A Whole New Direction…

So in a shocking (to me, anyways) plot twist, a totally new direction…

In comparing the DNA of my mother and her third cousin from the Akerfelds line, it seems that the only other people matching the both of them (ie. sharing a common ancestor at some point) are of Ashkenazi Jewish lineage. However these Jewish matches appear to be fairly close cousins – 2nd to 4th cousins. This could indicate that either the father or mother of Jekabs and Ernests Akerfelds was the child of Jewish parents who must have been converts to Lutheranism.

Interestingly though, the third cousin has a lot more Jewish matches than my mother does. I started investigating this a little bit…

One reason could simply be that the third cousin has another Latvian ancestor from a different line not shared with my mother who is also of Ashkenazi descent.

Ashkenazi ancestry and DNA testing gets fairly complicated though, since the population is infamous for their endogamy – basically the population increased very rapidly from a smaller core group of people, who all married within their own faith and localities – which means inevitably, to varying degrees, cousin marriages and interbreeding. This happens in all cultures and religions, and yes if you look hard enough you will see it in your family tree too – every generation you move backward in time, you multiply the number of ancestors you have by two (ie 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents, etc). At the 20th generation level, you have 1,048,576 ancestors… were there 1 million people in the areas nearby to your family who were completely unrelated? Good luck!

Another thing complicating Ashkenazi genealogy is that for the most part they had young hereditary surnames – for example in Kurzeme, surnames were not required until 1835, which in my Akerfelds case points to either the father or grandfather of Jekabs and Ernests being the first to bear their name, which means genetically we could match people of all different surnames at a fairly close level…

So after signing up at JewishGen, I checked their Latvia database for the only surnames that I do know my mother and her third cousin share – those are Akerfelds and Grinbergs. That ever elusive “Grinbergs alias Akerfelds”. Well, GREENBERG…(Grinbergs is prounounced the same and also means the same thing, it’s just the Latvian spelling) is definitely a name used by some Jews in Courland. And other surnames connected to the Jewish DNA matches of my mother and third cousin also appear in Courland, some as close to the Akerfelds’ origin point as Aizpute.

But then I was reading about Jews converting to other religions in the 1800’s on the Roots=Saknes site, which mentions that often when Jews converted they were encouraged to choose more Lutheran/Christian names, both first and last names. So perhaps this Jewish line of mine is a totally new surname all together?

Luckily my mother’s third cousin has also completed some Y-Chromosome DNA testing, which should give us some strong hints as to whether or not this Jewish link follows the direct male Akerfelds line, or if it was perhaps a wife with a different surname who married into the Akerfelds family. It should also answer whether or not the Akerfelds line has anything to do with Sweden and if not, where that male line originates.

His Y-DNA test results should be in any day now… I’m waiting!!!

DNA Verifies my Akerfelds Puzzle Theory!

Well the first of some really big mysteries I’ve been working on for years has finally been solved by DNA and genetic genealogy. One of my longest standing theories has been that all living Akerfeldses with roots in Latvia were related. All seem to be descended from either Jekabs Grinbergs alias Akerfelds, born around 1870, Ernests Grinbergs alias Akerfelds, born around 1863, or Lata Grinbergs, who’s children are named after Ernests and Jekabs and although were baptized as Grinbergs, began using Akerfelds throughout their lifetime, as do their descendants. Jekabs, Ernests and Lata all hail from Lieldzelda estate in Aizpute aprinki, ~1862-1872. And while there are no records of any Akerfeldses in the area prior to that time, there are several Grinbergs families, not likely all related. Because the church records are missing from Embute parish 1853-1870, and Lieldzelda estate did not leave any revision lists behind as clues, I have not been able to prove Jekabs, Ernests and Lata are related, nor who there parents are, or where they came from, if their surname was originally Grinbergs or originally Akerfelds, nothing like that.

But now… my mother, a great granddaughter of Jekabs, and an Australian born great grandchild of Ernests have both completed autosomal DNA testing and… they’re a close cousin match! They share several large segments of DNA with an estimated most common recent ancestor at 3.5 generations from themselves. Jekabs and Ernests are the third generation, and their parents would be the fourth generation. So it seems pretty accurate to say that at least Jekabs and Ernests are brothers, just as suspected. Still no proof for Lata yet, although the coincidences seem to be too great to imagine she’s not related at least somehow.

