Somehow, some time ago, a distant cousin pulled me into the Geni networking website. I cooperated on the initial level, thinking this would give me a leg up on Latvian ancestors that turned into Estonian ancestors because I don't know the languages and can barely navigate Saaga, the excellent Estonia archival site of digitized historical and genealogical records.
For me, the Geni learning curve was rather steep. I didn't find their mechanisms particularly user-friendly. Therefore, much tearing of hair to straighten out the craziness that either I or the cyber gods had manipulated on my fledgling family tree: my ex-husband was shown as my father, my father was my brother, and such-like nonsense. The connection had to be shown because timewise, the Riis family is a very long way from someone with the names Dougall and Merriman. The process was compounded, naturally, by the struggle to communicate with others pursuing the same family.
The newest information on one direct line is pieced together from numerous offerings on the site. I do not know the contributors nor their research habits but few have cited specific sources of information. The exercise is for my own clarity, for what it's worth. Mistakes herein with spelling in noun cases and diacritic marks are solely my melancholy responsibility.
What I knew in advance through reliable research (not mine) in Latvian and Estonian records — population schedules of farms and Lutheran church registers — was that my great-great-grandfather Janis (aka Jaan, Jahn) JURIKAS was baptized 24 June 1793 in Tori parish, now Estonia, son of Jűrri and Ann Jurikas of the Alliko farm. Janis married Liso RIIS about 1813-1814. She was born in 1794 on the Vastemöisa estate in Suure-Jaani, a parish to the east of Tori. "Estates" were also known as manors. They were generally owned by upper-class Baltic Germans, Baltendeutsche, whose families had generations of residency. A parish, so-called, might be a religious or a civil administrative entity.
Janis moved his family from farms on one estate to another over a forty-five year period, traced in six different estate records, also known as "revision lists" because they would be amended from time to time to show migrations and other notations. A little more on that here. It was unusual in the early nineteenth century for a peasant to make such changes unless the next estate was owned by the same landlord (not the case in his journey). The children's baptisms in different places also reflect the family movements.
Estonia and northern Latvia as we know them today were, in that time, a province of the Russian empire. There were no geographical or political boundaries as such between them in Janis' day. We can only make guesses at why he kept moving (or was allowed to move). Family lore speaks of his rebellious nature, his small acts of disobedience against the stifling restrictions of peasant life. His later conversion to the Orthodox faith (more in a prior post) supports this portrait.
On Geni, the generations from JURIKAS back to RIIS accelerated into multiple greats. At least seven researchers have input and/or agreed on the lineage (a happenstance that does not make it so!). Herewith, in brief, the bare information from my "Merge Center" on Geni with its linked connections — at face value for now.
Liso Riis born 10 February 1794 Vastemöisa estate
Andres Riis born ca.1754, died 21 November 1843; wife Anno
sources: "according to the Church Book was born c1856"
Jaan Riis "Terrama" (aka Töramaa) born ca.1725, died 12 January 1800; wife Anno
sources: "popular tradition" – "Both were born Teramane (Abaja) farm"
Hans Riis born ca.1705 "Riisa, Tori," died 9 March 1785; wife Kai
sources: "popular tradition"
Evert (Eiwertil) Riisa Riis born ca.1670
sources: unnamed 1690 tax list [household/family composition is unclear]
"Tiit Kolk" born ca.1650
The "sources" above are merely my quick summaries from the individual profiles. Online translation programs are a daunting experience, trying to making sense of the resulting gabble! It's clear to me that some types of records revealed the specific dates of death but they aren't mentioned. Approximate years of birth were calculated from a man's age as an adult on an estate or tax list. The timeline back to Hans looks plausible but things get even fuzzier after that. While potential sources for all vital events such as baptisms and burials have perhaps not been uncovered (wouldn't it be gratifying to see some marriages!) religious records are scarce before the mid-eighteenth century.
Preliminary evaluation only shows the obvious holes. My admiration is boundless for those family historians who doggedly overcome the difficulties of tracing people with no surnames in a foreign country, foreign language, in the eighteenth century and earlier.
The folklore about Tiit Kolk and his origins is interesting, to be investigated for another post. There's work to be done on geography and history and records and the language barrier. Eight greats may begin to materialize ghost-like but require much more substance to be real or true.
 Pärnu Eliisabeti (Pärnu, Estonia) Lutheran baptisms, 1793; Estonian Archives (EAA) 1279.1.142, p. 258.
 Vecsalaca, Latvia, revision list 1834; Latvian State Historical Archives (LSHA) 199.1.399, pp. 189-190.
© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman