Legacy Tree Onsite: The Latvian State Historical Archives
Legacy Tree Genealogists works with researchers from across the globe to access records for our clients. We asked one of our onsite researchers in Latvia to share his experiences researching at the Latvian State Historical Archives.
The Latvian State Historical Archive (Latvijas Valsts vēstures arhīva, Slokas iela 16, Zemgales priekšpilsēta, Rīga, Latvia) is the largest archive in the Baltic States. In the 7,500 fonds (record groups), more than 6 million documents are stored, covering the period of 1220 to 1945.
In comparison to the neighboring countries of Estonia and Lithuania, the Latvian State Historical Archive has digitally published the least amount of material in this category. The database of the Central Fond Register (record groups), searchable only in Latvian, does not contain a complete list of the holdings within the State Archive of Latvia, Latvia State Historical Archive and Regional State Archives. Because a large portion of the archival inventories have not been digitized, onsite researchers have created an online table (in English and Russian) of inventories.
However, researchers can have considerable success using the Latvian State Historical Archive’s website Raduraksti. In a basic translation, “raduraksti” is taken from “radi” (relatives) and “raksti” (writing) which means genealogy or lineage. This virtual reading room was created in 2010 and provides access to church records, vital records of the Rabbinate, revision lists of Livland and Courland, materials of Russian Empire Census (1897) in Courland, Livland and Vitebsk gubernias. There is also a database of residents of Latvia, whose passports are kept in the archives.
To access the digitized material you must create a user account. This is easily completed using the English version of Raduraksti (also available in Latvian, Russian and German). The archive requires you to register with a user name and password identifying your name, email and country. The access to the database and virtual archives (Virtuālais arhīvs) can be found under the heading Contents (Saturs). However, it is important to remember that not all archival records have been incorporated into the Raduraksti website, and the digital images, written in Russian, German or Latvian, are only available in a browseable format without translations.
Additionally, another online resource that has been publishing material, including documents and archival inventories from the Latvian State Historical Archive, is the Documentarium project.
Most archival documents are written in German, Russian, or Latvian; however researchers can also discover many documents in Polish, Latin, and Hebrew. The majority of Fond (Record Group) inventories for the period of the Russian Empire (pre-World War I) are written in Russian. The Latvian State Historical Archive employees speak mainly Latvian; however, if necessary, they can switch to Russian or German. English speaking employees are not numerous.
Accessing Records at the Latvian State Historical Archives
Currently, researchers cannot pre-order archival documents as it is necessary to visit the reading room during business to review the archival inventories and place a request for the document or case file (church records, vital records, revision lists, etc.). If an inventory is not available within the reading room, onsite researchers must submit a request to access the document. These requests are usually fulfilled the same day; however, requests for archival documents are completed on the third working day after the request is submitted. This requires onsite research to be conducted over several days. Researchers are limited to requesting 10 case files and if the item is under conservation care, access is not allowed.
Visitors to the Latvian State Historical Archive must register upon arrival. Research can be conducted in two rooms: one for working with original documents and the other for working with microfilms. In the manuscript room there are 2 computers which provide access to an electronic catalogue of fonds (record groups) and the passport database of residents of the Republic of Latvia (1919-1940). Unlike Raduraksti, the in-house computers provide the archival file numbers for each record group.
Also, the research rooms receive a fair amount of visitors and by the middle of the day, all tables are occupied. If you are visiting the archives, you should plan an early arrival to secure a seat and table to avoid waiting until one is available.
Copying Records at the Latvian State Historical Archives
The Latvian State Historical Archive allows visitors to copy documents without charge using your own digital camera or smartphone. However, there are some limitations. You can only photograph without a flash, tripod or other accessories, and can only photograph publicly accessible documents without access or copyright restrictions.
Documents older than 1800 require an expert opinion to determine the photography will not affect the physical state of these documents.
Digital images may only be used for personal purposes; researchers may not re-publish or share the images. You may only publish and transfer to third parties the copies of documents that are made by the Latvian State Historical Archive.
The archive provides two kinds of copies:
- Using the copier. This provides a medium quality photocopy. The cost is one euro (€1) per A4 sheet and the wait-time is about one week.
- Using the scanner. This provides a good quality image. However, the cost is about 5 euros (€5) for one image. The archives copies the digital images to a disk and the wait-time can be a month or more.
Overall, the Latvian State Historical Archive is very friendly and welcoming to researchers. The staff is always ready to help in case of any difficulties.
Whether you need help tracing your Latvian ancestors back to the Russian Empire, or if you’ve already done that but need help accessing and obtaining documents to continue extending your lines, our professional genealogists and onsite agents are ready to assist you! Our experts and onsite agents are experienced at tracking down all kinds of Latvian family history records in a variety of locations, and can help you extend your ancestry as far back as records will allow. Contact us to discuss which of our project options would best fit your needs.