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The Road to Latvian Citizenship in 1920s

Updated: Apr 5

Have your ancestors been Russians, Belarusians, or Lithuanians living in Latvia? If so, there might be records in the archives detailing their acquisition of citizenship.

Many foreigners found their way to Latvia in the early 20th century. During that time, Latvia was a part of the Russian Empire, allowing people from various corners of the empire to relocate there. The primary reasons were often work within imperial institutions, such as the railway network or military service, after which many individuals chose to settle in Latvia permanently.

Man in uniform
Karlis Jirgensons in the Railway Worker Uniform of the Russian Empire Era. Source:

The outbreak of World War I disrupted the usual course of life; many were forced to flee Latvia and never returned. Yet, others remained in Latvia, even if they weren't born there.

Those who hadn't been born within the newly established Latvian territory weren't automatically granted citizenship. The majority of them submitted applications in the 1920s, seeking inclusion for themselves and their families in the Latvian citizenship.

These citizenship application files have been preserved in the Historical archives and offer a wealth of intriguing information.

Archival file
Cover of Citizenship Application File

Usually, the head of the family was the one to write the application, explaining how long they had been in Latvia and why they chose to live there. A single application covered the entire family, including wife and children. Birth certificates needed to be attached, which sometimes presented difficulties.

I recently came across a case in which the applicant was born in the Grodno Governorate. Prior to World War I, it was part of the Russian Empire, later falling under Polish control. Today, it's within Belarusian territory.

The applicant explained that obtaining birth documents from abroad was impossible. The local Latvian Civil Parish Board then verified that the family had been living in Latvia for number of years and that the applicant had been working in local forestry since 1920. The local doctor determined the ages of the family members based on their appearance.

Handwritten document
The doctor's certificate states that Olga appears to be 15 years old.

Applicants also needed to fill out a questionnaire, providing information about their birthplace, previous citizenship, ethnicity, religion, and education. Interestingly, many foreign-born children who acquired Latvian citizenship later stated their nationality as Latvian in their passports. Evidently, having grown up in Latvia, they either felt a strong connection to the nationality or believed that being Latvian would offer better opportunities.

Applicants had to explain why they had come to Latvia and whether they had continuously resided there for five years. These explanations often provide detailed biographical information – when and where the person had lived and worked. They had to disclose whether they had served in the Russian or Latvian army, or any other army. Finally, they were required to detail their family's financial status and how they sustained themselves.

The local police issued a statement regarding the person's reliability from a political and social standpoint. The tax office confirmed the absence of any tax debts by the applicant.

If no compromising information was found by any institution, and no objections were raised, the entire family gathered in Riga for the solemn swearing-in ceremony.

Printed document
The Oath of a Latvian Citizen

These citizenship-related documents can be found in Collection 3234, Inventory 2 of the Latvian State Historical Archives. Searchable database of file numbers is available on the website, under the section "Dažādi> Ārzemju pases un pavalstniecības" (Various > Foreign Passports and Citizenship).



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