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Overviews of the Collections

Latvian Collections at the Library of Congress

Regina Frackowiak
Reference Specialist

Taru Spiegel
Reference Specialist

Daira Ruta Moruss
American Latvian Association/Library of Congress Fellow,
Summer 2014
Kaļķu iela [Kalkstrasse], Riga [ca 1900] Image produced by the Detroit Photographic Company, ca 1900. From the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
Kaļķu iela [Kalkstrasse], Riga [ca 1900]
(Prints and Photographs Division.)
[Click on image to enlarge]

Overview of the Collections

The Library of Congress collections from or about Latvia include more than 33,000 printed volumes on all subjects and in several languages, as well as significant special collections of folklife, law, map, film, music, sound-recording, and print and photographic materials, making the Library's holdings of such materials among the largest outside of Latvia itself. The Library currently receives about 400 volumes from Latvia each year. The Library's Latvian reference collection is located in the European Reading Room. The Reading Room's specialists may be consulted on how to find pertinent research materials throughout the Library, as well as through Library and commercial databases


The General Collections

The Library holds more than 18,000 monographic titles from or about Latvia and has runs of about 1,000 serials, such as newspapers, periodicals, and annuals. The number rises to more than 21,500 monographic titles and 1,200 serial titles, totaling nearly 23,000 titles, with the inclusion of titles relating to Livonia (Livland), Courland (Kurzeme), and the Baltic countries as an entirety. Because serials are multi-volume, as are some monographs, the monographic and serial print collections from or about Latvia, including works on the Baltics as a whole, exceed 33,000 volumes. Between the 13th and 18th centuries, Livonia was an area with changing boundaries; it coincided roughly with much of today's Estonia and the central region of today's Latvia known as Vidzeme. The Courland region southwest of the Daugava River was formed into the Duchy of Courland in 1561, and included an eastern area known as Semigallia (Zemgale). In the 17th century, the Duchy had enough resources to attempt colonizing such distant areas as Tobago and the Gambia. Latgale, in the eastern part of Latvia, was particularly influenced by Polish and Russian languages and cultures. This region features its own dialect or language, Latgalian, with its own literature. There is continuing debate as to whether Latgalian is a dialect of Latvian or a separate language.

The Library's general collections on Latvia cover all disciplines of the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, with particular strengths in history, language, and literature. Additionally, Latvian belles lettres titles number well over 3,000.

An estimate made in 2014 indicates that nearly 60 percent of the Library's Latvia-related materials are in Latvian, although the percentage will likely increase as more material is being published in that language. More than 15 percent are in Russian, some 13 percent of the Library's Latvian materials are in English, 8 percent in German, and 3 percent in Polish. The remaining materials include more than a dozen other languages. Most of the materials published in Latvia come from Riga. As of the year 2000, the Library has averaged annual receipts of approximately 300 monographic titles (not including serials) from Latvia, and approximately 50 Latvia-related titles published outside Latvia.

Because of the shifting boundaries and populations of Latvia over the centuries, search terms for materials pertaining to Latvia also include the Hanseatic League, the Teutonic Knights, Livonia, Courland, Latgale, Germany, Poland, Sweden, Russia, the Soviet Union, and other Baltic countries. To find works about or by the Latvian diaspora, use the Library's online catalog to browse by subject headings starting with the word Latvians, e.g., Latvians-Austria, Latvians-foreign countries, or Latvians-United States.

Items of Note in the Library's General Collections

The general collections hold more than 1,800 works on Latvian history, and more than 1,000 on Baltic history. Included are works by or about Latvia's last president before Soviet incorporation, Kārlis Ulmanis (1877-1942), and the first female president of the restored republic, Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, who succeeded Guntis Ulmanis in 1999. In addition, the Library possesses a slender book entitled Die Letten und ihre Latwija. Eine lettische Stimme [The Latvians and their Latvia. A Latvian voice] (Stockholm, 1917). It was written by Latvia's first president, Jānis Čakste (1859-1957), who had traveled abroad in 1917 to promote the idea of an independent Latvian republic.

The Library includes in its holdings a number of works relating to Livonia and Courland. Whereas the Law Library holds a 1740 edition from Frankfurt of the Latin work, Origines Livoniae sacrae et civilis, several translations and other later editions can be found in the General Collections, including one in English, Chronicle of Henry of Livonia. This first work to describe Livonia was written by a Catholic priest known in English as Henry of Livonia (c.1187-c.1259), but in other languages as Henry of Latvia. The general collections also hold modern editions of the 12th-13th-century Livländische Reimchronik; further justifications for the ruling order in the 14th-century in the work Die jüngere livländische Reimchronik of Bartholomäus Hoeneke (1315-48), as well as Salomon Henning's Lifflendische churlendische Chronica ... [Chronicle of Livonia and Courland], originally published in 1594.

