Translating Parish Records – Births

Most Hungarian birth/baptismal records prior to October 1895 will be found in Catholic Church parish registers. At the time, Hungary was predominantly Catholic, accounting for over 60% of the country’s population, and up to 90% of in parts of northwestern Hungary and Burgenland, Austria.

Calvinist and Lutheran churches, while much smaller in number, often accommodated members from a larger geographic radius. Generally, a Catholic would have attended church within 8-10 km of their home village, while a protestant couple may have traveled 25 km to have their child baptized.

At the same time, the Jewish population in Austria and Hungary was only about 4%.1, with higher concentrations near Budapest and the greater Galicia region, among others. Unfortunately, Jewish records are not as easy to find as the Catholic and Protestant parish books. JewishGen is an excellent resource and FamilySeach has a detailed wiki page dedicated to researching Jewish roots.

By late 1895, all Hungarian residents, regardless of religious denomination, were required to report births, marriages, and deaths to the state.

Unlike civil registrations, which were documented in standardized, state-issued ledger books, Catholic and Protestant parish records were penned in a variety of styles and formats. Generally, more recent church followed a similar pattern, and are easier to read, while older records (pre-1850s)  are less uniform and prone to sloppier handwriting.

Here are a few different examples of Hungarian birth/baptism documents from 1890-1895, along with their corresponding translations. The first two are from Roman Catholic Parishes and the third is from a Lutheran Church. Most of these entries span the left and right side pages of the open ledger. For the first example, I’ll be using an entry from the following page.

For easier viewing, I’ve cropped the images to show only one entry. Then, I split the page vertically and stacked the left side of the image on top of the right side.

Example 1: Joseph Konrad, born in Bánd, Veszprém Megye, and baptized in the nearby church at Márkó.

The original image can be viewed here.

Joseph was born April 13, 1894, and baptized the following day. Due to high infant mortality rates, most babies were baptized within a few days after birth. If complications arose, or if the newborn appeared too ill to wait for a priest, the midwife would perform the baptism.

Joseph was christened by clergyman Dennis Nemeth, whose name is listed on most of the other baptismal records on the page. If the baby had been baptized by a midwife, the notation would list a woman’s name and the word babá or less-commonly, szülésznő, both meaning midwife. If the document was in Latin, the person assisting the birth would be noted as obstetrix or an abbreviation such as obstet or obx.

Sadly, Joseph only lived for 2 1/2 years. Normally, if a baby died shortly after birth, his name would have a small cross written next to it and possibly a brief note in the comments section. The fact that the Márkó parish had a designated field to record infant deaths suggests the mortality rate may have been higher than average. This field is not usually found on a birth/baptismal record.

Example 2:  Francis Schnabl, born in Bánya, Sopron, Hungary (Piringsdorf, Burgenland, Austria)

The parish records for this village are written entirely in Latin. Also, there are no pre-printed pages, just handwritten headings and faint lines.

The first entry from the sheet above follows below, with translations.  The original image can be viewed here.

Though the information contained in this birth record is nearly the same as in the first example, the format is much different.

Example 3: Rosina Lackner, born in Sándorhegy, Vas, Hungary, and baptized at the Lutheran church in Kukmér, Vas, Hungary (Kukmirn, Burgenland, Austria). The original image can be viewed here.

Below, the first record on the page translated:

Once a target ancestor’s baptismal record has been located and translated, it’s often a good idea to either search the index for other children born to the same parents. If the film reel has not been indexed, scroll through a few pages to search 2-5 years before and after the target ancestor’s birth.

I’ve translated thousands of these documents, mostly from Vas, Sopron, Veszprem, and Zala counties, and have drawn some conclusions based on my observations. Family life in 19th century Austria-Hungary tended to follow some distinct patterns.

  • Couples usually had their first child within 2 years of marriage.
  • Many illegitimate births became legitimized when the child’s parents married at a later time.
  • A widow or widower with young children would usually marry within a year of their spouse’s death.
  • By the 1850s, first-time brides were rarely younger than 16. More commonly, women married around age 19 or 20 and men around age 22.
  • A husband and wife who both survived to age 50 would have produced, on average, a child every 2-3 years, with the mother giving birth to her last child around age 44.
  • Firstborn sons were usually named after their father and firstborn daughters were often named after their mothers.
  • A couples might have several sons born with the same name. If Janos, the firstborn son died in infancy, the 2nd son born would be given the same name, and so on. The same naming tradition also applied to daughters.
  • Couples usually used one or more of the same godparents for each child’s birth. The godparents were not necessarily a couple, and they weren’t always close relatives of the child’s parents.

By looking for all other children born to a set of parents, their ages and year of marriage can be estimated. If a couple had 10 children between 1865 and 1890, we can guess the mother was born around 1845. With this information, we can now look for the target ancestor’s parents’ marriage record.

