Frequently Asked Questions.

1. Frequently Asked Questions about Family History Research
for Historic Hungary and this Tutorial.

  1. What is the focus of this tutorial?

  2. What are the cost and effort involved in tracing your roots?

  3. What geographical area is covered here?

  4. What time period is covered here?

  5. What ethnic groups does this website deal with?

  6. Why don't you just show me how to find my ancestors on the Internet?

  7. Can I trust what I find here?

  8. How do I get started?

Note: this set of FAQs is intended as a self-contained introduction to Hungarian Family History research, and so intentionally does not include links to the tutorial material itself.

Go to Tutorial Home Page. Go to Bibliographical Resources. Go to Background Information incl Language. Go to Document Examples.

  1. Family History of Hungary is a huge topic. You must have a focus here. What is it?

    This tutorial is aimed at Hungarian-Americans searching out their ancestors. Usually they have a pretty good idea of their family's history in the U.S. So, they're looking for their "roots in the old country." This means they usually work backward from the time of their ancestors' immigration.The great bulk of immigrants from Hungary came to the U.S. between 1890 and 1914.

    I will focus almost exclusively on genealogical resources from the 18th and 19th centuries .. for Hungary as it was constituted at that time. Little information exists for earlier periods due to the Turkish occupation, and other factors. Most immigrants from Hungary to the U.S. were born in the second half of the 19th century. So a focus on these two centuries is appropriate, since it will benefit the most readers. If you must trace your ancestry in the U.S. to find those who immigrated, you will have to first work with other resources here in the U.S. These are not a major focus of this tutorial, but see the How do I get started? topic below.

    It is important to also remember that Hungary was an anomaly in 18th and 19th century Europe. Historic Hungary was a very large and diverse multi-ethnic society. The Hungarians (they call themselves Magyars) were actually a minority in the country. The nation of Hungary included many Slovaks, Germans, Romanians, Croats, Serbs, Vends and Ruthenians -- and others as well. When it comes to religion, Hungary was again an anomaly. The Habsburg rulers pushed their own Roman Catholic religion, but were remarkably unsuccessful. In Hungary there were Catholics (both Roman and Greek), Protestants (Lutherans, Reformed, and others), Orthodox (Greek, Serbian, Romanian, and Russian), and Jews (usually called "Hebrews" or "Israelites"). And, it is the church records you will work with almost exclusively in your early research. They can be a marvelous storehouse of information. So it's important to know the religious affiliations of your ancestors.

    Right now you're probably wondering where all these Hungarian church records can be found in the U.S. and -- if you're the inquisitive type -- why they're here. The answer is simple. The Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Salt Lake City owns microfilm copies of virtually every church register of Hungary for the 1830-1895 period -- over 10,000 rolls of microfilm for this period of Hungarian history alone. [The LDS church members are the folks we uninitiated familiarly call Mormons.] Through their local Family History Centers around the country, you can borrow and examine microfilm copies of these old Hungarian church records. As will be explained elsewhere, their inventory is nearly complete for the cities and towns that remain in modern Hungary, but lacking in varying degrees for other parts of historical Hungary. This availability, combined with the comparatively high quality of the records themselves, makes tracing your Hungarian roots in the 19th century an enjoyable and rewarding adventure. The FHL is in the process of making these microfilms accessible on-line ... more on that later. But today (Summer 2013), it still is usually most effective to work directly with their microfilms.

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  2. Will the cost and effort of tracing my family history in Hungary be worth it?

    Certainly everyone's situation is different. You wouldn't have gotten as far as looking at this website if you didn't have some interest in your family history. I have found my search to be very gratifying, though time-consuming. Being retired, I have the time. The cost has been nominal and the effort well within reason .. despite my minimal knowledge of the Hungarian language. I've been able to trace each of my family lines back to at least my great-great-great-grandparents, most of whom were born before 1800. And it is notable that I found out much more about their lives than simply their birth, marriage, and death dates.

    Here are the principal reasons for the surprising ease with which I've traced my Hungarian ancestors, and why you could have similar success:

    • the basic vital records (births, marriages, deaths) often contain a wealth of additional information
    • a huge amount of vital records data is readily and inexpensively available in the U.S.
    • lifetime reference to Hungarian women by their maiden name minimizes name change confusion
    • there was relatively little movement in most families between communities until the late 1800s

    Obviously, facility with Hungarian (and other languages, as we'll see) is helpful, but more important is the type of logical mind that thrives on solving crossword puzzles and similar activities. I like to think of family history as the world's biggest puzzle. When we solve it, we'll all know how we're related to every other person who ever lived. Anyway, let's get back to reality!

