May I Introduce To You . . . Antra Celmins

Antra Celmins

I have the pleasure of introducing you to Antra Celmins and her blog, Discovering Latvian Roots, described as, “. . .  Discovering Latvian Roots is the place to go for the most up-to-date information on Latvian genealogy and family history research. Along with the tips, tricks and resources of the main blog, there is also the Latvian Surname Project  and the recently launched fiction series, Genea-Fiction, focusing on our new genea-fiction hero – Aila Rudzite, a young genealogist and private investigator who is also a member of the Goth subculture. Aila is breaking down genealogy stereotypes. With platform boots.”

About Antra

“I was born in southern Ontario, Canada, in a family of Latvian emigres. All four of my grandparents left Latvia during the Second World War due to the Soviet invasion of their homeland. My parents and I were all born in Ontario and raised in the Latvian culture, language and heritage, and for the past few years I’ve been helping reconnect other Westerners with their Latvian roots. I’ve been a genealogist for hire for the past three years and have helped people from all over the world reconnect with their Latvian heritage. A number of my clients have also made visits to Latvia and had success in locating ancestral farms and in some cases also meeting relatives they had never met before.”

How Antra Got Started in Genealogy

“I’ve been interested in genealogy since I was a pre-teen, but the ability to really be able to do research only became possible when I was about 25 and I made my first visit to the Latvian State Historical Archives in 2009. Been immersed in it ever since! While there are some Latvian resources online, most are only available at the archives (and the FHL collection also leaves a lot to be desired, as I had tried doing research with their materials while I was in university, but not had any luck). Having spent over 8 months in Latvia in the past four years, I’ve been able to have a lot of archives time.

As a child, I’d read historical fiction and non-fiction. That carried on through my college and university years, and my studies reflected that, with a BA in Religion and European Studies and a Diploma in Applied Museum Studies. Since I was able to start researching my family history, I haven’t stopped.”

Antra’s Thoughts on Blogging

“I created my genealogy blog four years ago, just before my first trip to the Latvian State Historical Archives, and after I’d been using the Latvian online resources, Raduraksti, which had only been available for a few months before that. I did so because there was very little out there on the Internet on how to do Latvian research, particularly if you didn’t speak the language. Since I do speak Latvian, as well as genealogical German and Russian – the other languages needed for Latvian research – I decided I could take on the role of being the ‘bridge’ so to speak, between English-speaking descendants of Latvians and the Latvian records. My website has just grown leaps and bounds since!
In addition to the blog, where I provide research tips and tricks, I have created the Latvian Surname Project, where I have a database of over 1000 Latvian surnames, their meanings, and in what parishes I’ve seen them. I’m also trying to set up a Latvian Genealogy Society. I’ve also recently launched a genealogy fiction project, Genea-Fiction, starring genealogist Aila Rudzite, who is a young Latvian-Canadian Goth (much like myself). The first in the series, a short story called ‘A President For His Country,’ is available on the website, and the first novel is currently being funded on Kickstarter This novel will be set primarily in the United States, and will have Aila and her newest client on the trail of a young Latvian sailor who shipwrecked in Russian Alaska in the 1860s and then journeyed across the United States at the height of the US Civil War.”

Antra’s Favorite Blog Posts

“It’s tough, but I was able to narrow it down to two: Where Could They Be From? and Connecting with Living Relatives. I chose these two because they help with the most difficult part of doing genealogical research – finding the key link in a chain that might otherwise be turned into a brick wall. I believe that if records exist for a given place, there is no brick wall – merely a pause in your research until you are able to consult them all. Only when you run out of records is there a brick wall.

In terms of posts relating specifically to my family, my favourite post is In Loving Memory, which I wrote about my great-aunt Marta, who passed away three years ago at the age of 99. She was an amazing woman who experienced both World Wars first-hand, the Russian Revolution, fleeing across Europe in the midst of total war and then relocating to Canada with her sister (my grandmother) when it became clear that they could not return to their home. They arrived in Canada in 1949.”

Spending Time with the Ancestors

“These days, I don’t get to spend much time on my own research. I usually spend at least twenty hours a week conducting research, though it is rarely on my own family. Most of my research time is for client research, research for the museum I am a board member of Latvians Abroad Museum and Research Centre and research for the Latvian Surname Project or my blog.”

Antra’s Tips for New Bloggers

“Don’t be afraid to get your information out there. Your information might not all be correct, but it is a learning process, and your readers might help you find something that you missed. As long as you fix your mistakes as time goes on, it’s all good! Don’t get caught up in the minutiae of what your blog looks like and concentrate on writing good content. As long as you have good content, the readers will come.”

How Genealogy Blogging Has Improved Antra’s Life

“It has taught me that I’m not the only one out there trying to make a connection to my ancestral homeland of Latvia – there are lots of us out there! I spent most of my childhood feeling very lonely, stuck between two worlds, and since beginning the journey into my family history – and bringing along everyone who frequents my website – it has shown me that there are many of us, and I’m honoured to be able to provide that link between past and present for so many people.”

Antra’s Favorite Ancestors

“Such a difficult question! I have a number of ancestors who are mysterious, who I’d like to know more about, but so far they’ve eluded me, but I like them for the challenges they present. But in terms of those that I do know more about, I would have to say my great-grandfather Arvids Francis, who was an intelligence officer in independent interwar Latvia, who I profiled in the post Bringing Out My Great-Grandfathers, Part 2. His job would have been research-heavy, and from what I know from my great-aunt on that side of the family (her brother, my grandfather, having died before I was born), he even had numerous operations that were the stuff of spy novels, which sounds exciting. I’ve even been able to read some declassified materials and notes from that era that referenced him and his work. The only part I don’t like about him is the sticky end that he met when the Soviets invaded during the Second World War – since he was an intelligence operative for an independent Latvia, this was against Soviet policy, and as a result he was one of the first people to be arrested by them, and he was executed in 1941.”

What Antra Loves Most About Genealogy

“I love connecting my ancestors to the goings-on of history – genealogy is more than just names and dates. A broader understanding of history helps us understand our ancestors’ lives, and what may have affected them and how. This historical context is so so important, which is why recently my blog has shifted from providing just tips and tricks when it comes to genealogy resources to a broader description of Latvian history and how people may have been involved in it. My most recent historical interest of this sort is the late 19th and early 20th century revolutionary movements, which came to a head in the 1905 Russian Revolution. These movements and this revolution are especially important to understand for many descendants of Latvians who emigrated between 1905 and 1911 – these migrants were often involved in the revolution in some way.”

Antra’s Time Capsule Message

“I hope that you can still find records about those of us living in the late 20th/early 21st centuries! I have a feeling the move to digital storage of information might not be as long-lasting as paper records, so I hope there’s still something of us to find! Good luck in separating the useful information from all of the babble out there, and I hope that our Twitter and Facebook feeds provide you with the same breadth and depth of information that paper diaries of the past did! Do try to find information about us, because the more you know, the more you understand where you came from and all of the forces that worked together to make you – you.”

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Please take a moment to head on over to Antra’s blog. Leave her a comment letting her know you stopped by. Welcome Antra, it’s great to have you here!

© 2013, copyright Gini Webb

Gini Webb lives in San Diego, California and manages her own blog, Ginisology, while also researching her own German heritage, retired, enjoying life with wonderful husband Steve and visiting with her grandchildren!

Are you a genealogy blogger who would like to be interviewed for the “May I Introduce To You . . .” series? If so, contact Gini Webb via e-mail.

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