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Parishes, Manors, and Church Congregations

Updated: Apr 29

Is a church congregation the same as a parish? Are a manor and a parish one and the same? How should one understand the administrative division?


Kartogrāfa galds
Radīts ar Dall-E

The history of Latvia's administrative divisions is complex. Kurzeme-Zemgale (Courland), Vidzeme (Livonia), and Latgale each had a distinct history, different governance, and a different administrative division. Of course, it's impossible to explain this in a single blog post, but I can point out a few things that a genealogist should pay attention to.


Information about ancestors' affiliation with a civil parish (Latv. pagasts) most often comes from the era of independent Latvia. Perhaps there is a certificate of birth, marriage, or death where such information is indicated. Maybe you have found information from the 1941 census, thus knowing in which parish your ancestors lived at that time. However, the history of civil parishes is complicated, and the parishes during the interwar period did not always coincide with the parishes from the Russian Empire era.


Civil parishes were established following the abolition of serfdom (in Courland in 1817, in Vidzeme in 1819). In both Kurzeme and Vidzeme, peasants were registered in peasant parishes (German: Bauerngemeinde). Mostly, a corresponding parish was also established at each manor (Latv. muiža). But it could also happen that in one parish, peasants from various manors owned by the same owner were combined (in Vidzeme). Small parishes were also allowed to merge, but initially only with the manor owner's permission.


In 1866, a parish self-government law was issued, which, among other things, allowed small parishes with fewer than 200 people to merge with others. This was followed by the merging of parishes. A good overview table of the merged parishes can be found in the book "Latvijas zemju robežas 1000 gados" (Latvian Land Borders in 1000 years). The boundaries of parishes have changed much over time, and it is possible that your ancestors' homestead belonged to various parishes.


Finding a Latvian passport issued in 1919 or 1920 can be confusing when you see the strange designation "citizen of such and such a parish." The parish was responsible for various taxes: recruits, road maintenance, housing the military, and maintaining the poor and old. Therefore, each peasant was registered to a civil parish and had to pay his taxes to it, wherever they later lived. This parish affiliation was also indicated in the passport. Following these clues, you can usually find earlier generations in the respective parish.


It may happen that in the first passports, German civil parish names were still used. For example, in this case, it is written "citizen of Kodjaka parish, Valmiera District." Where in Latvia is Kodjaka?



fragments no pases

In this case, the reference "Valmiera District" helps, and by searching on Wikipedia for the article on Valmiera District (Latv. Valmieras apriņķis), you will also find all the parishes that once belonged to it with their German names. Koddiak was the German name for Rozēni Parish.


When you read baptismal records in church books, pay attention to the place of birth. Usually, the manor/parish and peasant homes will be indicated, as in this example: Lubeja Manor and Lejas Krievlejas homestead.


Kristību ieraksts

 

In one church congregation (latv. draudze), people from several surrounding manors were united. For example, the parish district of Liezere included Liezere Pastorate, Liezere Manor (Germ. Loesern, Lösern, Löser), Ozoli Manor with Olu Manor (Germ. Ekau, Eckhof mit Ohlenhof), Medzula Manor (Germ. Meselau), and Lubeja Manor (Germ. Lubei, Lubey). You can find this information on Wikipedia by searching for "Liezeres draudzes novads" (Liezere congregation district) for example.


Why is it important to know the manor?

  • Because then you will know in which manor's soul revisions to look for ancestors. In the above example, the baptism is in Liezere congregation, but the place of birth is indicated as a peasant homestead in Lubeja Manor. In that case, you should look for your ancestors in the soul revisions of Lubeja Manor.

 

  • Similarly, if you are looking in the archive for a 19th-century list of parish residents, in this example, you should look in the Lubeja parish board's fund, not the Liezere parish board's fund.

 

  • Finally, this reference to the manor will help you locate the respective farm on the map—they should be in the vicinity of these manors.


map excerpt

The boundaries of Vidzeme's church congregations and manors can be studied at kartes.lndb.lv . Open Map viewer and serch for Wegekarte under Administrative maps. Courland does not have such an analog. At least not that I am aware of.


The borders of interwar period civil parishes are best seen on the 1934 road map on the website Vesture.dodies.lv


References

“Latvijas zemju robežas 100 gados”, compiled by A. Caune, 1999

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