The Latvian State Historical Archives - Overview
Getting Started With Latvian Archival Records
by Marion E. Werle and Arlene Beare
Most Latvian archival records are held by the Latvian State Historical Archives (Latvijas Valsts vēstures arhīvs - LVVA), located in the Latvian capital city of Riga.
The holdings of the LVVA include Jewish vital records and family lists, as well as general population surveys, censuses, and passports. There is a collection of digitized images available for browsing on the LVVA’s Raduraksti website, but it does not reflect the entire set of archival holdings. FamilySearch has also begun filming documents from the Latvian Archives, and continues to add records to their digital collection as they become available. Neither the Raduraksti nor FamilySearch collection is indexed, although many records may be located through both the JewishGen Latvia Database and the third-party Ciltskoki website, both of which will be discussed below.
The earliest Jewish Latvian vital records (birth, marriage, death) date from 1854, and the digitized Raduraksti vital records run through 1909. Other holdings include family lists, the All Russian 1897 Census, and interwar internal passports, passport issuance books, household registers, and 1935 personal cards. The interwar records do not appear on the Raduraksti website, nor do vital records past 1909. The FamilySearch digital collection includes some overlap of census and vital records, and also includes many interwar records. Filming is ongoing. Yad Vashem also has copies of some digitized Latvian passports, categorized as "Personal documents," although their collection is not complete, nor does it always digitize the entire file.
The newly revised inventory of Jewish holdings at the Latvian State Historical Archives is a listing of pre-1920 holdings, many of which are included in the JewishGen Latvia Database. The updates in red include post-1909 holdings that have recently been added to the list, although the more recent ones are not currently digitized. The list is divided by the three historical and geographical areas of Latvia – Courland, Livland and Vitebsk – which were separate gubernias (provinces) under the Russian Empire.
In 2010 the Latvian Archives created a virtual reading room, the Raduraksti website, which provides access to church records (including vital records of the Rabbinate), revision lists from Livland and Courland, surviving copies of the All Russian census, and information on university students. The website was redesigned in February 2020. Several JewishGen Latvia databases link to digital images on the old website, but the links no longer work. Volunteers will be required to begin a project to correct these links, but in the meantime, a workaround is described in the introduction to the Jewish Vital Records collection and in the section “Finding Digital Copies on Raduraksti or FamilySearch” below.
The late Christine Usdin singlehandedly translated a majority of the Latvian Jewish vital records from the Raduraksti website. Her translations, which she did not fully complete prior to her death, make up the bulk of the Latvian Jewish vital records collection, which constitutes a major portion of the JewishGen Latvia database. Many of the vital records for Riga remain to be translated, along with those from a few other areas, and work is in progress to complete these translations. The JewishGen database includes abstracts of the records. Most of the Jewish vital records are in both Russian and Hebrew or Yiddish, which is an advantage for researchers who may not know Russian, but who have a familiarity with Hebrew script.
The JewishGen Latvia Database
The JewishGen Latvia Database incorporates contributions from both the former Latvia Special Interest Group (SIG) and the Courland Research Group. It has grown exponentially during the past two decades. Starting with smaller databases, privately commissioned and translated, the scope of the database has grown to include both adult family members from the All Russian 1897 Census and a substantial portion of the Latvian Jewish vital records. The Dvinsk/Daugavpils Family List database is especially important to Jewish researchers with roots in Dvinsk. Recent additions to the database include passport issuance books from a number of towns, and a database of actual passports turned into the police in Riga. Work on the latter two areas is ongoing, expanding our knowledge of our ancestors during the interwar period. The scope of filming by FamilySearch ensures that there will be an ample supply of records available to be indexed and/or extracted into the Latvia Database for the foreseeable future.
Each component database has an introduction that describes the details of the collection. These descriptions are currently being updated to reflect the most current information. Please be sure to read the database descriptions to understand the years of coverage, as well as what is and isn’t included in the database.
Finding Digital Copies on Raduraksti or FamilySearch
Many records in the Latvia Database include links that point to the old Raduraksti website, which no longer exists. This is the case for both the Vital Records and 1897 Census databases. However, most of these database records include enough information to enable you to locate a digital copy of the record manually. Most of the records are located on the new Raduraksti website, although a few of the census volumes are numbered slightly differently, with an A and B volume. Many of the same records are also available on FamilySearch, which may be slightly easier to navigate, as the catalog is in English. The new Raduraksti website is only in Latvian, and you will need to use the Translate function on your browser to use it if you do not speak Latvian. Most, but not all of the Jewish vital records are on FamilySearch, but there may still be some that are only be available on Raduraksti, and there is the odd volume available on FamilySearch that is not on Raduraksti.
