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What to Do When Church Records Are Missing?

If you have been researching your family history for a while, looking through various parish records, you've likely encountered situations where certain annual records are missing. Are they not available at all? Are they stored locally in archives? Or do they need to be sought out in churches?


Pile of bookos in the church
Image generated by OpenAI's DALL·E.

These are common questions that come up from time to time. There's no one answer, as each case can be different. However, here are some suggestions and explanations.

 

If the church records for the required year are not available on the Raduraksti site, then they will not be available in the Historical archive either. The only exception is for the most recent years, starting from 1915. By now, the church records for the years 1915-1919 should have been submitted to the History Archives, but they are being described and included in the archive system. They are not currently available to readers. Therefore, for the period from 1915 to 1919, inquiries should be made to the Historical Archive. And for the period after 1919, inquiries should be directed to the Civil Registry Departments.


But when we talk about older church records, many parishes do not have records for some years. My recommendations in such situations are:

 

  • Check if the necessary information can be found elsewhere, for example, in the inhabitant lists of civil parishes (Latv. pagasta iedzīvotāji saraksti). Unfortunately, these lists are not digitized. They are kept in the Historical Archive in the respective civil parish's (Latv. pagasts) fund. Read in this blog post about how to find the fund number of the civil parish board. Not all parishes have such lists preserved. In the fund descriptions, they are also called family rolls (Latv. Saimju rullis) or family lists (Latv. Ģimeņu saraksts) and cover the period after the last revision in 1858 to World War I.

Some inhabitant lists have been photographed and are available at Ciltskoki.lv under Dokumenti> Digitālo dokumentu krātuve (Documents>Digital Document Repository).



Screenshot from Ciltskoki.lv

 

  • Consider what other documents might contain the needed information – lists of conscripts or more recent documents. If a person's baptismal record is missing, perhaps information about their birth year and place can be found in their marriage record, death record, passport, or house book, or in one of the censuses.

  • Check which records are available for the sought-after parish on the Familysearch site. In addition to the records also found on Raduraksti, Familysearch has records photographed by the Baltic Germans. These were photographed in 1939 when the Baltic Germans were preparing to repatriate. Mainly, these are records of German parishes, but in rare cases, there are also records of Latvian parishes. For example, records for the St. Anna parish in Jelgava are available on Familysearch from the 18th century, while on Raduraksti, they are available only from 1834. Use Search by> Keywords and add the name of the location.


screenshot from Familysearch

  • Check if any records are kept in the regional museum. Recently, the Limbaži Museum wrote that they have parish register books and other documents from Limbaži district useful for family research. Similarly, it is known that the Cēsis Museum holds parish member books and other documents from various Cēsis city and district parishes. The Joint Catalogue of the National Holdings of Museums (Latv. Nacionālā muzeju krājuma kopkatalogs) website allows users to search through museum collections across the country. You can use this platform to look for church registers (Latv. draudzes reģistri) that are preserved in museums. Unfortunately, the website is in Latvian only.

 

 

  • Read discussions in Facebook groups like Dzimtas detektīvs (Family Detective) and Ciltskoki (both are in Latvian). Possibly, others have already searched for information about this parish. In rare cases, some parish records are kept on-site at the church, with the parish elder. Several books have already been photographed by people and are available on the Ciltskoki.lv page under Digitized Documents (Latv. Digitālo dokumentu krātuve) or in the respective regional family researchers' FB group.


Unfortunately, there will also be cases where you won't find the missing church books anywhere. And there will be instances where genealogical research hits a dead end precisely because of missing documents. Perhaps in some cases, DNA tests and genetic genealogy may help, or maybe in the future, some new digitized documents will emerge, and you will find what you're looking for in them.

But for now - we do have many ancestors, maybe it's time to explore another branch?

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