The collections are rich in materials pertaining to Latvian language and literature, such as Gotthard Friedrich Stender's Lettisches lexikon (Mitau: J. F. Steffenhagen [1789-91]) and the Latvian-German dictionary compiled by Kārlis Mǚlenbachs (Kārlis Mīlenbahs) that remains a seminal work on the Latvian language, Latviešu valodas vārdnīca (Riga, 1923-32). It was expanded by his colleague, Jānis Endzelīns (1873-1961), whose prolific works are also in the collections, including his collaboration with A. Ābele (1881-1975), J. Kauliņš (1889-1942), and P. Stučka (1865-1932) entitled Latvijas vietu vārdi (1922), and his 1923 work, Lettische grammatik, the latter being a foundational text for students of Baltic and comparative linguistics.

Image from Friedrich Stender's Lettisches lexikon
From Friedrich Stender's Lettisches lexikon
[Click on image to enlarge]

The Library has a representative sample of Latvian authors, some of whose works are translated into English, Russian, or German. The Library has reprints of some of the earliest collections of poetry in Latvian. Juris Natanaēls Ramanis authored a 1797 religious work entitled Krusta skolas grāmata [The Cross School Book] that included poems he wrote; the Library has a 1995 reprint. One of the earliest collections of poetry to appear in Latvian came in 1806 from Neredzīgais ('blind') Indriķis (1783-1828), who became blind in childhood. The Library has a 1979 compilation of his selected poems entitled Neredzīgais Indriķis un viņa dziesmas.

Writers from the period of the first national awakening (1850s -1880s) include Krišjānis Valdemārs (1825-91), Juris Alunāns (1832-64), Krišjānis Barons (1835-1923), Ādolfs Alunāns (1848-1912), Atis Kronvalds (1837-75), and Miķelis Krogzemis (1850-79), who wrote under the pseudonym Auseklis. Reinis Kaudzīte (1839-1920) and Matīss Kaudzīte (1848-1926) together wrote the first Latvian novel, Mehrneeku laiki (Mērnieku laiki). The original text appeared in 1879; the Library's copy is an edition from 1913. The Library has a 1915 edition of Jura Allunana raksti by Juris Alunāns that first appeared five years after his death, including his Dziesmiņas [Songs]. This work included both his original poems and classic poems translated into Latvian. The latter were the first translations into Latvian of poetry by Goethe, Horace, Pushkin, and others, and established Latvian as a sophisticated literary language. The Library also has a collection of Latvian folk songs (dainas) compiled by Krišjānis Barons and Henrijs Vissendorfs, entitled Latwju dainas and published in six volumes from 1894 to 1915. Barons is considered to be the father of Latvian folk-song compilation. The Library holds volumes 2, 3 (parts 2 and 3), 5, and 6. Also from this period of national awakening, the Library has in its holdings a monograph from 1872 entitled Nationale Bestrebungen by Atis Kronvalds (Otto Kronwald). This monograph is in German, and was not published in Latvian until 1887. It concerns the deteriorating conditions under which the Latvians lived and worked. The Library has on microfilm the 1899 second edition of Latweeschu rakftneezibas rahditajs [Bibliography of Latvian Writing]. The subtitle indicates that the handbook is necessary for "all book vendors, libraries, teachers, and for whoever has work associated with books." It provides an alphabetical listing of books published in Latvian, and includes rare books, periodicals, and vendors, as well as indexes of subjects and authors.

The Library holds about 25 titles relating to the Latvian national epic poem, "Lāčplēsis," including a translation into English, The Bearslayer: the Latvian Legend, and several works pertaining to its author, Andrejs Pumpurs (1841-1902), who based his epic on Latvian folklore. During the third period of Latvian national awakening in the late 1980s, musician Zigmārs Liepiņš (1952- ) and writer Māra Zālīte (1952- ) co-created a rock opera with this classic work as its foundation and inspiration. A musical score of the rock opera Lāčplēsis (1991) is available in the Library's Music Division.

Latvian students in Saint Petersburg in the mid-1800s formed groups and societies where they discussed the current situation of Latvian society under the Russian Empire. Most of them were critical of the situation and of German landowners. Pēterburgas avīzes (English references render it as "St Petersburg Gazette" or "St Petersburg Newspaper") was a weekly serial established there in July 1862 but shut down in June 1865 because of its anti-authoritarian and anti-religious nature. The Library has a 1997 compilation from Riga of the writing that appeared in it, entitled Krišjānis Valdemārs un Pēterburgas Avīzes (1862-1865) rakstu krājums. Authors from the burgeoning era of Latvian literature in the 1890s include Rūdolfs Blaumanis (1862-1908); Anna Brigadere (1861-1933); Andrievs Niedra (1871-1942); Jānis Pliekšāns (1865-1929) writing under the pseudonym Rainis; and the poets Jānis Poruks (1871-1911) and Elza Rozenberga-Pliekšāne (1868-1943), who wrote under the pseudonym Aspazija. Early 20th-century authors Andrejs Upīts (1877-1970), Kārlis Skalbe (1879-1945), Jānis Akuraters (1875-1937), and Jānis Jaunsudrabiņš (1877-1962) are also well represented.