    And .. reality to most of us means cost. Using the resources of the Family History Library ... both their on-line service at and your local Family History Center (FHC) ... is free. It's also important to note that on the computers at each FHC, you have free access to many on-line genealogical resources, including and several other normally "pay" sites. Each FHC is staffed by volunteers (both LDS members and non-members) and operated on a non-profit basis. LDS members have a religious obligation to identify their ancestry, and they are generous enough to open their resources to the rest of us. Going on-line you can explore the on-line resources which are being continuously expanded. If your work is not satisfied on-line ... and Hungarian genealogy it likely won't be for the next few years ... you will simply identify the roll(s) of microfilm you need and order it for delivery to your local FHC. Two month's rental of a film costs $7.50 ... more if you choose to have a copy available indefinitely at your FHC. In a couple of weeks, you'll be notified of its arrival and you can begin combing through it on the microfilm readers provided on the FHC premises. If you want paper copies of anything you find, you pay on a per copy basis as you would at any copy center. Universally, I have found FHC volunteers to be courteous, helpful, and not overtly evangelizing. It's a simple, inexpensive, and painless way to pursue a fun and educational hobby.

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  3. What are the geographical issues involved in tracing your Hungarian roots?

    We will be dealing with "historic Hungary" -- as Hungary existed prior to the end of World War I. If you look at a modern map of Europe, much of what is sometimes described as "central Europe" was part of historic Hungary. That includes the present-day Republic of Hungary, the Slovak Republic, a small part of southern Poland, eastern Austria (essentially the state of Burgenland), northeastern Slovenia, most of Croatia, much of northern and western Serbia, all of central and western Romania, and a portion of southwestern Ukraine. Historic Hungary was a very large country. You will need to find detailed old maps to work with. Below is a simple map of historical Hungary with the counties identified.

    Map of Historical Hungary

    For a larger version of this same map, and detailed old maps of each of Hungary's historic counties (which should satisfy most researchers' needs) use the Internet link below.
    Either reference the maps online when you need them, or download maps of those counties you will use often.

    Link to Hungarian Map Website

    Historic Hungary was subdivided into 63 counties -- called "megye" in Hungarian. So typically a city or town is identified by its name and the county in which it is located. For instance, my Mátis ancestors lived for hundreds of years in Beled, Sopron megye. A complication is the fact that town names have changed over the years. This is a virtual certainty for towns which are not a part of modern Hungary. Many of their names are now a translation of their old Hungarian name -- but, this is not universally true. Even many towns in modern Hungary have altered names. This was usually to avoid duplication of names anywhere within the country, or as the result of nearby villages "growing together" in effect.

    By the early 1700s, the entire nation had been recaptured from the Turks and was under the control of the Habsburg king. But, Hungary normally functioned as a nation separate from the Archduchy of Austria, the Kingdom of Bohemia and the other states that made up the Habsburg Empire. Hungary had its own laws, customs, and local governing bodies (except for the years immediately following the 1848-49 revolution). After 1867, the Empire was reconstituted as the "Dual Monarchy" of Austria-Hungary. Though still sharing a ruler and some common administrative structures, both were universally recognized as independent nations. This situation continued until the break-up of the empire at the end of World War I.

    Another fact that may influence your success greatly is differing availability of vital records for the various parts of historic Hungary. The records available in the U.S. for towns in modern Hungary are excellent. The availability for the portions of historic Hungary that are now in most of Slovakia, Austria, and Slovenia are also good. After that the availability drops off precipitously. So people whose ancestors came from places like Serbia, the Ukraine, much of Romania, etc. will have considerably lower probabilities of success in their family history searches if they limit themselves to U.S. resources. Another area presenting problems is Hungary's capital city, now known as Budapest. [It's actually a consolidation of three cities that took place in 1873.] Budapest was so large, and grew so rapidly in the 19th century, that there were a very large number of churches in the city. This means that if your ancestors came from Budapest, you'll have to identify the area of town and their religion to have a chance of finding the correct church. Fortunately for many Hungarian-Americans searching out their roots, their ancestors came from the rural areas -- especially in the northern part of the country -- that were experiencing economic hard times in the extreme.

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  4. What are the chronological issues you face tracing your Hungarian roots?

    As noted above, this website focuses on the 18th and 19th centuries. The purpose of this FAQ is to provide an overview of the happenings in Hungary between 1564 and 1914 which bear on the likelihood of you finding vital records about your ancestors. And, to tell you -- in general terms -- what you can expect to find and where. The figure below provides the basis for, and summary of most of the subsequent information.

    Timeline for Hungarian Vital Records 1573-1920.
    Timeline for Hungarian Vital Records.

    In trying to present a picture of the availability and ease of use of vital records, I have defined five periods and will discuss each below. But, it is important to remember that the lines between these periods are much fuzzier than the lines on the chart indicate. The only really clear breakpoint is between periods 4 and 5. Beginning on October 1, 1895 things did work very differently in Hungary with regard to vital records. Also keep in mind that my focus here is on records easily accessible in the U.S. More records are available in Hungary, and if you contemplate doing research there (personally, with the help of friends and relatives, or by hiring help) your chances of success may increase considerably -- as will your costs.

    Period 1 -- up to about 1720 is characterized by the beginnings of recordkeeping in a limited number of major city churches. But, for the bulk of the nation, records weren't kept and/or they are not available from the Family History Library. The first broad requirement for keeping vital records came from the Roman Catholic church's Council of Trent which ended in 1564 and mandated the keeping of baptismal and marriage records. The Pope decreed death registers in 1614. But, at that time Hungary was a predominently Protestant country, largely under the direct control or influence of the Muslim Turks. Therefore, adherence to the dictates of that Council and of the Pope were slow in coming to Hungary.

