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Hunting Hungarian Heritage

Even though the language is quite different than most European tongues, there are many place that you can use to research your Hungarian ancestors.

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This time around we will be taking a look at a country that has a long history, is located in Central Europe, and yet has a language which is much different that many of those spoken by its neighbors farther west.

Hungary is about 35,900 square miles in size, closest to the U.S.states of Georgia or Michigan, and has a population of about 10 million, which is the closest in size to Indiana.

The language itself uses a standard Roman type alphabet, but is far different that the Romance or Germanic languages spoken in most of the rest of Europe. It is closest linguistically to Finnish, Estonian ,the Saami language of northern Scandinavia and other far eastern European tongues. Many experts say that they are related but not mutually intelligible. This makes a difference to the researcher because if records are written in a Western European language, or in Latin, one will have a comparatively easier time translating them. There was another script used before the Roman script was implemented, but we are not likely to find records written in it as it went out of use before the year 1000.

Though Hungary has been settled for a very long time, we are most concerned with the last thousand years. A ruler by the name of Arpad is generally considered to be the founder of the modern Kingdom of Hungary. However, about 1500 the Ottoman Turks invaded the area and conquered it. Armies from Western Europe pushed out the Ottoman Empire by the early 18th century, but many places had already become depopulated by the constant fighting. The territory was then ruled by the Hapsburg Empire, until the late nineteenth century creation of the Austro Hungarian Empire.

Circa 1848 there was, like many other places in Europe, a revolution that swept parts of the government from power. This also caused a good deal of emigration, as we'll see later. The people who left Hungary at that time tended to be well educated and of a different social class than later emigrants. Hungary then became an independent state and later was allied with Austria. After World War II, a Communist government was in power, but in the late 1980s Hungary once again became a free state. As one can see, the area has had a lot of rulers and governments. Religiously, it was mostly Roman Catholic.

Later in the 19th century, most of the nearly 700,000 Hungarians who emigrated to the U.S.(migration to Canada was much harder at that time) were peasants looking for a chance to better their lot in life. Academic studies have shown that while these people were mostly from rural farming areas, they tended to migrate to the urban northeast U.S.and work in factories or in mines.

But you must be careful, as you must with any family research. I was researching a family who clearly came from a place in central Germany - the local history book for the town said so, and gave lists of the settlers' names and their places of origin. But then the area came under the rule of Hungary, and these Germanic folks were counted in Hungarian censuses in the Hungarian language. Then Hungary united with Austria in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Following WW I, they became independent, only to fall back under German (Nazi) rule, until the area was taken over by Russian forces after WW II. Today that same village is now in Serbia, and the German settlers who had been there for 200 years were forced to leave, the notorious Flüchtling (refugee) migration.

As with any genealogical research, one needs to know for whom one is looking and the time periods and areas in which they lived. Most places to do have an exhaustive index of who lived where, when. Hungary is no exception. You do need to find the exact place where your ancestors were living in order to find more records. Those of you fortunate enough to have nobility or well known folks in their ancestry will have an easier time of finding records than the vast majority whose ancestors were average people who left fewer records.

So, how do you find where to look? If you are lucky, one of your parents or grandparents may be the immigrant. Even great-grandparents of people reading this now would have been born perhaps 1870 to 1890, and in such cases the stories that they told might have place names mentioned. Of course, then you might run into what I have had happen, "I don't know where they were from! If it was so good in the old country, why did they come here?"

Still, if family does not have letters or direct information, there are the more standard places to look for information and locations. These first places to look would be the immigration records, which especially after 1906 might show the place of origin down to the village level. Also naturalization papers, even those filed 20 years after the arrival, can contain the place of birth. So might registrations for draft purposes. Church records can do the trick - often times immigrants' native villages are noted in the marriage registers (naturally, children born here were U.S. citizens), but older children who were born overseas might have clues to where the family came from. Departure lists from various ports do exist (Hamburg and Bremen in Germany being the most well known examples), but they end not to have been preserved very well, since the people leaving never came back, for the most part.

Other places to look would be applications for U.S. papers, such as the Social Security applications, which requires full names of parents and a birthplace. You can not only look for other children in the family, but perhaps their neighbors traveled with them and were from the same place in the old country. I know that was the case with my own family, and was how I broke the case on a couple of ancestors. You might find clues in will and death proceedings, where an estate was distributed, or even court records. Think of all the places where you have had to give your birthplace, and check the analogous records for your ancestors.

Many telephone books for foreign countries are now online and searchable for a fee, but this is kind a of a long shot. Just think of how may people in our own families have moved around the nation if not the world. Other places to look, but which might not have accurate information, are obituaries. These might be right or might not - after all, the star of the show isn't giving their information directly; death certificates (ditto, information is given by another person, ) and naturalization papers, as well. Even while still alive, I have seen varying information on the same person from different papers.