During the first period of Latvian independence, from about 1918 to 1939, most of the publications were non-fiction. Research flourished regarding the development of Latvian society, education, and politics. The Library has significant holdings from this period, including works by such individuals as General Kārlis Goppers (1876-1941), economist Kārlis Balodis (Carl Ballod) (1864-1931), castle mound researcher Ernests Brastiņš (1892-1942), and bibliophile Jānis Misiņš (1862-1945), all of whom contributed to the development and archiving of knowledge about the people and their culture. Organizations such as the Latvian Ministry of Agriculture, the Latvian Department of Mail and Telephone, and the Ministry of Traffic actively participated in publishing during this period. The short-story writer Jānis Ezeriņš (1891-1924), poet Aleksandrs Čaks (1901-50), the modernist poet Jānis Veselis (1896-1962), Vilis Plūdonis (1874-1940), Edvarts Virza (1883-1940), Eriks Ādamsons (1907-46), Anšlavs Eglītis (1906-93), Veronika Strēlerte (1912-95), essayist and philosopher Zenta Mauriņa (1897-1978), and playwright Mārtiņš Zīverts (1903-90) represent literature from the period of inter-war, independent Latvia. The Soviet period saw many Latvian authors leave the country beginning in the 1940s, e.g., Jānis Jaunsudrabiņš (1877-1962), Anšlavs Eglītis, Kārlis Skalbe (1879-1945), Mārtiņš Zīverts, and Veronika Strēlerte.

Latvian diaspora literature includes figures such as Anšlavs Eglītis, Veronika Strēlerte, Gunārs Saliņš (1924-2010), Linards Tauns (1922-63), Ilze Šķipsna (1928-81), Guntis Zariņš (1926-65), Alfreds Dziļums (1907-76), Gunars Anatolijs Janovskis (1916-2000), and the publisher of the newspaper Laiks [Time] in Brooklyn, Helmārs Rudzītis (1903-2001).

Ojārs Vācietis (1933-83), Imants Ziedonis (1933-2013), Vizma Belševica (1931-2005), Māris Čaklais (1940- ), Jānis Peters (1939- ), Imants Auziņš (1937- ), Alberts Bels (1938- ), Regīna Ezera (1930-2002), and the writer and composer Margeris Zariņš (1910-93) represent literature based in Latvia from the 1950s to the 1980s. Uldis Bērziņš (1944- ), Vladimirs Kaijaks (1930- ), Andris Kolbergs (1938- ), and Gundega Repše (1960- ) have published in independent Latvia. In addition, the Library has such current authors as Guntis Berelis (1961- ), Pauls Bankovskis (1973- ), and Inga Ābele (1972- ).

The region of Latgale borders on Russia and Belarus. Its contact with Russia and Poland has heavily influenced the region's people, culture, religion, and language. Latgalian is related to Latvian, but whether Latgalian should be recognized as an independent language instead of a dialect is an ongoing debate. Latgalian has developed a standardized orthography and has its own body of literature independent of Latvian writing. Latgalian works are published by Latgolas Kulturas centra izdevnīceiba [Publishing house of the Latgalian Cultural Center]. Anna Rancāne (1959- ), Ontons Kūkojs (1940-2007), and others have written in Latgalian (as well as in other languages).

The Library has at least 75 books and other items written in Latgalian. In addition, at least 175 works in languages other than Latgalian concern Latgale history, language, religion, and traditions; these works are primarily in Latvian, with a few items in German, Russian, English, or other languages. The Library has a reprint from 2004 of the first surviving book in Latgalian, a translation of the New Testament, entitled Evangelia toto anno 1753: pirmā latgaliešu grāmata. The Library's holdings of Latgalian-language materials from 1947 to 1988 were published either in Germany or the United States, as the use of Latgalian was forbidden during the Soviet occupation. The Library of Congress has two monographs by Juris Cibuļs that are considered foundational texts for today's standardized written Latgalian: the 2009 edition of Latgaliešu ābeces 1768-2008 [Latgalian primer 1768-2008] and the 2003 Vasals! [Hello!]. (Cataloging practice at North American libraries does not provide a separate language code for Latgalian. Library of Congress subject headings, which are widely used in North America, include "Latgalian dialect," not "Latgalian language.")