    The "beginning of the end" of the Turkish occupation of Hungary was 1599, when the city of Györ was recaptured by Christian forces. Prior to that, only northern Hungary (present-day Slovakia) and the small area of Hungary adjacent to the Austrian capital of Vienna was outside the influence of the Turks. So it was only there that the Roman Catholic Habsburg rulers held sway. During the 1600's, various churches in Habsburg-controlled areas began maintaining vital records. 17th century records are available through FHC's for a few major towns. Lutheran records for Sopron are available from 1624, with Catholic records a couple of decades later. Roman Catholic records for the eastern Slovakia city of Kassa are available from 1653. Likewise Catholic records for the city of Kecskemet in the central plains start in 1678. Budapest records, for several parishes, begin in the 1680's and 1690's. The records of some cities -- the Reformed church records of Veszprém are an example -- began very early (1614) but were interrupted during the period of Protestant repression. In the case of the Veszprém Reformed registers, the 67-year gap from 1717-1783 is very difficult to overcome. As a result, towns with continuously maintained records (eg. Sopron) hold much more promise for the family history researcher than do towns with interrupted record keeping (eg. Veszprém).

    It is also notable that during the later decades of the 17th century Hungary again became a majority Roman Catholic country as a result of immigration, Habsburg pressure, and "counter-Reformation" influences. But whatever your religion, the reality of this period is that -- unless your people came from one of these selected towns -- you have no chance at all of tracing your ancestors from the U.S. [The exception is always the few "royals" and their aristocratic cohorts whose records became part of "history" in a more general sense -- but very few of us have ancestors who fall into that category.] By 1708, the Turks were completely driven from Hungary. The early 18th century also saw the Rákoczi uprising. Therefore, it wasn't until about 1720 that the country stabilized, and a reasonable degree of consistent recordkeeping was in place.

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    Period 2 -- 1720-1780 saw a period of stability, significant growth through immigration, and continued Roman Catholic resurgence in Hungary. Many areas -- particularly in the south -- were depopulated during the Turkish occupation. The Habsburgs encouraged new settlement, particularly of Germans from Austria or Roman Catholic areas of Germany. They also continued to "push" their religion on natives of Hungary. Charles III imposed old laws which limited protestant churches to very few communities. This culminated in his Carolina Resolutio ("Resolution of Charles") of 1731. These actions had a greater impact on the Protestants of western Slovakia and in the northwest of modern Hungary (who were predominently Lutheran) than it did on the far-flung Reformed communities of central and eastern Hungary. For instance, the Lutheran church in the overwhelmingly Lutheran town of Beled (where many of my ancestors lived) was closed for over 60 years, and (as previously noted) the Reformed church of Veszprém -- a major city with a royal palace -- was closed for 67 years.

    A key issue when exploring your Protestant roots in the 18th century, was this closing of so many churches. Protestants seeking information for this period will find that most marriages and many baptisms were conducted in the nearest Protestant church -- and this was often not in their own town. And, burials (and sometimes baptisms or even weddings) were performed by the local Catholic priest. The priests were also not very good about recording the sacraments performed on behalf of "heretics" -- sometimes they did, sometimes they didn't. Also, the identification of Protestants as such in the Roman Catholic records varied. Sometimes they were identified as Lutherans or Calvinists, sometimes as acatolica -- non-Catholics, and sometimes as heretica -- heretics, and often simply not distinguished from the Catholic population. These factors make for real difficulties in searching out these vital records.

    It is also important to note that while record-keeping of vital statistics was quite prevalent during this period, it still was not universal. Also, over the years, many of the records were lost, and many of the records that do exist in Hungary for this period are not available through FHC's in the U.S. Therefore, working in this period presents considerable problems and does not have a high probability of success, but you have a better chance with Roman Catholic families than with Protestant families.

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    Period 3 -- 1780-1830 began with the radical reforms promulgated by Joseph II. He was the epitome of the enlightened despot. While he was extolled by some Hungarian Protestant leaders of his time, his ultimate goal of homogenizing his entire empire was distinctly anti-Magyar. His rule was mercifully short, and only two of his reforms survived his own lifetime. But they are extremely important to family historians.

    Most important was his Edict of Toleration of 1781. He did not believe government should favor one religion over another. Protestants were permitted to establish churches wherever they could afford to do it. There were some funny rules though. For example, Protestant churches couldn't have towers or bells, and their doors couldn't open directly to the main street. In the 1780's a very large number of Protestant churches were established (or re-established) in Hungary -- and they all wanted to be modern and up-to-date. So the pastors were very meticulous about keeping an "anyakönyv" (literally "mother book") -- a register of the vital functions of the church; namely baptisms, marriages, and burials. While all of these Period 3 records are not available through the FHC's, many are and so the resouces available to you here in the U.S. increase dramatically.

    The second reform was more of a social issue. The rules of "bondage" -- ie. how peasants could move about and/or change their status -- were altered. The peasants were not freed of their feudal obligations, but new opportunities emerged to "get out from under" the tottering remains of the feudal system. This resulted in many of our ancestors being able to own their own small plots, or acquire flocks that grazed on common pasture. It was a clear step toward modernization.

