Ancestor Story: Arvids Akerfelds

1. Early Life

Arvids Martins Akerfelds was born on September 30th, 1927 at “Skrundenieki” farm in Nikrace, the second of fourteen children born to Janis Akerfelds and his wife Anna (nee Ziverts). Skrundenieki was owned by Anna’s brother Arturs Ziverts at this time, and there were nine people residing there: Arvids, his parents, and his older brother named Arturs (presumably for Arturs Ziverts), his uncle and aunt (Arturs Ziverts married Katte [nee Akerfelds], two Akerfelds siblings married two Ziverts siblings), their first child Alberts, and finally both his widowed paternal and maternal grandmothers, Jule Ziverts (nee Dzerve) and Ieva Akerfelds (nee Sedols).

Arvids Martins Akerfelds, c. 1940 in Latvia

Between the first and second World Wars, Latvia underwent some drastic political and social changes, including writing a new Constitution, establishing a Parliament (called the Saeima) and electing Latvia’s first president, Janis Cakste. A new influential political party was also formed, called the Latvian Farmer’s Union, headed by Karlis Ulmanis which helped pass reforms to divide State property which had once been owned by German landowners and make it available to Latvian peasants who could now own the land they lived and worked on. This boosted agriculture greatly in Latvia, which in turn helped boost the economy even through the worldwide Great Depression in the 1930’s. The number of farms increased significantly. Latvia began producing electronics, cars and even airplanes.

The Ziverts and Akerfelds families grew rapidly in this peaceful time. A census was taken in 1935, at which time the number of residents at Skrundenieki had grown to 20, all Akerfelds or Ziverts, except for one Arons Tevlovs, listed as a cattle buyer and seller. Perhaps he was a migrant worker of some kind. Arvids would have worked on the farm as a child, like everyone else living there, and he attended the equivalent of elementary school at the Nikrace pamatskola from 1936 to 1943 (ages 9-16) with his many brothers and sisters and cousins. Another census was taken in 1941, showing 24 residents (Tevlovs was gone).

2. “Displaced Person”

By mid 1939 however, the situation in Latvia had severely bleakened. On October 5, 1939, Latvia was forced to sign a “mutual assistance” pact with the Soviet Union, which gave the Soviets permission to station 25,000 troops on Latvian territory. On June 16, 1940, The Russians accused the Latvians of violating the terms of their pact. The very next day, the Soviet army took control and occupied Latvia. A rigged election was staged, and a puppet government was put into place. On August 5th, 1940 Latvia was officially annexed by the USSR. Arvids would have seen at least one of his uncle’s entire family deported by Soviet officials who had taken over the government to Siberian gulags (forced labor camps), mostly for being supportive of the Farmer’s Union political party. These families would not return.

With WWII in full-scale, the Germans invaded and occupied Latvia between 1941 and 1944. Compared to the terrors of the Soviet regime, the Germans would have appeared to be the lesser of the two evils to some Latvians. German military forces managed to push the Russian forces back east, and retained control of western Kurzeme in Latvia until mid 1944. Being occupied by Nazi German military forces was actually good news for the Akerfelds/Ziverts, as luck would have it, this allowed them to escape from Latvia before the horrific Soviet regime took control once again.

In early October of 1944, Arvids and the rest of the growing Skrundenieki clan were forced to leave their home and flee west, as the Soviet army made it’s way through Latvia from the east. Both Anna and Katte were pregnant, 7 and 9 months respectively. The clan stopped for a few days in the large, German-occupied port town of Liepaja, where Katte gave birth to the seventh Ziverts child. On October 23, 1944, the German military forcibly evacuated the group to Gotenhafen, a major German-controlled port town that is now known as Gdansk, Poland. Here they were put in a camp for foreign workers, but only for days before being transferred to a gathering camp at Kelsterbach, Germany. Another few days later, in November 1944, the Akerfelds family went to Echzell, Germany, where the men were employed at a sawmill owned by Hermann Mogk III. They were separated from the Ziverts for a while at this time. Here Anna had the twelfth Akerfelds child, and here they stayed until they were liberated by the US Army in July of 1945.

