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Why are land registers interesting to a genealogist?

Updated: Apr 5


This week, I reviewed a number of land register files. I will explain what information I was looking for in them in this post.


Zemesgrāmatas lietas vāks


First, I must disappoint you – the historical land register cases are only available on-site at the archive; they are not digitized. Moreover, they vary in the volume of information provided. As is often the case, the most comprehensive information is about properties in Vidzeme. You will not find all the below-listed information in the Latgale land registers, as the system in the Vitebsk Governorate was very different.

 

So, what exactly are land register cases? They compile all the legal information about a property - owners, size, buying and selling, encumbrances. In this case, we are primarily talking about rural farms and the period up to World War II.

 

To find a land register case, you need to go to the Latvian State Historical Archives and speak to the reading room staff. Specify the parish and, preferably, the district to which the farm belonged at the end of the 1930s.

 

If you don't know this, check the parish boundaries on the 1934 Latvian road map (1934. Latvijas ceļu karte) available at vesture.dodies.lv and the division into districts in the National Encyclopedia.

The archive staff will further assist you with the relevant fund descriptions. Unfortunately, the land registers for several parishes have not been preserved, for example, those in the Jelgava and Bauska districts.

 

What information will you find in a land register case? Not all the listed documents will always be there, but if you're lucky, you'll find:

 

  • The land redemption contract. In the case of old farms, these contracts were usually drawn up in the second half of the 19th century between the peasant and the landowner - the local landlord. It specifies the size of the land being redeemed, its name, the payment amount, and the payment deadlines. For new farms, which were formed in the 1920s, the contract was signed with the Ministry of Agriculture.

 

  • A plot plan or several plans if the land parcel has been subdivided later.

 

  • A copy of the death certificate and information about the heirs in cases where the landowner has died. These are the most valuable pieces of information for a genealogist because they indicate where each heir lives, as well as information about their identity.

 

  • Loans, mortgaging, and loan repayment documents. You'll be able to track how your ancestor fared with the land redemption.

 

  • Later period buying and selling contracts. Often, the first landowner, for one reason or another, decided to sell their land parcel.

 

However, be warned that documents from the period before World War I will mainly be in German and Russian, and only during the interwar period – in Latvian. The exception is usually the land redemption contract, the printed standard version of which is in German and Latvian.


Document excerpt
Fragment from the land redemption contract concluded in 1871 (LNA LVVA)


Even if the property was once in your family's possession but is no longer, it is worth looking at the landbook, as you may find additional interesting information for your family's history.

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