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Interpreting Church Records

Interpreting Church Records

Posted: 1042995537000
Classification: Query
I have been examining church book entries and in some instances have come across abbreviations (of Latvian terms) which I cannot translate. Perhaps someone here can be of assistance.

First, all examples are baptism records from 1800-1810. Some are obvious, such as:

1) Pahlana Reina un Mahres d. Mikkel = Reina Pahlana and Mahres baptised a son named Mikkel.

Often, another person is included. For example:

2) Uldrika Johrga k. Willuma un Lihjes d. Mahrtin.

3) Wehwera Jahna d. Andreja un Ilses d. Kahrls

4) Drumpes Kristha jn. Jahna un Trihnes m. Madde

For #2 and #3, I know that k. abbreviates kalps, and d abbreviates de'ls.

My tentative interpretation of #2 is that Johrga Uldrika is the servant of Willuma, and that he (Johrga) and Lihjes baptised a son Mahrtin. Would this interpretation be correct?

For #4, I have not determined the word represented by 'jn'. and need to learn what this represents. I considered jaunietis or jauneklis but then what meaning would that have in the record?

Finally, other abbreviations seen are 'br.' and 'ub.' The first could be bra'lis, but ub.?

I would appreciate any comments or assistance.
Best regards,
Dennis Nehen

Re: Interpreting Church Records

Elizabete (View posts)
Posted: 1043313368000
Classification: Query
Dennis, I'm not sure that I can help with your specific questions, but can only suggest a possibility -- which ultimately is a long shot, since I'm basing it on secular rather than religious records -- for one of your questions.

You asked: "Finally, other abbreviations seen are 'br.' and 'ub.' The first could be bra'lis, but ub.?"

On census records from the estate of Ozolmuiz'a (near the city of Jelgava) in the Duchy of Courland for the 18th and early 19th centuries, the word 'ubags' (beggar) is used to describe someone who, because of a physical disability or being of an advanced age and without a family to support him, is no longer capable of making a living for himself. Whether or not the ub. abbreviation equals 'ubags' is something I couldn't say definitively.

But, I'm *very* curious about which province and which church's records you are examining. The given names seem as though they come from the Livonian province (which in Latvian is called Vidzeme). Would you care to post more specific information about the area ('pagasts' -- county/shire/parish) that you're researching?

Thank you! And my best to you,


Re: Interpreting Church Records

Posted: 1043359443000
Classification: Query
Hello Elizabete;

Thanks for your reply. Since my post, I have looked further back in the records and found a few instances where the abbreviated terms I referred to were spelled out in full. I realize the spelling used in 1810 is not correct by today's rules. Here are the terms spelled exactly as they appeared:

ub. = is actually 'eeb.'; Written in full, I found both 'eebuweets' and 'eebuweetcha'.
br. = brahta.
jn. = jnohta.

For jnohta, I think it is related to 'znots' = son-in=law; I found the 'j' sometimes can be changed to 'z' and you arrive at something close to the modern spelling.

So then, if we see the baptism record "Drumpes Kristha jn. Jahna un Trihnes m. Madde", would it mean that Kristha Drumpes (the father) is the son-in-law of Jahna, the mother was Trihnes, and the child Madde?

You asked where the records were from - they come from Daudzeva and Zalve - at that time in Courland.

I would welcome any further insights on 'brahta' and 'eeubweets'.

Dennis Nehen

Re: Interpreting Church Records

Elizabete Rutens (View posts)
Posted: 1043450789000
Classification: Query
Hello Dennis,

I think that you’re running into the same kind of problems deciphering Gothic script that I had a couple years ago when I first started examining census records from previous centuries for Ozolmuiz’a. (I’m working on a 18th and 19th century history of that particular estate.) I work with a researcher from the Latvian State Historical Archive who provided me with a ‘cheat sheet’ that shows all variations of hand-written Old German letters, which has been extremely helpful. I would be happy to either snail mail or fax you a copy of it, if you contact me privately. Please click on my name and you’ll see my e-address.

What type of a document are you examining? Is it a xerox (or microfiche) of a church record? If so, out of curiosity which church is it for? Alternatively, is it a different type of record entirely?

I ask because I’m a little surprised that you appear to be finding *Latvian* words for records from the first decade of the 19th century. Although my researcher is dealing with church records and I with secular ones, I would have expected Latvian given names and house names phonetically spelled - -and at times fantastically mis-spelled :) - - to be in German, as well as any other comments or descriptions that might have been recorded . But, there are so very many variations (and exceptions to non-existent rules) for record keeping during that time period that very little would outright astonish me. :) In any case, assuming that you read Latvian, you might find useful an article on Lett orthography at:

If the people in this record lived in the countryside of Daudzeva and Zalve, then even if they were free landholders as opposed to serfs, I nonetheless wouldn’t assume that a surname, if they even had one, would appear on secular or religious records for 1810. In the Duchy of Courland, surnames for official records only began to appear consistently after 1835 and there certainly are instances where church records didn’t record them even later into the 19th century. I’d be inclined to think that Wehwera, for example, is the name of the farmstead, and now would be spelled Ve’veri.

