Saturday, 29 June 2013

More letters coming soon

Just a quick post to let everyone know I will be posting new letters soon. I have been run off my feet for the past few weeks so I haven't been doing a lot of geaneology.  Stay tuned!

Monday, 17 June 2013

More resources!

This will just be a quick post to highlight a website that I found particularly interesting:


I'm not sure why but there seems to be two web addresses for this site so I will link the other one as well...


On their about page they say they stared in 2000 after finding an alarming "lack of material and information" about the soviet occupation of the Baltic states. They state that nearly a decade later " Individuals, organizations, and regimes continue to perpetuate misinformation rooted in Nazi and Soviet propaganda whether through ignorance or to serve their own purposes."

This is something that I have personally experienced while trying to find information on Latvia during WWII. A youtube search of "Latvia WW2" is instructive. One of the links is from a Russian (who will remain nameless so as not to promote links to misinformation) is so far removed from the facts that it con only be described as modern day Soviet propaganda! In Australia, it is hard to believe they anyone is still peddling such rubbish, but in the absence of factual information from Latvians it gets large exposure and promotes fiction to people who don't know any better.

On of the pages linked in the above website is a searchable list of people deported from Latvia during the occupations. I'm not sure how comprehensive it is but I have already found 8 Čirkšis on the site - more on that later!

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Letters From Latvia - 20th September 1947

Janis CIRKSIS was a displaced person (DP) after the Soviet union annexed Latvia and the Baltic states during WWII. This is a continuation in the series of letters that he received from his homeland, translated into English. To see the other letters in the series click HERE.

For more information on Latvian translations please see the Latvian Translations page.

Love, life, mortality, pride, this letter seems to have it all. Again, part of the story (the letters from Janis and Lidija) appears to be missing. From what I know of the conditions in the DP camps, they were difficult. Employment was scarce and many people were starting to think about moving to a better life in Canada, America the UK or Australia. For most of the people in the camps returning home to Soviet occupied Latvia would have meant risking being deported to the gulags (labour camps in Siberia). It appears however, that in Kate's view, some Latvians "have given over to living the high life" - what exactly that means is a mystery but it would seem that she disapproves. To what degree this disapproval extends to Janis, I cannot say but it appears that at the very least she wishes that he would return home.

There also seems to be some ongoing tension with Lidija, Janis' wife. It would seem that the prior letters to Kate were to some extent trying to explain the circumstances that lead to their surprise marriage. Janis had previously been in a relationship with a girl named Vera and it seems (with knowledge of the content of future letters) that Vera has exaggerated the seriousness of their relationship while Janis was away. At this time, Kate seems to believe that Lidija has stolen Janis from Vera and is trying to put words in his mouth by writing on his behalf.

This particular translation was a little difficult to read. This may have been due to some verbose, lyrical language in the original.... 