The odd thing about the Lata connection though, is she was born in 1872, and I was able to find her baptism. Her mother is named as Ilze Grinbergs, but there is no father in the picture – Lata was born out of wedlock at Lieldzelda estate. Perhaps Lata is a half-sister to Jekabs and Ernests, maybe their father passed away at an early age and a widowed Ilze had Lata after with another man. Or maybe Lata, Jekabs and Ernests are all illegitimate children of a Ilze Grinbergs, and the “alias Akerfelds” they added to their name somehow reflects their father(s)?

Another curiosity is Ernests Grinbergs alias Akerfelds’ first wife was named Ieva Haase, the two were married and 9 months later had a baby girl named Anlize after her godmother, also named Anlize Grinbergs. Ieva died a few weeks after Anlize’s birth, and Anlize only lived to be about 3 months old. That same year Ernests Grinbergs alias Akerfelds remarried to Anlize Grinbergs, the godmother (who also later died in childbirth). Were Ernests and Anlize related?? Or does their marriage suggest that they were from different Grinbergs families and this is why Ernests chose to add an alias? Or were they from the same Grinbergs and this is the reason for the alias??

Definitely a victory to confirm a relation between Jekabs and Ernests, but still many more questions yet to be answered!!!

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, Week 23: Martins Akerfelds

Click HERE for last week’s ancestor.

My next “trend” I’d like to write about are NOT my direct ancestors, but are siblings of direct ancestors, with rather incredible stories.

Martins Akerfelds was born in 1902 near the village of Tomsk in Tomsk oblast, Siberia. His family – mother, father, two older brothers and a sister – had moved there a few years prior, from Latvia – the Kurland province of the Russian empire at the time. This Kurland-Siberia trip is a path quite a few Latvians took at this time in history – land was very cheap in Siberia, especially because the Russian empire was keen to grow the population and work the land, colonize the vast expanse to the east. Tomsk was a growing city at the time, with two universities, the Trans-Siberian Railway nearby, and the discovery of gold to boost the economy. It must have seemed like a golden opportunity at the time.

The opportunity was lost though, because Martins’ father Jekabs became ill shortly after his birth, and the family made a quick move back to their original home in Nikrace pagast, Latvia. Martins’ mother Ieva was pregnant with his little sister when his father Jekabs died in July 1904, apparently of kidney disease. Ieva gave birth soon after to a daughter she named Katte. The family lived at Cepli farm on the old Lieldzelda estate and Ieva remarried in 1908 to a fellow widower named Janis Blazgis. Martins attended Nikrace pamatskola (elementary school). He eventually married his half-brother’s widow, Anna Zveja sometime in the early 1930’s and lived at Jaunzemji farm which was owned by Anna’s parents. His brother (my great grandfather Janis) and sister lived on an adjacent farm with their large families. Martins himself became a stepfather to Anna’s three children, his half-nephews.

Martins was a young man when Latvia gained her first stint of independence. The Latvian people had more freedom and opportunity than ever before, new political parties were formed as Latvians were finally able to begin to choose their own types of government (as opposed to being ruled by German land barons or the Tzar). Having been an agricultural laborer his entire life, Martins became a supporter of a new political party called the Farmer’s Union, like many other Latvians, who were a very agricultural people. His became the owner of Jaunzemji after his parents-in-law passed away sometime before 1935 and he joined the local Aizsargi unit – a small, local defense police force. Martins and Anna added one more child to their family, a daughter born in 1937. Things seemed to be going well for Martins at this time.

This period of Latvian independence Martins grew up under came to a sad end when World War Two started. Soviet Russia occupied the country, and under their communist regime began to effectively squash any future attempts to regain sovereignty by Latvia. They did this by declaring Latvians in any position of power or wealth enemies of the state. This included all Latvian military personnel and political figures, right down to bank managers, large-scale land owners, the Aizsargi and people deemed in support of the Farmer’s Union political party. This was a dangerous time for these people, and who began to slowly be arrested or go missing.

The arrests and disappearances culminated on the night of June 14, 1941. In a well-organized and planned move, Soviets stormed the houses of a huge list of people, “enemies” all over Latvia. These arrestees were given a few minutes to pack some essentials, then taken to the local train station. Not just the men who had been deemed enemies, their entire families. Wives, children, infants, elderly. Women and children were herded into train cars designed for hauling cattle, and then men separated and put into different cattle cars. Family units were separated in this way, and many (if not, most) never saw their loved ones again. The trains were bound for Siberian gulags – strings of prison labour camps in the harsh Siberian landscape. The journey to prison was a harsh one. With many being unprepared for such long travel, the sick, weak, very young and very old were most at risk at this point. Many died on the way. The camps were notoriously brutal – disgusting cesspools of filth, long hours of labor every day, and little food or shelter. While the Nazis were committing gross atrocities against Jews in western Europe, another genocide was taking place in the east – a slow, sad and painful genocide that has somehow missed the history books.

