Latvia Names Project
Using the Latvia Names Project
by Marion E. Werle
One of the most valuable resources for researching pre-World War II family members in Latvia is the Latvian Names Project. The website, which is available in three languages (English, Russian, and Latvian), is the result of a project headed by Professor Ruven Ferber of the University of Latvia, in cooperation with multiple organizations, including the Latvian State Historical Archives, University of Latvia, and Yad Vashem, among others. The project is dedicated to identifying and memorializing the names of the approximately 70,000 Latvian Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust. The individuals were identified through a variety of sources, mainly, but not exclusively, archival. One advantage to the Names project is that it also identifies individuals who survived the war, many having fled East to the interior of the Soviet Union, who often returned to Latvia when the war was over. Many of their descendants are still living, so the project, in conjunction with other resources (e.g., Yad Vashem Pages of Testimony, online family trees, DNA), is an invaluable aid to locate living relatives.
The Latvia Names Project, which is currently being updated (we will revise this page when details are available) has a couple of limitations.
The city of Liepaja was excluded, due to the parallel efforts of the Liepāja Jews in WWII website. which documents the names and fates of the 7,145 pre-war inhabitants of Liepāja.
The website is not always easy to use, as you need to know the pre-war residence of the family name you are searching. Despite the inclusion of a "whatever" option on the search page, it will not work without a specific location.
The remainder of this page will discuss how to use the Latvia Names Project website. Below is a partial view of the Latvia Names Project homepage. Note the "Surnames" label circled on the left.
The Names project standardized on German spelling for given and surnames. As such, users are advised to use the "Surnames" link on the left side of the page, go to the alphabetical listing, and find the spelling(s) closest to the name in the query. Doing this ensures that the correct spelling will be used, as there are typically Yiddish, Russian, Latvian, and German name varients, and the search engine will not find a name that isn't spelled the same as it is in the list. After clicking "Surnames," find the initial letter of the surname at the top of the next page. Then click on it, and a page will be returned that lists ALL the surnames beginning with that letter in the database. After finding the name on the list, click on it, and there will be a search page with the surname already filled in. Search the list carefully, as sometimes there may be alternate spellings included, e.g., Rosin and Rossein, with different entries under each spelling. Hit "Enter" to bring up the search box prefilled out with the surname. This is where the process gets tricky.
Finding a person who lived in a city is easy. In the box above, there is a dropdown labeled "For the city dwellers." This is a list of the major cities, and if your ancestor lived in a city, simply select the correct city and click on the "Search" button next to the surname. If you'd like, you can add a given name and/or year of birth, but if you are not sure of the particulars, leave it blank. If the family member is from a smaller town, use the dropdown at the bottom of the search screen for the region in which the town is located: Kurzeme/Courland, Latgale, Vidzeme/Livland, or Zemgale (formerly part of Courland). Once you find the town under the appropriate region, select it and, hit the "Search" button. One of the options under each region is "whatever," which does not seem to function as advertised. If you can't find the person you are looking for, you may need to try other nearby cities or towns.
If your search is successful, you will get a list of people with the surname (including maiden names), along with their date of birth and their prewar residence. When you click on the person of interest (the link is in the first column in the Family Name field), the information on that person will be returned.
The information listed above shows that Lea Rossein's maiden name was Arsch, and she was married to Itzik. Her father was Schmul, her mother was Scheine, and Lea was born in 1895 in Kreuzburg (Krustpils). She lived in Riga both prior to and during the war. Her fate is not listed, which means that it is unknown, although likely she either died in the Riga ghetto or was murdered in the Rumbula forest, where the ghetto was liquidated.
Note the two numbers in the "Source" field. The link from  shows that one of the sources was House registers, and  is a List of inhabitants for 1939, both of which are held by the Latvian State Historical Archives.
All of this is invaluable information to researchers trying to learn about their more modern ancestors. It is important to note that people who survived the war are also included. In these cases, the person's fate will be listed as "Fled," and the wartime residence will typically show that the person's war residence was a location in the interior of the USSR. Online family trees can often assist tracking down living descendants.
Once you find a person who did not survive the war, it is worthwhile looking for a Page of Testimony in the Shoah Names Database on the Yad Vashem website. Depending on who filled out the PoT, and when it was submitted, the submitter may prove to be a living relative.