Why did my grandfather leave Lithuania | True Lithuania
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First wave of Lithuanian emigration (1865-1915)

The first massive emigration wave in Lithuanian history (1865-1915) had truly epic proportions.

Some 20-30% of Lithuanians then fled their country which was ruled by a discriminatory and economically backward Russian Empire. They established their "colonies", churches, and organizations across several continents. These emigrants were also called “grynoriai” and it was they who launched the Lithuanian diaspora. Most of the people searching for their heritage in Lithuania these days descend from "grynoriai" and this article helps to understand why they did leave, how did they live, and what they leave after them.

The majority of first-wave emigrants were Catholic Lithuanians. However, there were sizeable minority groups that also emigrated from Lithuania at this time (Jews, Poles, Germans). Where their experiences differed from the majority, they are explained as special cases.

Why did Lithuanians emigrate in the 19th century and before World War 1 (1865-1915)?

At the time, Lithuania was under the rule of the Russian Empire. Lithuanians were heavily persecuted and the Lithuanian language was banned while males could be drafted into the Russian army for 12 years, essentially extinguishing their youth and possibly life.

Furthermore, until 1861 most ethnic Lithuanians were considered serfs – a slave-like property of local nobles for whom they performed forced labor. While serfdom was abolished in the 1860s and Lithuanians gained freedom of movement, there was no land reform to give them land which remained in the hands of the mostly non-Lithuanian nobles.

Thirdly, the Russian Empire decided not to develop industry in Lithuania, making non-agricultural jobs scarce. Moreover, even most of the non-agricultural jobs that existed were inaccessible to ethnic Lithuanians: government jobs were reserved for Russians, while most businesses were owned by non-ethnic-Lithuanians who prefered to recruit employees from their own ethnic groups (at the time, nearly all Lithuania's cities were minority-majority, with Jews, Poles, Russians, and/or Germans outnumbering ethnic Lithuanians who were just starting to move in from the villages they were forced to live at as serfs). This meant that, for many ethnic Lithuanians, emigration was the best or even the only option to make a living.

The main reasons for emigration were thus (1)Earning money (for those who inherited no land), (2)Avoiding drafts, (3)Avoiding persecution.

A Lithuanian postcard of Kražiai massacre when Russian cossacks massacred Lithuanian Catholics who were defending their church from closure. An example of anti-Lithuanian discrimination that pushed people from Lithuania

A Lithuanian postcard of Kražiai massacre when Russian cossacks massacred Lithuanian Catholics who were defending their church from closure. An example of anti-Lithuanian discrimination that pushed people from Lithuania

Special cases: minorities. In addition to ethnic Lithuanians, many of Lithuania’s Jews, Poles, and Germans also left. While their social standing in Lithuania was typically above that of many Lithuanians (they were never serfs), there were still forms of discrimination directed particularly at them. Furthermore, unlike ethnic Lithuanians, ethnic minorities (especially the Jews) had less of a reason to stay as Lithuania was culturally as alien as the USA to many of them.

Special cases: Lithuania Minor. A significant part of Lithuania, known as Lithuania Minor, was ruled until 1945 by Germany rather than by Russia. There, serfdom did not exist and emigration started in the 1840s. However, the numbers of these Lithuanians were smaller; many passed as Germans.

Lithuania ~1900 - the one the First Wave has left. This simplified map shows (in black) the boundary between Russia and Germany that used to divide the Lithuanian ethnic areas into a Russian-ruled Lithuania-proper and German-ruled Lithuania Minor. Also, it shows the three main linguistic divisions of people of Lithuanian origin at the time: the ethnically Lithuanian areas where Lithuanian language still predominated, the ethnically Lithuanian areas where Slavic (mostly Polish) language predominated ~1900 and those where the German language predominated. The map is a simplification, however, as, even in the Lithuanian-speaking areas there were Polish-speaking Lithuanians (especially among the elite), while even in the Polish- or German-speaking areas there were also many Lithuanian speakers. Many people spoke multiple of these languages. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

How many people emigrated from Lithuania between 1865 and 1915?

Some 700 000 people left Lithuania in this era, making this the second-largest emigration wave from Lithuania ever (after the Third Wave).

Where did people from Lithuania emigrate in 1865-1915?

Most (~350 000) emigrated to the USA. Mid-Atlantic, Great Lakes, and New England industrial cities, mining areas of Pennsylvania and Illinois. In 1915, most of the Lithuanian-Americans lived in Pennsylvania (27,7%), Illinois (18,7%), New York (15%), and Massachusetts (14,7%). The two key areas of Lithuanian settlement were Chicagoland and the Pennsylvania Coal Region, each housing some 100 000 Lithuanian-Americans. At the time, immigration to America was essentially unrestricted: only a few percents who were deemed health hazards or too frail to work would not be admitted. Still, emigration to the USA was an expensive and difficult undertaking. With no direct shipping routes from Lithuania to America, the migrants had first to get to major European ports (e.g. by railways): not an easy task for mostly illiterate peasants who spoke no Western languages. At the beginning of the First Wave (~1870-1880s), emigration from the Russian Empire was even illegal, leading to possible problems with corrupt officials, scammers, and others en-route. Back then, emigration may have involved walking on foot to a larger town, then traveling by horse carriage in a multiple-leg journey to a port city likely somewhere in Germany. But by the early 20th century, emigration grew increasingly regularized with "packages" being sold, more shipping routes established, and railways becoming common in and around Lithuania.

Lithuanian churches in the USA marked by red symbols. Nearly all of them have been established by the first wave, this map closely showing where this wave emigrated to

Lithuanian churches in the USA marked by red symbols. Nearly all of them have been established by the first wave, this map closely showing where this wave emigrated to in the USA

Much smaller numbers (~20 000) went to the key cities of the UK, Canada, Argentina, and Brazil.

Significant numbers (~330 000) also went to other areas of the Russian Empire, mainly the industrial and educational centers such as Saint Petersburg, Riga, Warsaw, Kyiv, and Odesa. ~100 000 of them went to what is now Latvia. A minority ended up in villages where they were attracted by cheap land. All these people often emigrated by railroads.

Ellis Island museum of immigration

Ellis Island immigrant registration facility of New York passed by most of the America-bound Lithuanians. They would spend weeks in the third class of transatlantic vessels to see the mighty skyline of New York and disembark here for the final decision of acceptance

How did the pre-WW1 Lithuanian emigrants live after emigration?

Most of them worked in industries and mines. The jobs were hard, long, and dangerous yet they still trumped what was available back in Lithuania.

Outside of work, they formed self-sufficient communities. In each “free” city with more Lithuanians (nearly all of those were in the USA), they would build a Lithuanian church that served as a community hub. Church buildings or building complexes typically included event halls for secular and ethnic activities as well as a school for immigrant children, staffed by Lithuanian nuns, who would also care for the sick and widows. Some 10-20 years after the establishment, as the community grew and salaries grew as well, the “temporary” church would be replaced by a larger permanent one, with even more premises.

Holy Cross Lithuanian church in Chicago (Back of the Yards)

Holy Cross Lithuanian church in Chicago stockyards districts, one of the largest Lithuanian churches in America. It is surrounded by other buildings of the parish that served the community

Around every Lithuanian church, a Lithuanian district would develop as Lithuanians would try to live at a location from where they could easily walk to all the Lithuanian activities taking place in the church. Such a district would have many Lithuanian businesses and in many such districts, the English language was not needed for life.

