About chelli11

Researching my Latvian, French-Canadian, Italian and Ukrainian ancestry.

Inspiration: Darrel Akerfelds

Darrel is a grandson of Janis Akerfelds and Anna Ziverts (a cousin of my mother) who I’ve never personally me (blame WWII for scattering the Akerfelds family across Germany, Canada and the USA in the 1950′s). Nonetheless, he and his family have been in my thoughts since I first heard news of his battle.

Normally I’d try to write something up about this, but this article does a better job detailing Darrel’s inspirational life’s story than I could hope to:

http://espn.go.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/7318959/san-diego-padres-bullpen-coach-darrel-akerfelds-too-b

Ancestor Story: Ieva Sedols, Akerfelds Family Matriarch

Ieva Sedols (my great, great-grandmother) was born January 31, 1869 in Sieksate pagast according to the 1935 and 1941 Latvian censuses. Sieksate is north and west of Nikrace, just a little west of the area’s largest settlement -Skrunda. When I began looking for her baptism record, I searched the Skrunda parish church books since that is the closest large congregation I was aware of in the area, but turned up unsuccessful. Not sure where else to look, I put Ieva Sedols on the backburner for a while.

Until now! With a slightly better understanding on Latvian geography than before, I took a second look and noticed Valtaiki draudze (Neuhausen in German), checked and…
Success! Ieva Sedols, daughter of Janis Sedols and Madde, nee Strohmann of Jaunsemm farm in Berghof estate (Jaunzemji in Kalnmuiza {“Berg” “hof” = “hill” “house” = “kaln” “muiza”}). These church books are very faded and hard to read. Born January 31, 1869 and baptised February 9, 1869 at Valtaiki. Godparents are Ieva Strohmann (maiden), Lise ….ming? and Mikelis Sedols (youth).
Here she is:

Ieva married Jekabs Grinbergs alias Akerfelds in 1892 at Embute Lutheran church. This couple had 5 children: Ernests, Anna, Janis, Martins (born in Tomsk, Siberia) and Katte, before Jekabs died at age 34, leaving Ieva a young widow, living at Cepli farm in Lieldzelda with her 5 children.

(click to enlarge) Jekabs and Ieva's marriage record

Ieva remarried in 1908, to another widower named Janis Blazges. I don’t know if this couple had any children. Janis passed away sometime before 1935, and Ieva was a widow again, living with her son and daughter at Skrundenieki at the time of the 1935 and 1941 Latvian censuses.

(click to enlarge) Ieva's 2nd marriage to Janis Blazges in 1908, 4 years after Jekab's death

When her fellow family living at Skrundenieki were forced to leave their home to go to Germany, Ieva was not with them. My guess is she passed away in Nikrace sometime between mid 1941 and October of 1944.

http://chelli11.wordpress.com/2011/11/05/roadblock-akerfelds/

Document: Brinkenhof Revision List

Up until recently I had ignored the revision lists (Dvēseļu revīzijas) offered on Raduraksti. Curious about the ownership and history of Skrundenieki farm, I decided to take a stab at  deciphering this unfamiliar resource. These lists are recordings of peasants arriving at and departing from different estates, if they moved. If your particular family did not move around a lot, as I am unsure my Ziverts (Skrundenieki’s owners) did, chances are they will not be found in this resource.

The revision lists are organized by estate, not draudze, pagast, aprinki, novad, rajon…etc. These terms can be a little confusing if you are not very familiar with the geography of our ancestor’s homeland (as was the case for me the first time I tried the use the revision lists). I am now very familiar with the area surrounding Skrundenieki, and know that prior to 1925ish, it was part of what used to be Brinkenhof estate, also known as “Gross Altdorf” in German (Embutes/Amboten lutheran draudze, Brinki/Nikrace/Brinkenhof/Nikrazzen pagast, Aizputes/Hasenpoth aprinki, Vainodes/Wainoden novad, Liepajas rajon, Kurzeme… I know, confusing right?). So I leafed through the Brinkenhof revision list, really just scanning for the Ziverts name in relation to Skrundenieki.

Within a few pages, something caught my eye. An entry for a “Klavs Laure Siewert”. Since I’d already gone through the area’s church books with a fine-toothed comb, I am already familiar with this Klavs Siewert. He married Lina Grinbergs in 1881 at Embute lutheran church, and they had a daughter named Mathilde Emilie Wilhelmine Siewert in 1882 at Nodaggen estate (I have yet to figure out what that name is in modern Latvian). Also notable from the church books: living at Nodaggen simultaneously at that time as well was an Ernest Siewert, his wife Marija and their son Karlis.

