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.