Nica, 20.9.47
Our dear brother and son!
Thank you so much, brother, for the letter written on 24.8, we received it the day before yesterday and the lines written by you gave us great joy again. I was home alone when the letter came and so I could have a good cry, from the heart. Our fate is after all painful – yours to be in foreign parts and for our lives to be separated. Still we can be and are happy that we have you, we can often receive from you lovingly written lines – they make our lives richer and more beautiful. Yes, your yoke of exile is not as light as we, living at home, might imagine. And your struggle for the good and the true can be moving and makes my will stronger, reading your letter, to strive only for everything that is good and pure. No-one is as close to me, except mother, my dear brother, and this friendship is pure and enlightening. And I rejoice from my heart, that for you too news from us gives you new strength and joy in life to carry on your life, for you have life ahead of you, gives you new energy to develop and to grow.
I also have some understanding of those poor Latvians, who have given over to living the high life.  They are not at home, they have no family there, they are alone in exile, don’t have a real, permanent life, where the whole nation united is called to the way that leads only upwards and onwards to new achievements and endeavours, as it was in their homeland. They feel perhaps that their lives are of no use to anyone, they get no recognition, are not called to fulfil their destiny, exile and its conditions weigh too heavily on them. But have they got no faith or hope left, have they stopped believing in a brighter and happier future for us all? But I think that they are maybe people of weaker character, and who even in their homeland would not have really strived and formed a serious life. Here at home, dear Janis, it is different. In spite of everything, we are on our own Latvian soil, all together, and that gives us strength. Here, brother, I cannot say that we Latvians have sunk into the dirt - many other nations have passed through here, without that sense of morality and honour that is common with us, still I can say, many of our countrymen have not lost it even now.  Most of us are keeping to the old ways, with a small exception. I thank you from my heart, dear brother, that you, together with the majority of your fellow exiles, can maintain your faith and strength and want to and are able to keep yourselves alive and thriving. I suppose we cannot imagine what that demands of you, but I can say with certainty that we at home will be a thousand times grateful to you for that. Above everything, above wisdom, education, knowledge, I hold a pure, true, good heart and constancy. But everyone wants to fulfil themselves, learn something, achieve something, to improve themselves. And you there, our dear ones in a foreign place, are struggling against all odds to learn something, you would be valuable builders of your own and others’ lives, when you return to your homeland. And study, which in itself is striving for enlightenment, will help you, brother, and your countless companions in exile, to keep your hearts whole and pure. May God help you in that, the good Latvian God himself, may he spur you on to that and give you strength. And I think that even that part of our nation which has so degenerated in exile now, will awake as from a bad dream , from its nightmare, to shake of all the dust, and hatred of their bad deeds will arise in their hearts and resurrection, returning, when circumstances arise, that will give them new strength, new light. For every heart has in it a spark of goodness and light, which wants to lead them to goodness and to learn from their mistakes, to learn also to avoid them. I don’t want to lecture you, dear brother, but as a sister to a brother, I want to wish you to trust your heart, its voice and what it says, may you have the strength to go where it calls, to walk on a bright and true path, obeying it. And it seems to me more understandable and clearer, why you have married. Was it not a kind of salvation for you, as well as for your wife, in the circumstances in which you find yourselves there in a foreign place? And also the various trials which we cannot even imagine.  But if you acted rightly in them, then you need not worry or suffer. Of course, here more correct information can be gained.
And you, Janis, wrote in your last letter that you have given up thoughts of becoming a sailor. I don’t know what is in your thoughts, whether that is what your heart desires,   but this I can tell you, that our family farm  is waiting for you always and the most! I know that you liked the country life and you were keen on the work, even though you liked studying too. It occurs to me that all three of us were the same in these things.
And the things that your wife Lidija writes about your and her loves seem to me doubtful and make me wonder if she knows all that better than you yourself, that she is telling it to us. We could only believe it if we heard it from you yourself, that you did not love Vera, she only made you promise it, and she only “wanted” you, not loved you. We remember a lot of things from that time, which make these words seem unbelievable to us and the assertion that Vera did not write to you is not accurate, because she did, even though you had not even mentioned her. If you wanted to say this to us, why did you not do it yourself, or did that seem unnecessary to you and Lidija wanted to defend you to us somehow, or does she not want us to keep seeing Vera? But we have got too used to each other over all these years, to simply not recognise each other any more, we have really got on well always and still do now, although there is such a painfulness between us. And if you all return, then be assured that Vera will not come here anymore. But her mother lets us know that they still hope, and can anyone forbid them that? We do not see each other because of that, but because we are used to one another and are related as well. And dear Janis, we don’t mean to condemn what you have done so much that you should be afraid of us, for it has happened and cannot be changed and we have no thought that it should be changed and would not want our wishes to influence anything. The decision rests with your own hearts and if they speak a sure and clear language, then everything is in order and there is nothing for us to say and no explanations are needed. It can happen that someone can love more than one person in their life. I will keep Vera’s photos, I don’t think she will mind. We have harvested the potatoes, this year we took some helpers as well, there is still only the sugarbeet to harvest ,  cut back  the strawberries and tidy the garden,   then the autumn jobs will be done. Then winter will come with white snow, blizzards and frost and the winter jobs and homeliness, also trips to the forest. The trees are already losing their leaves, the last apples are ripening, the autumn flowers are blooming brightly. With our very best wishes to our dear Janis and also Lidija and Ilmars, mum, dad, grandma and your sister.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

The Meaning of Čirkšis

A Bird By Any Other Name


One of the goals I set in writing and researching for this blog was to find out the meaning and origin of the Cirksis family name. When I started writing, there was literally nothing online about any other Cirksis in the world and I was starting to think I might be the only one left!

I know that my immediate family on the Cirksis side came from Nīca in Latvia and I have vague recollections of Janis Cirksis saying that the family name came from a bird. But questions remained: Did the family name originate in the Nīca region or did my ancestors come from somewhere else? And what exactly does Cirksis mean?

At this stage, I might be able to provide some -unconfirmed - answers. I say unconfirmed because it all comes from secondary sources at the moment. It may be that primary sources do not exist, or are too degraded to consult, which is why I have decided to post the information I have now. As further information comes to light I may post more.

I will start firstly with the spelling: I have seen the family name variously spelt Cirksis in Australia, Čirkšis in Latvia, Tschirkshe on records in Raduraksti and Čirkše on other (older) documents. So why so many different spellings?