The American Folklife Center

Latvian independence movements have been closely tied to a sense of a unique Latvian nation, partially represented by folklore and folk songs, of which the Library has more than 400 titles. The American Folklife Center has Latvian folklore resources such as Miervaldis Janševics' 1975 West Coast Latvian Song Festival Collection; fieldwork with interviews and events relating to the Latvian School, recorded by Ričardas Vidutis in Wisconsin, 1982; and the Ilze Akerbergs 1995 Turku Pupa (Latvian) Cassette Collection. An interesting collection of Latvian-American materials is represented within the Ethnic Heritage and Language Schools in America Project Collection (AFC 1993/001), which was a survey of American ethnic schools, recorded in various locations throughout the United States.
Couples in traditional Latvian dress folk dancing at a fishermen's festival, Riga, Latvia.
Couples in traditional Latvian dress folk dancing
at a fishermen's festival, Riga [1955]

(Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)
[Click on image to enlarge]

European Reading Room

The European Reading Room provides direct access to a Latvian reference collection of more than 100 volumes of dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases, histories, biographical directories, bibliographies, and other reference sources pertaining to Latvia. There are also approximately 100 volumes in the Baltic reference section that treat the Baltic area as a whole. Worth mentioning are two current works by Pēteris Apinis (1958- ), Latvia: Country, Nation, State (2000), and Latvijas valsts 90 gadu (2008), as well as a beautifully illustrated three-volume work edited by Richard Zarrins (Rihards Zariņš) (1869-1939) entitled Latvju raksti: tautas maksla uzvalkos, audumos, buves, podnieciba u.t.t., pec materialiem valsts un privatos krajumos (Riga, 1924-1931); a second set is available in the Rare Book & Special Collections Division. The European Reading Room also provides reference works on the Latvian presence in America, such as The Latvians in America, 1640-1973 : A Chronology & Fact Book (1974).

The European Reading Room has custody of current Latvian newspapers and periodicals, including: Diena, Latvijas avīze, Latvijas vēstnesis, Neatkarīgā Rīta avīze, and the weekly Kultūras forums. In addition, the Reading Room has a collection of retrospective Latvian newspapers on microfilm. The Library's collection of about 20 retrospective telephone directories from Latvia is available for researchers upon request in the European Reading Room (see link at the end of this description for a list of the directories). The Reading Room makes available for onsite use numerous bibliographic databases and full-text resources, a number of which contain citations or texts pertaining to Latvia, e.g., the Universal Database of CIS and Baltic Newspapers.

Geography and Map Reading Room

The Geography and Map Reading Room provides access to 5 million maps, atlases, and other cartographic materials, including more than 500 historical items that pertain to Latvia and the Baltic region. The maps of Latvia begin with five in Latin, from 1619 to 1750. Reflecting the development of German influence in the region, the Library has at least 22 maps in German from 1790 to 1943; most of the Library's remaining German-language maps of Latvia, more than 15, date from 1991 to the present. Some of the early maps in German were produced during the last decades of the tsarist period, when Latvia was part of the Russian Empire, which delegated administration to local German landowners; some of these maps are bilingual, in German and Russian. Maps in Latvian comprise more than 160, primarily from 1917 to 1940, and from 1991 to present, with very few maps from the Soviet period. Maps in Russian total at least 105, primarily from 1950 to 1993, but with a few earlier maps in Russian from the years 1850, 1907, and 1939. There are more than 40 maps in English from 1887 to the present, and there are a few more in other languages, such as Estonian, French, and Polish.

The Library's earliest maps of Latvia, besides giving geographical information, have additional ornamentation or annotation that provide a deeper understanding of the people and time period depicted. One map, Ducatuum Livoniae et Curlandiae cum vicinis insulis nova exhibitio geographica [New geographic description of the duchies of Livonia and Courland with their neighboring islands] (c. 1750), is annotated with a Latvian version of the Lord's Prayer in the lower left corner. This is one of the earliest recordings of the written Latvian language. It is theorized that the map is a collaborative work between Johann Barnickel (1700-46) and a German minister named Adolf Grot (1676-1726). The earliest written Latvian was produced by clergy members; in the 18th century, Latvian was primarily still only spoken among the indigenous inhabitants. The Library also has maps by Gerhard Mercator (1512-94), Frederik de Wit (1629/30-1706), and Johann Baptist Homann (1663-1724).

