Slovakia Genealogy Research Strategies
Slovakia Churches & Their Records
Slovakia Archive Holdings | Index of Slovak State Archives/Prehlad | Record History | Church Records | Present-Day Parishes | Language & Terminology | Druhopisy | Greek Catholic | Wooden Churches | Dvorzsák Gazetteer | Affiliated Churches
In Slovakia, church and land were the two most important aspects of everyday life in Eastern Slovakia. The church was ordered by the government to maintain all of the official village vital records for birth, marriage and deaths until 1895. These were considered legal state records. After this time, "civil registration" was established [Law Nr. XXXIII 1894], effective October 1, 1895], whereby the government maintains the legal state records. Post-1895 records are held by the village Registrar's office (town hall) and are subject to modern-day privacy restrictions. While churches have continued to record these vital statistics, they are no longer considered "official state records", but in fact a record of sacraments. (Note 1)
In 1952, the state directed that all church records prior to civil registration (1895) be transferred to the Slovak Republic State Archives. Researchers must be aware that the 1895 cutoff was not always followed. In some cases, the cutoff date was earlier and in other cases, records as late as 1940 can be found in the archives. Thanks to the Mormon church, all of the archived church records within the boundaries of present-day Slovakia are in the process of being microfilmed. The records are being made publicly available from Slovakia east to west through their Family History Centers.
While the movement of all pre-1895 records to archives may be rule, there appear to be an exceeding number of exceptions to the rule. Jim Nickel points out that some records are often still found in the Satoraljaujhely (Hungary) archives, and others still remain at the local church.
Specific Slovakia Village Churches
Very little information on specific village churches can be found online. Many books have been published in the region, but few have been translated to English. As my work progresses through my lifetime, I will bring to attention publications which are useful to the researcher. For the time being, the texts translated will be specific to my areas of research.
One directory of interest is the Dvorzsák Gazetteer. This is a town-by-town count of the numbers of religious congregants, organized by faith and summarized by district and county. An indication of the location of the primary parish.
Christian Church Records
Beginning in about the 1500's, Catholic churches began to record Baptisms, Marriages and Deaths under a government mandate. Small villages only began record keeping in the late 1600's to early 1700's. Of course, many of these villages were only formally established with churches in the 1700's. Larger towns and cities have records from the earliest periods. (Note: Unless you were of nobility, i.e., peasant, your familial records will probably go back no further.) The government recognized the usefulness of such records, especially for military conscription, and declared that these were also civil records and the priest effectively became the "town clerk" for the village.
Irregularities are often found in these records. Sometimes the death or birth of an individual outside of the church's faith was recorded. An individual's event might be recorded in a neighboring "affiliated" parish books. In still others cases where the individual was a religious minority (especially in the case of Jews or Protestants in a predominantly Catholic region), the records might be kept in a more distant large town or city which had regional authority. These events highlight the dichotomy of allowing civil and religious records to become mixed.
This mandate continued to be important to the state until the time of civil registration (1895) when the government took it upon themselves to record such information. [Law Nr. XXXIII 1894] Of course, even after that time the church continued recordkeeping for its own purposes, which then became limited to sacramental events, per-se.
Format: Before the 1800's most records were written free-hand, as a letter would be. These can be very difficult to scan as the data moves around across each line. It is quite a struggle to search for a surname with this format, though not impossible. In the 1800's (actual date varies by parish), the Hungarian rulers attempted to put some discipline into the record keeping by instituting a tabular recording method. I have included sample pages of Greek Catholic church ledgers.
Language and Terminology: Most of these records are written in either Magyar (Hungarian), Ukrainian, Latin or Slovak. One should not be intimidated by the language, especially with regard to tabular records. Once one identifies the column headings, the data contained therein is either dates, given names, surnames or place names, which require no translation. "Church Record Translations" is a useful reference of common Magyar, Hungarian, Latin and Slovak terminology. Some of these words are not in present-day use, thus they may not be found in modern-day dictionaries.
Records: Storage of Records at the Slovak State Archives with copies made by the Family History Library (available worldwide.)
Christian church organization: A parish is an element of the church structure (archbishopric, bishopric, deaconate, parish, affiliated churches; a descending hierarchy.) Each parish covers certain geographic territory, which usually includes affiliated churches. Thus one parish might consist of multiple church buildings in various nearby towns. In small villages in rural regions, one priest is responsible for the entire parish. The priest lives in a parsonage in the "main" village. The priest then travels to the affiliated village churches to minister to each congregation as necessary - either in the village home, church or cemetery. In most cases the records in the main church usually contain the records of affiliated churches, replete in one ledger book. Consequentially, most Family History Center microfilms of church records are also indexed by the main village name only. The Prehlad is a cross-reference indicating where the records for each village can be found. (Partial contribution from Vladimir Bohinc)
Understanding events and their dates goes a long way towards understanding the where, when and why of vital record keeping in present-day Slovakia.
1950 Action on the Greek Catholic Church
1952 Removal of Pre-1895 Church Records to the National Archives
In the case of records less than 100 years old, civil registrations are presently maintained locally, usually in the village Registrar office. In remote areas several villages may be served by one office.