In September of 1945, WWII was officially ended, and in October the UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) took on full responsibility for all those who had been displaced by the war. “Displaced Persons” camps were set up all over Europe to house these people until they could be repatriated. At this time, Arvids’ father was employed by the US Army as labourers in Wiesbaden, Germany, presumably helping to rebuild damaged infrastructure in the area. Arvids himself was employed as a labourer by the Wiesbaden DP Camp. The family next found themselves in Bidingen in February of 1946 and Dieburg in May. In October of 1946, Arvids was employed as a lumberjack by the DP Camp in Darmstadt. Here he stayed with his family, his father employed by the US Army once again as a bricklayer until 1947.

3. Belgian Coal Miner

The UNRRA tried to repatriate all displaced persons, but many would not (or could not, depending on your viewpoint) return to their country of origin. Many Latvians, in particular, did not wish to return toLatvia because it was still under Soviet control. Most other countries were reluctant to accept huge numbers of refugees, but on January 23, 1947 the Belgian Government, the US military authorities and the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees established a framework for the resettlement in Belgium of displaced persons currently in the American zone in Germany and guarantee them employment in the Belgian coalmines. Arvids took this opportunity, whether by choice or force I am not sure. He left his family in the DP Camp in Germany and went to Waterschei, (now called Genk) Belgium. The story is that he met his future father-in-law here, but I can’t find proof of this yet, as Karlis Vinakmens was living in Chapelle-lez-Herlaimont and worked in different mines.

He worked in the coal mines until August of 1949 when (for reasons yet unknown to me), he illegally returned to Germany and wound up in the Hanau transit camp. Why he returned to Germany is speculation, but his parents and youngest ten siblings had been cleared for resettlement in the USA in May 1949, and it’s possible he returned to try to go with them, or at least see them off. At Hanau, there was a vocational training centre for displaced persons, but I am unsure if he received any training. He was at Hanau until at least January of 1950. His parents and all siblings, save for his elder brother Arturs, left Germany from the port of Bremerhaven, aboard the SS General Harry Taylor on August 19th, 1950, bound for Berthoud, Colorado. Whether he was able to see them beforehand or not, I do not know.

Arvids Martins Akerfelds, taken from a document recorded upon his return to Germany in 1949

4. Labor Service Days

Arvids was in Germany for the second time from 1950-1957 working for the US Army Labor Service Co.  He was a part of the 7132 LSC, stationed first at Mannheim-Kafertal, Germany, then Ettlingen,Germany at the Rheinland Kaserne. This was a transport unit, and it was tied in closely with the 7566 LSC. More on the 7566 and 7132 LSC here: https://chelli11.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/ancestor-story-karlis-vinakmens/

Apparently Arvids’ job with the Labour Service Co at this time involved driving important figures to sports games, meetings, and other events. One of the items in my grandmother’s possession at the time of her death was his German “Furherschein”  like a driver’s license, and a document titled “Reiseausweis” which seems to be some sort of passport, supporting this story. My grandmother also had a lot of photos of Arvids in his Labor Service days. A gallery is here: https://chelli11.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/old-photos-labor-service/

Arvids Martins Akerfelds, from his German "Fuhrerschein"

Near the end of his Labor Service days, Arvids was living in close quarters to Karlis Vinakmens, his wife Berta and their 3 daughters. The story is that Karlis Vinakmens asked some sort of refugee authority for some money to purchase a farm, or a large manor house to be used as housing for the LSC men and their families. A large mansion was purchased and split into apartments. While living in such accommodations, Arvids and Karlis’ oldest daughter Rasma fell in love. Sometimes, Arvids would climb out of his apartment’s window to climb onto a balcony that led to Rasma’s window, and they would meet this way.

5. Canada

When the Vinakmens left for resettlement in Canada in 1956, Arvids, who originally had hoped to join his family in Colorado, decided to try and switch his VISA application to Canada instead, to follow Rasma. This took time and he was not able to leave for Canada until the end of January 1957.  In the meantime, during their separation, he and Rasma became engaged inter-continentally, via the mail. Arvids sent Rasma a silver-toned ring with his initials, “A.A.” engraved on it, and he wore one with her initials “R.V.”.