The Library's earliest maps in the Latvian language are from 1918 through 1940. This was a period of great transition, and the maps provide a record of the development of the infrastructure, including roadways, railways, and waterways, as well as telephones and post offices. Place names in Latvian were being established, and measurements of land were taken along with assessments of land quality. Developments in cartography occurred along with the development of the nation. The earliest maps of this period (1919-21) have borders that vary in accuracy. This is not surprising, as the borders between Latvia and neighboring countries continued to be formalized through 1930. There are very few maps created by Latvians in exile, and those were created primarily for educational purposes for Latvian schools of the exile community. The cartographic work of Aleksandrs Ošiņš (1881-1930) and Pēteris Mantnieks (1895-1979) is well represented. The Library has a bound copy of Latvijas-Lietavas robežas apraksts [Latvian-Lithuanian boundaries description] (Riga, 1927), comprised of 111 individual maps and border projections created by the Latvian-Lithuanian Border Committee. They bear the signatures of those committee members, including Pēteris Mantnieks. In addition, the Library's holdings include maps from the following four publishers: Olava fonds, Jāņa Rozes izdevniecība, Valters un Rapa, and Ernests Plate.

There are many bilingual German-Russian maps in the collection. These maps are from the time when Latvia was divided into provinces that were part of the Russian Empire and tend to focus on a particular province in Latvia, especially Courland and Livland. The Russian Empire was looking to expand travel and transportation through the region, and the maps reflect the development of the railway system within Latvia, as well as increased surveying of its waterways and reservoirs. The Library has an English-language map compiled and published by James F. Imray entitled Gulf of Riga (London, 1887). Its focus on the waterways within the region, and especially on the mouth of the Daugava River, makes it unique. This map would have been especially valuable at that time because a system of canals was being developed within Riga. Very few maps in the Latvian language were produced before 1918.

Several German maps of Latvia were published during both world wars, when front lines often lay across Latvian soil, and even along the Daugava River. These works were made for carrying out military operations. As such, they are selective in what information they provide. The style of the German maps contrasts with that of the Latvian-language maps. The German maps lack certain information of cultural significance that is always included on Latvian maps, such as the name of the Daugava River. The German maps also tend to be more limited in form and color, and do not depict any neighboring countries or regions. The maps in Latvian are replete with detailed information and tend to be bolder in their color scheme. A German map from 1941, Vorstoß der V.A. Lasch (IAK) auf Riga am 28.u.29. 6.41, details the advance on Latvia by German troops during World War II. The map has no key and utilizes red and blue arrows against a white background to depict the movement north toward Riga.

The Soviet maps of this collection were published following World War II. They are thematic maps mostly depicting tourist attractions in the area of Soviet Latvia. The initial Soviet tourist maps are confusing: the information provided in them is minimal and the maps are black and white. Yet, as Soviet cartography of Latvia developed, the maps began to include information that would assist anyone seeking to travel in the region. The tourist maps began to include color and appeared more inviting. Unique to these Soviet maps are drawings that depict activities such as people swimming along the Jūrmala seaside and boats cruising along the coast. These depictions intentionally portray an idealized notion of the region. The audience for these tourist maps is clearly Russian. The maps' margins provide summaries of tourist destinations, and each site is explained in terms of its relevance to the Revolution of 1905, which caused political and social unrest through much of the Russian Empire, including Latvia. The maps of Latvia from 1991 until the present are mostly in the Latvian language, although a few are in German or Russian. These post-1990 maps include new city plans, roads, highways, administrative boundaries, and even camping sites. The Library possesses a small yet significant collection of work by Jānis Štrauhmanis, who has published extensively on the career of cartographer Pētereis Mantnieks and on the history of cartography in Latvia in general.

Map of Riga and environs, from Mellin's Atlas von Liefland
From Mellin's Atlas von Liefland.
Geography and Map Division
[Click on image to enlarge]

The Library's Online Map Collections site shows maps that have been digitized by the Library of Congress. These include Ludwig August Graf Mellin's Atlas von Liefland, oder von den beyden Gouvernementern u. Herzogthümern Lief- und Ehstland, und der Provinz Oesel . . . = Atlas de la Livonie ou des deux Gouvernemens et Duchés de Livonie et d'Esthonie, avec la Province d'Oesel . . . (Riga, 1798).

Law Library Reading Room

The Law Library Reading Room holds more than 600 titles pertaining to Latvian law. The collection reflects the history of Courland, Livonia, and Latvia under Swedish, German, Polish, Russian, and Soviet rule, and as an independent nation. For instance, a treaty from the 1640s reflects the foreign relations of Courland and France in Traité entre le roi & le duc de Curland, fait à Paris le 30. decembre 1643 ... [Treaty between the King and the Duke of Courland, made in Paris on 30 December 1643].

