Translating Parish Records – Marriages

Prior to October 1895, records of marriages, as well as births and deaths, were held by local church parishes.  In the 1960s, the LDS Church, better known as the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, photographed most of the church books across Europe. The images were originally stored on microfilm, and gradually, most have been converted to digital images.

These digital images can be viewed either at a local Family History Center or from home with a free account at Depending on where your ancestors originated, you may be able to go as far back as the early 1700s from the comfort of your couch.

As I’ve mentioned before, the most popular religion in Austria-Hungary was Roman Catholic, but many others identified as Lutheran, Calvinist, or Evangelical.  The Jewish population was much smaller, and their documents are a bit trickier to locate. This FamilySearch wiki is a great place to start researching pre-1895 Hungarian Jewish records. Jewishgen is also an excellent resource, but requires payment to fully access the site.

Catholic, Lutheran, and other records follow a very similar format, regardless of what part of Austria-Hungary you’re researching.

The examples I’ll be using are from Stegersbach, Austria. Part of the the Güssing district of Burgenland, Stegersbach was part of Hungary until 1920, when the Treaty of Trianon annexed the land to Austria. For this reason, people researching their German-speaking ancestors in Güssing will encounter old parish records written almost entirely in Hungarian and Latin.

Note: Villages in Burgenland generally have two names, the German and the Hungarian version. Stegersbach was also known as Szentlelek. The Burgenland Bunch website has a comprehensive list of place names, as well as lists of the corresponding parishes where documents may be found.

Let’s say we know the names of a couple who were married in Stegersbach, Austria in 1885. On the FamilySearch website, we’d go to search and select catalog.

In the search field, we can enter Stegersbach or Szentelek. Either will bring us to the same set of images.

This won’t always be the case, so it’s a good idea to become familiar with alternate names for villages.

After clicking search, we see the results above. This tells us there is one set of church records for Stegersbach/Szentelek. This town only had a Catholic Church. Lutheran residents traveled a few kilometers south to the village of Kukmirn/Kukmér.

Civil registration didn’t begin until 1895, so we won’t be selecting that option. Clicking on church records brings us to the following screen.

Now we have three more choices:

Kereszteltek (births) 1828-1870

Kereszteltek (births) 1870-1895, házasultak (marriages) 1828-1895, halottak (deaths) 1870-1884

Halottak (deaths) 1884-1895

Format indicates whether or not the items are available for online viewing and/or if they have been indexed.  The camera icon means the images may be viewed from any computer, and the magnifying glass means the digitized film reel has been at least partly indexed. Usually (at least as of this writing) only the births have been indexed.

Note: A camera icon with a key below it means the images can only be viewed at a local Family History Center. An image of a roll of film means the items have not yet been digitized and may only be accessed at the Salt Lake City repository.

Next, we’ll chose the 2nd option on the list, because it contains the marriage records. Clicking the camera icon opens the entire reel of photographs. The example I’ll be using can be found on the first line of image 446.

This image is from the right-hand side of the parish register for the marriage of Andrew Strobl to Maria Kern, February 9, 1885. Both are widows who were born and and still live in Stegersbach. Maria’s late husband is listed as John Kokofer.

Above is the image from the left-hand side of the page. It contains the names of the witnesses, the officiant, and usually, the names of the parents of the groom and bride. The third column is for notations about the marriage bann, or the old tradition of announcing a couple’s plan to marry.

The pending nuptials were announced three times, often on consecutive Sundays during church service. If someone had reason to believe the couple shouldn’t be married, they could come forward and alert the parish. Perhaps the bride and groom were unaware they happened to be half-siblings. Maybe the groom was already married, but the bride didn’t know.

In any case, the marriage bann column on these documents sometimes contains useful information. The one above is relatively standard. The notation, roughly translated, says “three times promulgated and they were released.” This means the engagement was announced and no objections were found that would preclude the couple from uniting.

When viewing old marriage records, keep an eye out for any variation of the Latin word consanguin, meaning “blood relation.” This term indicates a dispensation of consanguinity was granted, meaning the church made an exception and allowed blood relatives to marry.

dispensation of consanguinity, close relatives

The image above is from another marriage record, completely unrelated to the prior document. The spouses in this record, however are very much related to each other. Dispensati a 2nd mixto 3rd gradu consanguim,” mean the bride and groom are related by a mixture of 2nd and 3rd degree.

What’s a degree of relatedness? Canon Law is a little confusing, but the Wikipedia article explains it in simpler terms.

A first-degree relative would be a parent or child.

A second-degree relative would be a sibling or grandparent.

A third-degree relative would be aunt or uncle.

This might make it appear that the couple named as 2nd and 3rd degree relatives are siblings as well as uncle/niece. That’t not necessarily the case. The cleric who calculated the degrees has reasoned they share enough blood (nowadays we’d say DNA) to be practically full-siblings. Regardless, they were still allowed to marry.

My guess is that they were double cousins. Looking at the surnames, it’s likely the groom’s father and bride’s father were brothers and the groom’s mother and bride’s mother were sisters. In this scenario, the bride and groom would share almost as much DNA as half-siblings.

I plan to write a bit more about consanguinity and dispensations, but for now, let’s just say if you see one of these notations, your ancestors may have shared a set of grandparents.

This page has several useful links to assist in translating additional terms that might be found in a parish register and FamilySearch has a comprehensive list of the most common words. With a bit of practice, you’ll get used to seeing the same words over and over and translating these documents will take no time at all.

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