For every serious genealogist, there comes a time when a visit to the archive is necessary. Not all documents are digitized; a significant portion is only available in the archive's reading room. Your first time at the archive—how does it happen? What can you find there? How can you search for something? In this post, we will discuss visiting the Latvian State Historical Archive, but the basic approach applies when visiting other archives as well.
1. Registration and Planning
First, you need to register for the work in the reading rooms. You can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the following information:
Choose Your Archive: Specify the Latvian National Archive's structural units where you intend to work, whether it's the Latvian State Historical Archives (for documents until 1945), the Latvian State Archives (for Soviet period documents), or any regional archive.
Contact Details: Provide your current and accurate contact information, including your physical address, phone number, and email.
Research Topic and Purpose: State the title or provide a brief description of your research topic, in this case - family history research.
Once your registration is confirmed, schedule the day you'd like to visit.
The Latvian State Historical Archive is located at Slokas Street 16, Riga. You can reach the reading room at +371 2681 7957 or by email.
2. Ordering Archive Materials
During your first visit to the archive, you'll most likely be ordering materials rather than examining them on the spot. Normally, after three working days, you'll be able to go to the reading room and review your requested materials. For visits from abroad documents are handed out the next day.
To order archive materials, you need to know three numbers: the fund or fond number, description number, and item number (fonds, apraksts, lieta in Latvian).
Documents in the archive come from various institutions, and an institution's documents are stored within a fund/fond. For example, the records of a parish board are held in the parish board's fonds.
The description of a fonds could be compared to a table of contents. There may be several descriptions in one fonds. The description lists the items that can be found in the fonds. For example, a parish board fonds might contain parish board minutes, lists of parish residents, passport books and various other administrative or accounting documents. The number and content of files may vary from parish to parish. Not all parishes have their own fonds. Some have perished in the turmoil, some have not been handed over to the archives by the parish board.
The archival files listed in the description are numbered; these are the item numbers. So to order an archive file, you need to know three numbers - the fonds number, the description number and the file number.
3. Using the LNA Search Tool
You can find fonds’ numbers using the LNA (Latvian National Archive) search tool. Unfortunately, this database functions only in Latvian, so you will need to copy/ paste names with Latvian signs:
In the first field, enter the name of the civil parish (pagasts in Latvian) that interests you, for example, "Trikāta"
Under "Arhīvi," select “Latvijas Valsts Vēstures arhīvs” (Latvian State Historical Archive).
On the right, click “filtrs” (filter) and leave only “Fondi” (Funds) checked. This will show you which fonds are available in the archive under the name "Trikāta."
Now you have your first number. Unfortunately, fund descriptions and item numbers (the two other numbers) are mostly not available in the search tool, so you'll need to visit the archive and request the fond descriptions of the Trikāta district council to find out the item numbers. Archive fund descriptions, i.e. the titles of the files are primarily in Latvian, so you will need assistance with translation
Some item numbers may also appear in the search tool, but I won't go into detail about them in this blog post.
Civil parish board funds are just a small part of the available funds. There are many other useful funds, which will be discussed in other blog posts.
Once you have the fund, description, and item numbers you're interested in, you can order the files. Archive staff will assist you in filling out the necessary forms. You can also order items via email or on the archives portal.
4. Finally, the documents are in Front of You!
During one visit, you will receive a maximum of 10 archive files (or 20 if they are passports). Don't be surprised if older items are in German Gothic script. If you're working with documents from the Soviet era in the Latvian State Archive, most of them will be in Russian.
Archive documents may be photographed without flash or tripod, but newer documents may be subject to personal data restrictions or copyright.
The law on archives states that documents containing information about a person's private life have limited access for 30 years from the death of the person to whom the document relates. If the death date is unknown, access is limited for 110 years after the person's birth.
It might sound complicated at first, but why not pay a visit to the archive and ask for assistance from the staff? Viewing original documents with your ancestors' names can provide a unique and special experience!