I don’t feel comfortable attempting to interpret the specific line items and abbreviations that you listed, since they’re not consistent with what I would expect to see in baptismal records. However, you asked about 'brahta.' I think you’re right that this is the possessive form (bra’l’a) of ‘bra’lis’ or in English, brother. This is where the ‘cheat sheet’ would come in handy, because the gothic letter ‘l’ *does* resemble our contemporary letter ‘t.’

As for ‘eebuweets,’ I believe this in modern orthography would be ‘iebu’vietis,’ which is a term used to describe landless serfs, who in exchange for their labor were given a patch of land to grow their own sustenance and may have lived in one of the buildings of the farmstead (as opposed to the farmhouse itself) or might have constructed a shack to live in. In the feudal pecking order, this is a rung below being a farmhand (kalps).

All the best,


Re: Interpreting Church Records

Bruno Martuzans (View posts)
Posted: 1043593372000
Classification: Query
Dear Dennis,

It seems that you are going to make some serious mistakes in your investigations, therefore I put aside my other activities and decided to write some words about church records and Latvian language of 1810s. It took some time to compile the text and meanwhile Elizabete has solved some problems, so I have edited the initial text though not in full extent, some redundancy could be found.

From your interpretation of texts I am not sure that you remember that in the 1810s the Latvian peasants were serfs, as the rule had no hereditary family names and were recognized by their first names and the farms they lived in. The serfdom was abolished in Kurland in 1817 and the naming was going on there even much later in 1835. For this reason the church books written before this time are not very helpful for genealogical research, because the individuals can not be certainly identified, though some reasonable guesses could be made, however. If you are working with CDs in a FHC of Mormons, as I suppose, it would be a good idea to find the church book which contained the participants of Holy Communions for this perish. This book should present lists of inhabitants of a farm by their family relations. Some Pastors even added later the family names in the records of this book made before the naming. Unfortunately, these books were lost much more frequently than the birth records, maybe because they had less legal importance later compared with birth (baptism) records.

So in the case which you think is quite obvious

Pahlana Reina un Mahres d. Mikkel

you would better not write:

Reina Pahlana and Mahres baptised a son named Mikkel

like a surname and the first name but rather:

Reinis and Mahre from Pahlans (or Pahlan) farm baptised a son named Mikkel

just to avoid some possible misunderstanding. As in any farm a lot of people lived (30 persons was not many), so to distinguish eventual individuals of the same name, additional information was needed. This is why in your samples some family relations and social status are mentioned.

The main person in a farm was the farmhost. He was a serf too, but he had relatively high position, he was responsible for the organization of work there and for good relations with the manor owner. In the farm lived his wife and children, his parents and quite frequently also his brothers and non-married sisters. Additionally, he hired the farm staff, of course, under supervising of the manor owner. During the naming process the farmhosts quite frequently, though not always, acquired the hereditary family names coined of the names of their farms. The life of the farmhost was also relatively stable – his family lived in the farm for many years unlike farmhands and other hired workers who could change farms frequently.

The first name in the record samples you studied most probably was the name of the farmhost or of another independent family head, then came the name of the father of the baptized child with the relation to the farmhost (family head), and the last was the name of the mother.

It is clear you have some knowledge of Latvian – after all, you could make the right guess of the word ‘znots’, but it seems you have missed some grammatical peculiarities of the samples. It is important that almost all words of these records are in the possessive case (Genitive); in the common case (Nominative) they sound different. For example Pahlana is the possesive case of Pahlans (or simply Pahlan), Reina - Reinis (or simply Rein), Mahres - Mahre. Mikkel is in the common case, however. The names in the possesive case could be rewritten in English as Pahlans' (or Pahlan's) Mahre's or Reinis' (Rein's), or maybe it would be better for our interpretations to understand them like Pahlana - of Pahlan, Mahres - of Mahre etc.

All this grammar stuff is important in order to avoid a mistake you made in your tentative interpretation of other records #2 and further. To explain it, we need the correctly spelled samples, I think, so first about the spelling of the samples.

