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Storozh, Starost or Wagger - how to understand the historical occupations in church books?

Updated: Apr 5

Now and then, in church books, you come across words that you don't find in modern dictionaries. How to understand their meaning? Where to look for help?

An illustration of latvian folk song about vagars (Atpūta, 1938,

When deciphering church records, one comes across unusual German words such as Wagger. It is clear to anyone who has read Latvian folk tales what a wagger is – some kind of an evil boss. But ask a German - he will never have heard of such a word in German. It is useless to look for such word in modern German dictionaries. These terms are related to historical professions, specifically within the context of Baltic German. It is best to look for explanations in historical dictionaries and there are helpful resources available on the internet.

Baltic German had developed its own characteristics over time - a particular sound and words taken from Russian, Estonian and Latvian.

The word vagār derives from Livonian language (historical language, related to Estonian and Finnish) - vagār is a supervisor of estate works (Dictionary of Latvian Etymology, K.Karulis 1992). Wikipedia explains that the word is taken from Estonian. In Estonian, vakkuri means parish.

This week I was translating an entry in a church book and for a long time I was trying to understand what position Janis Linde held in this record:

baznīcu grāmatas ieraksts

Finally, I accepted that it is what it looks like - Strosche. But what does it really mean - a Strosche? Sounds like a Russian сторож i.e. a guard?

The German online Baltic German-German-Estonian-Latvian Dictionary was a good help here.

This is a digital dictionary in German, created at the University of Tartu and it continues the work started by two German-Baltic professors years ago. When you enter the word "Strosche", the dictionary gives you versions of the word: Starast, Starosch, Storost, Strosche and also looks up the word in older dictionaries where it is explained.

You can search for the word itself (Stichwort), you can search for an explanation of the meaning (Bedeutungserklärung), you can search for the Estonian or Latvian equivalent (Lettische Entsprechung).

screenshot of a website

The dictionary offered the most comprehensive explanation of Strosche when I searched for the meaning (Bedeutungserklärung).

In short, the explanation is that in Courland (Kurzeme Region) a Wagger is a supervisor of the corvée labor who works under the authority of the estate manager. He comes from the local population. In the Latvian part of Livland (Vidzeme) the term Strosche (which comes from the Slavic Storosch - guard) is used. In the Estonian part of Vidzeme the name Kubjas is used.

The source in this case was the dictionary "Wörterschatz der deutschen Sprache Livlands" by Woldemar von Gutzeit, published in 1874. This dictionary is also available online in a scanned version in several volumes at the Digital Library of the Munich Digitisation Centre.

According to the Karulis dictionary, the Latvian word stārasts is taken from the Polish word starosta - village elder.

So, a Wagger, a Strosche, and a Starast all denote the same position in a manor. In Baltic German, they just used different words in different regions.

What unusual and incomprehensible job titles have you encountered?



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