The geographical history of Europe often blows my mind. Areas, regions and even entire countries are seemingly juggled between various governments, with borders being drawn and redrawn at will.
Both sides of my family have been impacted by the geographical history of the land which is now known as Latvia. As German Balts my paternal family first made Latvia their home in the 14th century, although I believe the first Germans entered the Baltic States as missionaries during the 12th century. The map above [No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5191835] is of the area in 1260, then known as Livonia. Riga was actually governed separately at the time. I have found this website invaluable for dates and explanations. I wrote about my research into my Baltic German family here. At first I believed it was only my paternal family who could lay claim to living in the Baltic States. However, research into my maternal family has also shown links to Latvia and, before that, to Germany.
My three times maternal great grandfather, Andrey Andreevich Kleinmichel was born in 1757 to a German family in Riga, Latvia. From the Russian patronymic system, it can be assumed that his father’s name was also Andrey, but I have not been able to discover anything about the family prior to the birth of Andrey Andreevich. His father has been listed as a minister in the local church, so I guess the family were Lutheran. At the age of 18, Andrey Andreevich enlisted in the Russian Army and from that time forward made his life in Russia. I wonder if he had siblings and where they ended up.
My grandmother, Olga Woronoff (neé Kleinmichel) always referred to her family as being of Swedish descent. In her book, Upheaval, she writes: “My father, Count Constantine Kleinmichel, was of Swedish descent and originally the name was spelled differently. In the twelfth century the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea, that until then belonged to the Russian State of Novgorod the Great, was conquered and annexed by Sweden.” But her geography was slightly wrong, if we can believe the records that say Andrey Andreevich was born in Riga, as the Novgorod Republic only reached to Estonia in the 12th century.
From what I can make out, the area in present day Latvia, which has been known as Livonia and Courland and includes Riga, was tossed between Germany, Russia, Poland and Sweden, with the Swedes capturing Riga and surrounds in 1621. By 1710 the area was back in Russian hands which explains why young Andrey signed up with the Russian army. Many young men from other branches of my paternal family – the German Balts – also entered the Russian army.
So there we have it. Both my paternal and maternal family trees grew out of Latvian soil, and both apparently had German roots. In the end both the family which stayed in Latvia and the one which was transplanted to Russia, were uprooted by war and revolution.