Hungary Letter Writing Guide
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The lands of Hungary contributed great numbers of people to the waves of European Emigration from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s. These were not just Hungarians, but also Romanians, Germans, Jews, Slovaks, Ukrainians, Serbs, and Croats. Many settled in the United States, Canada, and Australia where, generations later, their descendants now begin the task of seeking their Hungarian heritage. This paper is intended to briefly introduce you to the essential sources and strategies needed to discover your ancestry from Hungary.
The Family History Library has an excellent collection of records from the present-day Hungary and Slovakia. Some of these rolls are available for immediate access at the Family History Library, including: Jewish records for all areas, Church records of Slovakia, and Church records of the city of Budapest. Many other microfilms can be obtained within 24 hours at the Family History Library. Others can be ordered within a few days. If you are visiting the library in Salt Lake City we recommend you order microfilms at least a month before you come. You can also order and use Hungarian microfilms at any of the many family history centers. These records are written in Latin, Hungarian, and German. Some records of minority groups are written in Serbian, Slovak, Croatian, old Church Slavonic, Hebrew, and Romanian. The library has genealogical word lists in German, Latin, and Hungarian to help you in reading these records.
If your ancestor is said to be from Hungary it likely refers to the old historic kingdom of Hungary. Since 1918 the territory of Hungary has been distributed between modern Hungary and the new nations that surround it. The following review of Hungarian history is intended to give perspective in understanding your Hungarian heritage.
The Magyars (Hungarians) moved into the Danube Basin in the early ninth century, conquering the Slavic and Romanic peoples who lived there. The Hungarian Kingdom was established in the year 1000. Most of Hungary fell under Turkish occupation in 1526. The remaining areas, along the western and northern edges became the domain of the Habsburg dynasty of Austria. At the end of the 1600s the Habsburgs drove the Turks out of Hungary.
Protestantism had won wide acceptance in Hungary in the 1400s and 1500s; Calvinism prevailed among the Magyars while the Germans and some Slovaks became Lutherans. The Habsburgs were devout Catholics. They imposed harsh measures against non-Catholic religions. Although much of the population was reconverted to Catholicism, the Emperor eventually had to reaffirm Hungary's religious and political freedoms in 1645. Four religions were given legal recognition in Hungary: Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist Reformed, and Unitarian.
In 1848 Hungary unsuccessfully rebelled against Austrian rule. Then, in 1866, Hungarian nationalism was recognized by the creation of the dual Austro Hungarian monarchy.
Following the First World War in 1918, the area of the Hungarian kingdom was reduced to one third of its pre-war size; Hungarian territory was given over to Romania, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Austria (minor border adjustments with Italy and Poland). At the end of Second World War, in 1945, part of Czechoslovakia's portion was ceded to the Soviet Union republic of Ukraine. Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia broke into smaller republics in 1990-1992, 1993, and 2003, further fragmenting the former Hungarian territories.
Before you can begin genealogical research in Hungary, you must find who your immigrant ancestor was and the exact place the ancestor was from. Since most emigration from Hungary took place in the late 1800s, you will probably find that, within a few generations, you will need access to birth, death, and marriage records from Hungary. To do this, you must determine exactly where in Hungary your emigrant ancestors came from because records in Hungary were kept on a local level. You may find this information from family sources or from old family documents. It may be necessary to search in death records, obituaries, passenger lists, naturalization records, or similar sources in places where your ancestor settled.
For more detailed information about discovering the specific place from which your ancestor came, see Tracing Immigrant Origins. It gives in-depth suggestions for finding an immigrant's place of origin.
Once you have identified the place in Hungary your family came from you will need to determine its correct spelling and the county. Maps can be very helpful but gazetteers can be of even greater value. A gazetteer is a geographic dictionary, a book that lists all localities and gives sufficient information to uniquely identify a specific locality. Use the following gazetteer to locate the place your ancestor came from and to determine the location of the parish or synagogue where records were kept:
Magyarország Helységnévtára tekintettel a közigazgatási, népességi és hitfelekezeti viszonyokra [Gazetteer of Hungary with Regard to Administrative, Populational, and Ecclesiastical Circumstances], János Dvorzsák, comp. Budapest: “Havi Füzetek” 1877. (Family History Library call number: European Collection Ref. 943.9 E5d; also on microfilm, Vol. I on Film 599564 and Vol. II on Film 973041).
Volume I includes a 610 page index. It lists all place names in alphabetical order. Entries in the index are followed by the name of the old Hungarian county and a set of numbers. These numbers refer to the gazetteer entry in Volume II. The first number is the sequential number of the county; the second is the consecutive number of the district; the last is the number of the locality.
Volume II has more details. Volume II is arranged by county and districts. Use the numbers from the index to find the entry for your town. Additional names the locality was known by are listed in parentheses. Population figures are given according to religion. The following abbreviations are used:
ág. Ágostai - Augsburg Evangelical Lutheran
gk. Görög Katholikus - Greek Catholic
izr. Izraelita - Jewish
kg. Keleti Görög - Greek Orthodox
ref. Református - Reformed
rk. Római Katholikus - Roman Catholic
un. Unitárius - Unitarian
If the village had its own parish church (or synagogue, for Jews), the abbreviation for the religion will be in BOLDFACE capital letters. The diocese will follow; also in Boldface type. If the people attended church elsewhere, the abbreviation of the religion will be in lowercase. The location of the parish or synagogue follows the population figure. You will need the location of the parish or synagogue in order to find the records of birth, marriage, and death. If a dash (―) follows the population figure, it means that the compilers of the gazetteer did not know the specific parish. Check the records of all nearby parishes.
Once you have determined the location of the church or synagogue, use the Family History Library Catalog to get the film number of the available records. You can then order the appropriate films.
Sources for Genealogical Research
The primary sources for genealogical research in Hungary are records of births, marriages, and deaths. These are called vital records. The earliest records of this type were made by the churches as christenings, marriages, and burials were performed. Vital records kept by the church are called church records. After 1895 government officials kept vital records. These records are called civil registration. Other valuable records available for genealogical research are census records, military records, and land records. If your ancestor was of the nobility, nobility records may also prove to be a useful source.
The Family History Library has the following types of records from Hungary:
Church Records: Some church records date from as early as 1633. For most parishes, records are available from the early 1700s to 1895.
Jewish Records: Jewish records date from the 1830s and 1840s through 1895, but there are often gaps. In many cases the library has only incomplete transcripts.
Civil Registration: These records begin in October of 1895. For most civil registration districts, records are available from 1895 to the early 1900s.
Census Records: The library has the 1828 census of land and property owners (less than 20% of the total population) available for most of the old Kingdom of Hungary. Census returns for other years are available for the following areas: • 1857 - Parts of Csanád, Esztergom, Sopron, Tolna, Vas, Zala, and Zemplén counties • 1869 - Abauj-Torna, Bars, Komárom, Nyitra, Szepes, Sáros, Zemplén and portions of Esztergom and Vas counties • 1868-1871 - Somogy county The library also has Jewish census returns of 1725-1775 and 1848 for many counties.
Military Records: Muster rolls and qualification lists are available from the 1700s through 1915. Unless your ancestor was an officer, you must know the regiment to which the ancestor belonged in order to use these records.
Nobility: The library has nobility documents for most of the old Kingdom of Hungary. These records date from the 1600s.
Research by Mail
If the records you want are not available through the Family History Library, you can write to the Hungarian Embassy to request information. For instructions on how to obtain birth, marriage or death certificate from Hungary go to: http://www.huembwas.org/Consul/ENG/classical_cases/get_certificates/Certificates.htm. The fee is $69.00 per certificate. Or write to:
The Embassy of the Republic of Hungary
3910 Shoemaker Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20008