52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

In an effort to learn more of the finer details of my ancestor’s lives, I’ve decided to challenge myself to the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge that many other genealogy bloggers are participating in. I maintain two separate genealogy blogs – one for my paternal side, which is ethnic Ukrainian, Italian and French Canadian and one for my maternal Latvian side. Why? Simply volume of posts and depth of research. So I will be posting from both of these blogs, depending on where said ancestor is from.
Living in Canada – an incredibly multicultural country where mostly everyone comes from somewhere else – I’ve decided to start with the stories of my Canadian immigrant ancestors. My most recent immigrant ancestors were my Latvian grandparents who came here after WWII, and my most distant are some of Canada’s first pioneers who came here in the 1600’s, so we have about 300 years’ worth of Canadian immigration to cover!

Old Photo: Where is This Rollercoaster?

Do YOU know where this rollercoaster is??

This is a picture of my grandparents Arvids Akerfelds and Rasma Vinakmens. On the back of this photo is written “Mai 1955″, so they were definitely in Germany. Arvids looks like he is still serving in the Labor Service, although where he was stationed at this time I do not know. Some of my grandmother’s other photos from around this time period are labelled “Freiburg”. I haven’t been able to find any information about where this rollercoaster might have been!

Ancestor Story: Fricis Vinakmens, Part 2

Fricis’ unit was ordered to guard a captured Russian lumber factory near Leningrad (modern-day St. Petersburg), Russia in the fall of 1942. In the summer of 1943, as the Germans were pushed back westward by the Soviet army, the unit disassembled the factory and brought it back west with them and the captured workers in tow. They reassembled the factory again in Lizums, Latvia and resumed production. In August of 1944, they once again moved west to Incukalns, near Riga for a short period, and in September of 1944, as the Nazis began suffering regular military defeats, the unit and factory were sent to the port of Liepaja, where the entire operation was packed onto a ship and escaped to Danzig (Gdansk), from where they travelled to the Todt Organization headquarters in Berlin. (a typical Todt worker uniform: http://en.valka.cz/attachments/11345/uniforma_todt.jpg)

The unit was in Berlin for one week in October of 1944. They were next sent to Peschiera, in northern Italy, for one month of more training. In December 1944, the unit went to Campo Tures, a comune in the Tyrolian Alps. While I am not sure exactly what they were doing here, it is probable that they were helping build lines of defensive structures.

Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945, and the hostilities in Italy between the Nazi army and the Allied forces officially ended. What this meant for Fricis was he was now a prisoner-of-war. He and his unit were sent to a POW camp in Cesenatico, Italy, where he again worked as a mechanic.

In October of 1945, the International Refugee Organization took responsibility for all those displaced from their home country by the war. They began sorting people and attmepting to repatriate them to their countries of origin. At this time, Fricis went to a displaced persons camp in Modena, Italy from October 1945 until May of 1946 when he was transferred to a large DP camp full of many different ethnicities in Reggio Emilia.

Here at Reggio Emilia, he met Marianna Levinski, a Russian girl born in Rostov. Marianna had grown up in Rostov, and was sent to Baranovicy, Poland to live with an aunt in 1939 at age 17. The Nazi’s invaded Poland, and Marianna became an “ostworker” or forced foreign labourer, sent to a camp in Frankfurt am Main, Germany in 1942. Marianna was tranferred to many different places as a forced labourer in Germany and France between 1942 and 1945, before ending up in a German DP camp, then 2 Italian DP camps, then finally Reggio Emilia.

Fricis and Marianna were married in Reggio Emilia, and had a son there in April of 1947. The family applied for assistance to emigrate to Argentina, but were initially rejected due to Fricis’ involvement with the Organization Todt. Between this rejected application and 1953, I have found no documents or information about them. It could be assumed that they stayed in Italy or Germany, working and waiting.

Eventually, the family was cleared for immigration to Canada, and on October 17, 1953 Fricis, Marianna and their 6 year old son sailed on the SS Anna Salen from Bremerhaven, Germany to Quebec, Canada.

Marianna and Fricis, c. 1990

Place of Interest: Tomsk, Siberia

 

Tomsk (English), Томск (Russian)

Tomsk is the largest city in Tomsk Oblast, Russia. It is named for the river on which it is situated, the Tom. Officially founded in 1604, it is one of the oldest cities in Siberia.

Tomsk Oblast within Russia

Gold was discovered in Tomsk in (he 1830′s and mining operations soon set up camp, which helped bolster the economy and growth. However, the Trans-Siberian Railway bypassed Tomsk in favor of Novosibirsk to the south, and with it went the development boom in the area.

