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…

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!

Y4460 Positive

It was suggested after testing my mother’s 3rd cousin’s Y DNA and receiving a haplogroup designation of I-P37 that I test some single SNPs to further categorize our results into more detailed subclades.
First I tested S17250, which grouped us in amongst males possibly descended from the Venedes/Wends/Weneci/Vistula Veneti people. Next it was suggested to me that I test SNP Y4460. Well, I did, and the results just came in as positive for this mutation. This result is consistent with the theory of the project administrator who suggested the Venedes as our ethnic origin. It’s put us into a small subclade that includes one other Latvian male line, one that originated in Riga in the late 1600’s and migrated to Sweden from there.
A few things intrigue me about this – one, there’s that Sweden theory I had in the beginning regarding our origin and the name Akerfelds/Akerfeldt. And two, the surname of the other male line is Sternfelt. I know it’s a longshot, but it is interesting that it’s a “-felt” name, just like Akerfelds. This Sternfelt line is not closely related to ours, since it’s modern day descendant does not show as a cousin autosomally or as a Y DNA match, but they might have shared a male ancestor many hundreds, even thousands of years ago. What’s interesting is the old territory in Latvia populated by Weneci peoples, is pretty much bang on where our Akerfelds have traced back to – Nikrace pagast – and a bit east/south. It seems like this subclade is both foreign and exotic but also deeply Latvian.

To be continued…

Akerfelds Y Haplogroup: I-P37

My mother’s 3rd cousin’s Y DNA test placed him (and therefore the Akerfelds male line) in haplogroup I, the oldest haplogroup originating in Europe. Specifically the I-P37 branch, most commonly found in South Eastern Europe – Croatia, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Romania, etc. This I found fairly interesting. The 3rd cousin’s Y DNA cousin matches span a huge expanse in Europe, with the closest being a man from Omsk, Russia. Others are scattered from Italy to Ukraine, Poland to Bulgaria. Intrigued, I joined several Y DNA projects within FamilyTreeDNA’s website. Projects are run by project administrators who are typically researchers of a certain geographical area, haplogroup or surname with which they have a special interest. Many of them are very knowledgeable and aside from being able to help you understand your results, when you join a project you also contribute your results for comparison amongst other project members which can help researchers learn more about the haplogroup, surname, or area in general. They are able to see patterns in Y DNA results and group members together accordingly, another way to learn more about subclades and mutations etc.

Two of the projects I’ve joined have been especially helpful so far – the I2a Haplogroup project and the Baltic Sea project. After initial testing was completed (Y37 only, just to try), it was suggested that I could further categorize the Akerfelds line into a more detailed subclade by testing single SNP S17250. Haplogroups have these clades and subclades, which are basically like branches of a tree, sects of people who grouped together and branched off the main line of their original group to mutate a certain way separately. In our case, I is the main haplogroup, but through time it split up off into other directions with unique mutations, much like a tree . We started with I, then split off with I-P37, then we tested negative for S17250 which threw us into another subclade.

At this level of testing, I received an email from a project administrator suggesting that the patterns in our Y DNA together with the negative result for S17250 could mean that our male ancestral line traces back to the Venedes, Vistula Veneti, Weneci, Wends, a smaller tribe that lived within the land that is now Latvia between the 12th and 16th centuries. The cities of Cesis (German: Wenden) and Ventspils (German: Windau) as well as the river Venta are named for these people. They also have a claim in the creation of the Latvian flag. They are actually a bit mysterious, but are thought to have originated south, on the Adriatic sea, moving up along the Amber Road to the Baltic, around the river Vistula. This could help explain all the southern matches, anyway!

Comparing Cousins

Part of my research I have been slacking on posting about is my ongoing adventure with DNA testing. In addition to my mother’s autosomal testing, her third cousin has completed autosomal and Y DNA testing now (including two separate single SNP tests, S17250 and Y4460), as well as a second cousin along the Akerfelds line and now myself! I recently took an autosomal test and am excitedly awaiting the results.

The autosomal tests between the 3 cousins so far definitely show them as being related, within the correct estimated ranges of shared DNA for 2nd and 3rd cousins. Interestingly, the 2nd cousin is sort of a “double cousin” to my mother, as her grandparents (Janis and Anna Akerfelds) are brother and sister to his grandparents (Arturs and Katte Ziverts), meaning they share 4/8 great grandparents, while 2nd cousins usually share 2/8. This means they should have even more DNA in common, and they are indeed in the higher range of values for a second cousin relationship. What else is interesting is my mother and her 2nd cousin share more total DNA, across many more smaller segments, while my mother and her 3rd cousin (he shares 2/16 great great grandparents) share a much longer unbroken segment (57cM). My interpretation of that is that longer segments shared between two people indicate a strong inheritance from less people while a greater number of smaller segments shows two people share many of the same more recent ancestors – this could either mean two people are closer cousins and therefore share more ancestral lines OR they may be more distant cousins along several different family lines without knowing it.

Having these other tests to compare known relationships to is handy when looking at unknown cousin matches. Size and amount of DNA segments can be compared to interpret genetic distance, or to compare other unknown matches and where they share DNA segments – chances are good a shared segment amongst two known cousins and a third unknown could all come from the same ancestor, same family line. The 3rd cousin only shares one known family line with my mother and the 2nd cousin – Akerfelds, while my mother and her 2nd cousin share Akerfelds, Ziverts, Dzerve and Bitners – her entire paternal side and his entire maternal side (which is his only Latvian side, his father is a different ethnicity, making it even easier because this tidbit means that ANY Latvian cousin matches he has is from a line he shares with my mother).


Chromosome browser for my mother and the two cousins mentioned above. Orange is the 2nd cousin while blue is the 3rd cousin. Note the long matching segment on chromosome 7 shared with the 3rd cousin, and the multiple smaller segments shared with the 2nd.

Potential Jewish Connection

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!!!