When I began studying my own family, I learned I’m about 25% Hungarian, 25% Polish, 25% German, and 25% colonial-era northern European. Ethnicity estimates from the DNA testing companies agree with these percentages.
Thanks to decades of genealogists researching my ancestors before I even started, I was able to build the colonial portion of my tree within a few weeks. Ancestry.com was all I needed to find photos, documents, and family histories, all sourced and cited. Organizations like The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) had even documented several of my ancestors.
With DNA, I was able to confirm branches of my maternal line back to the mid-1700s, but now I was looking at a very lop-sided tree. My paternal side only went back to my great-grandparents who arrived in the US in the early 1900s. Simple name and location searches and a basic Ancestry membership weren’t going to grow my tree any further. I could have given up on the Hungarians and the Poles and shrugged off the half-done tree, but I knew there had to be a way to find more information.
I started scouring the internet to learn more about the forgotten heroes of my paternal side. The farmers and shepherds who survived wars, droughts, and plagues. The women who bore 12 children, only to die soon after the birth of their 13th. These were the parents of my ancestors, the simple folks who spent months or years saving the funds needed to purchase a one-way ticket to America.
There were no public online trees to guide me and no online family history pages about my particular family line. I turned to online forums, guides, and DNA groups for assistance. Within a few weeks, I had found the parish records for my great-grandparents’ ancestral village and started learning how to translate Hungarian and Latin. Soon after, I had found my great-great-grandfather Ferencz Horvath’s church records and learned he was married twice and fathered at least 16 children.
Below, I share a bit of Ferencz’s story as an example of the sort of documents that can be found and the information they contain.
Here is the record of Ferencz’s first marriage in 1845:
Ferencz (Francis/Frank) Horvath from Kondorfa, Vas Megye, Hungary, was 17 when he wed Judith Horvath, age 16. They traveled approximately 7 kilometers southeast to the Roman Catholic church in Őriszentpéter to marry. Frank’s parents were Mihaly (Michael) Horvath and Erzsebet (Elizabeth) Herczeg. Judith’s parents were Peter Horvath and Katalin Nagy. (These get easier to read with practice, I promise.) Witnesses present were Mihaly Hegyi and Peter Toth.
Frank’s social status was listed as “jobbágy,” a term that in 1845 meant “serf.” After the passing of the March Laws in 18481, which freed the serfs from their feudal lords and and allowed them to own land (and forced them to pay taxes), Ferencz would have gone by a different title.
Also, I should mention here that Horvath is one of the 10 most common surnames in Hungary and Frank and Judith were not closely related. Even marrying a 2nd cousin required approval from the bishop and a formal “permission slip” of sorts, called a dispensation of consanguinity, which was usually noted in the “observations” section.
On February 18th, 1872, Judith died of tüdőgyulladás (pneumonia) at the age of 41.
With a house full of children to care for, Ferencz remarried quickly. Below is the record for his 2nd marriage, less than six months after Judith’s death.
By the mid-1800s, these forms became pretty standardized across Hungary and parts of Austria. In the 1870’s the headers were usually in both Latin and Hungarian. Reading from left-to-right, we can see the date is August 11th, and Ferencz Horvát, a 42-year-old farmer and widow is marrying Anna Német, age 19. The couple are residing in house 53, in the village of Kondorfa, the same house where Judith (previous image) passed away.
Soon after figuring out how to navigate the parish records, I learned to use the military surveys and cadastral maps at mapire.edu.
Below is the 1858 cadastral (tax) map of Ferencz’s village. By zooming in and looking around the village, I was able to locate several farming plots with the number 53 and “Ferencz Horvath” written on them. I have marked his house (#53) and one of his plots of farmland with arrows, below. Here we see that by 1858, Ferencz had become a landowner.
The house in the map image no longer stands, but back in 1857, it probably looked something like this…
Learning to use the (mostly free) tools available online led me to build the Hungarian quarter of my tree out to ancestors born in the 1700s. DNA matches confirmed Ferencz as well as my other great-great grandfather (and beyond). Fortunately, over 90% of Austrian-Hungarian records have been digitized by the LDS and are available to view on the FamilySearch website. This fantastic resource enabled me to complete my first big project, translating over 2,300 birth records from Őriszentpéter. Since then, I have translated over 10,000 birth, marriage, and death records from Latin and Hungarian into English, in the course of assisting adoptees and others searching for their biological roots.
Researching my Polish quarter was trickier, because the parish records of the regions I needed to view (the former Austrian Galicia) were only available on physical microfilm at an LDS Family History Center during their limited operating hours. I was unable to locate the information I needed before the LDS ended their microfilm loan program in September 2017. FamilySearch plans to have all these records digitized within the next few years, and by then, I hope to expand the focus of this site to include the entire former Kingdom of Hungary.
Even without access to parish records, I’ve still been able to find and verify Polish ancestors. Via DNA matches currently living in my great-grandmother’s home village, I was able to contact distant cousins who have shared a wealth of information with me.
Using the techniques I gathered while working on my own family tree, I have been able to help others solve their own family mysteries. By studying chromosome segments, I’ve learned how to determine common ancestors based on the location of shared DNA, and in turn have volunteered thousands of hours creating family trees and figuring out matches for others. Last year, I left my role as an admin for an Austrian/Hungarian DNA project on FTDNA to spend more time helping adoptees and writing about the discoveries I’ve made.
Currently, I’m in the process of adding links and articles to this site and I try to reply to everyone who contacts me.
Thank you for visiting my site and enjoy your central European journey!