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Parishioner Registers

If you've looked through the church records on the Raduraksti website, you may have noticed the parishioner registers. What can be found in them, and how are they used in researching your ancestors?

Girl looking at miniature world

This week, I read through the registers of the Skujene and Liezere Lutheran churches. Both lack registers of baptisms for several years, but they do have parishioner registers (Latv. draudzes locekļi) from various years. These are very useful in such cases.


I've seen parishioner lists more frequently in the Lutheran churches of Vidzeme. They are also present in the German congregations of Riga. If you've had to research ancestors in Estonia, you might have noticed that they have many more parishioner lists. I don't know if this is because such records were lost in Latvia or perhaps not all churches even created them. In any case, there are far fewer of them in our Raduraksti (and in the archives) than on the Saaga website for Estonia.


As I explained in a previous post, peasants from several manors merged into one church congregation. Parishioner lists for rural congregations are organized by manors and farms, similar to soul revision lists.


These registers can be even older than soul revision lists, for example, the parishioner lists of the Liezere Lutheran parish date back to 1720. However, identifying ancestors in them won't be as easy because it's before surnames were used.


As always in genealogy, you start with the most recent records and work your way back into the past.


As an example, let's look at a fragment of the Liezere parishioner list. It lists the inhabitants of the Sīļi farm of the Medzula Manor (Germ. Meselau). The parishioner list is dated around 1850, but evidently, that's when they began compiling it. It also contains information about those born in the 1860s and 1870s.

parishioner register

Abbreviations next to the first name include W. (Wirth) - farm manager, and atr. (atraitnis) -widower. Interestingly, the Latvian word "atraitnis" is used instead of the German "Wittwer".


Other family members are designated with abbreviations like W.s.S (Wirth, sein Sohn) - farm manager, his son; Wb. (Weib) - wife; S. (Sohn) - son; and T. (Tochter) - daughter.


The farm manager, Jekabs Birnsons, was born on September 15, 1796, in the pastor's house (German: Pastorat). Other registers often list two dates – birth and baptism.


Next is the date of confirmation (Confirmation). Sometimes baptism records haven't survived, but only confirmation lists exist. Confirmations typically occurred at around 18 years of age but could be a year earlier or later.


Column 6 contains information about marriages. The abbreviation "cop." (copuliert) = married is commonly used. Next to Jekabs, it's noted that he became a widower (atr.) in 1850. So, in the records of that year, you can look for the death record of his wife.


Columns 7-9 contain remarks about literacy and religious education. Abbreviations like “g” (gut) - good or “zg”, which could mean “ziemlich gut” – fairly good, are often used.


Then there are notes about the last participation in communion (Germ. Abendmahl) and when a person joined the congregation (Germ. in Gemeinde gekommen).


In the two widest columns on the right, there is information about when a person died or left the congregation and notes. Besides those who left, if someone was conscripted, it's noted. In this example, the owner's son, Mikkels, was conscripted in 1873. This is indicated by "Rekr. 1873".


In the notes column (Besondere Bemerkungen), there may also be notes about other farms where a person went or came from. In such case, you need to check whether the person is mentioned again among the inhabitants of those farms.


The Liezere church has even older parishioner lists. In the lists from 1800-1807, surnames are not yet used, and among the inhabitants of the Sīļi farm of Medzula Manor no Jekabs, born 1796, can be identified.


Knowing that Jekabs was born in the pastor's house, it's clear that you should look among the inhabitants of the pastor's house and not Medzula Manor. There, under the houses named Gauslehn (or Gruslehn) Sihle, Jekabs is indeed found, and his birthdate matches what we already know. In this case, September is abbreviated as "7br" - the month's name derived from the Latin word for seven - septem.

parishioner register

Step by step, paying attention to all the indications and details, you can search further into the past, and in the case of the Liezere church, "dig" back to ancestors at the beginning of the 18th century.



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