Exploring one's family history becomes truly special when it leads to discovering more about ancestors through dry birth, marriage, and death records. However, it's a rare occasion to find memories, letters, or newspaper articles about ancestors. In this blog post, I would like to share an engaging research story, made possible thanks to letters preserved in England.
Aina Tašs (born 1912) and her cousin, the former legionnaire Arvīds Pūrs (born 1913), who both grew up in the region of Zemgale, Latvia, ended up in Germany after the World War II, while their mothers remained in Latvia. Arvīds later moved to England. In the early post-war years, Aina and Arvīds exchanged letters, sharing stories about themselves and what they had learned about other relatives and friends. Aina's letters have been preserved, but unfortunately, we don’t have Arvīds’ responses.
Arvīds' ancestral home was "Teņi" in Misa Parish (today Dāviņi Civil Parish). Back in the day, the house was quite large – the 1935 census mentioned that "Teņi" had twelve rooms! At that time, eleven people lived there, and there was even a telephone exchange. The family head was Jānis Pūrs (born 1874). Aina wrote about his fate, "I can say about your daddy that he was taken to the wide homeland (term used to describe Siberia – transl.), then discharged and died in the Riga hospital. Mommy was with him at the hospital the whole time. From her letter, I understand that he didn't come back home. He was probably sick, and the Russians sent him back. Poor dad and our moms, they have all suffered so much...”
After the war, a school was established in "Teņi," and Arvīds' mother had to live with others in difficult living conditions. Aina wrote, "As your mom wrote to you once, she and Zetiņa go to sleep at Kākari farm so the living conditions are poor. My mommy wants a bigger apartment, but as she says, where will you find a bigger apartment around here? It was only in Teņi."
To paint a picture of post-war life in Latvia, a few lines from Aina's letters suffice to convey the fate of other acquaintances: "No news from Julius since May. He is still in Russian captivity, if he's alive. Klāriņa is also in the vast homeland. As far as I know, she has been sentenced to 8 years. Isn't that terrible? Ciekurs Žanis is also there. And Straujais (...) has passed away in the vast homeland. Both have only just died. Even Priedītis' father (Traumans) has passed away. Čipena Jānītis has been hanged. Godiņi Cille has returned home. Oh, dear brother, it's better not to mention relatives and friends, as it only brings forth tears."
Life in post-war Germany was also far from easy. Aina often requested help from Arvīds. He sent her notebooks, soap, tea, or chocolate that could be sold or exchanged for food. He also sent her shoes and clothes because she couldn’t buy many things in Germany. Finding work in post-war Germany was nearly impossible, and surviving without money was an arduous task.
In the late 1940s, refugees were encouraged to emigrate, presenting a difficult choice for those who had close relatives remaining in their homeland. Aina wrote, "Tomorrow, we will undergo a departure screening. I don't want to go anywhere alone. I have a proposal through the church to travel to America, which would also allow me to go to Australia. But dear Arvīds, how difficult it is for me to leave Germany. I cannot express this to you, but I have a feeling that if I go, I will never see home again."
Arvīds remained in England, working in railway jobs. He never married and didn't have children, but he became close to the Allnutt family, who treated him like one of their own. He enjoyed crafting and even made furniture for his room.
In the late 1940s, Aina married Pēteris Vijups, and it seems they settled in Germany.
Today, the site of the "Teņi" house is just ruins and large trees that probably once surrounded the courtyard.
If any reader has more information about the Pūrs family from Misa Parish or the fate of the "Teņi" homestead after the war, please don't hesitate to get in touch!
P.S. The original letters have been handed over to the Latvians Abroad Museum.