Our Lithuanian Heritage

Lithuanian Coat of Arms

Lithuania is a very small country, in the far-away northern Baltic region, with a population of less than three million and an area of just over 65,000 square kilometres (25,000 square miles). Its population is only marginally greater than Brisbane City and its landmass only two-thirds the size of tiny Scotland (see the map here). It may seem surprising, then, that in the mid-seventeenth century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, in league with Poland, dominated a large part of central Europe, including parts of Russia and most of Belarus, Ukraine, Prussia, and the other Baltic states (Latvia and Estonia).

Lithuania’s days of glory, though, had waned by the late 1700s when it was annexed into the Tsar’s Russian Empire, and largely subsumed as part of Poland; even the language was eventually banned towards the end of the nineteenth century. The Russian Bolshevik revolution during the First World War eventually brought a spark of independence to Lithuania between 1920 and 1940, but this disappeared when the Soviets occupied the country under the terms of the Molotov-Ribbontrop Pact. However, in June 1941, Operation Barbarossa brought the Nazis and their Holocaust to further brutalise Lithuania (with some help from collaborators) until the nation was ‘liberated’ by the Red Army in July 1944 — this heralded in the Stalinist era with more oppression, deportations, ‘disappearances’, forced re-settlements, and further Russification. After the brutal murder of nearly 800,000 citizens between 1940 and 1954, Lithuania could do little but remain a Soviet satellite, one of the USSR’s ‘captive nations’, until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990. Today, Lithuania is, finally, a sovereign nation and part of the European Union and NATO.

From 1868 to 1914, about one in four Lithuanians (over 600,000) departed their homeland — the main exodus, which was mainly peasant stock, occurred between 1890 and 1910. The reasons for this mass emigration are not altogether clear, but drastically falling living standards, heavy taxation, and avoidance of conscription into the Tsar’s Russian army were primary motivations. The vast majority of these migrants went to the United States where there was an open-door immigration policy. Nevertheless, by the turn of the century, the Lithuanian community in Britain had burgeoned from a few hundred to over 9,000 — and, of these, more than 7,000 settled in Scotland. These newcomers were mainly Roman Catholic, but there were also Jewish refugees escaping Russian persecution; however, these two groups had little to do with each other in Scotland. It was into this milieu that, sometime around 1902–3, Jonas Šugžda and his wife Petronėlė, with two boys and three girls, joined the Lithuanian ‘colony’ centred around the North Lanarkshire mining towns of Bellshill, Bothwell, Bothwellhaugh, Coatbridge and Mossend. Our family’s story starts on the next page.

(Read articles about the Lithuanian language and our family names for pronunciation guides.)


Relevant maps (maps open in new browser tabs):


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Comments

Šugžda – Overview — 4 Comments

  1. My grandfather John sugistaff married jean Wallace one of their sons my father Andrew
    My father Andrew sugistaff married my mum Henrietta Kerr but they changed their name to Wallace so maybe this is one reason no more information on family very interesting read thank you x

    • Hi Karen,

      I’m so pleased to meet another cousin from my ‘Sugzda/Sugistaff’ side. I have you and your siblings (John and Shona) in my tree, and was aware that your dad used his mother’s name ‘Wallace’. As you’ll see below, your 1st cousin Jean has also been in contact and I’ll also send you a chart of your Lithuanian ancestors and relatives by email. 🙂

    • Hello, My name is Zoe I’m 23 and I am the great-grand daughter of John Sugzda/Sugistaff and the grand daughter of George, Johns youngest son. Jeannie Sugzda was Johns wife and I have the record of her flight home from New york with Isabella and Sadie their eldest daughters. Nice to see some more history and seeing how large this side of my family is.
      Look forward to hearing back.

      Zoe 🙂

      • Great to hear from you Zoe; we are 2nd cousins once removed. I have your granddad (George) in my tree born 1944, but have never had the exact date (the registry won’t release information until 50 years after his death) – if you have his birth, death and marriage (Agnes Findlay) details, I’d be thrilled to have them (and any other information). Let me know if you want any of the documents I have for the family. Yes, the family has spread out from Bellshill, that’s for sure. I live in Brisbane, Australia; are you still in or near Bellshill?
        Cheers,
        Alan

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