The Dzerves

Jule Dzerve's baptismal record in the Gramzdas Lutheran church book

Born December 29, 1877 and baptized January 6  1878, No.2: Dzenija Jule Ida, daughter of Purmsati estate jungen Jukums Dzerve and his wife Lavize. Baptized by pastor Stegmann at Gramzdas church. Witnesses: widow Jule Dzerve, maiden Lize Muceniece, and jungen Janis Hilsen.

Jule Dzerve was my 2x great grandmother. Her parents were Jukums Dzerve and Lawise Bittner, who were married in Gramzdas draudze that same year. They lived at Purmsati estate, one that had a German baron who was particularily disliked by his peasants, wo complained that he taxed them too harshly. Surnames amongst the peasants were only used loosely even into the 1850’s. There is a small gap in records at Grazmda from 1854-1861, and this is the time I believe both Jukums and Lavize were born, so unfortauntely I have not found their parents names yet. Dzerve is a name associated with Purmsati estate since the beginning of surnames, while Bitners I believe has roots at nearby Gavieze estate.

No. 12, March 1877 Jukums Dzerve married Lavize Bitnere


Old Photo: Karlis’ Aviation Wings

Not being a military buff in the least, I first looked past the hints and tips to Karlis’ military story. Looking harder for clues, I noticed his insignia in the below picture, and set out to learn what these meant.

The top one is an eagle, typically used  in many different countries for Air Force units. My search first upturned a plethora of German Nazi Luftwaffe eagle insignia, the same eagle, but with a swastika in it’s grasp, facing the opposite direction. But Karlis’ eagle doesn’t appear to be holding a swastika. With a little more digging I came across THIS website. So he was part of the Latvian Navy! I guess that explains his uniform! A naval aviator.

The second insignia pictured up there turned up THIS website.

A sniper as well! If this picture truly was taken in 1934, he was only 20 years old. Again, not much of a military buff myself, but these are some fairly exciting puzzle pieces!
Note that his picture was taken at K. Levinson’s photo studio in Liepaja. There was a large naval base at Liepaja.
A LINK to a site devoted to historic Latvian aviation.

Lockheed Super Constellation DALID


The plane on which my grandfather Arvids travelled to Canada was a Lockheed L-1049G Super Constellation called D-ALID. Deutsche Lufthansa Aktiengesellschaft (Lufthansa – still a large European company today) flight no. 420/25 departed Frankfurt, Germany on January 25, 1957, crossed the Atlantic and landed in New York (LaGuardia?) How was he able to take a plane? Surely this was not typical of DP’s at the time. I’d really like to find out how and why this came to be at some point.
Here is the Passenger List, found with
“TRWOV” means “Transfer without VISA”. “YUL” is the Montreal airport code. He is the only person on a relatively small passenger list bound for Montreal. His connecting flight from New York to Montreal appears to have been flight 323/26.

Resource: Augsburg Stadtarchiv

Another resource I have tapped into recently has been the Augsburg State Archives in Germany. Before I contacted the archives, I already knew that my grandfather Arvids’ eldest brother Arturs Akerfelds had, during their time as refugees in Allied-occupied Germany, fallen in love and married a native German girl named Luise Gottle. When the time came for his family to be resettled in the US, he applied for resettlement as well but was denied (likely due to Luise not being a displaced person).
I had always wondered what had happened to Arturs, especially since he was recorded as being an “invalid” after losing his right hand in some kind of factory accident during his time in forced labour by the Germans at Bad Rotenfels. But apparently he joined the German workforce in 1951.
I wrote to the Augsburg archives and received Arturs and Luise’s marriage information, Arturs’ death date, and the birthdates and names of their 3 children. For tracking purposes, I was lucky that Arturs remained in Augsburg for the rest of his life, so he was relatively easy to find.
Note that the archives charged me 20.00 EU to send me this information, so be prepared to pay a fee if you ask for records from an archives!

Resource: Raduraksti’s Church Books

Raduraksti is a crucial resource, the Holy Grail of Latvian genealogy, should you wish to research your family tree. Hosted by the Latvian State Historical Archives, it contains multiple types of records, and more are being added all the time. They are mostly digitized copies of original documents. The documents I use more than any other are the church books – baznicas gramatas.

The church books are typically birth/baptism, marriage and death/burial (BMD) records from churches all over Latvia. They are organized by religion, then parish. The most common religion in Latvia, Lutheran church books records are in German and Russian, depending on the time period. German is close enough to Latvian to understand names, and the Russian text usually has first names and surnames spelled out in German as well. The church books only have records up until 1909, and it is important to note that there are gaps in their coverage, as some books have been lost or destroyed.

Records you find on Raduraksti may be hard to understand for the English-as-an-only-language researcher such as myself, since are in old-German script, Russian Cyrillic, Russian translations of German translations of Latvian names and places, etc.
Here’s an excellent guide to beginning to understand these records:

The International Tracing Service (ITS)

The International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen, Germany is intended to serve the victims of Nazi persecution and their families with information regarding their loved ones they may have lost contact with. Their document collection is hugely extensive, containing everything from International Refugee Organization Registration forms, to Displaced Persons cards, to birth certificates and even personal effects of some individuals. I cannot stress enough how huge their collection is.

I first wrote to the ITS in 2009. I wasn’t sure what I might receive, but I knew that my family members had spent time in DP camps as refugees. I figured they might be able to at least tell me which camps they had resided at, thus tracing their journey from Latvia to the Americas. It took a few months but when I finally received a package rom them in the mail, it contained a huge treasure trove of scanned copies of documents straight from 1940’s-1950’s Europe, including some pictures which suddenly brought a very human aspect to the names, places and dates I had been studying. DP Cards, ID Cards, Refugee Organization application forms detailing, in their own words, their plight from Latvia, past residences, personal employment and education histories… So much information. To this day I am still revisiting to these documents and stumbling upon new facts that either I didn’t understand before or ignorantly disregarded as unimportant.

Along the way on my quest for answers, I have spoken to (internet-speak, anyways!) many other Latvian genealogy or history enthusiasts willing to share some conversation with me. One who has helped me the most so far, is a man named George Jaunzemis, aka Peter Thomas. After reading a post of mine on a Latvian forum in late 2008, he responded to me, pointing out my errors in assumptions about my family’s military past. In our multiple emails back and forth since then, he offered suggestions and information regarding my Latvian families and in the process, bit by bit recounted his tale to me which was and the reason he was so interested in Latvian history. After receiving my package from the ITS, I questioned why he hadn’t written to them yet, in his search (which was a little less straight-forward than mine). He wasn’t sure that they would be able to help him with his complicated situation, but he did write to them at that point. He was presented by the ITS with a boatload of questions upfront, instead of just a document package like myself. Since his information did not fit neatly onto the form that the ITS requests you fill out, he wrote a letter explaining his situation to them, and this is what they found made my jaw drop to the floor.

The moral of the story? If you are trying to find relatives who were in a displaced persons camp after WWII, contact the ITS!!