The cast of 1910 performance Kęstutis based on the history of Lithuania, as acted by Worcester (MA) Lithuanians

The cast of 1910 performance Kęstutis based on the history of Lithuania, as acted by Worcester (MA) Lithuanians

These districts were also large markets for Lithuanian goods. The relative wealth and significant freedom in America allowed the first wave of Lithuanian emigrants to perform deeds not possible back in contemporary Russian-ruled Lithuania. They had the world's first Lithuanian language novel published. They operated the biggest-circulation Lithuanian newspaper in the world at the time. They were the first ones to organize Lithuanian-language theater troupes. They established some of the first Lithuanian orchestras and, aided by America's technological advancement, made the first Lithuanian musical records. Technologies such as photography, film, or pianolas were far more widespread there than in contemporary Lithuania, leaving more historical media documents from the US Lithuanian communities than from Lithuania itself.

Shenandoah Lithuanian orchestra

Shenandoah Lithuanian orchestra

At that time back in Lithuania, literally every ethnic Lithuanian was religious (some 90% Catholic and 10% Lutheran). After emigrating, however, some became accustomed to radical leftist ideas in their new workplaces. Up to 10% of Lithuanian first wavers could have joined leftist movements and abandoned religion. These atheists would establish Lithuanian Halls or Clubs, often as an alternative to Lithuanian parishes. There, only secular activities would take place. As the number of atheists was lower, such secular clubs existed only in major communities and were typically smaller than the churches there. In addition to leftist/socialist Lithuanian clubs, there were nationalist Lithuanian clubs that, although did not deny religion, saw ethnicity as more important than religion and so disliked the internationalizing and foreign-control factors of the Roman Catholic church. Typically all the Lithuanian clubs were located not far away from the Lithuanian church, as they were established in the already-existing Lithuanian districts.

Vytautas Kareivis Aid Society members posing with their uniforms (image from the Society's heritage rooms)

Vytautas Kareivis Aid Society of Grand Rapids members posing with their uniforms before World War 1. They considered themselves Lithuanian lancers and would march in Grand Rapids and were associated with the nationalist line (image from the Society's heritage rooms)

Another major division was that between “Lithuanists” and “Polonists” which had been imported from Lithuania itself. In Lithuania, for centuries, the Lithuanian language and culture were regarded to be lower in status than Polish; the Lithuanian language was little used outside of family conversations. During the late 19th century, however, a national revival was sweeping Lithuania: Lithuanians sought to use the Lithuanian language for all the spheres of life (including culture, science, religion, and literature). That had repercussions in America where, back in the 1870s-1880s, Lithuanian-speaking Lithuanians, Polish-speaking Lithuanians, and Poles would often form parishes together (with Polish as the main language) but, as the Lithuanian national revival went on, Lithuanians would often break away to form Lithuanian-language parishes (1890s and later), sometimes leading into bitter conflicts over the property of the once-joint organizations. A minority of Lithuanian-Americans opposed this “Lithuanization”. They remained in Polish organizations and eventually ceased to consider themselves Lithuanian(-American)s.

Due to such multilingualism in Lithuania, it used to be the norm to translate one's name just as any other word (e.g. call oneself "Michał" when speaking Polish and "Mykolas" when speaking Lithuanian). Moreover, there was no standard Lithuanian orthography yet. As such, after emigration, even relatives often ended up with very different last names: some took Lithuanian versions (in various orthographies), some took Polish versions, and some tried to anglicize their names. Some names were misheard by the officials and written down incorrectly (most of the First Wavers were illiterate and couldn't write their names down themselves). As such, few of the last names used by First Wave emigrants after emigration (and their descendants today) are exactly like those that exist in Lithuania itself (this is in contrast to the later Lithuanian emigration waves).

A graves of Bočkauskas family in Mahanoy City illustrates the Polonist-Lituanist divide of the era. While the main gravestone has the surname written in Polish (Boczkowski), the grave of Dominikas Boczkauskas, a publisher of the largest Lithuanian newspaper at the time, has the same surname written in pre-modern Lithuanian (Boczkauskas).

Graves of Bočkauskas family in Mahanoy City illustrates the Polonist-Lituanist divide of the era. While the main gravestone has the surname written in Polish (Boczkowski), the grave of Dominykas Boczkauskas, a publisher of the largest Lithuanian newspaper at the time, has the same surname written in pre-modern Lithuanian (Boczkauskas).

For social security, Lithuanian insurance communities were established. Within some 10-30 years, as more and more Lithuanians died, Lithuanian parishes and some Lithuanian clubs acquired their own land lots to be used as Lithuanian cemeteries so that even after death Lithuanians could be buried next to other Lithuanians. This tradition was limited to the USA, especially Pennsylvania, Illinois, New England, and New York, however.

Lithuanian-American cemeteries map. All of them were established by the First Wave emigrants, with the exception of Toronto one

Lithuanian-American cemeteries map. All of them were established by the First Wave emigrants, with the exception of Toronto one

Given that much of Lithuanian activity used to take place within the emigrant community and many even never learned other languages or naturalized, they would often marry other Lithuanians even after emigration and thus have Lithuanian families. As more men than women did emigrate at first, it was common for them to invite their wives, sweethearts, or other women from Lithuania. They typically spoke Lithuanian with kids although often wanted the kids to learn the local language as best as possible (i.e. typically English).

Detroit Lithuanian Hall

Detroit Lithuanian Hall. Many of such halls were established by leftists

A certain part of pre-WW1 emigrants would move again after initial emigration, seeking better economic opportunities. Those who emigrated to countries other than the USA gradually moved to the USA. In the USA itself, there was a movement from mining towns to new industrial centers (e.g. Upstate New York, Detroit). Typically, Lithuanians would move there in large numbers and once again create a Lithuanian church and/or clubs.

Many Lithuanian-Americans would send money back to Lithuania, supporting their relatives there. Many would also invite their siblings and more distant relatives to America, growing the Lithuanian communities that way.

As the independence of Lithuania began seeming real ~1914, Lithuanian emigrants would support the pro-independence activities financially. After Lithuania became independent in 1918, they would invest in Lithuania. Some third of Lithuanian-Americans actually returned back to Lithuania, often buying land there for money they earned in the USA. Such “return” peaked after the 1918 independence.

The first wave Lithuanian-Americans campaign for the liberty of Lithuania in the 1910s.

Among those who didn't "return" to Lithuania, however, only a minority would ever visit it again. They may have wanted to but a transatlantic voyage at the time meant many days of shipboard travel time at a cost of numerous monthly salaries. Journeying back to Lithuania, in terms of time and costs, could be compared to taking a several-month-long cruise around the world today. Thus, unless their relatives also emigrated, most of the First Wavers would never see them again, keeping correspondence by mail alone.

Special cases: minorities. Jews, Poles or Germans who emigrated from Lithuania at this time would not see themselves as Lithuanians at all but simply as Jews, Poles or Germans (e.g. Jewish-Americans, Polish-Americans, German-Americans but not Lithuanian-Americans). Thus, they did not join the Lithuanian communities or organizations but rather integrated into the wider communities and organizations of Poles, Jews, or Germans in the area. They also nearly never returned to Lithuania.