    After Joseph's death, the Magyar nobles cooperating with the Habsburgs took both backward and forward steps. Their conservatism and insistence on privilege caused Hungary to fall behind the rest of Europe in both agrarian reform and industrialization. But, the noble class were also very nationalistic. By encouraging Magyar literature, and the use of the Hungarian language, a standardization of both usage and spelling occurred that had not existed before. More on that in the "Background Information" section on language issues.

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    Period 4 -- 1830-1895 was precipitated by a new law that required churches to maintain vital records, and ended by another new law which moved the same function over to the civil government. In 1828, a new law was put in place requiring churches to record births, marriages and deaths in duplicate. This applied to all Christian denominations, and to the Jewish communities as well. Note that this procedure gave the government what it wanted (the vital records) without the expense of the bureaucracy to collect them. It's what we call today an "unfunded mandate." Three factors come into play here that are very important to family historians:

    • For the first time, births and deaths were usually recorded. Previously, only baptisms and burials were typically recorded. Often children were baptized on their day of birth, but that was not always the case. Usually people were buried a day or two after their deaths, but that also was not always the case. So, most Period 4 records are improved by having birth and baptism dates, marriage dates, and death and burial dates.
    • For the first time records for the Jewish community become available, because the mandate applied to Jews as well as Christians. Prior to the 19th century, there were relatively few Jews in Hungary. Their numbers increased substantially during the 1800's as a result of immigration, largely from Galicia (Austrian Poland) and Russia. Hungary was considered a place of exceptional tolerance and religious freedom -- for the time. I have not worked with Jewish records -- which I understand are usually written in Hungarian, but some are in Hebrew -- and will not comment on them further here except to say they are well represented and prominently identified in the Family History Library holdings. If interested, you may also want to explore the JewishGen website -- see list of on-line resources.
    • A duplicate copy of all vital records was required by the mandate, and the second copy was sent to Budapest. The maintenance of duplicate copies does have a downside. You have no assurance that the two copies are actually identical without seeing them both -- remember, copiers weren't machines then, they were fallible people. So, conformity of the copies is an issue that we all have to live with. The second copy in Budapest is the reason so many of the Hungarian church registers were readily available for microfilming in the 1960's when LDS Church representatives undertook the task. Two master microfilms were made for each register. One is housed in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City (copies of which are sent to FHC's for your use). The other was kept in the Hungarian national archives. Subsequently, additional filming has been done in Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia, and other places that permitted it.

    As a result of these factors, the 1830-1895 period is by far the easiest period to work with from here in the U.S. And -- fortunately -- it is also the most important one for tracking most Hungarian-American's ancestry. Most immigrants from Hungary to the U.S. were born in the latter part of that period. So the availability and completeness of the vital records for that period will often allow you to find at least two earlier generations of your ancestors.

    I will briefly address the issue of "church registers" versus "birth certificates" here, since it primarily effects this period. Many of our ancestors brought "birth certificates" with them when they came to America, if they had been married in Hungary they may also have brought their "marriage certificate." These are very official looking documents, often with tax stamps affixed. They can be an extremely valuable resource for tracing immigrants back to their place of origin. What these "certificates" actually are is certified transcriptions of information found in the original church registers. Therefore, they not only identify the date and place of birth, but also the church in which the birth was recorded -- usually even giving the page number in the register. This is extremely helpful for people born in large cities (like Budapest) that have many churches of the same denomination.

    But, just because you have a "birth certificate" doesn't mean you shouldn't look up the original church register. It often has significant additional information that wasn't transcribed to the certificate. This usually concerns occupation and social status. But, it can be even more critical. In the case of my great-grandfather, his "birth certificate" which we possess gives his name as Gyula Heszlényi. But, when I found the church register I found that he was born Gyula Heszler, and his father had changed the family name when Gyula was a teenager. Even the number of the royal name-change decree was noted there. But, none of that had gone to the "birth certificate" that was transcribed years later .. there was no place for that information on the form!

    Two political issues of the period had a great impact on eventual immigration. The failed War for Independence of 1848-49 resulted in the first exodus of refugees from Hungary to the U.S. The numbers were small compared to later emigrations, but the flow had started, and reports of the "good life" in America filtered back to Hungary. At home, the defeat led to severe political repression and social upheaval. The peasants (ie. serfs, in Hungarian jobággy) were freed of their feudal obligations and given land. The landowners were to be reimbursed over time by the peasants. The plots of land were often not large enough to support the new landowner's family, and the reimbursments so small that they created great resentment among the large landowners toward the peasant class. During this period, the Austrians also encouraged industrialization in Hungary. This trend accelerated with the Compromise of 1867 which created a co-equal Hungary in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The plight of the peasants -- especially in the north -- reached crisis levels in the later decades of the 19th century. Disease and malnutrition took an increasingly large percentage of the children. As things grew worse, migration began. Internal migration was primarily to Budapest. Initially many country girls went to that city to work as domestic servants. Later both men and women came to Budapest for factory jobs. But, many more took the big step and left their homeland for the (supposedly gold-paved) streets of America. While some planned to earn money in the U.S. and return home wealthy, only relatively few actually did return.

