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What was the estate of my ancestors like? Look for information in address books!

Updated: 4 days ago

Did my ancestors have an estate? No, of course not. But life in the countryside in the 19th century was closely linked to the estate.

historical book cover

Initially, my ancestors, like most Latvians, were serfs on some estate, but later they either rented or bought land from the estate owner. Some may have worked on the estate. The estate was the center of life and an example to learn from.


Now, when you have finally managed to find out in which estate or parish your great-great-grandfather was born, you want to learn more about this place.


One of the good sources of basic information is the 1892 address books. Online, you can access the address books for Kurzeme (Courland) and Vidzeme (Livland) ("Kurländisches Verkehrs- und Adressbuch" and "Livländisches Verkehrs- und Adressbuch"). They are in German and contain a lot of information about the situation at the end of the 19th century.


The introduction includes a description of the geography, inhabitants, climate, agriculture, and production in Kurzeme. It also provides statistics from the 1881 census.


At that time, in Kurzeme, almost 80% of the population spoke Latvian, almost 9% spoke German, slightly over 8% were Jewish, and less than 2% were Russian. The proportions differed between rural and urban populations. In Kurzeme's towns, Latvians, Germans, and Jews each made up about 30% of the population, while over 8% were Russian.


The estate descriptions in the address book are arranged alphabetically by districts.


text from book
Description of Vandzene Manor (Estonian National Library Digital Archive Digar)

One of my ancestral branches comes from Vandzene. In the entries, I read estate names in all three languages used those days - German (Wandsen), Russian (Вандзенъ), and Latvian (Wandsenes), as well as some subsidiary (German: Beihof) or so-called "cattle estates" belonging to Vandzene.


Subsidiary estates were autonomous economic centers that organized economic life separately from the main manorial center. At that time, there were three cattle estates near Vandzene: Dārte (Dorotheenhof), Skreite (Schreiten), and an area on the Kurzeme coast with the German name Rother Zirkel.


In a literal translation, this means "Red Circle" or "District." In the 1930s, the Latvian name "Sarkanais cirķelis" was used. There is no other modern day translation in Latvian, and the name is not found on the maps available on the internet. The 1864 address book explains that it is a coastal area from Nurmuiža beach (Katrīnas church) to Mērsrags. It contains villages belonging to various district manors. Which of the villages was considered part of Vandzene estate remains unclear.



old printed text
1864 Address Book Excerpt (LNB Digital Library)

Further in the address book entry, it is mentioned that Vandzene Manor belonged to the Talsi parish. I know that my ancestors visited Nurmuiža Church. The fact that the manor belonged to a particular congregation did not necessarily mean that all of its people attended this one church.


At that time, the Vandzene estate owner (German: Besitzer) was Baron Nicolas Hencking, and the estate manager was Bergs. Another important position at Vandzene was the forester. Other important positions listed under other manors are leaseholders or doctors.


Production facilities were described, including a brewery, brick-kiln, and mills. The estate had three taverns - Krepliņa, Dzirnavu, and Beķerkrogs. It is mentioned that Krepliņš tavern had an iron, colonial goods, and tools store.


A public school (Volksschule) operated in Vandzene, but in other parishes, there were both parish schools (Gemeindeschule) and public schools.


Finally, an object of interest in Vandzene was mentioned - the ruins of Dārte or Doroteja's church near the lake. Since the Dārte church was built only in 1895, the guide still mentions the ruins. It is very interesting to read and imagine what people of that time visited as tourism objects.


church
Dārtes Church Today. Photo: I.Lūsis

At the end of the address book, there is a series of detailed information about each Kurzeme town - the institutions and businesses operating in them, along with their owners. Here you can find out about the schools and churches and where they were located.


The 1892 address book for Vidzeme (Livland) is very similar, and both of them are available online.


The only obstacle may be understanding the German language and the old print.


But with the help of friends who know German, you will manage to read it!

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