This was understandable at that time as, in the pre-WW1 Lithuania, minorities typically did not speak Lithuanian or know Lithuanian culture and lived very separate and different lives from the ethnic Lithuanian majority. It was the ethnicity/language/religion rather than citizenship or birthplace that defined a person at the time (the citizenship was Russian and no community except for ethnic Russians actually identified with it).

At least 30 000 Jews left Lithuania in this era, while the numbers of Lithuania's Poles and Germans are not researched.

Special cases: emigrants to other Russian Imperial cities Lithuanians who emigrated to other Russian Imperial cities (Riga, Saint Petersburg, Tbilisi, Kyiv, Warsaw) also established businesses and organizations but failed to build churches or club palaces for several reasons: (1)This was limited by the discriminatory policies of the Russian Empire (2)Their incomes were smaller (3)They were much more likely planning to come back after either earning money or getting an education. Indeed, nearly all of the Lithuanians who emigrated to other Russian-ruled lands at this time returned after 1918 Lithuanian independence, extinguishing Lithuanian communities in places such as Russia or Georgia and reducing the Lithuanian community in Latvia by two-thirds. In 1920-1922 the Russian Soviet revolution essentially rendered Russia unliveable.

Lithuanian choir of Liepaja, Latvia (then Russian Empire). Even where no Lithuanian buildings were constructed, Lithuanian choirs were an important pillar of ethnic activities

Lithuanian choir of Liepaja, Latvia (then Russian Empire). Even where no Lithuanian buildings were constructed, Lithuanian choirs were an important pillar of ethnic activities

Unlike in the West where nearly all Lithuanian emigrants were blue-collar, some Lithuanian intellectuals also moved to other Russian Imperial cities. That's because the closure of Vilnius University (1832) left Lithuania without higher education opportunities, the closest universities being in places such as Saint Petersburg or Kyiv. Such intellectuals almost invariably returned to Lithuania after studies or a brief pre-1918 career.

How did the children and grandchildren of first-wave Lithuanian emigrants live?

In the main clusters of Lithuanian-Americans, so-called “Lithuanian colonies”, the childhoods of Lithuanian-American children culturally resembled childhoods in Lithuania.

They went to a Lithuanian mass in a Lithuanian church with their parents, they went to Lithuanian parish schools. Often there were enough Lithuanians in the area to have a Lithuanian-speaking group of friends. Many of them learned English only in their late childhood or teenage years.

Memorial plaque for Little Lithuania in Shenandoah

Memorial plaque for Little Lithuania in Pennsylvania's Southern Coal Region where numerous villages and towns still have a Lithuanian ancestry percentage at 10%, 20% or more.

Often, they would marry other Lithuanians as a Lithuanian-centered social life meant the likelihood of falling in love with a non-Lithuanian girl or boy was lower. Also, the parents still often opposed interethnic marriages.

Still, there was always a slow “cultural trickle” out of the Lithuanian community. The children who grew up in less-Lithuanian areas and went to non-Lithuanian-parish schools often integrated into the non-Lithuanian-speaking community, as they were often even bullied for speaking Lithuanian. Also, there were some Lithuanian-Americans who tried to speak English to their children as they believed that was beneficial to them, especially in the less Lithuanian areas. Despite this, many English-native-speaking (grand)sons or (grand)daughters of Lithuanian immigrants who lived in the “Lithuanian colonies” would still consider themselves Lithuanians.

South Pittsburgh St. Casimir Lithuanian church

Massive Lithuanian churches such as South Pittsburgh St. Casimir were grounds for not only marriage rites but also for meeting your husband, wife, and friends

Until World War 2, many Lithuanian churches added English masses to accommodate those who spoke better English than Lithuanian. While some parishioners would go to that English mass, very few would leave a Lithuanian church altogether. The high birth rates meant that any Lithuanians who “left the community for good” were well replaced by new Lithuanians well into the 20th century.

After Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, many first wavers Lithuanian communities supported its cause. Arguably, their biggest achievement was inviting tens of thousands of Lithuanian Soviet Genocide refugees (the "second wave") to immigrate into the old Lithuanian "colonies", providing them initial financial support and accommodation. In many cases, they would be helping distant relatives whom they never seen before, yet in other cases, first wave Lithuanian-American organizations invited thousands of completely unknown-to-them Lithuanian refugees.

While these refugees rejuvenated and expanded the old Lithuanian colonies and parishes, many first wavers were surprised by how different the recent arrivals were from them. Back in Lithuania, two decades of independence (1918-1940) had established consensuses on the "best" forms of Lithuanian language, Lithuanian art, Lithuanian culture, Lithuanian intellectualism and Lithuanian patriotism. While all these were almost axiomatic to the DP refugees, they were little known to the first wavers whose families had never experienced living in a sovereign Lithuanian nation. As such, there was arguably less intermingling between the DPs and the first wavers than could have been expected.

This small Omaha Lithuanian parish invited some 2000 Lithuanian refugees after World War 2, allowing them to sleep in the church basement

This small Omaha Lithuanian parish invited some 2000 Lithuanian refugees after World War 2, allowing them to sleep in the church basement

The true destruction of the first wave Lithuanian-American communities came ~1960, and typically this was the time when the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of the original immigrants were growing up. The key reasons were white flight and public welfare.

Public welfare made the Lithuanian parish schools redundant as Lithuanians could send their children to public schools for free. Educated there among non-Lithuanian pals, the children would not really be able to communicate well in Lithuanian. One after another, the Lithuanian parish schools closed down ~1960s-1980s. Likewise, the Lithuanian insurance institutions became redundant as well.

Waterbury Lithuanian school entrance adorned by Vytis

Waterbury Lithuanian school entrance adorned by Vytis. The building has been abandoned and sometimes rented out to non-Lithuanian events

Yet it was the white flight and racial riots that really killed these Lithuanian communities. Most of the Lithuanian districts and institutions were in the inner cities of the US rust belt. Blacks moved into these districts ~1960s and the crime rates soared there. Lithuanians felt forced to leave to the suburbs but nowhere they would create a “Lithuanian suburb”, spreading across tens or hundreds of miles of suburbia instead. Not having fellow Lithuanian neighbors, they no longer had the need to talk in Lithuanian or the possibility to easily participate in Lithuanian activities.

Often, at least some of the “children” and “grandchildren” generations (who were adults in the 1960s) continued to go to the original Lithuanian clubs and parishes despite no longer living in the area, but the generations who grew up away from there nearly never did. The organizations, therefore, began “dying out” ~1980s. For example, the majority of Lithuanian-American parishes built by the “first wave” were closed down or became non-Lithuanian in the 1980s-2000s.

Lithuanian Ss. Peter and Paul church during demolition

Lithuanian Ss. Peter and Paul church during demolition in Westville, Illinois

~2000 the popularity of genealogical research, however, made some descendants of the first wavers rediscover their heritage, although their connection with that heritage is different: rarely they would learn the language or traditions, but rather study family stories and visit the sights of their immigrant (great) grandparents' childhoods. Interestingly, some Poles and Jews have also joined this trend: they would consider themselves as having a Lithuanian heritage if their forefathers came from Lithuania, even though those Jewish or Polish forefathers would have never actually considered themselves Lithuanians. That‘s because in modern-day America it is the location forefathers emigrated from that matters in establishing ancestry (rather than ethnicity, the most important piece of identity in Lithuania of ~1900).