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    Period 5 -- after 1895 was initiated by a law that mandated civil registration of all births, marriages, and deaths. This law had important social and religious effects. It made mixed marriages much easier, and Hungary became the only predominently Roman Catholic country in Europe that sanctioned divorce. Also, the religion of the children of mixed marriages was no longer determined by law, but rather by the parents, usually in the context of the marriage contract. This law took effect on October 1, 1895. As a result, only church registers to that date were microfilmed in the 1960's. Some civil records were subsequently filmed by the LDS, but coverage is less thorough than in the previous period. Note also that the churches did not stop keeping their own baptism, marriage, and burial records. They usually are available at the parishes in modern-day Hungary. In Slovakia and the former Yugoslavia (Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia) the post-WWII communist governments moved parish records to town halls and/or regional archives ... where they still reside. The Family History Library does not have filmed church records of modern Hungary for this post-1895 period, but there are some Slovak church records that were subsequently filmed at those regional archives.

    If the civil records you need are available here, they will create a couple of headaches for you and one blessing. Civil registration clearly spells one thing -- bureaucracy. Standard forms were used, and they are extremely voluminous. For example, a two-page form was used to record every marriage and each birth and death is on a full one-page form (at least through 1906). Also adding to the volume and the difficulty in identifying what you need was the fact that every village did not have its own registrar's office. So you have to find where the births were recorded, and then deal with records so voluminous that perhaps only a couple of years of births are on an entire roll of microfilm. The upside, of course, was that on these long forms a tremendous amount of information could be recorded.

    As one passes 1906, less and less of these civil records are available from the Family History Library. By the time of World War I, virtually nothing is available. But, by then, your ancestors were probably already living here in America. From 1900 until 1910, Hungary was always among the top couple of origins for immigrants to the U.S. Over two million Hungarians of all ethnicities came. One interesting thing found in the few later records that I've seen, are births that occurred in the U.S. that were recorded at a later date in Hungary. These were people who registered the births at an Austro-Hungarian consulate in the U.S. (in Philadelphia for the example shown in the "Birth Documents" tutorial) in order to preserve Hungarian citizenship for the child. Perhaps they were considering a return to their homeland.

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  5. What are the ethnic, social, and linguistic issues associated with tracing your Hungarian roots?

    In this question, I will deal briefly with three issues: ethnicity, religion, and social class. Hungary was a multi-ethnic nation with numerous religions represented. This was most unusual for 18th and 19th century Europe. To demonstrate this, I'll tell you a bit about my four grandparents who immigrated to America -- actually about their fathers and families. Ethnically, two were Magyar, one was Vendish, and one was a German-Slovak mix. Religiously, those four families (maintaining the same order) were Lutheran, Reformed, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic. Finally, from the perspective of social status, one was of the "intelligentia" (a family of Lutheran pastors and school teachers), one an entrepreneurial mill-owning family (hard-working small business people), one a very poor peasant family, and finally there was a wealthy family of lawyers and building contractors. Face it .. this was a very unusual bunch of immigrants. While they show the diversity of historic Hungary, it's only rarely found in a single family history.

    Ethnicity. As previously noted, in 19th century historic Hungary the Magyars (ie. Hungarians) were a minority, accounting for only about 40% of the population. [Note: you may see figures as high as 60%. This is the result of using language rather than ethnicity to classify people. In the late 19th century, many Germans, Slovaks, and Jews were assimilated (ie. Magyarized) and had adopted Hungarian as their primary language.] The other major ethnic groups were the Slovaks, Germans, Croats, Serbs, Romanians, Ruthenians (now often called Rusyns), Gypsies (now usually referred to as Roma), and the Jews. There were smaller numbers of other groups, including Slovenian Vends, Bulgars, and Armenians. Just because there was diversity does not mean there was social or economic equality. In these regards, among the major groups Magyars, Germans and Jews were at the top of the heap, Ruthenes, Romanians and Gypsies at the bottom.

    It is interesting to note that during most of the period we're concerned with, the Hungarian (Magyar) language was not the official language of the country. Rather, the official language was Latin. This was largely a reaction to Habsburg attempts to impose German as the language of the nation. The continued official use of Latin well into the 19th century precluded movements toward a common spoken language. Likewise, literary development was slowed in all of the major languages of the nation. After 1867, when the Austrians and the Magyars effectively divided the entire empire into two spheres of influence, there was a push toward magyarization in the Hungarian portion of the empire. This took the form of encouraging name changes, requiring Hungarian-language education, and the use of Hungarian in all official business throughout the country. It also made for very bad feelings especially among the Slovak and Romanian people of Hungary. Croatia had always maintained a degree of autonomy within the Hungarian kingdom, and so was less impacted by these changes.