But back to the revision list. In 1883, Klavs, Lina and their daughter Matilde left Nodaggen and moved to Brinkenhof estate. The lists divide men on one side (left), and women on the other (right). Here is their recording:

(click to enlarge) Brinkenhof Revision List from 1883

I can’t make out the large block of text beside Klav’s entry, but most of it looks to be talking about how he came to Gross Altdorf in 1883 and left from Nodaggen estate. He was born December 12, 1841 (and as fate would have it, 1842 is where the Embute church books end..). he was 42 at the time of the move…. and if you notice, it lists his wife Lina as only 21 years of age (and daughter Matilde 1 year old). With such an age gap, was Lina Klav’s second wife?

What really attracted me to Klav’s record is that my own ancestors - Indriks Ziverts and Jule Dzerve - named their first born son Klavs Jeannot, and one of his godparents is listed as Klavs Jeannot, who is listed as the owner of the farm they lived on (Skrundenieki). Some of the text beside this inscription in the younger Klavs’ baptism either points to the fact that the older Klavs, the same one listed in the revision list above, is either the father of Indriks Ziverts, or his uncle. I can’t tell which, because Indriks and Jule named their second son Peteris Ziverts, and one of his godparents is Peteris Ziverts, with the same inscription. Both uncles? When did these Siewerts come to Brinkenhof estate? There are no other Siewerts in Brinkenhof’s revision list history.

Also, I discovered that Skrundenieki is much older than I had suspected, existing at least as early as 1811 under the same name.

More to come, as I learn to decipher these records…

How can you use the revision lists to learn about your family? Check out this article on how to use them at Celmina.com

Place of Interest: Slokenbeka Manor

Slokenbekas manor, c. early 1900's

Slokenbekas manor, present-day

Šlokenbekas (Latvian), Schlokenbeck (German), Шлокенбекъ (Russian)

Slokenbeka is Latvia’s sole remaining fortified manor house. Originally belonging to the Livonian Order, the manor/castle was first mentioned in documents from the mid 1500′s. It is located on the eastern side of Tukums, in the village of Milzkalne, in Engures novads, and draws it’s name from the small stream that runs near it called Slokas. Today, the manor exists as a historical tourist attraction and part museum, housing old farming artifacts and displaying examples of fortified defensive walls and gatehouses.

The earliest known residents were a German noble family named von Buttlar, and it passed through several other noble families – Schenking, Putthammer, Brueggens, Grothuss, Medems and Blumerings, through the ages. Matthias Dietrich Rheinhold von der Recke, a successful maker of liquor and spirits, purchased the manor and his family owned it from 1848 to 1920. During World War 1, the German army had a military hospital established at the manor, and after the war ended ownership of the manor passed to the forestry ministry of Tukums. A restoration project began to take place around 1977, to help turn it into what it is today.

Both Vinakmens and Veisbergs families are listed in baptismal records as living in Slokenbeka at different points of Matthias von der Recke’s ownership of the manor. Whether this refers to living on the actual manor grounds or on the manor’s surrounding estate property is up for debate – likely it refers to farms on the estate property surrounding the fortified manor, but who knows? Either way, the manor would have been a close, familiar landmark to the Vinakmens/Veisbergs families.

While browsing the Tukums church records I noticed Mikelis Veisbergs and his wife Line Brugis must have moved to Tukums from Rezekne sometime after the birth of their daughter Emilija Karline Veisbergs (my great-great grandmother) in 1885. Their son Julius Robert’s baptismal record in 1896 states Slokenbek as his family’s residence. A baptismal record of a daughter of Fricis and Anna Veisbergs also exists in the same year at Slokenbeka. Perhaps Fricis and Mikelis Veisbergs were brothers, who migrated to the Tukums area together.

Janis Rudolfs Wihnstein, son of Vilis and Emilija was born at Slokenbeka in 1905. How long the family stayed there is unknown to me, perhaps their next two sons Arnolds and Karlis were also born there, in 1911 and 1913. It would make sense, since the family’s fleeing to Russia at the beginning of World War 1 would coincide with the German military hospital being set up at Slokenbeka – perhaps it was the advance of the German army that pushed Vilis and his family east to Russia.