Decades after the closure of Rumford ME Lithuanian club building, grandsons/granddaughters of immigrants have reestablished Lithuanian organization which now organizes annual picnics

Decades after the closure of Rumford ME Lithuanian club building, grandsons/granddaughters of immigrants have reestablished Lithuanian organization which now organizes annual picnics

Special case: smaller USA towns (especially the Pennsylvanian Coal Region) In some towns (especially Pennsylvania, Illinois) Lithuanians made up 10% or more of the population. There, the white flight did not happen. As such, the Lithuanian institutions survived, still populated by the descendants of first-wave emigrants. Hotly-contested church consolidation closed most of the churches, but the clubs remained, although gradually they would begin accepting non-Lithuanians and some of them lost association with the Lithuanian culture, except for their name and history.

Mount Carmel Lithuanian club

Mount Carmel Lithuanian club in Pennsylvania, open since 1926

What heritage the first wave of Lithuanian emigration has left behind?

Some 80 massive Lithuanian churches built by this generation still stand in the USA, as well as tens of club palaces and some 50 cemeteries.

Most cemeteries are still operational (albeit mostly no longer Lithuanian-only), however, most of the churches are now closed, except for those located in the main cities that have been joined by the later immigrant groups.

One of the entrances to the Westville Lithuanian cemetery

One of the entrances to the Westville Lithuanian cemetery, still cared for by the Lithuanian descendants in this 3000-strong town

The full online map of Lithuanian heritage in the USA is located here.

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  1. Thank you! This article is great!

  2. Great article. Very informative. My great grandfather Benjamin Zologa immigrated in 1902-3 from Lithuania. Where do you suggest I begin an ancestry search?

    • Archives. If you know at least approximate names / dates / places (or some of that) about your relatives from Lithuania, you may go to the Lithuanian archives. We may offer you heritage search services there.

  3. Really good article safed my article for university Aciu!

  4. Hello Augustinas, thank you for all of your insights and great information. I noticed in your comments on other websites as well that you keep referring to the “Lithuanian archives” and suggest that people search there for more information, but I have no idea where to find the Lithuanian archives. Is there a website for searching the archives? Any help you can give to point me in the right direction would be much appreciated.

    My G-Grandfather was born in Kaunas Lithuania in 1879, migrated to the US in 1896, and was naturalized here in 1900. I am interested in dual citizenship, but need to know if I would qualify for that, or if there is such a thing anymore. I understand that some of the rules for that have changed in 2021, but I don’t really know any specifics.

    I also want to do the research for genealogy purposes as we don’t have information on his life in Lithuania. We have the names of his siblings (one or two of which also came to the US) with birth years, and the names of his parents (with approximate birth years), census records, draft cards, and marriage certificates for those that made it here. I would like to know more about his parents as well. My aunt has been working on our family genealogy for years, but she is no longer able to, and there are many gaps I would love to be able to fill!

    Thank you so much for your time and assistance, as well as the great information you provide to those of us who would love to learn more about our family histories.

    • There is still a dual citizenship, however, for people who left with the early-to-middle First Wave it is typically not available (my article with comments on the topic is here). A single citizenship, however, may be possible, or a Lithuanian descent certificate (read my article about it here). We do provide both citizenship-through-descent and Lithuanian descent certificate services, if needed.

      By “Lithuanian archives” I mean archives of Lithuania. They are located in Lithuania. There are different possibilities to access them, including:
      -Hiring a private Lithuanian archive researcher. We help with such services. This provides the best results but also has a price.
      -Going to the archives yourself (in Lithuania). This may be interesting for yourself but takes time and has a steep learning curve (and, if you live far from Lithuania, it also costs to fly, but it could also be an interesting experience – we may help with ancestry tours in Lithuania, if needed).
      -Writing to the archives with direct questions, with specific names, dates, and churches/locations (e.g. “Do you have any proof that Jonas Jonaitis was born in 1879 and Baptized in the church of Holy Trinity, Kaunas?”). This is cheaper than a private researcher (you just pay state archive fee) but only works if you know significant amouts of “seed data” already (at times, this “seed data” is incorrect – e.g. age of the person known by descedents in the USA is not the same as the real age, as there were reasons to change it and people simply cared less about their real age back then). It will also likely provide more limited documents than a private researcher could (but could potentially give birth, marriage, death records).

      While some data has been scanned and put online, this is only a small minority of archive data, so online search is only sometimes possible and only for some documents.

  5. This is all very helpful. I did look up Lithuania archives, however was unable to read the site due to language barrier. My question though is what if I have names but no dates? I know very little to no information about my grandfathers side what I do have was found in my grandfathers military documents here in the US and a lot of online research. So how can I request records of people I’m not certain are related?

    • There are three types of useful information: names, locations, and dates.

      Do you know the locations, even if approximate?

      If you know locations and names, then it is possible to check multiple archive books of the particular location for different dates (e.g. 10 or 20 years of data from a particular church). If you would visit Lithuania, you could do it yourself, or you could hire an archive researcher with which we could help.

      If you know no locations, however, then it also depends on luck. If the name (i.e. surname) was especially rare, it may hav eexisted only in some locations, and so then we could check the books of those particular locations.

      Also, it helps if you know more names, so there would be a possible way to prove that the people discovered are really the same (e.g. if you know names of parents and children, then a Baptism record of the child with such a name who had parents of such names would most likely be the one you are searching for, nearly certainly so if the surname is not very common).

      When one does not know much of the information, writing a question to the archives is typically not an option. The two remaining options are either to go to the archive yourself and request many books (for many dates of the same location or several locations), or to hire somebody to do this.

  6. I have immigration papers, from when my I don’t know how many great grandfather, Joseph Dziaukas migrated from Russia to Lackawanna county in 1896. His last name was changed to what I now have Zokus, I was always told that he was actually from Lithuania. I was curious on how I could find out more information. I know what he was most likely German or Polish. Because I had my dna done and I have alot of German and polish dna but no Lithuanian. Every time I search for answers I get nowhere.

    • I think he would have certainly been Lithuanian as that is a Lithuanian last name.

      People of different ethnicities have similar DNA (only in some “far away” ethnicities, e.g. different races, does it differ more). There is no 100% sure way to tell by DNA if someone is e.g. Polish or Lithuanian – there are just varying probabilities.

      Moreover, interethnic marriages between “close” ethnicities are nothing new, they existed for centuries or millennia, thus mixing the DNA, likely many times over many generations. Still, the offspring would likely have eventually drifted towards one of the ethnicities in terms of self-identification.

      Ethnicity is at least as much about culture as about DNA or even more so.

      • Thank you for replying, I was told by family he came from a small mountain Providence in Lithuania. I have done more research since my last comment, but everything I have found has been after he came to the United State. I would like to know more about where exactly In Lithuania he came from. And how to pronounce the original last name.

    • Also try jewishgen.org a great site for finding lost ancestors.

    • This is a wonderful article and definitely helps my understanding of what happened! Perhaps this may help too, Jesse?

      Both my (maternal) Great-grandmother and Great-grandfather immigrated to Rochester, NY area around 1912-1914(?). They were married in the USA in 1915, so I know they came before that date; my great-grandfather came first and was sponsored by a family member so he could get a job. (he worked at the Piano Works in East Rochester and was also a carpenter).

