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Guide to Estonia ancestry, family history, and genealogy: birth records, marriage records, death records, census records, family history, and military records.

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Getting started with Estonia research

Estonians have lived along the Baltic Sea for several thousand years. In the course of the 13th and 14th centuries, large parts of Estonia, together with Latvian areas to the south, came under German domination and was known as Livonia. In 1561 northern Estonia submitted to the protection of the Swedish crown, and Poland gained ascendancy over southern Estonia, including Tartu. In 1710 Peter the Great conquered Estonia. It remained under Russian rule for the next two centuries. An Estonian cultural revival aided by the press and nationalist literature began to emerge at the end of the 19th century. Political movements demanding autonomy sprang up in Estonia after the Russian revolution of 1905. With the demise of imperial Russia, Estonia proclaimed itself independent on February 24, 1918. It enjoyed independence only briefly. In June 1940 Soviet forces occupied Estonia. It was eventually incorporated into the Soviet Union. Estonia responded quickly to the power vacuum caused by the abortive coup of Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev and declared independence on August 20,1991. The last of the Soviet occupation troops left in 1994.[1]


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The National Archives of Estonia hold approximately two million records, including those of churches, educational institutions, manors, and personal files, and also various kinds of documentation that belonged to societies and enterprises. One of the documents in their collection describes how the coastal peasants on Estonia's island of Saaremaa helped rescue the shipwrecked English vessel Edith on 12 May 1860. The Edith, carrying a cargo of coal and coke out of West Hartlepool, had been caught in a storm and ran aground near Torgu.

Did you know?

  • All Estonians between 1830-1836 received Estonian names. Prior to that time, the names were German, Russian, Swedish, etc.
  • A number of records useful to a genealogist have been digitized. They include land registries, register of estates, and personal name indexes to parish registers. These can be searched on the National Archives of Estonia site. Click here to access the the Saaga Digitized Resources.
  • The Estonian Historical Archives offer digitized archival sources through their various online databases. To find this material, click on the Databases link in the left-hand column.
  • Estonians began their freedom from Soviet rule in 1988 through the “Singing Revolution”. Estonians had been under tight control by the USSR, which by 1947 had set strict restrictions on the music to be performed during the Estonian Song Festival. In the festival of June 1988, the citizens courageously but tentatively began singing one of their own national folksongs. From then on, they were permitted to renew their nationalistic pride through song.


  1. The Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Family History Record Profile: Estonia,” Word document, private files of the FamilySearch Content Strategy Team, 1994-2002.


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  • This page was last modified on 13 August 2015, at 13:37.
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