Slovakia Genealogy Research Strategies

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Present and Former Place Names

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Place Name Identification Strategy

I. Place Names (Villages, Towns, Cities) are Critical to Your Success

If you take away nothing else from this page, remember these two points:

  • Anyone who has been successful in their genealogical research will quickly advise that the most important piece of information needed to trace ancestors is a place name (village of origin, birth or last residence.)  I venture to say that it's actually even more important than the immigrant's surname!  Why?  Because the valuable information you seek is usually organized, indexed and stored and indexed geographically: country, county, region, village, town, city name.  The same surname can show up in other villages and be entirely unrelated, costing months of lost research time.

  • It is common for villages in Upper Hungary (Slovakia) to have as many as eight different names over the last 200 years.  Most villages have three or four.

I have created an entire page of ancestral place name identification strategies to help identify that seemingly elusive birthplace.  You'll need to have a place name before you utilize the information on this page.

Genealogical Researcher, Stop Here!

Given that the majority of emigrants from these lands came during a very short period of time, 1889-1914, you may need a moment to understand the historical and political context of the times.  This is important, since the village names immigrants gave on ship manifests, on census documents as well as records before 1918 are organized according to their Hungarian names, with some exception.  

Present-day Names

Present-day official names in Slovakia today are in the Slovak language.  In the easternmost portion of Slovakia, dual names are in use, Slovak and Rusyn, though most official sources and maps utilize only the Slovak name.

The Statistical office of the Slovak Republic has an online directory of more than 2,800 incorporated villages in Slovakia.  This resource can be useful when you are seeking the present-day village name.  It can be searched by name fragments, particularly useful when the handwriting is partially obscured.  This directory is much like a gazetteer, with certain statistical information for each listed village.

Magyar (Hungarian) Place Names

Example of old and new place names

Under Hungarian domination, there was an extreme political pressure to convert everything to Magyar/Hungarian.  The term you will see most often used is "Magyarize".  Under the regime, Magyar became the only acceptable language, signs, place names (including cities, villages, hamlets, rivers, mountains, etc.) and even people's names were converted to Magyar.  As regimes changed, particularly in 1850s, 1918, 1939, 1945, 1993, names likely changed, sometimes reverting to prior names.

Since most of our ancestors immigrated before 1918, we will most often (not always!) find our records written in Magyar, birthplaces given using the Magyar place name.  While the most important step in genealogical research is identifying your ancestor's place of birth, the second most important task is understanding what the village was named when they were born and immigrated.

A word of warning.  Even the villagers had a difficult time keeping the names straight.  We find that multiple village names are often used especially in ship manifests and US-based documents.  These names do not necessarily correspond to the time period of the official name.  So make sure when checking for villages that you try every surname.

II. Old Magyar (Hungarian) Place Names - Contemporary Conversion

How do you find the conversion between contemporary place names and old Magyar place names?  There are several sources.

1. Mormon Family History Library Indexes

If you are lucky, and the Mormons have filmed and published 1869 census for the county or region you are looking for.  If they have, you may be able to locate both old and new village names on the index titles.  For example, in the FHL film notes section for the village of Ulic' (Ulič), Slovakia, it reads: "formerly Ulics, Zemplén, Hungary. Includes the affiliated parish of Kolbasov, Slovakia; formerly Kolbászó, Zemplén, Hungary."  

Multiple Village Names:  Bear in mind that the Magyars may have renamed the village multiple times.  In very early documents, present-day "Ulič" was named "Utczas" by the Hungarians.  In later documents it is named "Ulics."  In this specific example, it was due to Magyar language "modernization."  Sometimes villages may be prefixed with or without a hyphen (Alsokoves, Also-Koves) so be certain to check for all variations in documents.

The FHL also holds various Gazetteers which can be useful cross-checks of villages names, though they are only valid for the specific year of the gazetteer.

2. "Nazvy obci Slovenskej Republiky" (NAMES OF VILLAGES, SLOVAK REPUBLIC), Milan Majtan, 1997.   This is a recently published book which identifies all the names and locations for all Slovakia villages from year 1773 to 1997.  This is probably the most reliable method of obtaining the various place names.  This publication is available for sale from a number of sources, including Iarelative.  I've seen prices of US $30 to US $75 (as of 2013)  If you don't want to buy the book, Peter Nagy is willing to do a village name lookup for free.  This book is in my collection.

3. Posting to one of several discussion groups.  You can hope someone online has a copy of "Nazvy obci Slovenskej Republiky" and is willing to do a lookup for you.

4. Consulting the county maps (below), and comparing it to a contemporary map, seeking out prominent places for a reference.  (Be careful in your use of maps - roads may have been altered or discontinued, even villages may have disappeared!)

5. ShtetlSeeker

Shtetlseeker is an outstanding Jewishgen tool which also can be used to alternate derive place names.  It combines a historical name search, resultant list and then links to Mapquest.   The approach is to identify the geographic coordinates for a known place name, then do a coordinate search for villages within a few miles of that coordinate.  If any of the place names are identified as being within zero (0) miles of these coordinates, it stands to reason that you are looking at place names from different time periods.  Of course, you must corroborate this yourself. 

Example: Presov, Slovakia:  a) Search for Presov in ShtetlSeeker. You will find it located at coordinates 4900 2115 .  b) Go to Radius Search and put the coordinates 4900 2115 in.  You will see two listings:

Eperjes

4900 2115

V

Slovakia

0.0 miles N
Prešov

4900 2115

N

Slovakia

0.0 miles N

Eperjes is the old Magyar name for Presov.  