    Religion. As a result of the counter-reformation efforts of the Habsburg rulers, by the 19th century Roman Catholicism was clearly again the majority religion of Hungary. Along with their Byzantine rite brothers of the Greek Catholic (sometimes called Uniate) church, they probably accounted for 60% of the population. The Roman Catholics were spread throughout the country and most ethnicities. Greek Catholics only appeared in significant numbers in the northeast among the Slovaks, Ruthenes, and Romanians. Protestantism was primarily represented by the Calvinist Hungarian Reformed church which existed throughout the country but ethnically was predominently Magyar; and the much smaller Evangelical Lutheran church with its Slovaks, Magyars, and Vends in the west and northwest, plus Germans in a many cities and parts of Transylvania. Unitarianism also had a presence in Transylvania. Eastern Orthodox churches were largely in the south and east, with the Serbian, Greek, Romanian, and Armenian variations represented. Jews were spread throughout the country, mostly in larger cities and in the villages of the northeast. The numbers of Jews living in Hungary increased dramatically toward the end of the century -- by 1900, Budapest was 20% Jewish. By and large, Hungary's Jews were not particularly orthodox, and tended to assimilate (take Magyar names and use the Magyar language) into the Magyar community.

    With this variety of churches, and the churches keeping the vital records, there is obviously considerable variation in those church registers you will be dealing with. I myself have worked almost exclusively with Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and Greek Catholic registers -- and in truth these represent the great bulk of the material available here in the U.S. -- probably over 90%. The examples I will show are from these four faiths. The general rule of thumb is that early records are in Latin and later records are in Hungarian (Magyar). Some Lutheran church registers are in German, occasionally using Gothic (Fraktur) script. Some Greek Catholic church records were in Slovak and, in the early 1850s, in Russian using the Cyrillic alphabet. Also, I am not at all surprised to find occasional snippets of German or Slovak in any church register. It's not particularly unusual for multiple languages to be used in the same register entry. The priests and ministers of the time -- especially in rural communities -- were not highly educated.

    Of importance in your search may be that fact that so many immigrants maintained their religious affiliations after coming to America. The community in which I lived most of my life was a center for immigration from Hungary. Within southwestern Connecticut were several Roman Catholic and many Reformed churches with Magyar roots, a Byzantine rite Greek Catholic church, Lutheran churches with Slovak roots, a number of Orthodox churches, and synagogues founded by Hungarian Jews. Most of these have maintained some relationship with their ethnic founders ... albeit with some mergers and closings ... though in many cases almost 100 years has gone by. Records of your ancestors kept by such congregations may contain critical information about their origins in historic Hungary. Similar situations exist in all the areas of high emigration from historic Hungary ... Manhattan, northern New Jersey, the coal and steel areas of Pennsylvania and Ohio, and the Detroit and Chicago areas.

    Social Status in 19th century Hungary was a very complex matter. As in most societies emerging from feudalism, there were a small number of very wealthy landowners and a large number of poverty-stricken peasants. In addition to the land-owning aristocrats who were overwhelmingly from old Magyar or German families, a newly wealthy financial aristocracy developed. They were primarily Jewish bankers and financiers in Budapest. These two groups were small in numbers, but controlled a large percentage of Hungary's wealth. But, only the former commanded the prestige and social status of true "aristocracy." For the many poor peasants who came to Budapest for domestic service or industrial jobs, their status did not change appreciably. Their lack of education limited their prospects both socially or financially.

    In every medieval society there were a small number of intelligentsia -- churchmen, teachers, scribes (secretaries to the wealthy), etc. These were prestigious vocations which typically brought a degree of social status, but little in the way of remuneration. Their numbers did not grow substantially in the Hungary of the 19th century, except for the field of teaching. The need for greater numbers of low-paid teachers opened the doors of that profession to women.

    But, the big change during the 19th century was the several new vocational groups which emerged and grew rapidly. These people all roughly fall into the category sometimes called the bourgeoisie -- the new middle class. They consisted of:

    • tradespeople and small businessmen who came largely from the peasantry or were immigrant Jews. These people often had minimal education, their success being the result of hard work and native intelligence. These opportunities existed in provincial towns and even villages, in addition to Budapest.
    • clerical workers were needed in very large numbers as a result of Budapest's development into a major financial center. These jobs in the private businesses, banks, insurance companies, etc. of the thriving city required educated people and often went to Jews, since many members of the educated Magyar gentry deemed such jobs to be "below" them.
    • journalists were needed in surprisingly substantial numbers. A newly literate population, without other media outlets, allowed more than 20 daily newspapers to prosper in Budapest around 1900. Again, a significant percentage of the newspapermen were Jews.
    • the need for professionals -- doctors, university professors, engineers, and especially lawyers (Hungary has always been a very litigious society) -- increased dramatically. These professions demanded highly-educated practitioners, and presented opportunities to both Christians and Jews.
    • a large government bureauacracy was needed after the Compromise of 1867 when Budapest truly assumed the role of a national capital. This was made up mostly of inpecunious Magyar gentry who considered government service an appropriate role for noblemen. Note that in the ranks of this new middle-class that emerged in Hungary in the last quarter of the 19th century, many opportunities went to the large Jewish population of Budapest. The exception was the government bureaucracy, from which they were effectively excluded -- by custom, rather than law.