The Trans-Siberian Railway route

When the Akerfelds family was here around the year 1900, Tomsk was a growing city, with two new universities (Tomsk State University, the oldest in Siberia, founded in 1887 and Tomsk Polytechnic University, the oldest technical university in Siberia, founded in 1900).

Old wooden houses in Tomsk

Ancestor Story: Janis Akerfelds, Part 1

Janis Akerfelds, c. 1948

Janis Akerfelds was born on September 27, 1898 supposedly in Nikrace. He was (likely) the third child of Jekabs Grinbergs alias Akerfelds and Ieva Sedols.

Shortly after his birth his family went to Tomsk, a city and also a district (oblast) in Siberia (I am not sure if they mean the city or the oblast). Presumably this was due to Jekabs working either on the Trans-Siberian Railway, which was a huge project underway at the time, or possibly working as a miner, as Tomsk was the site of many mineral resources, including gold.

In any case, their Siberian adventure did not last for long. Jekabs took ill, maybe from harsh conditions, hard labour, freezing winters, etc. By 1904, the family had returned to Embute parish, where 5-year-old Janis lost his father Jekabs in July of 1904 at age 34, with either lung or kidney disease listed as the cause. He left behind a 6-month-pregnant Ieva, and Janis’ sister Katte was born that November at Cepli farm, the fifth and final child of Jekabs and Ieva.

After this, the story is a little unclear about where Ieva and her children went. Janis attended elementary school in Nikrace from 1907 to 1913, but his younger sister Katte attended “grundschule” somewhere in Estonia in 1917. At some point, Ieva’s surname changed to Blazges (and I have found Blaschge families in the Embute parish church books) so perhaps she remarried, and was widowed again.

The family must have returned to Nikrace once again by 1924, as Janis married Anna Ziverts sometime around this year (April 23, the date he is listed as beginning to live at Skrundenieki?) and they welcomed their first child Arturs in August of 1925.

Janis and Anna had 14 children in total, 10 of which ended up in Colorado, USA, 1 in Ontario, Canada, 1 in Augsburg, Germany and two daughters perished in Latvia at a young age. One was named Elvina, she was born in 1929 and appears on the 1941 census, but is gone by the time the family fled Latvia. The story is that at age 12 she stepped on a rusty nail and died of tetanus. The other daughter is said to have fallen off a chair, hit her head and perished as an infant.

Ancestor Story: Arturs Akerfelds

Arturs Akerfelds, c. 1948

Arturs Akerfelds was born August 20, 1925 on Skrundenieki farm, Brinkenhof estate, the eldest child of Janis Akerfelds and Anna Ziverts. He was quite presumably named after his uncle Arturs Ziverts. He would have attended Nikrace pamatskola (pictured in this post: http://chelli11.wordpress.com/2011/09/10/14/). Arturs would have spent his early years growing up mostly at Skrundenieki, although it’s possible that he spent some time in the early 1940’s working at other farms, as his younger brother Arvids Akerfelds did between 1942 and 1944.

When his family fled Latvia in October of 1944, of course he went with them, via Liepaja-Gotenhafen-Kelsterbach. Because he was of age at the time to be considered a single adult bachelor, he was separated from the rest of the Akerfelds crew for some time during their DP camp days. It appears that from Kelsterbach, he went to Bad Rotenfels, near Gaggenau, south of where the rest of the Akerfelds ended up (Echzell), from November of 1944 until May 1946 (from age 19 to age 20).

The Nazi’s had put together a camp in September of that year in Bad Rotenfels, that held forced labourers (mostly French) who worked in the Daimler-Benz factory. It is estimated that around 500 of them were killed. At some point, Arturs lost his right hand. Whether in some industrial accident, or as punishment from some Nazi officer, I don’t know. This must have been a terrible injury, as you can tell by his signature that he was likely right-handed to begin with, and had to learn to use his left.

After Bad Rotenfels, he rejoined his family at Dieburg, Darmstadt, Neustadt, and finally Augsburg in 1949. This is where he met a local Catholic girl, Luise Goettle, daughter of German WWI veteran and career house-painter Peter Paul Goettle and his second wife, Caecilia Hummel. Arturs and Luise were married on September 15, 1950 in Augsburg, less than a month after the rest of his family departed from Bremerhaven to resettle in the USA.