So where do you look when you do find a location? Well, first you have to verify that that the place exists or at least existed. Many places have been subsumed by larger areas in 150 years. Or if they are small places that still exist, do they have a registry office, a church, etc. that records might be found in, at all? Is there email to these place (far less common than in North America)?

Yet another place to look for clues is on online message boards such as the ones on Rootsweb and other sites. They are organized by name and by location. Finding other researchers may help you find your person, who to them is a distant relation.

There are many places to look for help in researching Hungarian ancestry. Do be advised though that many cultural organizations are not solely dedicated to genealogy, and that these places mentioned in the following are just places to start looking for information after you have exhausted other resources.

  • American Hungarian Federation (AHF) - Akron, OH
  • (American Hungarian Folklore Centrum (AHFC), Bogota, NJ. Online at http://www.magyar.org
  • American Hungarian Reformed Federation (AHRF), Washington, D.C.
  • Hungarian American Coalition (HAC) (Magyar-Amerikai Koalíció [MAK]), Washington, D.C.
  • Hungarian Association of Cleveland (Clevelandi Magyar Társaság), Cleveland, Ohio
  • Hungarian Cultural Foundation (HCF), Stone Mountain, Georgia
  • American-Hungarian Foundation (AHF), Hungarian Heritage Center, New Brunswick, New Jersey
  • Hungarian Reformed Federation Library and Archives, Bethlen Home, near Ligonier, Pennsylvania

Many American libraries have good collections of Hungarian historical materials: the Library of Congress; New York Public Library; Harvard University; Stanford University and several more as well. There are more mentioned in various online guides such as those from the above organizations.

Books Dealing with Hungarian Research

I would advise checking for them on the free www.worldcat .org web site that not only gives the location of where they are but will also tell you how far away from you it is!

As always, books published a while ago are not going to have Internet-related references. That's why it is good to also use the web to find things, but not exclusively!

  • "German towns in Slovakia & Upper Hungary: a Genealogical Gazetteer," by Duncan B Gardner, Lakewood OH. Family Historian, 1991 3rd edition, revised and expanded.

  • "Contents and addresses of Hungarian archives: with supplementary material for research on German ancestors from Hungary," by Edward R Brandt, Baltimore MD. Clearfield, 1998.

  • "Handy Guide to Hungarian Genealogical Records," by Jared H Suess, Logan, UT. Everton Publishers, 1980.

  • "Major Genealogical Record Sources in Hungary," by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City, 1972.

  • "How & Where to Research Your Ethnic-American Cultural Heritage: Hungarian Americans," by Robert D Reed and Danek S Kaus, San Jose CA. R and E Publishers, 1994

  • "Austro-Hungarian Genealogical Research," by Samuel Falkenstein; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Genealogical Library, Avon OH; the compiler, 1985.

  • Records of Genealogical Value for Hungary," by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Genealogical Dept., Salt Lake City, UT, 1979.

  • "Radix - Genealogy Research in Hungary;" eBook, in English. This is a web site devoted to Hungarian genealogy. Some features are free to the public, while others require a fee. Site includes a collection of about 800 pictures from old Hungary, as well as an extensive list of links to other Hungarian genealogical sites

Web Sites

As always, top level sites pointing to other may direct you to pages that no longer exist. That's life on the Internet.

I must mention that a researcher by the name of Lisa Alzo, of Ithaca NY, is a well know speaker and writer on Eastern European genealogical research. Anything that she has written is worth looking at! See her article at: http://internet-genealogy.com/austriahungary25.htm.

While I usually start with Cyndislist.com, there are also many other sites with web links.

  • http://www.cyndislist.com/eastern-europe/bmd/ - contains links to various Hungarian birth, marriage and death records

  • http://www.cyndislist.com/eastern-europe/census/ - gives links to various Hungarian censuses.

  • http://www.cyndislist.com/eastern-europe/general/?page=2 - contains several links to Hungarian web sites.

  • http://www.cyndislist.com/eastern-europe/maps/ - just what it says - links to various maps of the area.

  • http://www.cyndislist.com/germany/societies/ - this has links to various German groups whose ancestors were from Hungary.

  • https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Hungary_Genealogical_Word_List - exactly what it says!

  • Hungary GenWeb - the GenWeb site for Hungary

  • http://www.hungarianvillagefinder.com - the Hungarian Village Finder and Gazetteer, a subscription site of more than 30,000 place names.

    Best of luck on your Hungarian genealogical research! - Sok szerencsét a magyar genealógiai kutatás!

  • Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2013.

    The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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