Jews have resided in the provinces of Livonia and Courland since the 15th century. In the 18th century, these provinces were incorporated into the Russian Empire. The provinces were not included in the Pale of Settlement, so only Jews who had resided there before incorporation into Russia were permitted to live there. However, the Jewish population increased because various classes of Jews, such as university graduates, received special dispensation to move there.
Modern-day Latvia also includes 3 districts from the province of Vitebsk (including the large town of Daugavpils/Dvinsk), which joined Courland and Livonia in 1918 to form the independent Latvian Republic. By 1925, the Jewish population of the Latvian Republic was 95,675. In 1934, Latvia became a totalitarian state, and many Jews emigrated in the 1920’s and 30’s. The Germans occupied Latvia in July 1941. Only about 1,000 Latvian Jews survived the Holocaust. After WWII, Latvia became the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic, part of the U.S.S.R. It regained independence in 1991. Most Latvian Jews have emigrated, and many Jews who now live in Latvia are immigrants from other former republics of the Soviet Union.
Once you have identified the name of your ancestral town, you can locate it on a map using the following sources. It is also very helpful to identify the district and province in which the town was located at the time your relatives lived there, as well as the current district and province, using historical atlases and/or the web site listed below.
Mokotoff, Gary and Sallyann Amdur Sack with Alexander Sharon Where Once We Walked: A Guide to the Jewish Communities Destroyed in the Holocaust—Revised Edition (Avotaynu, 2002). This gazetteer, available in the Genealogy Institute, lists towns according to variant spellings and provides the present-day country and map coordinates of the town, as well as an estimate of the pre-WWII Jewish population. Genealogy Institute DS 135 .E83 M65 2002