    The Hungarian nobility was a unique concept, which ran the gamut from the super-wealthy to the proud-but-impoverished. Originally, all free Magyar men were considered nobility and the western European concept of a hierarchy of nobility didn't exist ... each nemes (nobleman) was directly subservient to the king. Over the centuries, the noble population waxed and waned. But, there were a surprisingly large number of "nemesek" -- nobles, approximately 5% of the total population in 1800. In some villages, particularly in the northwest, the majority of the population were noblemen. Whole counties in the north had a noble population exceeding 15%, while a few counties in the south had less than 1% nobility. As the feudal system eroded, and a few super-wealthy land-owning families took control of much of the nation, the Habsburg rulers conferred additional titles on the senior members of the elite families ... Eszterházy, Zichy, Pálffy, etc. By the mid-1800's a clear differention emerged, with the term "aristocrat" describing this higher nobility and "gentry" the lesser nobility. Despite their often mean circumstances, affectation was endemic among the gentry ... for the title was all they had. I urge you to read an English translation of the short novel Gentry Wedding by Kálmán Mikszáth to get a feel for this part of Hungary's 19th century population. It's very enlightening, and you'll probably find a few "noblemen" in every family tree.

    To a great extent, late 19th century Hungary was a thriving place -- especially Budapest. But, millions of peasants -- particularly in the northern part of the country -- were left out of this prosperity. They couldn't put enough food on the table. Their children were dying. Freezing and starvation were frequently the cause of death. They had no hope, there was no safety net. The great bulk of Hungarian immigrants to these shores -- unlike a couple of my grandparents -- were Magyar or Slovak peasants who felt their only hope for a better life was here in America.

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  6. If the Internet is so great, why not just show us how to find our ancestors there?

    Don't I wish it was that easy! Today (2013), the Internet is still of limited value when it comes to finding well-indexed original source material for family history research on historic Hungary. But the situation is improving rapidly and I will discuss this in describing the FHL's website below. I expect that by 2020 the great bulk of our family history research will be accomplished on-line. For now though, FHL microfilms usually remain your best bet for finding a couple of generations of your 19th century Hungarian ancestors. A strength of the web today is as a reference medium for background material. It's also great as an index to identify where else to look. In this tutorial I will recommend several websites that may help. As you work, you likely will find many others that also fulfill your specific needs.

    For those who need to search for family history in the U.S. in preparation for your Hungarian search, the story is different. The massive American resources available on-line at and other similar websites make them the focal point of your U.S. research. And remember, free access to the "institutional version" of is available at all FHC's and many Public Libraries.

    Yes, you may be lucky. You may find a part of your family history documented on the web .. probably by another family history researcher like yourself. But, are you satisfied everything they wrote is correct? Perhaps there are errors .. probably inadvertant, but maybe intentional. We all make errors because we are human. If you're lucky enough to find help on the web from a previously documented family tree, use it .. but also check it out carefully if it's an important part of your research.

    As time goes on, we will find more original source material on the web. A case in point is the wonderful website that allows you to get copies of the original ship's manifests for the arrival of immigrants to New York City. The web is a "work in progress" -- and always will be that. Keep looking to it, and you'll keep finding something new. But, to wait until "everything" is available on the web is futile.

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  7. BTW, Vic .. what's your background? How do I know this tutorial information is valid?

    Basically family history is my retirement hobby. I derive no profit from this website or from my other genealogical activities. I have decades of experience in developing computer software, in teaching at the college and graduate school level, and in family history research. I try to be helpful and accurate, but I'm far from the world's greatest expert on anything. So, you get no guarantee that everything here is precisely correct .. but I try. If you'd like to learn more about me, my resumé is available at: Information on Vic's Background.

    Another important note -- I do not normally take-on paid assignments to do family history research. And, just because I won't charge you, doesn't mean I'll do your research for free .. I probably won't. I may choose to help if you are working in an area of interest to me. But, that's my choice. I give no promises of help beyond the content of this website, but I do hope you find the site both enjoyable and useful. Your comments and other feedback are appreciated.

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  8. OK -- sounds interesting. How do I get started?

    In order to have the best chance of success using Hungarian church registers of the 19th century, you ideally need four pieces of information about each ancestor who immigrated to the U.S. They are:

    • their birth name
    • their place of birth
    • their approximate date of birth
    • their religion

    If you know these four basic facts, you are ready to get started. For people born before October 1, 1895 and originating in towns within modern Hungary other than Budapest, you have a very high probability of success. If your people were born later, or were from Budapest or peripheral areas of historic Hungary, your chances are not as good .. but, it's certainly worth the effort to go on and further evaluate your prospects.

    If you do not have the necessary information to get started, you will have to use other resources to accumulate that basic information. While it's not my intent to deal here with tracing your ancestors in America, here are some hints. The best resources are usually within your own family. While the memory of older family members may be faulty, that is always a good place to start. Their long-term memory may be much better than their short-term memory. Mine is! Other family resources are old letters, scrapbooks, family Bibles, obituaries, etc.