In many cases, a second copy of the church registers was made. It was often called a "Druhopisy" in ecclesiastical terminology. This second copy was mandated by the government (see Short Comment below.) The second copy was originally intended to be kept by the government. These copies are today sometimes found in a regional church administrative office or found their way into the Slovakia State Archives. This copy is not always to be found. In some cases, Certain "Bishops Copies" have been found at the National Archives of Hungary in Satoraljaujhely, Hungary. Satoraljaujhely was the administrative capital of the old (pre-1918) Hungarian county of Zemplin which extended north into today's Slovakia. [Zemplin County was somewhat unique in that it was one of the only counties divided between Hungary and Slovakia as part of the 1918 Paris Peace Treaty.] Technically, all documents related to Slovakia territories belong to Slovakia. As the country was restructured (post WWI, post-1991) these records were "supposed" to be transferred. Obviously this didn't happen. Mick Sura and Jim Nickel have visited this archive and viewed church records from Ruska Bystra, Snina, Stakcin and Zboj. There are also many census records. It appears that hiring a researcher to extract these records from the Hungary archives is a more effective mechanism than writing to the Hungary Archives.
If you are aware of any other Slovakia records which may have remained in the Hungary Archives, please drop me a note.
The document "Prehlad matrík na Slovensku do zostátnenia matricnej agendy" (Survey of parish registers in Slovakia up to the time of civil registration) was prepared by the Slovak State Archives in 1992 and filmed by the Family History Center (FHC). It is a cross reference of what Slovak Republic (SR) villages are contained in each church register stored in the Archives. Note that this is comprehensive list of all church records in the SR Archives, but that the FHC has not filmed all records at this point. I recommend ordering the fiche set (LDS # Fiche 6000786), since its only 6 fiches, is less expensive to order than microfilm and your local FHC will probably be willing to keep it indefinitely. Alternately, it is available on Microfilm (LDS Film #1183541)
a) Identifying exactly what village church records are held in the SR Archives
b) Cross referencing village records, which may not be contained in the index (smaller villages were oftentimes included with larger parish records)
Jim Nickel points out that not all records that are "supposed to be" in the archives are, in fact, at the archives. Jim's cousins have been successful in contacting the present-day parish and inquiring about records which may be found there. It may include both 19th, 20th century records. While writing to the church directly may be an option, your likelihood of success is much greater by a personal visit. A local researcher would be an excellent choice for this type of research.
Present-day Slovakia Parish Directories on the web are listed below. They are indeed incomplete, a work in progress.
Be careful not to assume that the present-day parish organization is as it was 100 years prior. Although the Greek Catholics have taken back many of their church buildings from the Orthodox, some have not and received restitution.
For those desiring a more complete understanding of the Greek Catholic Church, Andrew J. Shipman wrote an excellent introductory treatise "Greek Catholics in America" in the year 1909 for The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VI. It gives a 1909 perspective on the immigration of Rusyns to America (including their origins), a description of exactly what the Greek Catholic Church ascribes to, how it relates to the other rites of the church, immigration statistics, establishment of parishes in America and their leaders. It provides secondary coverage of Rumanian, Syrian and Italian Greek Catholics.
I find this article to be particularly insightful as it wrote about our immigrant ancestors in the present tense, with fresh information. It gives the modern-day reader a perspective into day-to-day life and thinking of the times. It is a refreshing change from the broad-brush theological discussion of the Greek Catholic Church I have found elsewhere.
It is generally a fair assumption that those of Rusyn (Ruthenian) ethnicity are Greek Catholic and vica-versa. Of course exceptions exists, so seek corroborating evidence.
In the majority of small, rural villages, one priest/minister typically ministered to multiple villages. A church would be constructed in each village. This collection of churches is known as a "parish." The priest/minister would have his home/parsonage located in one of these villages, simply known as the "main church" and travel to conduct services at each "affiliated church". Each affiliated church would have its own cemetery, own church building. Marriages, Weddings and Burials were conducted in their respective village church. This arrangement of one priest/minister for multiple villages continues to present times.
With regard to record-keeping, it was customary (and convenient) to maintain one record book for this collection of churches "parish." When searching for church records for a specific village, the affiliated churches are not always called out in the catalog description. If you cannot find your church records and are uncertain of the main church, try another nearby village. Most affiliated church villages were located within a reasonable walking distance from each other (one to four miles was common.)
In cases when the village was too small, the faithful would walk to the nearest church.
Rules of thumb: My examination of records suggest that in many cases:
Due to the minority Jewish population of Slovakia, the majority of records are found in the larger cities.
I have indexed Family History Library Catalog of Temple records sourced from the Slovakia State Archives.
The foremost online resource for Jewish Genealogy is JewishGen. Do not neglect the Hungarian sections. Much info from these areas is contained therein.
Wooden Churches - No discussion of churches would be complete without a short introduction about their magnificent cierkev, wooden churches.
Note 1: Credit to Peter Nagy for clarifications to the state record policy.
Credit to John Adam for proofreading corrections to the "Prehlad."
Credit to Juraj Halčák for Košice Archdiocese Schematizmus update (7/05)
Credit to Juraj Halčák for Roznava Diocese Schematizmus
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