Martins, Anna and their 4 year old daughter were arrested the night of June 14th, 1941. Anna and her young daughter were sent to the Krasnojarsk camp, and Martins went to Vyatlag camp in Kirov. Anna and her daughter were eventually released, separately in different years, mind you – 1946 and 1947. But Martins had tragically died of exhaustion and exposure in Vyatlag on May 17, 1943, aged 41 years old. Martins was coincidentally born and had died in Siberia.

I had assumed the worst for Anna and her daughter, 9 years old at her release (imagine a child growing up in a prison labor camp, then being released alone without her mother and no father) but recently I discovered some of their descendants, which shed a little happiness on this very sad story. Martins’ 9 year old daughter had made it back home to Latvia and had grown up, married and had three children of her own.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, Week 18: Janis Stromanis

Click HERE for last week’s ancestor.

Janis Stromanis was born around 1810, quite likely on Vecpils estate in rural Latvia. He was born before the time that Latvian peasant farmers acquired surnames of their own – this acquisition was a process carried out in the mid 1830’s in Latvia’s Kurzeme province where Janis lived. Scribes visited each house and recorded the surnames of those living there. The basic rules were that each father was to choose a name for himself and his children, and each child of a deceased father could choose his own name. There were other rules regarding what kind of names could be chosen, and there are many other subtleties to this as well – more reading on the naming process can be found HERE. Stromanis is a Latvian name derived from a German compound name – Strohmann. Stroh mann means – wait for it – straw man. Could this be derived from his line of work? Or perhaps some physical characteristic? Latvians chose surnames based on both, so it is anyone’s guess.

What I do know is that Janis’ father must have been alive at the time of the naming because while Janis married a woman named Lize and had two daughters with her in 1836 and 1838, other Stromanis family members served as their godparents, meaning he very likely had siblings. His daughters were born on Vecpils estate, at Gobzemji and Kapsi farms. Their eldest daughter, Made is my 3x great grandmother.

What makes Janis tough to find more information about is that he was married before having an official surname, and Janis isn’t exactly a stand out name – it is in fact the #1 most common male Latvian name. Lize is not uncommon either, although it is less common than Anna or Ieva. But there were tons of Janis and Lizes at the time, and the fact that both of their daughters were born on different farms also means they don’t seem to have strong ties to any farm in particular. The reason I was able to find their daughter Made’s baptism, which occurred before the acquisition of surnames is that her marriage record to last week’s ancestor’s son, Janis Sedols, is actually the most detailed marriage I’ve come across in regards to my own family so far. It stated that her parents were Janis and Lize and she was born at Gobzemji farm.

For now, Janis is as far back as I have gone with this line. I have not yet found his burial record, so I don’t know how long he lived or when and where he passed away, but that just means I have more work to do on Raduraksti’s wealth of church books!

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, Week 17: Kristaps Sedols

Click HERE for last week’s ancestor.

Kristaps Sedols was born around 1805 on Kazdangas estate in Kurzeme, either on Strebuki farm, or on a farm known as “Waijuppe” in German, which I can’t seem to locate on any map or decide what it’s Latvian name would be – although the “Uppe” at the end could be related to “Upe” which is Latvian for “river”. It’s possible the farm did not exist later on for some reason and that’s why I can’t find it. He is my 4x great grandfather, the grandfather of Ieva Sedols.

I believe I have found Kristaps’ baptismal record, although at this time in history, he did not have a surname yet. If it is indeed the right baptism, his parents were named Ermanis and Madde – but I am just not certain enough to say for sure yet. Ermanis and Madde would have been born around 1775, which is quite far back in Latvian Kurzeme standards.

Whether he was born there or moved there at some point, Kristaps lived at Strebuki farm at the time of his marriage to a young widow named Marija in 1837. Her husband had been named Mikelis Paukši, and he was definitely born at “Waijuppe” farm. Mikelis had died earlier in the year, and Marija, with a 7 year old daughter and 2 year old son married Kristaps at Valtaiki parish church. Marija was from Muizaraji farm on nearby Perbone estate and was roughly the same age as Kristaps. It might seem coarse to marry the same year your spouse dies in this day and age, but it was quite a good deal more common back then – Marija needed a breadwinner.