From my understanding, the correct (Latvian) way of spelling Cirksis is Čirkšis for males or Čirkše for females. I have noticed that there are several female Čirkšis on Facebook so this spelling variation may be outdated or old fashioned now. Interestingly, I have not seen a male named Čirkše. In Australia we have dropped the inflections over the C and the s simply because the letters Č and š don't exist in the English alphabet. This has changed how most people pronounce the name - and I'm not pedantic enough to enforce the proper pronunciation.

The spelling Tschirkshe on Raduraksti is the German phonetic version. While Latvian as a language has existed for a long time, the standardisation of written Latvian happened only about 100 years ago. Until Latvians agreed on appropriate ways to spell names they were often written phonetically using the German or Russian alphabets. Because of their influence in the region, there may also be a Russian spelling for Čirkšis -though at this stage I don't know what it might be...

So far, investigations by +Antra Celmins  of www.celmina.com show that there were quite a few Čirkšis families -likely related - concentrated around Nīca-Barta near Liepaja in Latvia. At the moment, I couldn't say if there are any other Čirkšis families concentrated in other localities and I am yet to be able to find the first person(s) to call themselves Čirkšis. I believe it was around the 1820s when Latvian serfs took family names and records for Nīca on Raduraksti go back to 1711 so it may yet be possible to find the origin of the family name.

Finally we get to the meaning of Čirkšis. A new friend (and perhaps relative) of  mine on Google +Krists Cirksis  may have provided the answer: Čirkšis is pronounced in Latvian something like "Chirk-shis" and is based on the sound that birds make - chirping! This is also something that Antra mentioned in response to a question I posted on her blog here.  The name Čirkšis is likely to be based on the Latvian word for chirp - čirkstēt.

So I hope I have shed some light on the origin and meaning of the family name to which this blog is devoted to investigating. But perhaps you have some more information? If you do, please post it in the comments below!


Thursday, 6 June 2013

The Search Continues

While I have been making regular posts on this blog thanks to the Letters from Latvia series, I have also had a few other pots on the boil. I thought that this week I would take the time to post an update on the progress of my other projects.

Yesterday I finally received another letter from the ITS regarding the fate of my uncle Peteris Čirkšis. You may remember from my last post on the topic The International Tracing Service: Following the bread crumbs that the ITS had replied that they "could not investigate any details within [their] documents" and that the Latvian Red Cross might be able to help. I filled out their questionnaire for the Red Cross and sent it back to Germany. 

For some reason, I had been thinking that I might receive a response from them yesterday and when I got home from work, I went straight to my desk to check for it. To my excitement, the letter was there! Finally, I thought I will be able to answer some of the many questions I have about my uncle's fate!

Here is what the letter said:

Dear Mr. Cirksis,
Thank you for returning the completed Questionnaire for inquirers. We will now ask the Latvian Red Cross in Riga to check whether there is a possibility to initiate investigations regarding your uncle's fate. As soon as we receive any news, we will inform you immediately. 
So it wasn't exactly what I had hoped but at least I know my questionnaire arrived safely in Germany. Unfortunately, I still don't know if this line of inquiry will be able to shed any further light on my uncle's fate or final resting place. As mentioned in the Letters from Latvia series, as late as 1949 the family seemed not to be aware of Peteris' fate. Hopefully at least one of these two investigations will be fruitful in this regard.

On other fronts: I have asked Antra of www.celmina.com to search through Raduraksti for my ancestors. The records for Nīca are in very poorly written german and I was absolutely amazed that she was able to find the marriage records of my great grandfather and great grandmother which included my great, great grandfather's (from both sides) names and occupations.  Had the records been in well written (preferably typed) German I might have had a chance of finding it myself but as it stands, I am glad I got an expert to look for me.

A screenshot of the marriage record found by Antra of www.celmina.com Even knowing what was contained in this record, I still had trouble reading it! To complicate things further, Čirkšis is spelt phonetically in German as Tschirkshe. By the way, if you can make out the occupations in this picture, please let me know!
Another little project that may be on the way is the posting of what I believe are some Latvian folk songs that I found among Janis' belongings. I only remembered that I had them recently and I hope that some of them will match up with some old recordings of Janis singing.

Finally, my local photo shop has finally nearly finished scanning my old photos! The posting of the old family album was one of the main things that I hoped to achieve with this blog. In the past I have usually posted the photos in bulk lots. This has meant that I haven't been able to give each photo the attention it deserves by annotating them fully and accurately. In the future, photos will likely be posted as singles or in groups that are very similar.

At the moment, some of these projects are simmering away in the background. If you are particularly interested in any one of them and would like me to post more sooner rather than later, let me know in the comments below! You can also find me on google + and Twitter by clicking on the links in the About Me section at the top left of this page or by going to my about.me page . By the way, I would love to know how many of us are out there! If your last name is Čirkšis, Čirkse or Tschirkshe, please leave a comment below!