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How to Search for Ancestors on the Estonian Side?

Many of us have ancestors from the border regions – and our origins may be sought on the Estonian, Belarusian, or Lithuanian side. Accordingly, documents must be searched for in the archives of these countries. How do you search for your ancestors on the Estonian side?

18th landscape
Created by Image Creators

In my opinion, those who have Estonian ancestors or Latvian ancestors from Estonia are lucky. The digital site of the Estonian National Archives and the Tallinn City Archives, Saaga, is user-friendly and easy to understand. In the Estonian Vidzeme (Livonia, Livland) region, as in Latvia, the oldest documents were written in German, but from the 1890s, Russian was used. Therefore, searching does not require knowledge of the Estonian language.

To use the Saaga site, you first need to create your own account. In the English version of the page, you will find a list of digitalized document collections. Church records and Soul revision lists will most often be useful for research.

screenshot of Saaga site

As an example, I will use the parish of Kagjerve (Ger. Kawershof), where many Latvians lived and which I have researched several times. The Kagjerve parish, which during the interwar period was also called Kāģere parish, is located very close to Valka.

At the end of the 19th century, many Latvians from Kagjerve belonged to the Valga St. John's congregation, and most of these registers need to be searched for on the Saaga site.

Choose Lutheran church records kept in the public archives, then Valga deanery and St. John's congregation (Valga praostkond and EELK Valga Jaani kogudus).

Reading the church books will be as easy or as difficult as for the congregations in Latvia.

When you open the congregation's collection, the description will be in Estonian.

Screenshot from Saaga site

Use Google translate to translate the titles to understand where to look for baptism or marriage records.

Unlike Latvian congregations, most Estonian congregations have preserved parishioners books (personaalraamatud), and search engines have been created for them. You can search by a specific surname or view all the surnames in the book. Moreover, a link to the page with the specific surname in the digitized book is indicated.

screenshot from search engine

But with the earlier period, it is more complicated. To understand to which congregation the people of Kagjerve manor belonged, I looked for information on the Estonian manor page. In the alphabetical manor list I find that Kagjerve was a knight's manor in the Karula congregation, in the Veru district.

screenshot from Estonian Manors

On the Saaga site, you need to select All congregations in alphabetical order and Karula congregation (EELK Karula kogudus). From there, you simply search and read the necessary records.


When you get to the soul revisions, here you must first choose the Vidzeme governorate revision collection (Liivimaa kubermangu revisjonilehtede kollektsioon).

Next, the revisions are arranged by the years of the revisions, starting from 1782 to 1858. I remind you that you should start with the most recent and then gradually go back to the past.

To find the revisions for Kagjerve manor, you must select the Veru district and the Karula congregation. All the manors that were in this congregation will be displayed, including Kagjerve.

The same as with Latvian side, it must be taken into account that Estonian manors do not always have a complete set of revisions, unfortunately.

I have not used other documents from the Saaga page, but certainly, maps will also be of interest to researchers, as they are sure to include the Latvian border area.

Good luck meeting your Estonian-side ancestors on the Saaga site!



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