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City Dwellers' Professions

Updated: Apr 12

Reading and interpreting the records of Riga's church books can be more complicated than those of rural congregations. This is due to the multitude of different professions and titles present in the city. What are some interesting occupations I have recently encountered in church books?

Advertisement for the Riga Johannis' cellar restaurant in the 1896/1897 address book. (Latvian National Library digital collection)

In rural church records, we mostly come across farmers, farm hands, their wives, sons, and daughters, and sometimes craftsmen – blacksmiths, weavers. But in the city, there's a whole sea of interesting professions that need to be deciphered. Just a reminder - these are words in German and in Gothic handwriting.

A helpful resource for translations of various professions is available on the website here.

However, below I'll describe a few terms not listed there.


historical profession

Kutscher u.[und] entlassener Soldat – Coachman and retired soldier. Retired soldiers were sometimes called 'ticket man' (Latv. biļetnieks) because they were issued a retirement 'ticket'. 'Entlassener' literally means dismissed, sometimes also used as 'beurlaubter Soldat' (in the example below, the word is with the case ending 'beurlaubten Soldaten') – furloughed soldier, or 'verabschiedeter Soldat'.  

historical profession
historical profession


In Gothic script, a symbol is placed above the letter "u," which allows for the quick recognition of the letter "u" in the text.

historical profession

Handlungscommis – Merchant's assistant, shop worker. The diacritic mark above the letter "m" signifies a double letter, i.e., "mm".

The symbol above the letter "c" in the example above is created by quickly writing the letter - first, a zigzag is drawn, and then a checkmark is added on top. When written quickly, it separates. Below is an example of the letter "c"

letter "c"

historical profession

Hausbesitzer – Homeowner. In the 19th century, the smartest Latvians often became owners of a house or cottage in Riga.

historical profession

Budendiener – Small shop worker, responsible for unlocking, cleaning, and servicing the booth. 'Bude' means a small shop or a stall.

In rural parishes, 'Bude' denotes a small house inhabited by a so-called 'būdeļnieks' – owner of a small plot of land with their cottage.

historical profession

Zollbeamtete – Customs official.

historical profession

Beamter - Official.

historical profession

Getränkehändler – Beverage merchant. A beverage shop in German is 'Trinkbude'. It seems a slightly more prestigious position was in this example the 'Weinkellerknecht'

historical profession

'Weinkellerknecht' – wine cellar worker, seller.

Literally translated, "Knecht" means "servant" or "laborer," and you will certainly recognize this word from rural communities. In those contexts, "Knecht" refers to a married hired worker on a farm or estate.

Another example from this category is 'Weinschenker' – wine merchant.

historical profession

Schenke is a German term for a tavern or inn. In Latvian, this word was borrowed, and taverns were called "šeņķis."

historical profession

Brandmeister – Fire chief, head of the fire brigade. In older times, the fire chief was also a chimney sweep, but by the 19th century, these roles had been separated.

The capital letter "B" in Gothic script looks similar to "L." The only difference is a loop on the left side before connecting to the next letter. Below are examples of the letters "B" and "L":

Letter "B"

Letter "C"

historical profession

Gürtlermeister – Brass founder.

historical profession

Cassirer – Cashier, collector. Government officials who collected cash payments were also called 'Rendant' in German. In this example, it's important to pay attention to the writing of the letter "C" - it can be easily mistaken for "L."

These are just a few examples from my research. Different professions and titles will come up if you study the German congregations of Riga. You will definitely encounter some of the official titles, for example, 'Kollegienrath' (college councilor), 'Kollegienassessor' (college assessor), or 'Gouvernementssekretär' (government secretary).

An overview of the ranks and titles of Russian bureaucracy, both in German and Russian, can be obtained from Wikipedia, and the corresponding Latvian titles can be found here.



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