Livonian feudal law under Russian rule is expounded in Johann David Bagge's 1762 German-language treatise, Sammlungen von der wahren Natur Arten und Beschaffenheiten der Güter in Ehst- und Liefland samt der Insull Oesell von der Succession in selbige und von der Grösse und Verschiedenheit der Haacken derselben zum Nutzen und Bequemlichkeit dererjenigen die sich um die Ehst- und Lief- ländische Landesrecht, Gesetze und Verordnungen zu bekümmern haben. Latvian civil law is again discussed in German in a work by Carl von Schilling and Herbert Ehlers entitled Lettlands Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch: Teil III des Provinzialrechts der Ostseegouvernements (Liv- und Kurländisches Privatrecht) nebst den russischen "Fortsetzungen" der Jahre 1890, 1912, 1913 und 1914, sowie den Abänderungen und Ergänzungen von Lettlands Begründung an bis zum 1 Oktober 1928.

Latvia proclaimed its independence on November 18, 1918, but battles for independence continued. An interim government was elected and a constitutional committee was established in May of 1920. The interim government was tasked with creating a constitution, and in 1922 the Constitution of Latvia, called Satversme, was democratically accepted. In the 1934 coup, Prime Minister Kārlis Ulmanis (1877-1942) insisted that the Satversme be reformed and reinstated. Under Soviet occupation the Latvian Satversme was replaced by the constitution of the U.S.S.R. on August 27, 1940. In late 1991, the original Latvian Constitution from 1922 was again formally recognized.

The Law Library of Congress provides an online guide to Latvian law, including Latvia's constitution. The Law Library maintains several editions of Latvia's Satversme, including the original of 1922. A particularly noteworthy copy was published in 2012, a bound copy of the Latvian Constitution in eight languages: Latvian, Latgalian, Livonian, French, German, Estonian, Lithuanian, and Russian. In addition, microform transcripts are available of the Tautas Padome (People's council) of 1918-20. The proceedings from the Satversmes sapulce (Constitutional convention) of 1920-22 are also available. The Law Library also has available numerous copies of the constitution of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic, e.g., a Russian-language work entitled Konstitutsiia (Osnovnoi zakon) Latviiskoi Sovetskoi Sotsialisticheskoi Respubliki [Constitution (Basic law) of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic] (Riga, 1975).

Local History and Genealogy Reference Services

The Local History & Genealogy Reference Services are provided in the Main Reading Room at the Library of Congress. The Local History reference collection and catalogs are intended primarily to facilitate research in the United States. Foreign genealogy or local history research should begin with the Library's online catalog, and with resources in the European Reading Room. The Local History & Genealogy Reference Services have some materials relating to Latvian-Americans, yet serials and monographs concerning genealogy related to Latvian families, persons, or clans can also be found by searching the online catalog system.

The U.S. Census for the year 2000 reported that there were almost 90,000 Americans of Latvian ancestry. Because Latvia was a part of the Russian Empire during the height of 19th-century immigration, information should also be sought from Russian emigration records, such as Migration from the Russian Empire: Lists of Passengers Arriving at the Port of New York (1995). In addition, the Library has years 1895-1914 of an annual entitled Jahrbuch für Genealogie, Heraldik und Sphragistik published variously by the Kurländisch Gesellschaft für Literatur und Kunst, the Genealogische Gesellschaft der Ostseeprovinzen zu Mitau, and the Genealogische Gessellschaft Lettlands in Mitau (Jelgava) during the years 1893-1914. Information regarding specific family and clan genealogies can be found by conducting a catalog search on "Latvia-genealogy." The Latgalian publisher Latgaļu izdevnīceiba published a monograph entitled Latgaļu uzvōrdi, palames un dzymtas (Munich, 1968), which discusses Latgalian last names, nicknames, and clans. The Library holds genealogies of several Latvian families, e.g., a 1992 monograph by Alfrēds Šķēle entitled Dzimtas hronika [Chronicle of the Clan]. Works on the history of Latvians in North America may be found in the Library's online catalog by searching subject headings such as "Latvian Americans," "Latvians-United States," "Latvians-Canada," "Latvia-History," or "Names, Personal-Latvia."

The Library has a number of monographs, serials, and other materials from and about Latvia's sizeable Russian minority, as well as on Latvia's historical and current German, Jewish, and Polish communities. A few works describe Latvia's Estonian community. These and works about other ethnic groups can be found under a variety of subject headings, e.g., Russians-Latvia; Jews-Latvia; Linguistic minorities-Latvia; or Belarusians-foreign countries. Another useful search strategy is to use keyword searching for the two subject terms "minorities" and "Latvia." For Jewish communities, see, e.g., Chester G. Cohen, Shtetl Finder: Jewish Communities in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries in the Pale of Settlement of Russia and Poland, and in Lithuania, Latvia, Galicia, and Bukovina, and with Names of Residents (1980). Additionally, the Library has numerous monographs and serials concerning Jewish genealogy in Latvia and the Baltic nations, such as Guide to Jewish Genealogy in Latvia and Estonia (2006) and Jews of Latvia During World War II (2013).

