Translating Parish Records – Deaths

Paging through a book of death records from the 1800s can be a pretty dismal task. With tuberculosis, diphtheria, pertussis, and a slew of other nasty ailments decimating the population, these old documents give us a somber view of the lives and losses of our ancestors. Fortunately, some of these records contain a veritable obituary of sorts, and may tell us more about an ancestor than any birth or marriage record.

I had been researching a man with the very common name Janos Horvath, and was unsure if I had accurately identified his birthplace and spouse. Upon finding the document below, I learning my findings were correct. This image may be viewed here, in the LDS digitized microfilms from the Őriszentpéter,Vas Megye parish.

Janos is the second entry on the page. He passed away in November, 1876. Looking more closely, there are a few useful details.

According to this entry, Janos left behind a widow, Theresa Milosits. He was 53 years old and died of vizibetegség, loosely translated as water disease, or dropsy. The word mell, meaning chest or breast precedes this term. This suggests his cause of death was fluid in the lungs, more commonly known today as pulmonary edema.

There are several links on this page to help translate old Hungarian words used to describe causes of death.

This document also tells us that Janos had been living in house #107 in Kondorfa, Vas Megye, Hungary and was buried on November 4th.  Janos was born in the town of Salomvar, and per the notations section he was a shepherd who eventually became a gazda/földműves, or landowner/farmer.

These images are not indexed, so finding a particular document can be time-consuming. It’s helpful to know approximately when a person died before attempting to search for their death record. I had been following the path of Janos and his wife when I noticed Theresa had a child out of wedlock  in 1879. The full image can be viewed here.

Theresa gave birth to a son, Lajos, noted as törvénytelen (illegitimate). She’s listed as özvegy (a widow) of Janos Horvath, a gazda and shepherd, and resides in house #107.

If Janos could have been the father of the child, Lajos would not have been labeled illegitimate. Janos must have passed away before November 1878. I began searching the death records, going backward from 1878 until I found evidence of Janos’ death in 1876.

Translating these writings can be difficult, considering the varying handwriting styles and often obsolete terms used within them. Often, the meaning of a sentence can be gleaned by identifying a few key words. In the next example, a young man, Janos Furndrath met his untimely demise while he was working far from home.

On October 23, 1871, 17-year-old Janos, died in in a place called csertai urasági major. Two days later, he was buried  in the cemetery at Őriszentpéter, Vas Megye. According to this document, Janos was from Muraszombat, which at the time was part of Vas. Now, it is known as Murska Sobota, a city in northeastern Slovenia. The phrase in the column on the far-right says hirtelen halál, or sudden death.

To find out what caused Janos’ sudden death, we can look at the other side of the page.

A first glance, the messy handwriting may not make much sense, but with a bit of patience and a few translation tools, some key phrases can be found to help understand what happened to poor Janos.

To translate this much text, I’d bring up Google Translate in a new window. I’d have the following pages open as well:

FamilySearch Hungarian word list

DictZone predictive Hungarian-to-English translator

Mapire Cadastral Maps, to help identify antiquated village names

The first column above says szerencsétlenség, lesett a csertai majorban a kéményből, which roughly translates to

“Misfortune, dropped from the chimney, in the noble land of Cser.”

In this context, the word major usually refers to land just outside the town center, that at one time would have been owned by nobility.

Searching for Őriszentpéter, a small region called Cser is marked on the 1860 cadastral map.

Image source:

If you look very closely and tilt your head, you’ll see a nearby property owner’s name. I’ve marked Sigmund Batthyány with a red line. The Batthyánys were a well-known noble family in Hungary for centuries, and Sigmund is probably one of them.

Because this map image was from 1860, we don’t know exactly how it looked in 1887, but I’m guessing there was a large house with a chimney in this general region.

The second column on the page from above tells us Janos was buried at Őriszentpéter. Below is the church and cemetery, as depicted on the same map.

Image source:

The third column lists the name of the person who buried the deceased.

The fourth column for Janos Furndrath is unusual. The abbreviation/symbol NB indicates additional notes. Janos has not one, but two notes. The first is an account given by a man named Karoly Hartner of Kormend. His relationship to the deceased is not stated, but he shares the following information:

kéményseprő mester ún legény lévén,
a Csertai Majorban érte a szerencsétlenség,
ott a kéményből, tisztogat ván azt, bedőlt, azonnal meghalt.

Again, roughly translated, that means:

“A chimney sweeper, a young man, in the noble land of Cser, had misfortune. There, he fell from the chimney. He cleaned it, fell down, and died instantly.”

The 2nd notation is a bit tricker to make out than the first, but most of it is legible.

Itt aligka híba mints: A meghalt nem Muraszombat,
mint alulírott – született Hajen linban(?) Czilibe, vagy környéken

I wasn’t able to quickly identify the other location named in this note, but here’s the gist of it:

“Here is additional information: The deceased was not from Muraszomat, as written – he was born in [Location], or in the neighborhood.”

Janos Furndrath’s death record is more difficult than most to understand, but it also contains more information than would be expected. By searching these documents, sometimes, we can stumble across a real family story, rather than just names and dates. In this instance, someone’s uncle Janos fell down a chimney while cleaning a nobleman’s soot.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


The maximum upload file size: 256 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video, document, spreadsheet, interactive, text, archive, code, other. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop file here