A Utah man claims he and his family are the rightful owners of a castle in Latvia — and he says he has hundreds of years of family records to prove it.

Jakob von Rosen, of Sandy, said he learned of the opportunity to reclaim his European family heirlooms and property, including castles, while he was in Germany celebrating the centennial event of Leica. He and his family had owned several shares of the German camera company until it was sold in 1996.

He said he learned that after the Soviet Union had collapsed, many of the castles and other heirlooms that the Soviets had seized could be reclaimed by members of the family of the original owners.

That's when von Rosen decided to go on a search for his own family properties. Not only did he find dozens of properties that his family had owned, but he also found a castle they had owned in Cesis, Latvia, called Lielstraupe. After extensive research, von Rosen made a claim.

Latvian officials and residents of the area, however, are less than enthusiastic about von Rosen owning the unique building.

"From what I have gathered talking to people in important positions here, they all think that Jakob isn't entirely serious and this is just a farce," Anna Kol, a reporter for the Latvian newspaper, "Druva," said in correspondence with KSL.com.

Jakob von Rosen, Mayor Jānis Rozenbergs, castle curator Rudite Vasile and von Rosen's attorney Armands Rasa stand in front of the Lielstraupe castle in Cesis, Latvia.
Jakob von Rosen, Mayor Jānis Rozenbergs, castle curator Rudite Vasile and von Rosen's attorney Armands Rasa stand in front of the Lielstraupe castle in Cesis, Latvia. | Austin Ball

The legitimacy of the claim

To convince Latvian officials, von Rosen didn't just have to prove that his family owned the castle; all he had to prove was that he was related to the family.

Latvian officials also claimed that von Rosen's family — specifically, Hans von Rosen — had received compensation in 1939 after the castle was seized by the Soviet Union, so the family has no legal right to the building now.

Von Rosen didn't give up; rather, he went deeper, spending five years researching family documents and legal regulations to see if he could get the castle back. He discovered his noble bloodline with the help of Glen Covert, a genealogist based in Vienna, Austria, and a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists.

The Utah man found that his mother was a direct descendant of the von Rosen family, and that, as her son, he had a moral right to still claim the castle. However, whether he has the legal right to obtain the property, Kol said, remains to be seen.

"I have talked to people here in Cesis about this matter. They all say that, legally, he has no rights. His family received compensation and this fact is well-documented. Thus, he technically has no legal rights to claim anything," Kol said. "Most people here, and people in power in the municipality and other places, think this isn't serious enough considering all the historical facts and documents."

Von Rosen added that he's researching more from his family history to see if the von Rosens actually did receive any compensation from the Latvian government. According to his research, "many payments were not received," he told KSL.com.

"I have a proposal drafted and being translated into Latvian, which I plan to submit in the coming days," von Rosen said. "It's too soon to say more than that; however, I'm very pleased with the progress and look forward to super positive results."

The Utahn noted that while there isn't written approval from the Latvian government accepting his claim, they "already have some verbal agreements in place."

In a celebration of his family and heritage, von Rosen said he has raised his family flag above Lielstraupe. Officials also gave von Rosen permission to establish a residence there whenever he comes to stay.

The von Rosen family flag flies over the Lielstraupe castle in Latvia, after Utahn Jakob Von Rosen raised it in April.
The von Rosen family flag flies over the Lielstraupe castle in Latvia, after Utahn Jakob Von Rosen raised it in April. | Jakob Von Rosen

The castle's future

Von Rosen said if he comes to own the castle legally, not only could it restore pride to his family, but it could also be a great asset to Latvia's economy — especially as an event center that could attract funding.

He said he's creating an organization titled, "Kastle Krusaders," which will help raise money to renovate the castle and prepare it to act as a tourist attraction — a feat that will cost him $10 million. He said he has international donations from the U.S., Israel and Germany to help remodel the castle once he obtains the legal right to it.

To prove the castle is fit to be a suitable tourist attraction, von Rosen hosted a large party there in June. He invited 60 guests from 19 countries to Lielstraupe, including many who helped him find his family records and obtain the claim to the castle.

"I have no idea whether this could really work — for now, all we have here is this person with a vision, ambition and ideas," Kol said. "However, if his plans are serious and he does have a real business plan set for Straupe castle, I do believe it could provide a great opportunity for the local community and economy to thrive."

Reconnecting with family heritage

Even though the journey has been difficult for von Rosen, he said the genealogical research required has given him joy in understanding his family and heritage.

"Nobody should ever be discouraged from learning where they come from. They'll have a lot better chances to find out where they should go," he said.

At the beginning of his castle-finding journey, von Rosen went through a difficult divorce. A friend credits the family history discovery process for helping von Rosen connect with his kids and himself during the transition.

"Reconnecting with myself, knowing the value of my family and that (my ancestors) endured way more hardships than what I was enduring — I think that in reading and studying that history, it gave me a lot more strength and resilience," von Rosen said.

Jakob Von Rosen, of Utah, and his friends stand beside the flagpole at the Lielstraupe castle in Cesis, Latvia.
Jakob Von Rosen, of Utah, and his friends stand beside the flagpole at the Lielstraupe castle in Cesis, Latvia. | Dr. Steven Roth