Possibilities of genealogical research in Hungary, with special respect to Western Hungary

Gabor Kover


Explicitly Slovene genealogical research virtually does not exist in Hungary since its indispensable condition is the existence and accessibility of sources that record nationality. It was not so long ago that censuses in Hungary started to record nationality, these censuses are, however, not available for research, in fact the census papers are alleged to have been destroyed with only the reckoner sheets remaining in the Archives of the Central Statistical Office. Understandably, while a genealogist gives top priority to names, they are actually indifferent to public administration and statistics, especially.

Although Slovenian genealogy does not exist in Hungary, there are particular regional differences and characteristics of registration in Western Hungary inhabited by the Slovenes as well.

The most important sources of genealogical research are the registers. It was not until 1 October 1895 that civil registration in Hungary became compulsory, before that time the registers were kept by the denominations recognised by the laws of the country. First of all, let me start by saying a few words about the civil registers, then the parish ones and finally about the censuses and other secondary sources.

Civil registers

The introduction of civil registration is perhaps the last great achievement of the classic Hungarian liberalism. Besides the compulsory civil registers, the compulsory civil marriage, the lawful marriage had to be contracted in the presence of a civil servant. There was another law in connection with this, the Hebrew denomination became a recognised religion, that is, in addition to the traditional historic churches (Roman and Greek Catholic, Reformed, Evangelic and Unitarian) the Israelite became a fully recognised religion. Consequently, Christian-Hebrew mixed marriages became feasible. Civil registers do not contain nationality either, on top of all, as the official language of the country was Hungarian, the exclusive language of administration was Hungarian, even at places where Hungarians lived in relatively small numbers. The compulsorily drawn up duplicates of civil registers are preserved in the county archives (in Budapest in the Metropolitan Archives). Carrying out research work on registers has restrictions on time on account of the protection of personal rights. Registers of births can be researched back to 90 years, those of marriages back to 60 and those of deaths back to 30 years. Therefore, for example, registers of births are accessible until 1910. As I mentioned before, the registers do not record nationality.

Obviously, civil registration was identical all over the country. It is not recordings but reports that registers of births drawn up between 1895 and 1906 contain: the names of the child’s parents, his/her religion and place of birth.

Consequently, specific regional characteristics cannot be spoken of. Genealogical research can be assisted by the fact that parish registers were continued to be kept independent of the introduction of civil registration, so two registration sources are available, since the percentage of those leaving the church was quite low for a while.

It was the Tridentine Council that decreed to keep registers formerly regarded as official state documents. Although it could not be made possible for the Protestant Churches - quite the contrary, for example, Maximilian I reigning at that time forbade it for the evangelicals in Upper Hungary – they began to record the most important events of human life: births, marriages and deaths. Registration was sporadically encountered even at that time but it was not until the declaration of the resolution of the Council of Trnava, Slovakia and generally until the beginning of the 18th century -after driving the Turks out- that they started to keep registers.

The parish registers are at the local parsonages, in the priestly offices. They were collected during the communist rule in 1919. In 1920, however, they were returned to the church and have been there ever since. In the 1960s the Mormon Church in co-operation with the Hungarian state micro filmed the parish registers dating until 1895. The microfilms are in the Hungarian National Archives in Budapest and are available for research. Not only for Hungarian citizens is research possible.

Roman Catholic registers

The Roman Catholic Church kept its registers in Latin for quite a long time. Until 1844 Latin was the official language in Hungary, anyway. The ethnic elite living in the country objected furiously against making the Hungarian language official. According to their opinion, it was hardly justifiable why the nationality accounting for less than fifty per cent of the population forces its language on the non-Hungarian majority. The protesters were mainly the Croats, the Slovakians and the Rumanians. We have no knowledge of Slovene actions. (The focus of the Slovenian movement was not in Hungary but over the river Lajta.)

The Roman Catholic Church seems to have generally been more patient than the state administration as at quite a few places, especially at those of mixed nationalities, registers were still kept in Latin. Before the revolution in 1848 they switched over to the Hungarian language, in 1851 Latin became, then since the 1870s and the 1880s Hungarian has been the language of registers.

From church administration point-of-view the area inhabited by the Slovenes as well has belonged to the Szombathely bishopric since 1777 when it was taken over from the Györ bishopric by Maria Theresa.


Protestant registers

15-20 % of the population of Vas county were of evangelic religion, whereas only less than 5% of the population of Zala county were evangelic. Before 1952 it belonged to the Transdanubian Diocese, after that time – owing to the reorganisation – Vas county belonged to the Northern and Zala county to the Southern Diocese. Since last year both counties have belonged to the Northern Diocese.

Besides the Hungarian ethnic group it was mainly the Germans and the Slovakians that belonged to the Evangelic Church. Right in Western Hungary, however, in the knowledge of the proportion of ethnic groups and on the basis of several Slavic-sounding names we may presume that there were likely to be Slovenes and those of Slovene origin among them. Interestingly enough, in the early evangelic registers the Germans’ names were written in Gothic letters, whereas the Hungarian and Slavic ones were written in roman letters. (After the introduction of printing roman type was widespread in Hungary.)

Hungary’s strongest protestant denomination, the Reformed Church, had no considerable influence all over Western Hungary. Slovenian-speaking believers may only come from mixed marriages or conversions, but in this connection there are no reports.

In the last century the Jews assimilated themselves to the Hungarians in large proportions. They did not acknowledge themselves to be of Slovenian origin even though they lived in villages of Slovene majority.

In 1910 on the territory of the Hungarian Kingdom there lived 93000 Slovenians, most of them in the districts of Muraszombat and Szentgotthárd in Vas county and in the district of Alsólendva in Zala county. After 1918 most of these areas were annexed to the Serb-Croatian-Slovenian Kingdom. In 1980 on the territories belonging to the Hungarian Kingdom as many as 2000 people acknowledged themselves to be Slovenian. Since 1994 they have had their own national ethnic self-governments, the constitution of the Hungarian Republic recognises them as an indigenous nationality.

Genealogical research may often be aided by the fact that county authorities obliged churches to draw up duplicates of registers. They are preserved in the county archives. The original register may have been destroyed, in this case the only source is the remained duplicate. The duplicates of the parish registers from the formerly Hungarian areas annexed to Slovenia are preserved in the archives in Zalaegerszeg and Szombathely. They were micro filmed by the Mormon Church and are available for research in the National archives in Budapest.


Censuses represent important sources for genealogy. They were obviously not prepared to aid the work of would-be genealogists but are extremely suitable. They are often the only sources if the register was destroyed for some reason.

The census survived from the earliest time is that of the year 1715, which was followed by – for the correction of it - the one in 1720. These censuses recorded only adult males not mentioning their ages or property statuses.

The socage census ordered by Maria Theresa was aimed at registering the lands in the administration of serfs. So that the rate of taxes could be stated the census registered how much land is administered by each individual. Naturally, it was the heads of the household that were taken the census of. Among the registered ones were the widows and those living at the same manor but over the age of 21, possibly married and independent.

The census in 1828 recorded the taxpayers’ names and does not include other interesting – from the point-of-view of genealogy, however, not relevant – pieces of information. Its headings are as follows:

1. taxpayer’s name – head of household, including possibly his age. 2. family members between 18 and 60 (children, relatives, employees) 3. among these: honoratior, citizen, serf cotter, homeless cotter, sibling, boy, girl, servant, server, tradesman, salesman, merchant. 4. house after which rent is paid and the rent amount. 5. inner court (sqm and price) 6. cultivation of corn a. serf or citizen rights to the land b. taxpayer’s profit per unit c. percentage of the profit in units d. usual price of the harvest 7. fields a. serf or citizen rights to the fields plus profit b. fields belonging to the lands 8. vineyards a. size in Pozsony (Bratislava) measurement b. profit per unit 9. apple and plum orchards a. number of scythes b. profit of one scythe’s worth of land 10. larger animals a. yoke oxen b. calves or cows c. barren cows d. steers and heifers over 3 years old e. steers and heifers over 2 years old f. studs and draught horses over 3 years old g. studs and draught horses over 2 years old 11. separate bulls sheep, pigs and goats over one year old 12. forests profit from acorn and wood sales 13. pub rental rights 14. notes

Quite a few censuses of county competence remained, especially in Vas and Zala counties. They are tax-related censuses, similarly to the national ones. They are particularly valuable when the registers are difficult to read, and may be of great importance when we are making an obscure name exact.


Death notices

Death notices were preceded by the so-called mourning notices, which were written accounts of someone’s death.

The National Széchényi Library preserves death notices dating from the first third of the 19th century till this time. They amount to 7-800 thousand pieces. The former collection based on individual contribution has increased. Owing to the system of deposit copies, in theory, every Hungarian printing office was and still is forced to send a few copies of the death notices to the central public collection. Recently, however, this system has not been working smoothly, furthermore, this obligation does not concern death notices prepared by fashionable computer design studios. Due to computers, nowadays there are home-made death notices as well.

Their groupings are as follows:

19th century generally in strict alphabetical order

20th century (until around 1970) as far as the first three letters of the name

(a lot of families are selected separately)

current (1970-2000) in strict alphabetical order

As registers can be researched with limitations on time, a death notice from a period not accessible any longer has great value. Death notices until 1945 list the mourners’ names and their relation to the deceased person, they often denote the place of residence of the departed man and the places of the funeral and the memorial service. Research is simplified if the exact date of the death is known, it is always the death note that is the most difficult to find (one can die at 20, as well as at 90, whereas usually gets married between the ages of 20 and 40).

On the death notices the names among the mourners, especially the ones belonging to the female line, often provide further possibilities for research to be continued.

The listing of the mourners indicates who outlived the deceased person.

In case of less frequent family names we can often determine the region or settlement that the family came from.

Death notices until 1918 cover historical Hungary, there are, however, death notices from other parts of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, especially Vienna, Austria.

The drawback is that although death notices were becoming more and more popular, families below a particular social level did not issue them. Its reason lies in the financial possibilities and in the fact that in small villages, where the Slovenes lived, it was practically useless to issue such death notices.

It is difficult to carry out research in case of especially frequent family names. All other pieces of information are important then: the names of the members of the family with special respect to the names of the husbands of the relatives from the female line. The region that the family comes from and any secondary information (occupation, etc.) become of vital importance.

Honestly, in the public collections in Budapest I have yet to come across with a death notice written in Slovenian.

All in all, this is what can be said about genealogic research in general. Additional sources are used in case of Hebrew genealogy, and other sources when carrying out research on documents of nobility. I have not written about the former one because, as I mentioned before, the Israelites in Hungary did not assimilate themselves to the Slovenes. This latter case can be disregarded as well. Especially in this area, among the Hungarian nobles there were nobles of Slovene origin (for example the hero of Kőszeg, Miklós Jurisics). Despite this fact, after the beginning of the 19th century when becoming a nation intensified and multi-national identity – for political reasons - was not possible any longer, the majority of nobles in Hungary, the members of the natio hungarica became Hungarian in their language and their emotions as well. To the so-called natio hungarica, that is the noble nation, belonged every noble who – or whose ancestor – was raised to noble rank by the king or the prince of Transylvania. (No-one else could ennoble people.) During earlier centuries ethnic status was of minor importance. Therefore, those not belonging to the Hungarian ethnic group could become nobles as well. Belonging to the nobility implied several privileges, they were exempted from paying tax and doing compulsory military service, in case of wars they were forced to set up independent, so-called insurgent troops, during regular warfare, however, its importance considerably decreased. In social life the possibility of prominence was provided by the noble origin, which was far from being as closed a class as it used to be claimed.

Besides the fact that the majority of the nobles adopted Hungarian ways, it is also borne in mind in Hungary that our nation was strengthened by people belonging to different ethnic groups including the Slovene one. The Croatian nobles are an exception, because due to the autonomy of Croatia they always claimed to belong to the Croatian nation, which was not challenged by anybody in Hungary. It is hard to establish exactly who we can classify as of Croatian origin and who as of Slovene origin. Mainly, we can take the territories determined by the borders of that time for a basis. If a noble comes from an area inhibited by Slovenes, we have every right to suppose that their mother tongue or most preferred language must have been Slovene, even if there are hardly any written sources in this connection remained.