      Most of my childhood, I was told they came from Poland. They spoke Polish in the home; they were devout Catholics. They cooked Polish foods. My grandmother (their daughter Helen) knew a little Polish, but over time the language usage faded. My Great-grandparents never spoke of “the old country,” so I knew next to nothing about them when I was growing up.

      It was not until many years later that I learned from an “interview” with my Grandmother Helen that the last mailing address of her parents that she had in her notes was from Salcininkai, Lithuania.

      After much digging, and not a lot to go on, I found information that stated Salcininkai, Lithuania was [a nearly entirely] ethnic Polish district not very far south of the city of Wilno (Vilnius).

      Both my Great-grandfather Maciej (Max) Gleba (b. 1891) and Great-grandmother Felicia Rogoza (b. 1895) grew up on self-sufficient farms in that district, only a few miles apart. They knew each other growing up.

      My Great-grandparents identified as Polish, although they did not come from Poland.

      And also, my mother’s father was born in Krekenava, Panevezys County, Lithuania, during a trip in which his mother went back to visit family there. His name was Joseph Bilakiewicz (they changed it to Bilk). [his mother’s maiden name was Madeksza or Modeska (the English equivalent).]

      Grandpa Bilk spoke some Polish and identified as ethnic Polish his whole life. He probably belonged to some Polish clubs on Hudson Avenue in Rochester, NY back in the day.

      I never once heard the word “Lithuania” growing up or had anyone on my mother’s side of the family identify as Lithuanian… until I was much older and happened to see my Grandmother Helen’s notes. So the whole of my mother’s side, and us too, identified as Polish all these years. I have done 23andMe and I had selected Polish boxes when prompted.

      This article helps me to understand why my Great-grandparents left Lithuania when they did. (I do not know the date my Grandfather Joseph Bilk’s mother came to the States from Krekenava, Lithuania).

      The other most curious thing… and it is still somewhat of a mystery to me, but this article shed a tiny bit of light on it perhaps… about the farming/serfdom concept??? I am not sure.

      I was told that the original surname of my Great-grandfather Maciej’s family was Rodzewicz (or Rodziewicz).

      Maciej’s brother Valenti immigrated to the USA before him (I believe to Detroit area)… and he had the name Rodzewicz (and kept it). BUT in the meantime, apparently my family in Lithuania was forced to change their surname from Rodzewicz to Gleba. I was told that it was because a “high ranking” family in the area had the same last name and did not want “these peasant farmers” to have the same last name as themselves. So my family was made to change it. Something along these lines anyway. This family was not royalty, but something like very wealthy… ? Bourgeois?? Really don’t know.

      And so, Maciej took the surname of Gleba before coming to the US. He was Great-grandpa Gleba, while his brother was Valenti Rodzewicz/Rodziewicz in Detroit.

      It is a very strange story to me that I have never received clarity on to this day. I tried to look up the meaning of the name “Gleba.” I came up with “dirt or earth” or perhaps “farmer.”

      Does anyone else have a similar story? Or can shed light on this one?

      • With all of this mess going on in the Ukraine right now, my curiosity about my Lithuanian heritage has been peaked. My grandmother and grandfather emigrated from Lithuania and lived both in Rochester and Amsterdam NY. They owned a liquor store on Main Street by Wisconsin St. in the 50’s , then moved to be close to her sister in Amsterdam. I believe that is where they first located to because that is where my father, Norman Kasper, went to grammar and high school. He died young (age30 years) so that part of my heritage is not well known- at all.

      • Šalčininkai is an area of Lithuania that is Polish speaking. Krekenaca- Lithuanian. But… during Lithuania -Polish Commonwealth times it was fashionable to be “Polish” it was considered a higher class. During late 19th century during the nationalistic movements throughout Europe, many Lithuanians shed their Polish identity. During the Polish occupation of Lithuania1918-1939, Šalčininkai belonged to the occupied territory, and Lithuanians were massively forced to take Polish identity, they Polonised Lithuanian last names and were closing Lithuanian schools. Even in the middle of Lithuania, some people would consider themselves Polish. Former president Adamkus must have had a Polish-speaking mother since you can hear a faint polish accent in his speech. Radzevičius is a very common Lithuanian last name. Although the ending is polonized. It does not matter. My family same, Polonized last name, staunch Lithuanian. Radzevičus must have been an estate owner in Šalčininkai district , since he owned the serves until 1863 and could change their names into something else. Gleb is a Russian name, saint, or something like that. There was no bourgeois since it was an official tsarist Russian policy not to create any industries in Lithuania to keep them backward. There are so many Radzevicius in Lithuania. My second cousins, famous traveler and cook, etc. Galore.

        • Thank you so much for taking this time. Up until now I was unaware of the hardships my grand parents and their families went through. I would love to research more my grand mother had 8 or 9 brothers and her father and mother she left in the old country.
          Any help on how to go about this would be much appreciated. My grandmothers name was Mary Valasevicius who came to Connecticut but her father and mother I cannot find. My grand father was john Bujaucius. Thank you

        • Hi , my Nana Mary Rouski was born in Lithuania ( south) 1911/12 and migrated as a baby 1912 with her mum and dad and 2 uncles from her dads side. Joseph and Anna ( was Bagurgski ) Rouski the UK 1921 census has great granddad as Marijampolė and great granny an my Nan as Vilkaviškis Poland ? My DNA has Lithuania south , Eastern Europe & Russia & Jew . Sadly no one knows the address granny sent parcels to, only know it was a Catholic convent as relatives still lived there . Great granddads sister Kate lived in Riga Latvia . I have been told the surname could have been changed from Valincius , but Kate wrote to them and Rouski was on the envelope , if it was Valincius surely she would have wrote that . Hopefully i will find out in time .

      • This is in reply to Kris Barndt. I have been researching my Polish grandfather’s family and came across your post. We share common ancestors and I was hoping to connect with you so perhaps we could exchange information and whatnot. My great great grandfather’s name was Pfarlia Bilakiewicz and he was brother to your (I believe) great great grandfather Joseph Bilakiewicz Sr. (your grandfather Joseph Bilk’s grandfather). Hopefully you’ll see or be notified of my reply and you can get ahold of me at rdippel@hotmail.com

    • name Joseph likely was changed, real lithuanian name is Juozas or Juozapas and surname Dziaukas likely must be Džiaukas (ž pronunciation is like G in giraffe)

  7. Hi there,

    I have names and a birthdate for a great grandmother. However, I do not have a location within Lithuania. She would have left during when many Lithuanians were emigrating out of the country during the 19th century. Since I am essentially guessing at the location, does anyone have any information regarding where more people would have left from? I am assuming the larger cities (as of now), but I realize city/town populations at that time may have been different. Any information that could help to make a more educated guess would be helpful. Thank you.

    • If they were ethnic Lithuanians, they most likely left from the villages, as the towns/cities were non-Lithuanian majority (Polish, Jews, Germans, etc.). However if, on the other hand, they were Jews, then they hailed from a town/city nearly certainly, as there were no rural Jews at the time.

      Maybe research in the archives for immigration documents or for obituaries in the newspapers would lead you to possible birthplaces.