    If you must go outside the family to trace back to your immigrant ancestors, the place I'd start are church records for the congregations your family attended (as noted above). Look for church records to give you information about the people involved in specific events, primarily baptisms, marriages, and burials. If you don't know the churches involved, or your family were not church-goers, an alternative is civil death certificates for those ancestors born in Hungary who died in the U.S. These death certificates are generally available to family members from the city, county, and/or state in which the person died. Each jurisdiction has its own rules for obtaining copies of these death certificates -- you're on your own to learn and comply with those rules for the jurisdictions of interest to you. Some jurisdictions have begun posting death records on the Internet ... check it out. Death records will usually include the date and place of birth, as well as the parents of the deceased. But, keep in mind that this information is only as good as the data provided by the family to the doctor or funeral director who filed the report at the time of death.

    The U.S. Census schedules are another good place to search for answers. At present, the 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940 censuses are all available. The 1910 census contains the most information, if your ancestors were here then. Microfilms of the censuses can be found at National Archives branches and from the Family History Library. Other good libraries are also likely to have census materials for their own locality. Census information is available on-line at and other for-profit sites, with excellent search capabilities. Note that census searches on are free at FHC's and many public libraries. But, the census is only a starting point. It helps you identify the makeup of households by name and age. It is unlikely to give you the town where a person was born, but their age at the time of the census will give you an approximate birthdate.

The final link to the "old country" often is the ship's manifest identifying your immigrant ancestors.
These manifests are accessible using the free Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation website.

Using the Ellis Island Website

Note that this website covers only immigrants to New York between 1892 and 1924. The great bulk of Hungarian immigrants arrived in New York during those years ... and they did not have to "go through Ellis Island" to be found in this database. If you find your ancestor in this database, you will be well rewarded. Often their name, age, and birthplace are provided. Also, the name and address of the next of kin in the home country is sometimes given. Religion is usually only identified in the case of Jews. More about ship's manifests can be found in the "Documents" section of the tutorial.

If you don't find your ancestor in the Ellis Island database, the two most likely reasons are:

  • The spelling of the name you are using is different from the spelling in the database. This may be caused by a variety of problems:
    • the name in the manifest was illegible
    • the name was transcribed improperly from the manifest to the database
    • the name was misspelled in the manifest
    • the spelling of the name has changed over the years
    • the given name may have been written in one of several languages
    In any case, spelling is the most likely cause of the problem, so keep trying using variations.

  • The immigrant may have arrived at a port-of-entry other than New York. The most likely such port is Philadelphia, with some arrivals in Baltimore. Many immigrants from Hungary -- especially ethnic Slovaks -- came to Pennsylvania to work in the coal mines or steel plants. Philadelphia and Baltimore ship arrivals are also available. See the Resources section for "Steve Morse's One-Step Websites" where further information about other ports-of-entry is available.

I wrote a two-part article some years ago for Magyar News On-Line describing how to use the Ellis Island website. I believe that material is still useful. Part 1 explains the content of the ships manifests, and Part 2 discusses the mechanics of using the site. Click on the title below to read the article.

Using the Ellis Island Website -- Part I -- Content

Using the Ellis Island Website -- Part II -- Mechanics

To check out New York ship passenger arrivals online, go to the website of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation to try to find the ship manifest(s) that list your immigrant ancestor(s):

Link to Ship Manifests Website

Once you have all the basic information described above, you'll want to go to the website
to check for possible on-line resources, but also to do a "Place Search" on the FHL catalog to see what microfilms
(and possibly other resources) are available for your ancestors' hometowns.

Using the Family Search Website is the new website of the LDS Church's Family History Library. It remains under construction, and will be in that state for many years. Since it is changing so rapidly, I will not attempt to provide further help in its use. I won't be able to keep up ... so that's up to you. For our present purposes, we are concerned only with it's search feature. So, let's go! Click on the icon below left to get to the website ...

Link to FamilySearch Website and then click on their search icon which looks like this: Search Icon

CATALOG. To perform FHL catalog functions, including Place Search, click on "Catalog" on the menu near the top. [Summer 2013 note: the Catalog is currently considered a "Beta" version, and an option is provided to use the old catalog mechanism.]

WIKI. To learn more about Hungarian genealogy and how to use the website in your research, click on "Wiki" on the menu near the top, and you'll have access to thousands of articles on genealogy in general, including several specific to Hungarian research. As this feature progresses, I expect it will make this Tutorial obsolete. So be it! I'll find another hobby.

ON-LINE. To explore on-line resources, click on "Continental Europe" on the "Browse all Published Collections" list near the bottom. On the resulting list you will see the collections available for Hungary. These will be updated and new collections added periodically over the next several years. Check frequently for new material that may benefit your research. [Summer 2013 note: there are only five published collections in place for Hungary. Three of these are indices which may be helpful in finding the microfilm you need, but do not contain actual images of the church registers. The "Civil Registration" collection contains images, but their number is miniscule compared to what the FHL has on microfilm. But, the "Funeral Notice" collection not only contains over a half-million individual images of notices, but is not available on microfilm. It could be very valuable, once you've identified some ancestors who died in Hungary. I found dozens of my relatives in this collection.]

Now, you should be on your way! GOOD LUCK.

Go to Tutorial Home Page. Go to Bibliographical Resources. Go to Background Information incl Language. Go to Document Examples.

This FAQ webpage was last updated on 08 August 2013.