(click to enlarge) Janis Rudolfs Vinakmens’ baptismal record – Slokenbekas is mentioned as the family’s residence, on the far right
Here’s a link to a very good site about Slokenbeka’s history, complete with many modern-day photographs: http://www.ambermarks.com/_Pieminekli/GarieApraksti/TukumaRaj/SmardesPag/ESlokenbekas_vid_pils.htm
 
Beautiful historical photographs of Slokenbekas on Zudusi Latvija: http://www.zudusilatvija.lv/objects/object/8519/ 
 

Ancestor Story: Arnold Vinakmen

Arnolds Roberts Vinakmens was born March 14, 1911, probably in Tukums, Latvia. He was the second son of Vilis Augusts Wihnstein and Emiija Karline Veisbergs. Arnolds, like the rest of his siblings, went to Russia (Siberia) with his parents and two brothers sometime around 1914, only to return home (with a new sister, Alise) a few years later, during the Russian Revolution.

Arnold’s father Vilis abandoned his family sometime after the birth of his last son Fricis in 1921, and his older sons, Arnolds included, left home to find work. Arnolds worked for the railway in Latvia. He married an ethnic Russian woman, Valentina Ivanova Fedorova (born December 19, 1912) sometime around 1936, and their first and only son, Juri (pronounced “YOU-ree”) was born on December 13, 1937 in Daugavpils, one of Latvia’s largest cities located in southeastern Latgale.

Sometime after Juri’s birth, likely after 1941, Arnolds and Valentina moved to another large Latvian city, Valmiera, (located in northern Vidzeme) where Juri attended elementary school and Arnolds once again worked for the railway.

Arnolds is listed in the book “These Names Accuse”(http://chelli11.wordpress.com/2011/11/05/these-names-accuse/). However, I am going to assume this is not because he was arrested and deported by Soviets, but because during the German occupation of Latvia following the mass deportations of 1941, being that Arnolds lived on the other side of the country as the rest of his family, perhaps his family lost communication with him and considered him “missing” when the Latvian authorities asked people to report those family members who had been deported. His key number of “4″ indicates that he was reported as “missing since the last days of Soviet occupation”, his last address known being Daugavpils.

Arnolds and Valentine moved to Riga in the latter half of the 1950′s, where they had a small house and a large garden (my own Opa and Oma Karlis and Berta also kept a large, beautiful garden) on an island in the Daugava River. Their son Juri moved to St. Petersburg, Russia (then called Leningrad) to attend a Military Academy. He would become an officer, stationed in the Far East of Russia, and later in his life he became a successful doctor.

Arnolds and Valentine (Valija) lived at their house in Riga and enjoyed summertime visits from their grandchildren for many years.  As they aged in the early 1990′s, they moved to St. Petersburg to be closer to their son Juri, so he could help care for them. Arnolds passed away in 1993, at the age of 82, and Valentine passed away in 1995, aged 83.

Amazing, Arnolds was the last Vinakmens sibling for me to learn his fate. All five Vinakmens siblings lived until at least the age of 80. Quite an accomplishment, given the circumstances they faced!

http://chelli11.wordpress.com/2011/11/15/where-in-the-world-is-arnolds-vinakmens/

Where in the World is Arnolds Vinakmens?

Arnolds Vinakmens was born in 1911, probably in Tukums. He was the second son of Vilis Augusts Wihnstein and Emilija Karline Veisbergs. I have very little information about Arnolds.

He is listed in “These Names Accuse” as a deportee of June 14, 1941. Registration and group no:  17668/4, last known whereabouts: Daugavpils. The 4 in his case number means he was likely either in the military, or a communications or transport official or employee who was evacuated by force to Russia.

One of my great aunts, Arnolds’ niece, recounted to me that Arnolds had a wife named Valentina. They lived in Russia near St. Petersburg and had two sons, one of which was a violinist and one a painter.  So, if he was deported, he must have stayed there, and he was probably already fluent in Russian, since his family lived in Russia for a few years when he was a child.

Indeed, today there are Vinakmens in St. Petersburg. Whether or not they are descendants of Arnolds I don’t know yet, but I am attempting to find out!

***UPDATE***

After learning how to spell “Vinakmens” in Russian Cyrillic (“Винакмен”), I searched the web. I found a few hits on Facebook.com, of those living in St. Petersburg. Knowing that Vinakmens is not a common surname, and the fact that they lived in St. Petersburg like my great aunt had told me, I decided to send messages. Bingo! I found myself speaking to Arnolds’ grandson, who seems just as interested in family history as I am.