    • Hello. I am the only granddaughter of Antonas and Angela Savikas (later changed to Savitsky in the PA coal mines) who were part of the first wave. My late father was the last of their 10 children. My grandfather died in a coal mine collapse and my grandmother died shortly thereafter, likely from diabetes. My late dad use to say that everyone who came over here would say they were from Vilnius because they were afraid of being labelled peasants. Makes it hard to understand my background.

  8. Would any of these immigrants provided names of parents? My trail ends with my Great Grandparents who immigrated in 1904/1905 settled in Elizabeth, New Jersey. I can’t find a immigration record or anything else before. Peter Yurkunas was from Vilna as was his brother Victor and Charles…Help

  9. Gosh this is all absolutely fascinating. I’m reading this from UK as my (I thought Polish) great grandfather settled here some time in the 19th century. The UK 1921 census which has just been released, shows him describing himself as Lithuanian where previously he had called himself a Russian Pole. From your article I can see he must have been amongst those people who identified as Polish but who lived in Lithuania. I only wish I could read the specific place he names as his birthplace. The handwriting isn’t clear.It begins with a P and looks like POIEVOW. I’d love it if somebody on here recognizes that place name.

    • I would assume “Russian” meant just that he was from the Russian Empire, which included both Lithuania and Poland.

      However, I would think that he identified as a Lithuanian most likely rather than Pole.

      That is because the answers to “Who you are?” question were typically asymmetric.

      No ethnic Russian would have answered “Pole” or “Lithuanian”, but Poles or Lithuanians may have sometimes answered “Russian” believing they are being asked which empire are they from. Likewise, no Pole (or somebody self-identifying as a Pole) would have probably answered “Lithuanian”, but some Lithuanians would have answered “Pole” if they lived in Polish areas or knew Polish language and used it as a literary language / science language / church language (which was common), or simply they wanted to say a better-known ethnicity.

      • Thank you. I’m also curious about what my great grandfather’s native name would have been. The English records show his surname as Kusack, Kusik or Cusack but family belief has it that his name was Kusikowski ( forgive my spelling) His first name is always recorded as John. Any idea what his full Lithuanian name might have been?

    • Pieliai
      Pienios pelkė
      Piepalių kalnas
      Piesčių pelkė
      Piešiškių pilkapynas
      Pietryčių Lietuvos žem…
      But I think it is discombobulated Vievis. This town had a large Russian population. Big orthodox church in the middle.

  10. Is there anyway to find out information about relatives in Lithuania as my grandfather emigrated at age of 16 in 1902. He was born in 1886 but I don’t know where in Lithuania. His name was Thomas Kananavage or my mother sometimes said Kananavius.
    My grandfather had sisters and brothers who remained in Lithuania. My parents did not speak about their past. My parents grew up in Shenandoah, Pa. and left there when I was born. Is there any hope of finding ancestors?

    • Yes, it is possible to search the Lithuanian archives. We will send you an offer by e-mail as we do help with that.

      Kananavičius is the likely real surname while Kananavage was an Anglicization.

  11. Amazing. I was sure my DNA test would show 50% Lithuanian because my mother ws born in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania and all of her relatives were from the Kaunas area. I am actually 55% Lithuanian and true to the stories I was told my heritage is in Kaunas and 2nd and 3rd cousins are still there. My mother and her brothers all had Italian spouses and although my father, like my mother, was a first generation American I am only 34% Italian. The rest on his side is Spanish, German, French and Scandinavian. But the blonde hair and green eyes are Lithuanian. Siblings are all Italian coloring. Love this site. Just found it today.

    • If your family is from the Mahanoy City area of Pennsylvania, you might try connecting with the Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogy Society. They have scanned records from the Catholic churches in the area containing marriage, baptismal and death records including the Lithuanian churches. If you’re lucky enough to find records thru this group, they often have the most original version of the family names. There is a fee for accessing their records but they will also let you know if they can find anything before you have to purchase the copies of records.

  12. I found all of this so fascinating! Thank you so this article! Like most commenters on this page I am of Lithuanian descent. Of course took ancestry to find this out, on my mothers side. Long story and family scandal. Anyways my family came to America in 1910 settled in Chicago, Illinois the. Eventually moved to Cedar,MI my family’s name is Miksys, tho immigration spelling is wrong… I have found Miksae, Miksis, Miksas. My grandfather must have settled on Mikses… very confusing as to the origin of the last name and or the meaning or correct spelling… I am currently learning Lithuanian. Also in very close contact with someone who works in Vilnius on Lithuanian diaspora.. She claims the correct spelling is Miksys. Still not sure on this also.. Curious as to where I can find Lithuanian records of their migration. They are from Šiauliai, Lithuania.. I can not seem to find any record on my said last name… I know everyone is busy but any help will be appreciated thank you -Tyler Miksys

    • Mikšys is a possible correct spelling, yes. However, surname “Mikšas” exists as well. However, “Mikšys” is more likely as “Mikšas” seems to have been common only in Lithuania Minor.

      You may Google “Mikšys” or “Mikšas” and you will find people in Lithuania with both last names but Mikšys is far more common.

  13. Such great information!
    I’ve been curious as to where my Lithuanian grandmother would have gotten a ship to come to the U.S. in 1907. Did ships leave out of Lithuania? It’s so hard finding her maiden name – so many different spellings of course!

    • No, there were no direct shipping routes from Lithuania to the USA. The most common way used to be to go to Germany by train and board the ship there. Often, the so-called “emigration bureaus” would essentially sell “train-ship packages”. Although this became more organized after the Lithuanian independence in 1918 (see: “Interwar emigration“) and, before that, it was more about “emigration salesmen” rather than bureaus. These salesmen would go around villages advertising their offers. Some of these salesmen were even actually scammers – I met people whose (great) grandparents e.g. were told they will go to the mines of the USA but were actually moved to the mines of Scotland where the wages were far lower (and, obviously, the ship ticket would have cost much less). Unable to afford another ticket to America they stayed there. As they spoke only Lithuanian (possibly also Polish and Russian), and not any Western European languages, it would have been difficult to “organize” themselves and understand everything once they left Poland/Russian Empire, and it may have been difficult to even tell the difference between a US-bound or Scotland-bound ship or USA and Scotland for that matter.

      There were alternatives to Germany though. At times there was a direct route from Liepaja (today’s Latvia) to America. But it seems Lithuanians mostly used train-ship combinations via Germany.

      • Thank you so very much for this info! I have been searching for this type of information. I really appreciate you taking the time to answer.
        That is so sad about the scammers. Taking advantage of those poor people. The same holds true today, sadly.

      • My Grandfather came from Lithuania around that time,He and his brother came in from working in the fields,went to cool off in a pond .His parents came to them with bags packed and said they had to leave before the russians came and took them off to war.He never saw his parents again nor did he keep in touch with them as he couldn”t speak english nor write.But I don”t know that much more than that except he ended up in Ill and a little town named orient ill and worked in a coal mine.don”t know how he came over,but was only 16 or 17 years old.wish I had asked more about it all but he would not talk about it,Many people who lived in Orient came from europe to work in the mines,Thank you for this information,it is interesting how other people want information about their relatives ,and so glad I found this site.
        His name was Lukoszine changed to lucas,does anyone else know of this name?

  14. For anyone searching for ship names by the year of arrival, I found I was able to do this at: research.mysticseaport.org.

