The Kurši

I’ve spent a few weeks digging and digging in old church records from the Priekule – Liepaja – Durbe area looking for records of my Dzerve/Bitners/Ziverts family. More specifically, a baptism for my 2x great grandfather Indrikis Ziverts, a marriage for his parents – Klavs and an unknown mother, or baptisms for either a Jukums Dzerve or a Lavize Bitnere. I’ve been searching revision lists for them too, but to no avail. The search continues!

I did however, make a few small discoveries, thanks to some new fuel put on my fire by a new DNA match with family from the Grazmda area – who, almost amazingly to me, does not match at all with my other DNA match with ancestry in this tiny, rural area. I already knew that the majority of people in this region received surnames based on the farms they lived on – almost exclusively so, aside from a few families with Slavic and Germanic surnames. Bitners, Dzerve and Ziverts are no different, though I had previously theorized that Ziverts and Bitners could be my link to some Baltic German background. Bitneri farm exists to this day in Grobinas aprinki, there are plenty of Dzerve farms in the area, and as for Ziverts – there is a Ziverti farm near the coast, closer to Liepaja, and there is Kalnaziverti farm in Paplaka village.

The fact that I have two DNA matches from the same tiny group of villages who both match me but not each other tells me something – I likely have at least two separate family lines deeply rooted in the area. This excited me, because so far, I had no “family farm” to visit, should I ever make my way to Latvia one day. All my families seem to have moved around a good deal, and I wasn’t really sure if I could associate my roots with any one clear historical group of people from any part of Latvia just yet. But… I think it’s safe to say… some of my ancestors were ancient Curonians.

You can read all about the ancient Curonians with an easy Google search. They are a pretty exciting bunch to be related to!


Naming Illegitimate Children

I’ve been reading a little bit about illegitimate children, cross-religion marriages and the rules that came along regarding them. A great resource – IN ENGLISH! – to read is Bruno Martuzan’s site Roots-Saknes.

There’s lots of interesting facts there – including child support issues! But the one rule that struck me as being relevant for my research was the rules about surnames for illegitimate children. Illegitimate children took the surname of their mother, OR could invent a new one for themselves, so long as it didn’t coincide with a known noble family name. An interesting example given on Roots-Saknes is Baron von Osten-Sacken, who coincidentally owned some estate near Lieldzelda, and who’s family married in to the von Simolins baronial family of Lieldzelda. He took responsibility for one of his illegitimate children and gave him the surname Ostenek – not quite his own name, but definitely a nod to his biological roots.

Interesting, right? it’s definitely possible that the Akerfelds children of Ilze Grinberga were born and baptized with their mother’s surname – Grinbergs – and as they grew older, decided on the surname Akerfelds, which is why they are “alias Akerfelds”. This could explain the loose spelling habits of pastors recording the Akerfelds part of the name, since it would have been phonetic, and invented…

There are just two problems with this theory – 1. There’s an “Eichenfeld” family at Lieldzelda, as early as 1845, basically at the beginning of surnames in the area. And 2. Åkerfelt is a Swedish noble family that was living in Estonia, and likely would have been known to Latvians.

Some other less likely theories on the origins of the name right now:

-Ackerfeld/Akerfeld is the name of a Polish Jewish family. It seems the Polish Akerfeld family is concentrated in southern Poland – relatively far from Latvia, but could lend some weight to the I-P37 haplogroup case and our “sticky” southern matches.

-Akerfeldts are in Finland, as famously seen in Mikael Akerfeldt. The von Simolins family also branched out to Turku, Finland. But this is a stretch, in my opinion…

My 3x Great Grandmother: Ilze Grinberga

The newest test results in my emerging Akerfelds Surname Study are in! Lata Grinberga was indeed a full sister of my 2x great grandfather Jekabs Akerfelds and his recently confirmed brother Ernests, confirming a theory I’ve had for almost a decade!


Lata was born in July 1872 to unwed “madchen” or maiden Ilze Grinberga at Gruzenieki farm, Lieldzelda estate. Godparents were Lata Kristhold, Margrieta Ehrlich and her son Ernests Ehrlich.

