With its history of boundary and government changes, Lithuanian genealogy research requires a unique set of skills to accomplish.
Historical Context in Lithuanian Genealogy Research
Though Lithuania today is a fairly small country (with an estimated 3 million total population), it has not always been so. During the 14th century the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was actually the largest country in Europe, and included parts of present-day Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and Poland – among others. Over the next several hundred years between then and now, the land that is now Lithuania spent time as part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Russian Empire, and was occupied at various times by both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Lithuania as it stands today was not established until 1990. So what does this mean for Lithuanian genealogy research?
Using Records to Trace Lithuanian Ancestry
The good news is that like the rest of Europe, church records were kept from a very early period, with some areas dating back to the 1500s. However, because these records were kept at the local level, it is important to first determine exactly where your ancestors came from. After that is known you’ll need to use gazetteers, maps, or other sources to determine where that location is now, what records have survived, and where those records are kept. This part can be tricky because of all the boundary changes and name changes that have occurred through Lithuania’s history.
Onsite Genealogy Research in Lithuania
While many records for Eastern Europe are available on microfilm at the Family History (and some have even been digitized at FamilySearch.org), our experience has been that most records for modern-day Lithuania are only available onsite, and the trouble with that is that many archives will not allow you to photograph or copy records, and/or they will set limits on how many books or documents a researcher can look at in one day. Because of this it can take several days to search all the potential records in a given archive. Also, once you get into searching the actual records, reading them can be another obstacle. Depending on which government was in power at any given time, you might find records that were created in Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, Latin, Ruthenian, old Belarusian, etc. And since the majority of these records are handwritten, it can be extremely difficult to decipher what they say!
Though all the legwork can be tedious and time consuming, once you actually locate records about your ancestors, in many cases you can trace them back several generations fairly quickly. People tended to stay in the same place and didn’t move around often, so if your Lithuanian ancestors fall into this category you may be able to trace them back as far as that particular parish’s records exist.
Our Team of Professional Genealogists Can Help
If you need help identifying exactly where your ancestors lived, help obtaining onsite records to trace your Lithuanian ancestral lines, or help reading records you’ve already found, our experts and onsite agents are ready to help.