  15. Thank you for explaining so many points. I have been wondering about our neighbor in the 1950’s whose name was Pete Rastolsky. He came from Lithuania around 1915.
    He met his Romanian? wife on the boat and married. Her name was a version of Rose, which I don’t remember. Now I understand why his name appears to be Polish.
    He was a wonderful man. Just one question…was it traditional to name their milk cows all the same name? His three Holstein milk cows were named Bossie, Bossie and Bossie. They were Catholic and went to church in Portland, OR where their grown children lived. He would laugh so hard that he would fall on the ground laughing. Sorry this sounds so silly but they are my 5-year old memories. Thank you.

  16. What a terrific article! Thanks for your efforts!

  17. Searching for my wife’s family. On her grandfather’s naturalization papers, he arrived from Bremen on the ship Casel, 21 Nov, 1904. States that his birthplace was Klawinin, Russia but I think that although he spoke Polish, and reportedly lived in what is now Lithuania, at the time it was under Russian control. The problem is that I can find no place name of Klawinin. Suggestions? Surname (depending on the document) is Roslanowicz, Roslonowicz, Roslanowich.

  18. My grandparents came over in 1911 Mary Valasevicius and John bujaucius from Kovno and vilinis I’m trying to find her 8 or 9 brothers. She was the youngest born abt 1903
    Any help in how to go about this would be so appreciated. I enjoyed your site very much. So very informative. Thank you

  19. I am passing this wonderful article on to my siblings, neices, nephews, daughters, grandchildren, my cousins. I am still trying to locate my grandfather, Joseph Katkauskas, who married my grandmother Agnes Nemura (her brother was Peter Nemura) and had two sons who later legally changed the surname to Kaston. Per what I have found Joseph (?Josef?) was a tailor in Cleveland, Ohio, who did alterations at one of the major department stores there and possibly had his own shop. Thank you again for helping us find good information about our heritage. God Bless.

  20. I’ve hit an end in what I can locate and yet it only goes to 1910 Ellis Island ship register(first wave). Your article explains so much of what I was trying to piece together. Our relative seemed to go to PA but then ended up in south bend Indiana as a laborer. One question that has always plagued us, with a royal name like Radziwill, how do we not know our story? I’m guessing it is because maybe we were servants of a Nobel or serfdom. I’m interested in learning more and I might need a professional.

  21. Hi Augustinas,

    I see that you’re active here and extremely knowledgeable on Lithuanian history, after reading a few of your articles I have some questions I think you can help me with.

    My great grandfather (Henry Simokat) emigrated here in 1909 on the Lincoln vessel from Hamburg, Germany(source: US Naturalization Papers). I have tried to understand the following facts as best as I could from all the research I’ve done. He frequently lists different birthplaces over the decades on various US Census Records, Draft Cards, Naturalization papers, ect.

    His naturalization papers said he was born in “Scwilpinen, Russia”, which I have yet to locate online. His wife’s place of birth is listed “Skirsenume, Russia”, which today is in Lithuania, near/within Jurbarkas. Now Jurbarkas frequently appears in other areas of my search. My family tree intertwined with another then I found Johann Simokat (born 1864), Henry’s father, born in “Jurburg” Russia. Jurgurg is German for Jurbarkas… I found his evangelical Lutheran baptism record, written in both German and Lithuanian.

    On the 1920 US Census, Henry lists his birthplace as Germany, and his mother tongue German. In 1930, Russia, Yiddish speaking. 1940 German again, and 1950 he finally lists as Lithuanian born.

    Much of what you published makes sense to me; the German and Russian controlled areas and the languages they spoke, the mass emigration to the US due to discrimination and such. But I still have so many questions…

    Johann died in 1942 of old age, he was a farmer, his death record is in German and the collection of such documents are titled “Deaths in German Controlled Areas”. Was Jurbarkas both controlled by Russia AND Germany at some points? What was the Jurbarkas region experiencing from 1850-1900 that caused such a German influence.

    My DNA comes back as 33% “Eastern” European (Northern or Baltic is probably more accurate) with strong evidence of ancestry in Klaipeda County, not far from Taurage where Jurbarkas is. What do you make of all of this?

    Thank you in advance!

    • Indeed, what you write makes it seem he was either an ethnic German from Lithuania, or an ethnic Lithuanian Lutheran from Lithuania (as these people would sometimes pass as Germans for various reasons). It is possible the family was ethnically mixed German-Lithuanian.

      “Yiddish” is most likely a mistake. Yiddish was native only to Jews and they were not Lutherans. It is difficult to understand why would this mistake be made but maybe as Yiddish and German sounds similar to an outsider somehow the census-taker would make an incorrect presumption.

      History of Jurbarkas (it basically followed the history of most of Lithuania, as it was conquered by Russians and Germans:
      Before 1795 – Grand Duchy of Lithuania (united with Poland as Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth for several centuries).
      1795-1915 – Russian Empire (Lithuania Governorate, then Kaunas Governorate, with a short Napoleonic French invasion at one time).
      1915-1918 – Germany (Ober Ost).
      1918-1940 – Republic of Lithuania.
      1940-1941 – Soviet Union (nominally “Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic”, de facto controlled by Russians).
      1941-1944 – Nazi Germany (Reichskommissariat Ostland).
      1944-1990 – Soviet Union (nominally “Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic”, de facto controlled by Russians).
      1990- – Republic of Lithuania.

      Read more here about the history of Lithuania (history of Jurbarkas follows it): https://www.truelithuania.com/topics/history-and-politics-of-lithuania/history-of-lithuania

      What is today Kaliningrad Oblast was a German-ruled East Prussia and it was close to Jurbarkas. Areas of Lithuania-proper close to German border had German and Lutheran minority communities living there.

  22. Thank you for this article and all the work it represents. My great grandfather, [?Isidor] Harry Arenberg emigrated from Vilkaviskis, Lithuania in 1890 and his parents [Isidor Arenberg and Sheine Blaustein] both are listed as having died in Vilkaviskis, Lithuania in 1881. Was there a pogrom or epidemic that would have accounted for their dying the same year at ages 43 and 41?

    • I am unaware of anything like it. There may be many reasons, including some kind of a tragedy (e.g. a fire at their home). Perhaps an archive search could uncover more – though it is possible no further details would survive in the archives.

  23. Does anyone know how their Lithuanian emigrant family members learned English?

    • My grandfather, who was born in 1895, emigrated in 1905. His father had passed away and he and his stepfather did not get along when grandfather was 13. He ran away. From the limited info my family has been able to recover, they came through Ellis Island and went to PA.
      My grandfather terribly missed his sister Anna.and tried to return to find his family many times. He never did. Somehow, family landed in Illinois. We didn’t know any of this as my grandfather didn’t like to speak of his past.

      It wasn’t until his last days that he told me, the quiet and shy one that he, apparently, thought would keep it secret. I ran in to tell grandma that granddad name was not Mullen, but was Neverdauskaus! He even spelled it out, for me, then for grandma. How exciting for a young teen.

      When asked why he changed his name and never told us, he said “there are too many grandsons”. I imagine that’s a few people to tell about their heritage. We had large families.

      Since then, we’ve searched on different sites for years, another interested family taking over when one wore out.

      There was one family that we kept coming back to, but something held us off. Stepfather Simon Milius. But granddad moms name was Petronia, or something similar. Charles, Anna & one more child, it seems. We did not make contact.