Lata Grinberga

Because it specifies that Ilze was never married, it’s safe to say she was unmarried as well for the earlier births of the 4 Akerfelds men who’s baptismal records are lost in the church book gap at Embute.

Ilze went on to have one last daughter, a sixth child. Liba Grinbergs, born March 1878 at Padambji farm at Lieldzelda. Her godparents were Lata Ehrlich, Ilze Veidemane and Karline Ehrlich.

Liba Grinbergs

Ilze herself was born in 1842 with a twin sister Karline at Klavi farm, Dinsdurbe estate, not far from Lieldzelda. Her parents were Jekabs Grinbergs and his wife Jule (though her nam might also be Ilze, this might be a typo), godparents Karl Jankowsky, his daughter Ilze, and Lize Linke.


Lata’s great grandson’s DNA results also yielded a surprising amount of Jewish cousin matches. Ernests Akerfelds’ great grandson’s DNA test also had significant matches to Ashkenazim, but I had written it off as another family line, since there are only a handful of Jewish ties amongst mine, my mother’s and her second cousin’s results. But as I was poking around possible Jewish links, I noticed something… Some of the earliest surnames that appear in Lutheran churchbooks from Embute from Lieldzelda estate are Treiguts, Ehrlichs, Gutmans, Rozentals. Latvian names of German background, at first glance, but… I realized that in the nearby town of Aizpute, with a large Jewish community since the 1500’s, had Jewish families recorded with surnames Erlich, Guthmann, Traugott, Rosenthal. Greenberg…

Is the Grinbergs family descended from Jews who converted to Lutheranism? Or was the mystery father, Ilze’s long time partner, perhaps Jewish, and this is why they never married?? One commonality between the two baptisms of Ilze’s children is their Ehrlich godparents… this could be because they were the heads of the farms Ilze lived on. Or… maybe they were related to the father?

The direct Akerfelds male line being I-P37 points in a different direction than Ashkenazim, and could still point the finger at the family who owned Lieldzelda estate, but you never know what women married in to the line along the way…

More questions, as usual! A 150 year old paternity mystery to solve… and I am determined to do so!

Lāčplēša Diena

Although I am no doubt fairly aware of history and the importance of the date November 11, somehow WWI never felt very personal for me. Of course, I was always grateful for the sacrifices that were made, but I didn’t feel personally connected to those events. WWII yes, since that’s the reason my Latvian family came to Canada and I even exist today. But WWI seemed like less of a big deal somehow. No one in my family that was here in Canada fought in the war, and my Latvian family, although they had to flee their homes for a few years, didn’t seem like they had it too bad.

Last week though, I stumbled upon a page that made me reconsider these sentiments. I am only just in the beginning stages of learning about this, but I found my great grandfather’s name in a list of those who served with the Latvian Riflemen (Latviešu Strēlnieki), who were aligned with the Russian army – being that Latvia had not yet gained independence from Russia. The notes I found are all from 1917, which was a turning point for Russia in the war – as they and their allies began to emerge victorious, Russia was descending into revolution at the hands of the Bolsheviks. It’s a pretty messy point in Latvian history because Latvia too had it’s own battle going on for independence.

My great grandfather Janis Akerfelds would have been 18 years old when he is first mentioned in this database – August 20, 1917. He could have been conscripted, or perhaps he joined on his own accord. He was first in the 2nd Riga Strēlnieku Pulks, then transferred to the Siberian army corps headquarters a few months later.

I am only just beginning to understand his role in these complicated events, but I thought it was quite fitting that I discovered this tidbit a week away from November 11. Latvians also celebrate November 11, however it is in remembrance of not the end of WWI, but for the victory a year later resulting in Latvia’s first independence. Latvia had declared their independence at the end of WWI, but still struggled against dominating powers from Russia and Germany until 1920. It is called Lāčplēša diena in honor of a Latvian folk hero who had the strength (and ears) of a bear. You can read more about it if you click the link. In the mean time… I guess I have some reading to do in order to fully understand Janis’ time in the military.

What was WWI like for Latvians? Check out Antra Celmina’s blog, where she has translated a family member’s diary from that complicated time in a series of posts – it is quite compelling.