The Latvian Presence in America

Latvians immigrated to the United States in three distinct periods: from the mid-1800s to soon after the civil unrest of 1905 in Eastern Europe; in the years immediately after World War II; and after the country regained independence in 1991.

Some of the earliest records of Latvians in America are from the late 1800s. Jēkabs Zībergs (Jacob Sieberg) (1863-1963) is credited with establishing one of the earliest Latvian colonies in America. The Library holds volumes from 1906-13 and 1919-20 of a primarily monthly issue that Zībergs published beginning in 1897, Amerikas westnesis, the first Latvian-language serial to appear in the United States. In addition, the Library has a monograph by Zībergs intended for Latvian children attending Sunday school in America, entitled Swehtdeenas skolas lasama grahmata, lidhs ar pilnigu Lutera Reformazijas wehsturi.

Some of the Latvian immigrants brought attention to the workers' movement. The Library holds issues from 1909 to 1919 of a Jamaica Plain, Boston, MA semi-weekly Strahdneeks [The Worker], published by the National Lettish Organization of the Socialist Party of America. The Library also has Strahdneeku zihna [Strahdnieku zina, The Worker's News] published in Boston by Baltica in 1939 and another serial from the same publisher, entitled Amerikas Latweetis, with various issues beginning in 1940.

Outside of these few periodicals and monographs, little else was published by Latvians in America at this time, apart from the adventures of Sasha Siemel (Saša Ziemels), who came to the United States from Latvia in 1907, but who is better known for his fearless hunting in the jungles of South America. The Library holds copies of his three books Tigrero!; Jungle Wife; and Jungle Fury.

Toward the end of World War II, there were 175,000-202,000 Latvian refugees in Germany alone, and many of these refugees would eventually make their way to the United States. Therefore, the Latvian-American presence in America has its roots sown in both Latvia and the displaced persons (DP) camps of Europe. The Library has a good representation of both serials and monographs from the various DP camps. Among these serials are Jaunais vārds [The New Word] (Meerbeck, Germany: Hugo Skrastiņš); Ceļš: gara dzīves mēnešraksts [The Road] (Würzburg, Germany); and Laiks, which Helmārs Rudzītis published in Esslingen am Neckar, Germany, from April 1946 through May 1949 (of which the Library has a complete, bound set), before establishing in Brooklyn in 1949 an identically titled serial in newspaper format (held by the Library on microfilm).

The American Latvian Association was formed in 1951 by Latvians soon after they arrived in the U.S. from the DP camps. Its mission was to further Latvian independence, help support newly arriving Latvian immigrants, and to ensure the continuation of the Latvian language and culture. The Library has serials and monographs published by the American Latvian Association, as well as by the World Federation of Free Latvians (WFFL; PBLA, in Latvian) and by Daugavas Vanagi, the Latvian Welfare Association. In addition, Latvians continued to record their memoirs, publishing historical accounts in both Latvian and English. Literature, poetry, and Latvian school textbooks were published, mostly in Latvian.

The Library of Congress has a good representation of works from the publishing houses of Gauja (East Lansing, Michigan), Vaidava (Lincoln, Nebraska), Pilskalns (Lincoln, Nebraska), and Mežābele (Ithaca, NY). Some of the literary figures who established the literature in exile are also well represented in the Library's collections: Jānis Klīdzējs (1914-2000), Anšlavs Eglītis (1906-33), Zinaīda Lazda (1902-57), and Velta Toma (1912-99).

As Latvians settled in America, schools and camps were established for the younger generations. The Library's American Folklife Center collection entitled Ethnic Language and Language Schools in America Project from 1982-1986, documents, among others, Latvian schools. The collection includes audio recordings, manuscripts, and moving images. In addition, there are songbooks and guidebooks from the song festivals in America. The song festival collection at the Library of Congress includes musical scores from both the first Universal Latvian Song Festival in America (Indianapolis, 1953) and the second Universal Latvian Song Festival (New York, 1958).

The Library's collections of materials created by Latvians in the United States include histories and memoirs in both Latvian and English, such as historical analyses by Latvia's former Secretary of the Interior Ministry and former Ambassador to the United States, Alfreds Bīlmanis (1887-1948), Edgards Dunsdorfs (1904-2002), Edgars Andersons (1920-89), and Andrejs Plakans (1940- ).
Embassy Staff, Riga, 1921
Embassy staff, Latvia, 1922
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
[Click on image to enlarge]

Manuscript Reading Room

The Manuscript Division collects Americana, including materials relating to U.S. relations with other countries. The division has custody of the papers of many American diplomats, such as Special Ambassador to the Soviet Union Loy Henderson (1892-1986), whose professional activities also covered the Baltic countries.