Below is an example of a birth record from the Latvia database. To locate the original record, you need the place name (Dvinsk/Daugavpils), archival number - fond/fund name, fund number, inventory number – circled in red below, year (1891), record number (F235 – Female #235), and image number (144).
In the original volumes, birth and death records have separate columns and sequence numbers for males and females. Marriage records have a sequence number only.
This is the first frame of the digitized volume for LVVA/5024/2/272 from 1891, found on both Raduraksti and FamilySearch. Since the digital images are filmed from the same source record, both Raduraksti and FamilySearch will display the same frame numbers. This frame shows that the volume is part of the Latvian Rabbinical metrical records, with the archival numbers on the left side, the modern name of the city, the fact that it contains births (Dz), and on the right, the year (gadā) 1891. In most cases (although there are occasional errors) the initial record will ensure you are browsing the correct series of images.
Follow this link for instructions on how to find a source document on Raduraksti. Follow this link to instructions on searching the document on the FamilySearch website. There is also a short video that describes the process, focusing on FamilySearch.
A Latvian website called Ciltskoki has begun the process of indexing many archival records currently on FamilySearch. It is particularly useful for finding interwar passports. Instructions on using the website may be found here.
Jews of Latvia: Names and Fates 1941-1945 as a Source of Archival References
The Jews of Latvia: Names and Fates 1941-1945 (formerly known as the Latvia Names Project), which is described in detail in the Holocaust section of this website, was created to memorialize the 70,000 Jews murdered in Latvia during the Shoah, as well as those few who survived the war. Living descendants have also been located by using this valuable tool. The Jews of Latvia website, which has been completely redesigned, uses multiple sources to document each person, including many provided by the Latvian State Historical Archives. The project is a collaborative effort of the University of Latvia, the Latvian State Historical Archives, and Yad Vashem, among others.
Sources are listed at the bottom of each person's entry, and copies of archival sources may be requested from the Archives by referencing the entry.
The Latvian State Historical Archives will respond to requests for digital copies of specific documents. Prior to November 2020, the archivists accepted general research requests, but due to staffing shortages, they can no longer provide this service.
The procedure for ordering records from the Archives has recently changed to conform to European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules. There are three options:
Mail a handwritten request to:
Latvian State Historical Archives (Latvijas valsts vestures arhivs)
Slokas iela 16
Send an email request to email@example.com, certified with a secure electronic signature, i.e. create the request in a document with a secure electronic signature and attach it to the email.
There are many options for secure electronic signatures, with varying costs. Some examples are DocuSign, Adobe Acrobat Sign, PandaDoc, and signNow (note: this is a sampling, not an endorsement of any particular software). Do a Google search on “secure electronic signature” for a list of the many companies that support secure electronic signatures.
Create an E-service request on the Archives’ website at www.arhivi.gov.lv or www.latvija.lv. In order to create a userid, a new user must provide an identification code (Identifikācijas kods), which is a passport ID.
Please contact the archives via email for questions about the new request procedures.
The Archives only accepts payments via bank wire transfer, and details will be provided when the request is complete. They will also recommend a low-cost wire transfer service to their clients. Payment must be made in Euros (Latvia is a member of the European Union).
To order a record, you will need the archival reference number of the document, typically stated in the JewishGen database as LVVA/xx/xx/xxx, plus the record number. The LVVA will also send copies of marriage records found in the JewishGen database called “Jewish Marriages in Riga, 1854-1921,” if you send the year of the marriage and the couple’s names from the database, even though the database does not give full archival reference numbers. Additionally, they will send marriage records from the interwar period if you find a reference within a passport document. Marriage stamps in passports may bear the words “Rigas Rabins” and/or “laulība” [marriage] and contain the name of the couple, the date, and the certificate number.
Passport stamp documenting the Ella Roseins-Abram Soloku marriage, 14 August 1927, no. 1945.
It is also likely that the Archives will be able to locate documents from JewishGen databases such as the Dvinsk/Daugavpils Family List database, although this has not been attempted since the LVVA has announced its new policy of records retrieval only. You should provide the fond number and the name and other details from the database record.
Since the Archives has ceased filling research requests, experience is limited with exactly what information is required to retrieve documents. The Latvia RD welcomes updates from those who have successfully (or unsuccessfully) obtained documents for requests submitted after November 2020.
Note that this website uses "LVVA" ((Latvijas Valsts vēstures arhīvs) to refer to the Latvian State Historical Archives rather than the English acronym "LSHA," to avoid confusion with the Lithuanian State Historical Archives, also referred to by its Lithuanian acronym, "LVIA."