Amanuensis Monday: On Repatriation

One of the questions asked by the International Refugee Organization of people displaced by WWII was “Do you wish to return to your country of former residence?” For most Latvians, the answer was no. Not because they did not wish to return home, but because “home” was now occupied and controlled by communist Russia, a regime they had seen destroy their families and friends, more merciless than the German Nazi’s had been. Most certainly a resistance fighter like Karlis Vinakmens, or a German collaborator like his little brother Fricis, could not imagine returning home, as the Soviets would have persecuted them immediately, likely with fatal results. The Akerfelds and Ziverts families had seen brothers and uncles, along with their wives and children heartlessly arrested for no good reason, to be deported to Siberia and die slowly of exposure. 

Most Latvian families wished to immigrate to Canada, the USA, Australia, and even Argentina is recorded on one IRO application I’ve seen. It seems they were not sure where to go, did not care, so long as it was not part of communist USSR.

A snippet from Arturs Ziverts' IRO Application form

Do you wish to return to your country of former residence?” – “Nein” (No)

“If not, why?” – “Weil heimat eisenheim von USSR okkupier. Herscht kommunistische diktatur und terror. Ein bruder getoete und andere nach sibierien deportien” (Because my home country is occupied by the USSR. The government is a communist dictatorship. One brother was killed and nother was deported to Siberia)

Every one of my family members’ IRO applications says the same things: Arvids Akerfelds’ simply states “Political Reasons”, Fricis Vinakmens’ says “I do not like to live under present communist regime”.

After being caught between two great warring world powers in WWII, Latvia had held out hope that the Allied victory would mean the USSR agreeing to recognize their sovereignty. They had hoped that the Allies would restore free independant Latvia. This was not the case, for Latvia and other Soviet-occupied countries (Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Lithuania, Estonia, etc) who would remain under Soviet control until the late 1980′s and early 1990′s.

Lest We Forget

My earliest memories of Remembrance Day are slightly less than honorable. “A big, solemn assembly at school? With a whole minute of complete silence?? Trumpets? What’s with all the seriousness on my BIRTHDAY??”. I can still recite the words of the poem “In Flander’s Fields” by John McCrae off the top of my head, a poem which I learned in grade school to recite at these Remembrance Day assemblies, year after year.

I suppose it’s fitting that my birthday falls on a day of historic remembrance, being the history lover that I am. Genealogical research, knowledge (and likely maturity) have changed the way I view Remembrance day. Sometimes researching ancestors makes me realize that it is a very complicated and delicate (and lucky) web of events that facilitates my existence. Whilst Remembrance Day (Veterans’ Day in the USA) and the iconic poppy were first celebrated in Canada/USA to commemorate the end of World War One on November 11, 1918, it has evolved to honour Canadian/American veterans of all wars.

As generations pass on, it becomes easier and easier to forget that here in Canada, we are privileged to live the way we do. Everyone living here (unless you’re a native, I suppose) is here because their parents, their parent’s parents, parent’s parent’s parents, (etc, etc etc)came here to try and find a better way of living than they had experienced elsewhere. The freedom we experience here was not free, it cost millions of lives, millions of brave souls who were ready to give everything they had so that we could exist in this way.

During World War Two, my maternal ancestors were forced labourers in Nazi Germany, plucked from their war-ravaged homeland and used as bodies to help fuel the German war effort. While definitely far from paradise, some Latvians suffered far less fortunate fates and this would have seemed a best-case scenario at the time to some.  They had watched family, friends and neighbours be brutally executed, deported to Soviet prison camps and forcibly recruited to foreign armies, forced to fight for a cause that was not their own, their country’s cause and voice drowned out by larger world powers. The world must have seemed to have gone crazy, barbarian. Their home would never be “home” again.

World War Two was the deadliest conflict in recorded history, with estimates of 50 to 70 million lives lost. The Allied countries counted an estimated 16,000,000 military casualties. My ancestors were liberated by the Allies (US Army) in 1945 as they captured different towns in Germany that housed the forced labor camps. They were granted immigration to the USA and Canada within 5 or 6 years, where they lived freely the rest of their days. Their families flourished, and continue to flourish today.

…Thanks, guys.