Latvia 1897 Census Project #latvia

Marion Werle <werle@...>

In the mid-1990s, when I first started to do research on the Latvian branch
of my family, the only options available for research were to hire a
professional researcher, and, somewhat later, to write directly to the
Latvian State Historical Archives (LSHA). JewishGen was in its infancy, and
was basically a mailing list. Records had not been digitized or indexed, and
it took months for the Archives to locate and translate them. I estimate
that I spent somewhere between $800 and $1200 on my Latvian family alone, at
prices which have only gone up since then.

I was also involved with the Latvia SIG >from its inception at the 1995
Washington, DC conference. I was an officer and volunteer during the early
years of the SIG, and worked very closely with Mike Getz during that time.
When my term was over, Arlene Beare assumed the presidency, and she worked
tirelessly to establish a relationship with the LSHA archivists. Even though
Arlene's term ended many years ago, work on the 1897 census project
continued in the background for many years, and its recent release marks the
culmination of her efforts. The terms of the agreement with the archives
stated that they would only include data on the heads of families and adult
children, and that if further research were needed, the JewishGen
subscribers could write to the LSHA for additional information.

Now that the database is available on JewishGen, there have been a number of
negative comments expressed on the Latvia SIG mailing list. In the first
place, it takes a huge amount of effort, both financial and otherwise, to
obtain, translate and reformat records so that they can be loaded into a
database, not to mention the ongoing costs of maintaining the JewishGen
servers and renting space in the co-location facilities that house them.

Unlike the Litvak SIG, which pools researchers into research groups after a
minimum (usually $100, renewable every few years) donation, the Latvia SIG
has never charged for databases. Whether this model is sustainable over the
long haul and whether it should be continued is certainly a legitimate issue
for debate; however, to demean Arlene's sponsorship of the 1897 census
project because it is somehow "not complete", is unfair.

I also disagree with the statement that "you either translate the entire
list or none of it." Any researcher who would take an abstract of a record
as authoritative, whether on JewishGen, a SIG or any other website, has not
done his or her due diligence as a genealogical researcher. At the very
least, I would always write to the originating source for a copy of the
record with a translation, and in the case of the LSHA, which continues to
accept individual research requests (unlike the Lithuanian State Historical
Archives, for instance, which no longer does so), I would also ask if there
are any other related records that are not available online, and happily pay
for the results of that query.

As a genealogical community, we have become lazy and expect indexed and
digitized records to fall into our lap for free. We happily pay for an membership, but don't bother to support the SIGs or JewishGen.
And then we have the nerve to complain about a project that we never
contributed to - what's wrong with this picture?

If people are truly concerned with the future of the Latvia SIG, by all
means, become more involved, but please, people, don't just sit back and
complain when you haven't made any effort either to make a donation or
volunteer your services.

Marion Werle

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