Microform Reading Room

The Microform Reading Room has close to 150 records for Latvia-related titles, primarily periodicals, most of which can be identified by limiting the holdings location in a catalog search to "Microform" and doing the following search in Advanced Search: "latv?" or "riga."

Among their holdings, for instance, are these titles: Radio Free Europe's East European Leadership Lists, 1989, which name various Communist Party leaders in the former Soviet Union, and 4th Congress, 28th, 29th June 1953 in Paris: Reports on the Situation in the Countries under Communist Domination, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Rumania, Ukraine, Yugoslavia (Paris: International Center of Free Trade Unionists in Exile, 1953). Also found is Brihwee latweeschi un igauṇi (1905) (current orthography would spell this title as Brīvie latvieši un igauņi, meaning 'Free Latvians and Estonians'). Its author, Garlieb Helwig, was a supporter of the rights of Latvian peasants.

Performing Arts Reading Room

The Performing Arts Reading Room is the access point for the vast and diverse collections held in the Music Division. Latvian music is represented, e.g., in the works of the folk-song compiler Krišjānis Barons (1835-1923), the nationalist romantic composer Jāzeps Vītols (1863-1948), classical music composer Andrejs Jurjāns (1856-1922), composer and music critic Emīls Dārziņš (1875-1910), the influential contemporary composer Pēteris Vasks (1946- ), the violinist Gidon Kremer (1947- ), the pianist and composer Raimonds Pauls (1936- ), and the contemporary mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča (1976- ).

In addition to the Library of Congress Online Catalog, there is a separate database of sound recordings, both musical and non-musical, called the Sound Online Inventory and Catalog (SONIC) of the Recorded Sound Reference Center, which includes items such as Latvian folk dances. Many of its listings are not included in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.

Prints and Photographs Reading Room

The Prints and Photographs Reading Room collections number more than 13 million images. These include photographs, fine and popular prints and drawings, posters, and architectural and engineering drawings. While international in scope, the collections are particularly rich in U.S.-related materials. For photographs and other images relating to Latvia, see the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.

View of the waterfront, Riga
View of the Waterfront, Riga (before 1918)
Prints and Photographs Division
[Click on image to enlarge]

The Library acquired in 2011 the Winokur-Munblit Collection of Russian Empire Postcards, which numbers more than 22,000 images of all parts of the Russian Empire as it existed before the 1917 revolution. Most of the postcards date from 1895 to 1917, but some were published earlier, and others were created from 1918 to the 1950s. They depict cities, towns, villages, and other settlements, as well as individual features in them such as buildings, parks, estates, factories, and streets. Some depict geographical features. One of the collection's eight sections is devoted to the Baltics and includes many postcards from Latvia. There are at least 453 images of Riga.

Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room

The Library's Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room has custody of a number of volumes relating to Latvia. Most were published before 1801 (as a general rule, works published before 1801 are found in the Rare Book Reading Room; later publications usually are in the general collections). Because Latvia's history has been connected with a number of neighboring countries, rare books with information pertaining to Latvia will be found in collections featuring these countries, as well. Among the Library's rare book holdings are:


The Library's collections include runs of about 1,200 retrospective or current newspapers, magazines, journals, bulletins, annuals, and other serials from or about Latvia, or the general Baltic area. These materials are housed in the European Reading Room, the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room, the Microform Reading Room, as well as in the Library's general collections.

Of historical interest are Latvian-American publications such as Čikāgas Ziņas, Latviešu Akadēmiskās Ziņas, or the American Latvian Association's ALA žurnals, ALA vestis, Latvju mākslā, and Dimensions.

Online Catalog

Because not all items in special collections are listed separately in the Library's online catalog, researchers should contact the appropriate reading room for advice from specialists, and for access to additional finding aids. For instance, the European Reading Room provides for readers a pamphlet collection with miscellaneous items.

Ask a Librarian

Written questions may be submitted to the Library by using the online Ask a Librarian interface.

World Digital Library

The World Digital Library (WDL) was established by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, first by a speech to the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO in 2005, then followed by the official online launch in 2009. It makes available on the Internet significant primary materials from countries and cultures around the world, in multilingual format. The number of WDL resources pertaining to Latvia exceeds 50, with many high-quality images coming from materials in the collections of the National Library of Latvia, the Latvenergo AS Power Industry Museum, and the Latvian War Museum, and with several more items from the Library of Congress and the National Library of Russia. The WDL's goals are to promote international and intercultural understanding, expand the volume and variety of cultural content on the Internet, and provide resources for educators, scholars, and general audiences.

Related pages on the Library of Congress web site:

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  October 13, 2017
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