GENEALOGICAL RESEARCH IN THE COUNTY OF GOTTSCHEE
Dr. Stanislav Južnič
THE GOTTSCHEER HERITAGE AND GENEALOGY ASSOCIATION is a non-profit association established to “preserve the history, culture and family records of Gottschee”. One of the purposes for our existence given by our charter is: “to provide information and tools to our members about their Gottscheer heritage and roots”.
I have been interested in the area of genealogy for the past 25 years since I first began looking for my Gottscheer ancestors. I had no established community where I lived to guide me. I spent ten years looking for Gottschee, mostly because I did not know how to go about it, and once I found it did not know what resources were available or where they were.
Family research in the former county of Gottschee has been made easy with the advent of three things:
the microfilm records of baptisms, burials and marriages in the catholic church as made available by the Latter Day Saints (Mormon) Church,
by the GHGA publication: Gottschee: Family Record Research Using the LDS Microfilms, and
by the arrival of books and floppy disks with the marriage records from different Gottscheer parishes.
The LDS microfilms of the Catholic church records not only include baptisms, burials and marriages, but the Gottscheer parishes also include family books, which list the head of household, his wife and their children along with dates of births, marriages, etc. The unfortunate thing about these family books is that the information was collected periodically, leaving generation gaps.
In the records themselves, there are gaps, which, I assume, are due to fire, flood, etc. From my own personal experience, these gaps are also present in the records in Ljubljana. Depending on the parish, the records cover the late 1600s up until 1941.
Because the Gottscheers numbered each house in the village, it is fairly easy to keep track of your particular family, in among the others with the same surnames, by using the house number. Of course, errors were made in listing house numbers and some names.
Additional information (usually found with the baptismal record) may include the fact that a person emigrated to America; some include marriages in the United States and the name of the church where it took place.
Researching in the Gottscheer and Slovenian parishes requires language abilities in Latin, German and Slovenian. The earliest records were in Latin, then moved to German, except in the Slovenian parishes, and the Gottscheer parishes moved to Slovenian after World War I. Fortunately, LDS has both Latin and German genealogy word lists. Unfortunately, they do not as yet have a Slovenian list. We at GHGA have a very modest list of words, but have to depend mostly on a dictionary, which does not include many of the words used in the old records.
A tool, which I have found to be exceptionally helpful is Ernest Thode’s German-English Genealogical Dictionary, which gives you definitions of old occupations, titles, diseases, abbreviations and church dates.
Today, most of us take spelling for granted. It is sometimes difficult to believe that Nhickh is the same name as Nick, Wrinskelle equals Brinskelle or Wobnar and Bobner are the same name. When we have to deal with two languages, we have to learn that Luscher is the same as Lusar. With an understanding of how words are pronounced, the identities becomes more recognizable and predictable.
Once you overcome language, spelling and handwriting difficulties you are faced with the “left side – right side” problem on the microfilms. Due to the size of the church books, perhaps one hundred (or more) left sides were filmed, then the right sides. Because you only get half the information on one side, you must continually travel back and forth between the left halves and the right halves of the record. You need to pay careful attention to the page number and the entry number on a page to get an accurate record in its entirety. Some parishes even have separate rolls of film for the left side and the right side.
The information available on these records diminishes the further back in time that you go. In the late 1800s on a marriage record, you will learn the couple’s names, villages, house numbers, ages, whether single or widowed and their parents’ names including the mothers’ maiden names. In the early 1800s, you will get only one village, maybe just the father’s name if the bride/groom has not been widowed. Some early death records only list a date and a name.
Genealogy is a science of proving. No guessing allowed. There has to be some record, of some kind, that connects one person to another. You can use supposition to help you locate such a record, but if you do not find any proof, this person cannot be part of your genealogy. Always write down the source for all your information. In the case of the microfilms, list the film number, the page and the entry on that page and copy everything that is written there.
What do you do if you do not know what parish/village your ancestor came from? An excellent guide is the book, The Surnames of Gottschee, by Martha Hutter. This book helps you locate the village with the highest percentage of a particular surname. It is published by GHGA.
In the book, Gottschee: Family Record Research Using the LDS Microfilms,
the researcher has in one location a list of the microfilm numbers which covers a particular parish and what type of records (birth, marriage, death, family books) are on each microfilm. A list of villages within each parish is also provided. When a parish grew too large and split into two parishes, note is made of this to enable the researcher to locate the older records. The book concludes with a section of tips for doing research in Gottschee.