      I did get a call from an excited cousin who was then doing most of the work. In 2015, about 110 years after they arrived, the other side of the family found us. Can you imagine the excitement?

      They still live in Chicago. There was one relative that was still living who remembered the family. We had a couple of reunions over the first couple of years. I am looking forward to learning more about my heritage, as it was never spoken about.

      How can I learn more about where my Lithuanian family is from- what city or town? Who were they?

      It is terrific that you put together this site- I feel like somebody knows a bit about the customs that would have been my grand dads.

      • It is possible to search the Lithuanian archives. However, some “seed” information is needed but if the surnames are rare, they may be associated with some particular cities or towns. We will send you an offer by e-mail.

  24. Hi Augustinas,
    I am writing a book about a Lithuanian American Athlete from New Jersey killed during WW2. I would love to speak with you about some details and documents I found about his parents who immigrated in the 1st wave (1911). How May I reach you ??

  25. My sister and I are doing research on our ancestors. I am very happy I found this site and have been reading much of what I can find here. We have hit a “dead end” finding family members further back than great grandfather in Lithuania. You have mentioned possible ways to get assistance. I am interested. Thank you very much.

  26. This is so useful. I am trying to learn more about my Lithuanian people on dad’s side: Trimirka, Trimerka, (Americanized to Trimer, Trimmer). My grandfather Adam Trimirka came to Detroit in 1912 on the ship Lapland, which left from Antwerp, Belgium. But it looks like his hometown was Pilviškiai, Lithuania. I am trying to dig up more. It appears he got his citizenship in the US by fighting in WWI for the US. It also has been said he affiliated with leftist Lithuanians after that. He was injured in the war–gassed. And I think that pushed him to the left. I would love to find out more about my people IN Lithuania. But it’s very difficult, and I don’t speak the language. Perhaps I am out of luck. Or, perhaps you can offer some help. Thank you for any guidance.

  27. I have a cousin who has tried to research as much as she could find about my paternal Grandparents. My Grandfather’s name was Joseph A.(? Treinys..?).I think that is the spelling, but it was Americanized to Tranes or Traynes. We were able to find his name on a ship manifest in 1913.emigrated to the US when he was 26-27 from Lithuania.
    He married another Lithuanian woman named Theresa (?Veraski?)..who was my Grandmother. I know my Grandfather had several other siblings, one brother Frank and another, Anthony. They settled in Paterson, NJ which I know has a Lithuanian Catholic Church and a Lithuanian Club.
    My cousin went to Lithuania hoping to find more info on relatives, but I guess someone there told her his surname was very common so hard to search. Do you have any comment on how we might be able to find more?

    • We may be able to search in the Lithuanian archives. However, an approximate location of where he came from in Lithuania would be especially helpful and would allow narrow down the search as otherwise, as you mention it, both the name and the surname are very common.

      If you know nothing about it, sometimes a search in America may help to find this out, e.g. a search for obituaries, as they may include the birthplace in Lithuania. Such a birthplace could then be used to initiate a Lithuanian archive search.

  28. Very interesting history!👍It captured my attention. And I am Chinese-American.

  29. Hello. Thank you for this very informative article. My sister has found much of our Lithuanian family, which has been wonderful. Our grandmother emigrated in September of 1912 to New York. She left via the port city of Libau (now Liepaja, Latvia) on the S.S. Kursk, an ocean liner bound for Ellis Island. My question is whether you know if there were any age requirements for a girl to travel this way in 1912. The ship manifest says she was with another woman we believe to be her cousin. We just don’t know how old my grandmother was when she left. She thought she was born in 1896, which would have made her 16. But we have not been able to locate a birth certificate. The family was from Smilgiai, near Panevežys. Any information you have about this ship and emigration rules would be appreciated. Thank you.

    • It is difficult to talk about the rules at the time, as, in general, the rules were more fluid, often more possible to change via corruption or more dependent on local employees… In fact, during much of the First Wave the emigration from the Russian Empire was illegal entirely, yet it happened anyways on a large scale.

  30. Your website is a wealth of information. Thanks so much! My grandfather came to the US in 1896. The name he used was Dazinskas but his parents name was listed as Zdazinsky on his marriage license. Additionally, documents state that he was from Pomazupy, Lithuania. Would you be able to tell what the probable Lithuanian versions of his name were as well as the name of his home town? Your help is greatly appreciated!

  31. Hello. I am looking for my Lithuanian ancestry, family name is Mishkinis. Adam Mishkinis, Petr Mishkinis, Osip Mishkinis, August Mishkinis. Part of family immigrated to Russia, St. Peterburg and part to USA end of 19th – beginning of 20th century. I only know approximate birthdays and names, that’s all. My ancestry DNA shows that I’m 51% Lithuanian. I would like to find out more information in search of my Lithuanian family. Any guidance is very much appreciated.

    • Hello I posted a comment in 2021 about my great great grandfather, Joseph Dziaukas. I have his original immigration papers. It says he migrated from Russia to Lackawanna county in 1896. I was told by family he came from a small mountain Providence in Lithuania. I have done more research since my last comment, but everything I have found has been after he came to the United State. I would like to know more about where exactly In Lithuania he came from. And how to pronounce the original last name. It was changed to Zokus after he migrated to the states. Thank you for replying to my first question.

      • “Providence” sounds like an English name, e.g. like the one of Rhode Island capital… There are no similar names in Lithuania. Maybe it was already in the USA, or it is a translation of the original name?

        The original last surname would likely be Džiaukštas – if so, it is almost unpronounceable for an English speaker and likely that’s why it was shortened.

        The pronunciation would be like:
        DŽ as “J” in Joke
        IAU as “eow” in Meow
        K as “K” in Kate
        Š as “Sh” in Ship
        T as “T” in Tango
        AS as “ASS” in Class

    • We will send you an offer by e-mail

  32. Hey there! I was hoping to find the best way to search the Lithuanian archives. My great grandfather was born in Lithuania and immigrated to the US. I just don’t know when. Was hoping to pointed in right direction or possibly some assistance.

    His name was John Balseris

    Mothers maiden name:Eva Sinsaite
    Father’s name: John Balseris

    I believe was born 1891 or around then

  33. Hello.

    On my Father’s Maternal side of the family tree, My Grandmother’s Parents had left Lithuania in 1912 to go settle in the United States. Both of them didn’t naturalize as US citizens until 1927. Prior to receiving the 1 Naturalization certificate with both parents and 4 children named on the document, my Grandmother was born in the United States in 1924 which she also is listed on the naturalization certificate.

    Would my situation qualify as part under the right to restore citizenship under the assumption there’s proof of citizenship in Lithuania? Would my situation also qualify for Certification of Lithuanian Origin?

    I can prove my lineage from myself to my Great Grand-parents in the United States. I have no idea on how to search the databases in Lithuania to prove any sort proof of citizenship or existence.

    Thank you for your time.

    • We may search the Lithuanian archives to see what is available and what can be proven.

      In general, dual citizenship is not likely for you as your great grandparents, gaving left before 1918, likely never had Lithuanian citizenship. You are likely to qualify for a single citizenship or a certificate of Lithuanian descent, however.

      • With the constitution referendum on May 12, if it were to pass in regards to dual citizenship, would it also change the rule on the Lithuanian certificate of descent to allow dual Citizenship?

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