The 27th edition of the Carnival of Central and East European Genealogy invited us to “Explore the Village of My Ancestor.” Need it be said, this is a challenge for descendants lacking a particular language among other important skills? Plus, how many villages have a written history? Nevertheless, let’s plunge on and see what happens.
My choices were a toss-up between Kastran or Lade in Latvia—the closest villages to my two ancestral farms. When briefly in Riga on a restricted schedule, I had enough sense to pick up a copy of Arvīds Plaudis’ A Trip Around Latvia (Riga? Jumava, 2002). I decided to go with Kastran, home of the Freibergs, because I have a relative still living there whom I’ve never met. And because according to Plaudis, Lade has no historical, architectural, cultural, or otherwise significant redeeming feature to rate a mention. I wonder if that’s why the Jurikas family all moved on elsewhere (... oh please, you know my Canadian humour conflicts with my Latvian sensibility!).
Now, to pad out stuff about my village I could have googled it. But I wasn’t willing to wade through a hundred pages of dubious portals and the usual social networking sites that always offer “everything you need to know” or the occasional carpet manufacturer. Yes indeed, there are people with the surname Kastran. If one uses the proper spelling of Kastrāne it might be darn near the only place in the world without a Wikipedia entry. On the other hand, the place definitely has a lot of hotels and real estate entries so it must be a going concern ... I'd say one of those spots favoured by the rich and famous, undefiled by peasants.
Google Earth was worth a try. What I see looks like a farm bordering a small river with perhaps two dozen buildings scattered around. Although I have photographs of the family farmhouse, I can’t recognize the shape of its roof! Then again, this is supposed to be about history. Fortunately I have good maps, so I know where Kastrāne is—about 40 miles northeast of Riga—and how to get there.
A Trip Around Latvia gives one specific reference, and I quote: “Kastrāne Castle Hill: On the left bank of the Mazā Jugla, near ‘Grunduļi’, similar to ‘Lielā vīra gulta’ with its two ramparts bordering the property on both ends.” I am grateful that Kastrāne has some kind of notable monument on a river but close perusal of the pages before and aft do not reveal the mysterious Grunduļi. One notices that although Mr. Plaudis provides excellent small map segments, he omitted the North sign on them. Therefore, on a tour “On foot, By bicycle, By car” as his sub-title reads, one would be juggling a series of maps.
So far, not much progress with this village yet ... but surrounding place names begin to resonate. A couple of miles away, Suntaži was where my gt-grandparents married in 1881. Mālpils, a few miles on the other side of Kastrāne, is where Grandpa Freibergs and all his siblings were baptized in a church built in 1766. Vatrāne is a village named for the vast estate upon which great-grandfather Otto Freibergs held his farm, pre-First World War. Nearby Ķeipene was the origin of some family postcards mailed to Canada; a hill called Jaunķeipene was “a popular gathering place of ancient Latvians in times of trouble.” Trouble, indeed. Centuries of it. The church at Madliena, where I expect (hope) to find earlier Freibergs, dates back to the 13th century (now we’re talkin’!) and was renovated in 1730. It was Madliena where Otto was taken in 1906 and summarily shot for his part in the short-lived reform movement. Several manor houses in the area had been torched in 1905 by Latvian freedom fighters and the large estate owners used police to execute all suspects.
Photograph, Madliena Evangelical Lutheran Church, Wikimapia.
Google is useful, after all. Now that I’m getting to know the neighbourhood, surely Grunduļi will reveal itself. I have a few lats coins left over from my first visit, probably not enough to rent a car.