The parish marriage books and floppy disks, published by GHGA, have tremendously sped up the process of getting a rough outline of your family tree. The books are compiled from the church marriage records and surname spelling has been standardized to make alphabetical sorting easier. By starting with the marriage of two known ancestors, you will find the parents of these individuals listed as part of the record. It is a simple step then to check the marriage date of the parents, their parents and grandparents. Second marriages also show up here. With the marriage dates, it is easy to check the birth records for all of the children of this couple. A complete genealogy should include all siblings in the direct line.
If you are researching in a parish where the marriages have not been copied, you take the birth date of your known ancestor and check the marriage records from the day before and go back 25 years. If you haven’t found it, then you will have to check other parishes. The youngest groom I have found in the records was 13, the youngest bride was 12, but the average was 18 – 19 for women and 20 for men. When checking for all the children of a couple, determine the mother’s age and go forward until she is 45. Many of these women had children at 42 and 43 years of age.
It would have been wonderful if every Gottscheer man married a girl from his home village, but often he married a girl from the neighboring parish and the marriage took place in her parish. If there is a family book for this time period, the priest may have made a note where the bride came from. If they happen to be raising a family in the bride’s parish, perhaps they will list the groom’s parish of origin. The fact that it was not always listed is why you need to consult other parish records and why all of the parish marriage records will eventually be put on disks. Of the 18 Gottscheer parishes, half have been completed and of the 7 adjoining Slovenian (Duchy of Krain) parishes, only 1 has been completed. All of the completed parishes are in the Moschnitze or eastern part of the county. Additional parishes are underway and will be published by GHGA as soon as they are completed.
Many of the marriages were arranged by the parents. In this way the parents of the bride were a little more certain of the groom’s abilities to care for their daughter financially, since the wealth (land, livestock) was passed on to sons. At some point it was necessary for a groom to prove he could support a wife before permission was given to marry. The only way around this rule was the birth of a child or children out of wedlock. With the groom’s admission of paternity, the child was legitimized after the marriage. All illegitimate children suffered discrimination before the mandatory school act of 1869 and later an illegitimate male was denied permission to study for a guild. Formal education was not a high Gottscheer priority, but learning to work was.
An average life span was between 55 and 65 years. I have seen death records of several who were over 100. Childbirth was the main killer of women under 40. Cholera, typhoid and tuberculosis killed many more. “Old age” was given as the cause of death in people from age 45 to 90. Do not try to equate the cause of death in 1830 with what that word means today.
Most families were quite large. All hands helped with the work. Many a morning, the Gottscheer men and children would leave home by lantern light to be in the fields at first light and work all day. By the time some children were nine years old, they were working for other, better-off families. The Gottscheers, for the most part, raised a kitchen garden, some pasturage and an insulage crop for animal feed in the winter. Their plots were not large. Even if a man owned an entire Hube of land, we are talking only 50 US acres. On those acres were the house with barn underneath or adjacent to it, the garden, the pasture and crops. Fruit trees and other trees also occupied a portion of the acreage. Wood was used for fires, tools, structures, furniture and needed constant replenishing.
Those Gottscheers who raised grapes, usually did so on the sunny slopes of Schemitsch (Semic) or in Maierle and Strassenberg, both in the parish of Tschernembl.
Gottscheers helped each other, working from one farm to the next until all fall crops were in. Sundays were days of rest: church in the morning, perhaps lunch at a Gasthaus followed by an afternoon of socializing, singing and dancing. Almost every village had at least one button box musician. Gottscheers were very religious. They observed all Holy days and in seasons of fasting, they fasted.
The Internet has become a great genealogical tool. One of the fastest growing sites is the Gottscheer Bulletin Board where people searching for their Gottscheer ancestors and living relatives can exchange queries, answers and hints. The other is the Gottscheer Chat room where interested parties can actually talk with one another. GHGA maintains its own website to assist people in joining, purchasing books, and learning more of our history. You must learn to be wary of Internet information. If the person offering the information cannot cite sources or “proofs”, do not make it part of your family tree until you have proved or disproved it. Gottscheer information could be extremely confusing because of all the same surnames and given names from the same village.
Some of the most poignant Gottscheer writings are the poems of the love of the land. Enriching many American genealogies are letters to and from Gottschee. Although the Gottscheers in America, perhaps, had more material possessions, they longed to return to their homeland. Those left behind spilt tears over separated loved ones.
Through the numerous American Gottscheer clubs such as the Gottscheer Heritage and Genealogy Association, Gottscheers are learning more about their ancestors, the family life of these ancestors, what their homes were like and how their families occupied themselves.
In some small way, we have become another family.