AKERFELDS Jānis Jēkaba d. – 2.Rīgas LSP 2.rotas strēlnieks 1917.20.08. no LSRP iedalīts pulkā, 1917.17.10. piekomandēts 2.Sibīrijas armijas korpusa štābam ar uzdevumu atvieglot krievu karavīru kontaktus at vietējiem iedzīvotājiem, noņemts no pulka apgādes, 1917.20.11. ar pavēli ieskaitīts atpakaļ pulkā (LVA 45-1-19)


With some new DNA tests in the works, I thought it would be good to catch up on the background research of the Akerfelds family. All Latvian Akerfeldses have been traced back to a little estate called Lieldzelda in southwest Kurzeme. “Lieldzelda”, known as Gross Dselden in German, means “Big Dzelda” and indeed, there was also a Mazdzelda (Klein Dselden) or “Small Dzelda” just to the west (Although today, it seems both have been combined and there is a little town called simply Dzelda). Here’s the area as mapped out in the 1930’s, with some key farms to the Akerfeldses dotted in red:


Lieldzelda estate and it’s manor house were owned by the von Simolin family, members of whom had lived there since before conventional genealogical records were kept. They actually owned several estates in the area, including Brinkenhof where the farm Skrundenieki was – the farm my grandfather was born on. The current baron at the time even signed the paperwork for the sale of the farm to my great great uncle Arturs Ziverts.

The von Simolins were actually a branch of an old ennobled Hungarian family, the Bathory family. Several members of this family held important positions of power throughout history in Eastern Europe (modern Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Poland, etc). And, just in time for Halloween, this family produced an infamously dark figure in history – Elizabeth Bathory, otherwise known as the Guinness World Record holder for most prolific female murderer, who is sometimes considered to be the influence on which the story of Count Dracula is based upon (along with Vlad of Wallachia) due to her habit of bathing in the blood of virgins to maintain her youthful appearance.

There’s a secondary reason I wanted to post about the von Simolins – depending on the results of one of the latest Akerfelds DNA results, I should be able to tell if the mother of the known brothers and sisters from whom us Akerfeldses descend was indeed an unmarried woman named Ilze Grinberga. If she IS… then the mystery father is up for debate – but it’s not uncommon for barons or nobility to have fathered illegitimate children with peasants from their estates. Keeping in mind our Akerfelds Y haplogroup, I-P37 – most common around Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, etc, combined with my “sticky” southern European matches… do you see where I’m going? It’s far-fetched for now, but it’s something to keep in mind!

I wonder if I could find any living descendants of the von Simolins who might be willing to take a DNA test…

A DNA Surname Study Coming Together

A descendant of Lata Grinberga has volunteered to take an autosomal DNA test. This could be huge for my quest to break through a brick wall of missing records on my Akerfelds family line. We’ve got an impressive little group of testers representing this group from rural Nikrace, Latvia so far – 3 descendants of Jekabs Akerfelds (including myself), 1 from his older brother Ernests (maybe 1 more on the way) and now, maybe the key to more information – potential sister of Ernests and Jekabs, Lata Grinberga.

What makes Lata so special is that there is a gap in church records at Embute between 1854 and 1869 – both my great great grandfather Jekabs and his brother Ernests were born in that time period, so the typical records I’d have used to identify their parents (baptisms) are not available. They also happened to live at an estate (Lieldzelda) for which no revision lists are available at Raduraksti.. that would have been my second choice for record. However… Lata was born in 1872, and I have found her baptism.

The case for Lata being a sister to Ernests and Jekabs is strong. She had 3 illegitimate children  and named them after Ernests, Jekabs, and Ernests’ second wife Anlize. She lived near the brothers, first on the same estate – Lieldzelda, but moving northward to Skrunda when Ernests also made a similar move (Jekabs’ family moved to a Latvian colony in Siberia at this time). She was baptized as Lata Grinbergs, but her children (at least her sons – her daughter married and took her husband’s surname) adopted the surname Akerfelds, or Grinbergs alias Akerfelds, just like Ernests and Jekabs.