The church books of that time were written in Latvian in rare cases. (After 1832 the Lutheran Pastors were obliged to write the church books in German and after 1892 in Russian). All Pastors of that time (1810s) were ethnical Germans, they were examined by the Consistory in the Latvian language, but one should not expect they were the best experts in the language. In general the problems with the written Latvian were not solved yet, and the Pastor, who wrote your samples, could have some personal ideas how to put Latvian he heard in written form. So some misspellings of your samples could be attributed to the errors of the original texts, but more probably you made your own mistakes while reading, I am sorry.

The Latvian orthography of that time was very similar to the German system of writing. For example, the letter ‘h’ (like in the word Pahlan) was used to mark long vowels, the doubling of a consonant (like in the word Madde) was used to show that the previous vowel is short, as you evidently know. The letter ‘s’ was pronounced as the letter ‘z’ of the modern time. As in Latvian also the sound ‘s’ (like in the word ‘see’) exists, this sound was pictured in printed form as the crossed letter ‘s’. In handwritten texts the letter ‘s’ was underlined or sometimes crossed, but I do not know which method was used in your church book, of course. It should be taken into account also that the letter ‘s’ had two variants in printed and as well in handwritten forms, like in the word ‘Ilses’ of one of your samples, I guess. To be consistent, I can add that the letterfaces in the handwritten (only in handwritten!) Latvian of that time were not those of Gothic, as Elizabete claimed, but Antigua. You may check it, for example, by studying the letter 'h' - if it is written like you write in English today, it is in Antigua, in Gothic it should be written like a prolonged handwritten 's'. By the way, the names usually were handwritten in Antigua also in lists compiled in German, in spite that usually Germans used Gothic.

Now we can analyze your readings.

Quite possibly, you frequently misread the letter ‘s’ as ‘j’. To my opinion the word Lihje sounds much better if read as Lihse - in modern spelling L’ize (very popular first name of that time, shortened form of Elisabete), with long ‘i’, similarly the word jnots should be read as snots – modern spelling znots. The letterfaces of both these letters really were similar.

The word brahta should be the possessive case of the word brahlis: now br’alis – br’a’la with long ‘a’ and and softened ‘l’. The misspelling could arose, because the softened ‘l’ in handwritten texts was marked by crossing the normal ‘l’ what made this letter similar to ‘t’.

The word ‘eebuweets’ is read correctly, the word ‘eebuweestha’ is not. The letter ‘c’ should be read instead of the letter ‘t’. In this case we would have the possessive case of the word ‘eebuweets’. Similarly Kristha should be a misspelling of the word Krischa. In both words the letter ‘s’ had to be underlined (crossed) that could made it look like the letter ‘t’, and some writers wrote stylish ‘c’s with an ornamental adding on the top.

Putting all together, the other your samples could be put in English in the following way (I am writing the names in modern way, though omitting the diacritics):

#2. Farmhand Vilums of farmhost Jorgis of farm Uldrikis and Vilums' wife Lize baptised their son Martins.
(Farm's Uldrikis farmhost's Jorgis farmhand's Vilums' and Lize's son Martins or
Martins, a son of Lize and Vilums, farmhand of Jorgis, a farmhost of Uldrikis)
Very important!!! Jorgis was not a farmhand of Vilums, as you wrote, but, at the contrary, Vilums was a farmhand of Jorgis! Lize was the wife of Vilums and Vilums was the father of Martins.

#3 Andrejs, who was a son of Janis living in farm Veveri, and his wife Ilze baptised their son Karlis.
Quite possibly Janis was the farmhost of Veveri, but he could be, say, a brother of the farmhost. Evidently he was not a farmhand.

#4 Janis, a son-in-law of Kriss from farm Drumpe, and Trine baptised their daughter Made.
Please, note that Trine was not registered as a daughter of Kriss but as the wife of Janis, just for understanding the sexism of that time.

Speaking about the word ‘eebuweets’, Elizabete explained it correctly. I can not agree with her, however, that his social status was lower than that of a farmhand. At the contrary, it was higher though not very much higher. Iebuvietis could have some private property, especially later after the abolishing of serfdom, for example, a cow, or even a horse.

Finally, I wished to inform you that I am working on the Internet Site for the family research in the Latvia territory - it considers all people that lived here without regard on ethnicity, religion etc. Now it is ready for testing, so I am offering some people with good (better than my) English knowledge to read some texts and to correct evident language mistakes. If you (or other people reading this) agreed to take part in this activity, you could read about variants of spelling of the Latvian language, about the naming of Latvians, about free (not serfs) Latvians at the beginning of 1800s, about migrations of Latvians and other ethnicities and much more (about 600 html files). The problems of church book reading and the inner startification of Latvian peasants are not covered yet, however. Please, contact me privately, if you have time and wish for this activity.

With best regards.

Bruno Martuzans
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