In his IRO Application, Arturs states that he would like to be resettled to the USA like the rest of his family,  and he did not want to be repatriated to his home country because of the Russian occupation. But, likely because Luise was not a displaced person and so could not be treated as such for resettlement to the USA, he was released into the German economy in February of 1951. And so Arturs and Luise remained in Augsburg, and had 3 children there: Brigitte, Anna and Artur.

Arturs Akerfelds passed away on January 20, 1998 in Augsburg.

Ancestor Story: Arturs Ziverts, Part 1

Arturs Ziverts was born November 15, 1901 at 6 in the evening, at Skrundenieki farm on Brinkenhof estate. He was the fourth child of Indriks Ziverts, a farmer, and his wife Jule Dzerve. He was baptised December 2, 1901 at Embute Parish Lutheran church. I haven’t figured out who it lists his godparents as yet…

(click to enlarge) Arturs Ziverts' baptismal Record

Arturs had many siblings, I know of 8 siblings thus far, born between 1896 and 1919 (Klaus, Fricis, Peteris, Arturs, Lucija, Anna, Olga, Ida). There is a 10 year gap in my knowledge of these siblings between 1905 and 1915 where Raduraksti’s churchbooks stop, so it is likely that there are even more. The 2 youngest siblings of Arturs, Olga and Ida born in 1915 and 1919, I know of from the 1935 census, as they were young enough to still be living at home at the time.

Arturs married Katte Akerfelds around 1925 (Possibly April 23, 1924, as this is the date she is recorded as living at Skrundenieki since). Around that same time, his little sister Anna married Katte’s brother Janis, who also began living at Skrundenieki, bringing his mother Ieva Sedols with him (It’s quite possible these 2 couples were married on the same day – the census of 1941 reads that Janis had been living at Skrundenieki since April 23, 1922, but it is hard to read, and Janis and Anna’s first son was not born until August of 1925, so I wonder if it actually reads “1924”).

In the interwar period (between WWI and WWII; 1918-1940), during Latvia’s independence, many reforms to the governmental and social systems were made, including a reform that allowed ownership of land to pass to the people, the peasants who worked on it, rather than greedy German land barons. It is probable that Skrundenieki came into Arturs’ father Indriks’ possession during this time, around the early 1920’s (Although as a side note, it is possible that with a surname like Ziverts in a fairly Germanized area with Siebert families around, Skrundenieki was in Indriks’ possession before the land reforms.. TBD). Indriks must have died somewhere between 1919, when his last child was born, and 1935 when the census was taken, because ownership of Skrundenieki had passed to Arturs by 1935. Why Arturs and not one of his 3 older brothers? I am not sure, and I don’t know where the brothers ended up either, although Arturs does say that some brothers had been deported to Siberia in an IRO document later on.

Arturs and Katte had 8 children - three boys and five girls, the eldest was a son born in October of 1927. Three of their children, born in 1933, 1942 and 1944, were born in Liepaja. The latter was born during their flight from Latvia with the retreating German army, but the two in 1933 and 1942 require some special consideration. I can’t really figure out why Arturs and Katte would have left their farm for a brief period to go to Liepaja twice. They returned to Skrundenieki shortly after the births, both times. So what were they doing in Liepaja for a year or two? I am not quite sure yet!

Hunting for Jekabs Grinbergs alias Akerfelds

My mind has once again wandered to Jekabs Akerfelds and his origins (more putting off of combing the Tukums church books!). I was reading about Latvian migrations from the 19

th century until the present and it got me thinking about how Jekabs’ fourth child Martins was born in Tomsk, Russia in 1902. I wonder, if perhaps my Janis was actually born in Nikrace/Brinki in 1898, as his documents say, but maybe baptized in Tomsk as well, which would explain why I can’t find his baptismal record. Were there Lutheran churches in Siberia in the early 1900’s? Were they baptized Orthodox? Do records exist from the Tomsk area at that time?

The 1895 Russian Census took place between 1895 and 1897… did this family somehow slip by the census? It started in central Russia in 1895 and was taken in Latvia in 1897. I know the Akerfelds were in Embute parish as late as 1895, as their daughter Anna is baptized there. Did they move to Russia somewhere between 1895 and 1899?

The way I see it, there are still a few resources I could exhaust before throwing up my hands in the search for Jekabs at this time:
1.       Find out if Tomsk church records, or vital records exist and how I can access them.
2.       See if I can find an online way to search the 1895 Russian census outside of Latvia, and check Tomsk.

Perhaps one of these sources will give me more hints as to where to begin searching for Jekabs…