What’s extra interesting is that Lata, being mother to 3 illegitimate children, was also born out of wedlock. She was born in July of 1872 to an unmarried woman named Ilze Grinberga at Gruzenieki farm at Lieldzelda. There’s not a ton of information about her in the baptism, but her godparents were Lata Kristhold, Margrieta Ehrlich and her son Ernests Ehrlich. Her mother Ilze was born in 1843 at Dinsdurbe, a neighbouring estate to Lieldzelda, and she was a twin – sister Karline was born the same day.

SO the results of Lata’s great grandson’s DNA test should be very telling. If Lata was a full sister to Ernests and Jekabs, our new tester should appear as a 3rd cousin to our other 3 Akerfelds testers (3rdcousin, once removed for me, the fourth tester). It’s also a possibility that maybe, since she was illegitimate, she had a different father than Ernests and Jekabs and our new tester would be a half 3rdcousin. And of course, it could turn out that Lata is not biologically related at all, maybe just a distant Grinbergs cousin who decided to jump on the “alias Akerfelds” bandwagon.

Whatever the result, it will surely bring about more questions. Who is the mystery father? If she is a full sister to Ernests and Jekabs, why did their father never marry their mother despite having 3 children with her? Was his surname Akerfelds? Where was he from? Was he perhaps a different religion than Ilze Grinbergs and that’s why they didn’t marry? A soldier maybe, often away? Was he perhaps a baron or an estate owner, or an affiliate of one who would visit Lieldzelda/Dinsdurbe?

The DNA test results will not be able to answer those questions for me… but it will offer some very good clues, a couple more new footholds to launch new little investigations and possibilities.Presentation1Akk

My Personal Autosomal DNA Results

Just two weeks shy of a year after receiving the results of my first foray into DNA – my mother’s autosomal test, I received the results of my own autosomal test recently. Almost surprisingly, results were pretty much as expected with regards to my paternal side (my father is an adoptee, I blog about my research on that side of my family HERE). And of course, there is nothing new to report on my Latvian family, since I didn’t receive any extra genes that my mother did not. There are, though, a few tidbits to be gleaned from these results.

The first thing that caught my attention was that many of my mother’s DNA matches with deep Latvian roots did not make the cut when I received 50% of her DNA. Most of her matches who were predicted to be closer matches to her based on total shared cM and segments rather than longest solid block of shared DNA have deep Latvian farmer roots, and now I have to guess at an interpretation of that: either a) by chance I didn’t get handed down those particularly Latvian genes, or b) those matches to my mother are predicted to be closer than they really are due to being from a relatively small country/population and likely sharing multiple ancestors further back in time than DNA can “see”. The second thing that made me scratch my head was that, the group I call “my mother’s southern European sticky genes” did pass to me. A Hungarian, Romanian, Croatian, Slovenian, Austrian… There is a pileup on my mother’s 3rd chromosome of people who’s roots are decidedly un-Baltic, and it seems like that segment was passed to me relatively unbroken.

Sticky 3rd

An example of 5 of my “southern” DNA matches on that “sticky” 3rd chromosome.

Which is also interesting because I inherited a fairly large chunk of unbroken Akerfelds DNA on the 7th chromosome also from my mother relatively unbroken. I know this because we also share it with my mother’s third cousin, an Akerfelds 3rd cousin (he genealogically shares only the furthest back set of Akerfelds great grandparents I have found so far with us, so any DNA shared between us is from that couple). The Akerfelds male Y-DNA line is I-P37, which also carries a southern European/Balkan hint. Are both these two segments “strong” or “sticky” genes, by chance passed down many generations and indicative of a northward migration at an earlier point in history?

Akerfelds -Kris

Strong Akerfelds segment on the 7th chromosome. My mother is represented by the orange, me in the blue and my 2nd cousin is green. This chart is shown from our 3rd cousin’s “point of view”, so to say. Myself, my mother, and our 2nd cousin are all his 3rd cousins (I am 1x removed) along the Akerfelds line, meaning any highlighted spots here in any colour represent genes from the parents of Jekabs and Ernests Akerfelds.

Another interesting group of genes that were strong enough to make it to me belong to a defined group of Finns, and another too seems to be a chunk of Polish. This is all well and good and interesting but… I haven’t figured out how this is helpful yet, as all known genealogy is pretty darn Latvian so far!

Thankfully I do have some Latvian DNA matches as well, and I am working on their family trees so that I might find our shared ancestors!