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Exploring Vitebsk Governorate

Updated: Apr 5

Last time I wrote about the Kurzeme and Vidzeme address books, but what about Latgale? Latgale was part of the Vitebsk Governorate, had a different administration, laws and did not use the German language. There is no analogue edition for Vitebsk for the Kurzeme and Vidzeme address books of 1892. However, a list of settlements in Vitebsk province (Список населенных мест Витебской губернии) will be useful for researching family records.


Book cover

Latgale was part of the Vitebsk Governorate and had a different administration and laws. German was not used here, so publications have to be found in Russian.


List of settlements in Vitebsk province was published in 1906 by the Statistical Committee. It is available on the Internet at several sites. I found it most convenient to download the pdf file from the Russian National Library, as it is of better quality than other versions available on the internet.


Geography and Population

Before delving into the details, the list provides a snapshot of the geography and population of Vitebsk province. Notably, it highlights the presence of numerous lakes in different districts, with the district of Lepela (in Belarus) boasting the most (349), followed by the districts of Sebezh (341) and Rezekne (318). Lake Lubans, often referred to as Mare Lubanicum in ancient maps, stands out as the largest lake in the region.


The 1897 census provides insight into the ethnic composition of the region. I will use the percentage distribution mentioned on Wikipedia for illustration. At that time, the majority of Latvians resided in Ludza County (64.2%), while the Latvian districts in Vitebsk province had the lowest concentration of Latvians, particularly in Daugavpils district (39%). Russians (15.3%) and Belarusians (13.8%) were evenly distributed in Daugavpils district , while Jews made up a significant portion (20%) of the population in this county.


One intriguing aspect of the list is the map illustrating the distribution of literacy. Darker-colored counties were more densely populated, and the percentage of literate individuals is represented in squares for each county. For instance, Daugavpils district boasted a 40.3% literacy rate, Rezekne district had 35.8%, and Ludza district stood at 39.6%.


Map with denisty of population
Density of population and literacy (The National Library of Russia)

Cities and Towns

Moving on, the list provides detailed descriptions of towns and cities in the region. These descriptions offer statistics such as the number of all kind of institutions, streets, residential buildings, and even the presence of kerosene lanterns.


For instance, Daugavpils is presented with fascinating details, including 97 streets, 5117 residential buildings (887 stone and 4230 wooden), and 702 kerosene lanterns. It's noteworthy that, at the time, sewerage systems were non-existent, and waste disposal was managed via barrels. Additionally, there were 16 hotels in Daugavpils, offering rooms with prices ranging from 30 kopecks to 1.50 Roubles.


The descriptions of the towns may be less detailed, but they offer a glimpse into the history of these places. Take, for example, Livenhof, or Livenmuiža (modern-day Livani), which is noted to have been founded in 1533 by the prominent Liven family. However, at the time of the book's publication, it was under the ownership of Baron Korff. The town is home to the Church of Archangel Michael, with its initial construction dating back to 1678. The church underwent renovations in 1880 under the patronage of Baron Korff.


Parishes and Villages

The list concludes with an alphabetical catalog of civil parishes and villages. For genealogical researchers, this section is of paramount importance. One of the first task for a family researcher is to find out which church the ancestors belonged to.

The list provides crucial information about each village:

  • proximity to water sources,

  • ownership status (rural community or landowner),

  • land size,

  • population,

  • parish affiliation,

  • distances to Vitebsk, the district town, and the parish administration.


Table
Excerpt with villages of Balvi parish, Ludza district (Russian National Library)

While the internet version of this publication may lack an electronic table of contents, dedicated researchers should not be discouraged. With patience and determination, the wealth of information within the "List of settlements in Vitebsk province" can be a valuable resource for uncovering your family's history in Latgale Region.

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