 

  1. /http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13992-statistics

7 Comments

  1. Hi!Thank you for an interesting text. I’m doing some research on my fiance’s family in Hungary. We are currently focusing on finding information about his father. Do you have any tips on where we can find info from 1935-1965?
    Thanks!

    • Hi Frida,

      As for 1935-1965, it depends on what part of Hungary you’re researching. Hungary, as with many other countries, limits the the published vital records of living people. If you know the village or town and look it up on FamilySearch, you may find a digitized microfilm of marriage or death certificates from that time period. Usually, 20th century records were kept in a central civil records office, but often, you can find individual films under the village name (usually within a few kilometers of the civil records location). In FamilySearch, go to search > catalog > place , and enter Hungary, followed by the county, and village if known.

  2. This is fantastic! I found baptismal records through Family Search, but the column headers don’t match your photos above. For instance, “A szülök [which I assume is parents’ names]”, but the sub-column is “vezeték- és keresztneve, vallása, polgári állása,” which is many more words than “religion” and “status.” Any chance you’ve seen a book like that? They were from Budapest, and the language on their US immigration papers say the home language was “Magyar”, in case that helps. (Also, do you have any good guides for interpreting handwriting? Though they look similar to English letters, I have a feeling I’m looking at some Hungarian glyphs!) Thank you for your hard work and sharing 🙂

    • Hi Danielle, I’m glad you found my site useful. Ans yes, a szülök means the parents’ names. The headings do vary a bit by region and by time period. You mention it’s a baptismal record. Is it a parish record from 1895 or earlier? The headings sound more like what would be on a civil record, post 1895. Your question regarding the sub-heading “vezeték- és keresztneve, vallása, polgári állása,” means surname, first name, religion, and status. Do you have a link to the image I could view?

      As for the handwriting, often it helps to view all the words on the page for reference, or even to go back and forward a few pages. Again, if you have a link, I can offer a better suggestion perhaps. Or, feel free to email me jane@janesgenes.com

      Regards,

      Jane

  3. You’re article has been very helpful. Thank you!

    I’m trying to translate part of a baptismal record for my gr-grandfather’s sister. There are comments in Latin in the comments section which I’m having a hard time with. Her name is Hermina Maria Orsai and she was baptised 13 Jan 1883 in Belvárosi, Pécs, Baranya, Hungary. I’ve attached a link to the record. Any ideas what it might say? I’m wondering, because I think her mother died soon after her birth, but I know that Maria lived to adulthood. Also, Maria’s mother’s name is Josepha Szigeti, but it says “Szigeti Kremmer Josepha.” Kremmer is the surname of Maria’s Dad’s next wife after Josepha died. I’ve been unable to find Josepha’s baptismal record on familysearch.org. I wonder if I’m looking for the wrong surname. In Maria’s sibling’s baptismal records it only lists the mother as “Szigeti Josepha.”

    • Hello Beth!

      Thanks for visiting my site and sorry for my slow reply. I looked at the link you shared and here are a few of my initial thoughts:

      This seems more of a “bad handwriting” issue than a translation problem, and deciphering chicken scratch can be very frustrating.

      In the comments field, it says something about the child being extracted and baptized. Notice the name of the person who baptized the baby, Ludvig Jeszo — he doesn’t seem to appear on any of the other entries. I can’t make out the abbreviation below his name, but in an emergency delivery situation, anyone could have performed a baptism. Clues may appear by searching pages forward and backward in the book. It’s common to see the midwife’s name in that column, followed by “obstetrix”, but less common to see a priest from a different parish, or just some other man listed in that column.

      As for the rest of the notes section, it appears to say “prodo” (gave birth), but the next part could be cola- (from colatus, “cleansed, purified”) or cula-“through, as in pushed through of forced”. The last word appears to be “cana,” which means aged or old, (regarding the mother, perhaps?) or it could possibly be “casa,” house.

      To figure out what letters these are for sure (if you’re curious enough to solve the puzzle), I’d use a photo editing program, or and copy/paste handwriting samples from other records across the pages. Adjust contrast/brightness to enlarge, and better view the images and details. Then, make a visual alphabet, a sort of font set to familiarize yourself with how this person wrote each quill-stroke.

      Also, I’m sure you noticed the mother’s occupation is listed as theater actress. Very cool. In the mid-1800s, this part of Hungary became a thriving cultural center. She may have been working at the historical Pécsi Nemzeti Színház. Maybe research the historical documents from Pécs archives and possibly find old newspaper articles?

      I hope some of my rambling has been useful. Best of luck in your research!

      Jane

  4. Thanks you, Jane. You’ve been very helpful. Yes, Josepha and her husband Kalman Orsai/Orsay were both actors in the theatre which meant their children were born in various towns all over southern Hungary. It’s very interesting, but can be difficult to find all the children. I will search for Josepha in the newspaper articles. I’ve found articles about her husband Kalman, but he lived to age 71. Josepha died in her 20’s or 30’s. I’ve been unable to find a baptismal record for Josepha, partly because I don’t know where she is from since they moved around a lot.

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