Kristaps and Marija had a son named Janis in 1838 at Strebuki farm, and this is my ancestor. I have not yet found a record of Kristaps death, to do so is quite a task. It is possible he had moved away from Valtaiki parish by the time he passed away, in which case I’d be blindly searching for a needle in a haystack in neighbour parish church books, with no clue as to what age he survived to past his son Janis’ conception. It appears as thought Kristaps is at the top of my Sedols line for now!

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, Week 11: Ieva Sedola

Click HERE for last week’s ancestor.

Ieva Sedola was my great, great grandmother. She was born January 31, 1869 to Janis Sedols and Made Stromane of Jaunzemji farm on Berghof estate (Kalnmuiza in Latvian, later known as Sieksate pagast). She was baptized February 9, 1869 at Valtaiki parish church. Her godparents are noted as Ieva Stromane, maiden, Lise Krumina and Mikelis Sedols, youth. In 1892, aged 23 she married Jekabs Grinbergs alias Akerfelds at neighboring Embutes parish church, BUT I have recently discovered that she had a bit of a past. She had given birth to an illegitimate child in 1890, a son whom she named Janis Sedols and baptized at Valtaiki church. She named Klavs Sedols and his wife Ede and Janis Sedols (quite possibly her little brother) as his godparents. Illegitimate children were not unheard of for this time and place, but were still somewhat of a scar on the reputation. There were laws about fathers paying support for their illegitimate children, but since no father at all is acknowledged on Janis’ baptism, it is more probable that Ieva was all on her own, wanting to keep the father anonymous and not receiving any sort of support.

Ieva and Jekabs had two children while living at Muizaraji farm on Lieldzelda estate. They had another son named Janis in 1898, but shortly after his birth the family left the parish, and no baptism for Janis exists at Embutes (or anywhere else in Latvia that I’ve searched). Ieva took her 4 young children, all under the age of 10, and made a very long trip with her husband a long way east to the city of Tomsk in Siberia where he sought (yet unknown) better employment opportunities. It is possible Jekabs either worked for the Trans-Siberian Railway (although the railway bypassed Tomsk to the south), or a gold mining operation (gold was discovered in the area around that time) or possibly, but quite unlikely that he was attending one of Tomsk’s two new colleges. It is even possible that he just went there to farm and settle, since land was given away to willing settlers in an effort to colonize Siberia at the time. Ieva had a fifth child in Tomsk in 1902 named Martins.

Tragedy struck Ieva and her blossoming family when Jekabs became ill after Martins’ birth. The family returned home to Lieldzelda estate, my guess is to be close to family. In July of 1904, Jekabs passed away at the young age of 34, and his church burial record states that his cause of death was kidney disease. Ieva was a young widow at 35 with 5 children and one on the way – she was pregnant with Jekabs’ last child. Daughter Katte Akerfelds was born that November. It must have been a tough few years for this family – Ieva, being pregnant or with a newborn and her older children would have had to work to earn their keep somewhere. In 1908 she married fellow widower Janis Blazgis, and so far I do not know of any children from this union, though it is possible.

Ieva’s oldest son, the illegitimate Janis Sedols married Anna Zveja and made Ieva a grandmother for the first time in 1914. Anna’s parents Janis and Jule Zveja owned Jaunzemji farm in Nikrace pagast, just a bit south of Lieldzelda and it’s entirely possible that they allowed Ieva and the rest of her children to come live with them when Janis married their daughter. Which would make sense, because Ieva’s younger son Janis Akerfelds and daughter Katte married a son and a daughter of the neighbouring farm’s owners, Indrikis and Jule Ziverts. Ieva, widowed for a second time after Janis Blazgis’ death sometime after 1918, moved in with them in 1924 to the Ziverts’ farm named Skrundenieki. The farmhouse was more than one hundred years old, lit by oil lamp and supplied with water from a spring. There were four rooms – and quickly they were filled with more grandchildren for Ieva as her children’s families flourished. Ieva would have enjoyed a simple, rural life surrounded by a large family at this time.

Ieva died sometime between the ages of 72 and 75 – She is present on the 1941 Latvian census, but was not with her family when they were forcibly evacuated to Germany in October of 1944. She was more than likely buried at Embutes parish’s cemetery, and one day I hope to find this out!

Baptismal Record: Kate Akerfelde

Akerfelds, KAtte - Baptism(Embūtes draudze, 1904, page 25, baptism #173)

173. Kate
Daughter of Ieva Hackerfeld, widow
Born at Lieldzelda estate, Čepli farm
Born November 30, 1904 (Julian Calendar) / December 13, 1904 (Gregorian Calendar)
Baptized December 20, 1904
Baptized at Embūtes parish
Baptized by Pastor K. Lundberg
Godparents: Adams Pogis