, a workers' village, a hospital built especially for paper mill workers, a house of culture, a pharmacy, a maternity home and other buildings. I found it a fascinating research topic.

Understanding the history of a place is crucial to understanding the families associated with it. My experience might help other family historians trying to get more information about a place.

  • Fortunately, Latvia, including Līgatne, boasts vibrant local researchers whose work is published in newspapers, tourism publications, and books. However, the downside is the lack of proper referencing. Local researchers often omit citing their sources, making it challenging for those who wish to verify information.

  • On a positive note, historians' publications can provide a solid foundation for research. In the case of Līgatne, Valija Šalgunova's comprehensive article, "Views into Līgatne's Past," stands out. It covers the entire history of the parish, complete with references to books and archives for each period. This ensures that researchers can trace the origins of information with confidence.

  • Researching historical places in Latvia requires an awareness of changing place names. For instance, the transition from Ligatne used to be Ligat. If you search with this name, you will also find interesting articles in German in periodicals. A complete list of German place names in Latvia can be found here.

  • The new Digital Library opens up new avenues for research. Despite certain materials being offline due to copyright restrictions, awareness of their existence allows researchers to contact relevant offices, such as the Cultural Heritage Office, to access valuable studies.

  • However, the Digital Library is by no means all-inclusive! Museums also hold a huge amount of undigitised material. For example, the Cēsis Museum of History and Art has materials from expeditions carried out during the Soviet period - people's memoirs, photographs and collected objects.

Speaking about Līgatne, I was interested to compare how different the view on the living conditions in the Līgatne workers' cottages can be. In my mind, the Līgatne paper mill village was associated with progressive and good conditions for its time - houses built especially for workers, a cultural centre, a hospital and maternity hospital, a pharmacy.

Workers housing
A residential house for workers of the paper mill in Ligatne. 1910 - 1914 (Latvian State Cinematographic Archive)

However, it turns out that these good conditions were also criticised, and perhaps life for the workers was not so sunny after all.

In 1895, the newspaper “Düna Zeitung” wrote about plans to improve the living conditions of the workers by building new apartment houses. Previously, workers had been housed in barracks-type buildings with a communal stove, long corridors and poor sanitary conditions. But the new flats will allow families to live separately and each flat will have its own kitchen and a garden next to the house. In other words, the workers are going to have a good life.

But the 1910 newspaper “Arodnieks” was quite critical of the new flats:

"In addition, large barracks have been built around the factory, where workers are given flats with heating for 'free'. But these free flats are only decent clamps in which to keep the workers, because they are all in the eyes of the factory administration and labour supervisors.

A worker is not allowed to step foot outside his flat, nor is he allowed to be visited by relatives and acquaintances - all this is known to the administration - and God save the worker who has another interest besides the inn.

The "free" flat with the kitchen, which is in one corner of the room, is about 36 m2 in size, and in it is piled one family next to one single worker, so that at times up to 8 people occupy these tiny rooms."

To each his own truth, to each his own history...



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