What is really interesting about Arvids’ trip to Canada is that he did not travel on a boat, as was par for course for displaced persons at the time, but on a plane. The money for his ticket was loaned to his future father-in-law Karlis Vinakmens by a Latvian-Canadian man in Kitchener, a family friend named “Kurmis”, which Arvids eventually paid back once he was employed in Canada. https://chelli11.wordpress.com/2011/09/12/lockheed-super-constellation-dalid/

Arvids married Rasma Vinakmens on August 10, 1957, seven months after being reunited with her in Canada. (https://chelli11.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/wedding-wednesday-arvids-martins-akerfelds-and-rasma-lilija-vinakmens/).The pair welcomed their first of three daughters, Irida one year later.

Arvids worked for a company called GenLabor based out of Waterloo, Ontario at first. I believe he was involved with construction for the duration of his stay in Canada, and he was a foreman for MWM construction company at the time of his death in 1982. While on the job, he perished after choking on a piece of celery from his soup he had brought for lunch. The circumstances of his death are sort of shady, it was not just the celery that killed him, he also had an enlarged heart and a few other contributing factors that ultimately led to his death at age 54. Arvids died on April 16, 1982, leaving behind his widow Rasma, and three daughters, ages 23, 15 and 13.

Arvids Martins Akerfelds, c. September 1957 in Kitchener, Ontario

https://chelli11.wordpress.com/2011/11/01/tombstone-tuesday-arvids-and-rasma-akerfelds/

Document: Janis Sedols

I’ve been hitting the documents on Raduraksti hard lately, compiling a database and attempting to connect the dots between baptisms, marriages, deaths and revision lists. I’ve been ignoring posting a little bit I suppose. I’ve been gaining a knowledge of the revision lists and am beginning to understand them better – which is a huge help, because they really do contain a lot of information.

Just to recap – the revision lists were basically lists of inhabitants of estates for tax purposes, almost like a census (the first of which for Latvia came later, in 1897). Usually on an estate, there were anywhere from 5ish to 40+farms, which would be numbered. The inhabitants of each farm were recorded in 1857/1858, 1850, 1835, 1816 and 1811. Not all years have survived for all estates, but the 1857/1858 (10th revision) seems pretty constant between all the estates that I am dealing with, so this is the one I will refer to most for now.

Here’s a revision list that pertains to my great-great-great grandfather Janis Sedols. Janis is the father of Ieva Sedols. According to his marriage record to Madde Strohmann, he was born at “Strebuki” farm, near Kalvene. Without further ado…

Kalna privātmuiža(Berghof) Revision List for Janis Sedols

 

I’ll do my best to transcribe: “hinzugekommen” means “added”, so these people listed above were coming to Berghof (Kalnamuiza) from other estates.

“Wo nach der ordnung der revision list vom jahre 1858 gegenwartig hinzugekommen” = “Where, according to the arrangement of the revision-list from years 1858 presently added” Basically, what farm within the estate are these people now living at.

Tauf, Vater, und Familien-Namen” = “Baptismal, Father’s and Family Name”.

“Von wo hinzugekommen”  the literal translation is “added by where” but I believe it should be “added from where”

The small 4 columns on the right pertain to age.

Alright, so my Janis is at the top of this list. In 1865, he began living at Kalna farm, which in the 1857/1858 revision was designated farm #10. His family number is 13 – families were also given designated numbers in the 1858/1857 revision – there were no Sedols living at Kalnamuiza estate then, but the family number of 13 was given to the “Jansons” family. Whether or not this means Janis was related to the Jansons (there were a ton of Jansons in the area) I have not decided yet. His baptismal and family name are included, but unfortunately they omitted his father’s name (which I believe to be Kristaps anyway, from his marriage record). He came from Kazdangas estate, north and west of Kalnamuiza and is aged 22 years.

His marriage record to Madde Strohmann is found in the Valtaiki Lutheran parish book in the same year – 1865, and their first child, my great-great grandmother Ieva (as well as her brother Janis in 1871) was born in 1869 at Kalnamuiza estate, Jaunzemji farm.

Ideally I would be able to go to the Kazdangas estate revision lists now with this knowledge, and look for Janis, but the books are mostly missing from this estate. Knowing that he was 22 in 1865 mens that I can go back through the Valtaiki Lutheran church books and search for his baptism in 1843ish, but I am not entirely sure I will find it, or if Strebuki/Kalvene inhabitants attended Valtaiki, or if it was a different church.

Wish me luck!

 

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

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

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.