CAUTION!  This method is NOT reliable.  Although Shtetlseeker contains many old place names, it does not contain them all.  You will not find any of my old ancestral village "Magyarized" (made Hungarian) names in Shtetlseeker.  My experience suggests that only larger villages or cities may have a completely correlated set of names.

Shtetlseeker does provided a very useful link to Mapquest, an online mapping tool.   By clicking on the geographic coordinates (see above example "4900 2115" for Eperjes/Presov,) it will take you to the location of the village.  Mapquest only identifies larger towns in this region, so you will have to consult a more detailed map for completeness.  Nonetheless, its use in the early stages of research cannot be understated as it helps the researcher quickly locate and confirm or discount the possible location.

6. DICTIONARY OF HUNGARIAN PLACE-NAMES "Magyar helységnév-azonosító szótár" by György Lelkes, Talma Publishers.  A competing book to (2) above, but contains more present-day countries.  US $20 ground shipment in 2002.  Useful if your search includes Slovakia, Carpatho-Ukraine or Hungary.  Probably the most robust (and expensive) reference.

7. ATLAS AND GAZETTEER OF HISTORIC HUNGARY 1914 (based on 1910 Census)
(Second edition of Administrative Atlas of Hungary 1914) "Magyarország közigazgatási atlasza 1914", Talma Publishers.   This is a wonderful book, worth purchasing if you are interested in a snapshot in time of the entire region.  For each village it not only contains fairly detailed period map, but an Index of Village names used in 1910 to 1914.  For each village, the population, ethnic and religious makeup is provided.   It can also give you clues when trying to determine what church your family went to and where it could have been located.  The data is taken from the 1910 Census and the 1913/14 Gazetteers.  The FHL also holds other various Gazetteers

8. If you are seeking villages in Northeastern Slovakia, The Carpatho-Rusyn Society offers a web page Presov Region Greek Catholic Records Available via the LDS which contains Slovak, Rusyn and Hungarian names for about 200 villages.  Limited in scope to this small portion of Slovakia, nonetheless an important online resource.

9. Another noble online effort is Settlements detached from Hungary by the Treaty of Trianon 1920 web page in which the author has begun to enumerate into which country each village landed after Austria-Hungary was dismembered.  It is organized by its original Magyar (Hungarian) village name and provides its present-day (1989) village name and country.  Unfortunately, the effort is incomplete, and only Magyar villages from "A" (Abafája) through "K" (Királydaróc) have been included.  The last update was in June of 2000.  The author's name and email are listed, so if this is of use to you, please send him words of encouragement.

10. Magyarorszag Helysegnevtara (Gazetteer of Hungary) by Janos Dvorzsak, 1877.  It is at the Family History Center, on about 18 fiches.  Most libraries keep it as one of their core holdings.   It is a very inexpensive alternative and easily accessed for those hard-to-find villages.  The first volume is an alphabetical index which leads to a county, district, and locality in volume 2.   The Gazetteer Indicates the numbers of each religion found in the village and the closest parish they would have worshipped.  Thanks to Samuel Ontko for the tip.  This Gazetteer was made available online in 2005 by Pecs University, Hungary.

11. Czechoslovakia Gazetteer - FHL Fiche # 6000787.  I understand this shows village names in various languages, including Czech, Slovak and German.  I have only glanced at it and am unsure if it contains Magyar names.

12. Present-day MAPS
Do not underestimate the importance of contemporary maps in  your search.  The "Podrobny Auto Atlas", published by
VKU for the Slovak Republic is great.  It has a 1:100,000 scale which provides sufficient detail when hunting down villages.  It is quite comprehensive, with all contemporary names present.  It also shows structures, including churches, and to a lesser extent closed/abandoned roads, discontinued villages, locality place names, all valuable data points to the genealogical researcher.  Purchase sources: (1, 2, 4)   

When you are ready to drill down to a finer level of detail, the 1:50,000 scale VKU (Vojenskeho kartografickehu ustav) " Edicia Podrobnych Turistickych Map" ("Hiking Map") is ideal.  Look for it's distinctive green cover.  It additionally contains all contour lines, abandoned roads, buildings, villages, monuments, markers, streams, trails, cemeteries  and detailed location information.  On the back is a brief history of each village on the map.  There is an online order form, but it looks like it's oriented towards retailers.  Daniel Kisha (Slovak Import Company)  can get it for you. Each map costs less than US $2 in Slovakia.  More Sources

Military maps of 1:50,000 produced by the Russian military, pre-1989 are also available (also here), but I have not checked into them.  Of course, these maps are written in Russian.  I prefer the VKU as it has an English index.  

For a less detailed overview, the Kummerly & Frey maps are widely available at major US booksellers.   Only useful for a general orientation.  Does not provide a village name index, essential to research.

13. Contemporary and historical maps Often times you may have multiple village names given to you.  For example, Grandmother came from Nova Sedlica, grandfather came from Ulicské Krive.  You may have reason to believe the villages were nearby.  You may be able to locate one village, but not the other, perhaps due to spelling variations.  Locate the first village on the map and then look in a radius extending outward to find the village.

14. Census Cross-Reference Lists -  Compiled by yours truly and John Adam.  While it is a fairly complete listing of villages the lists only contain the Magyar village name in use during that year of 1828 or 1869. 

1828 Census Village Cross-Reference List (MS Word) (PDF)

1869 Census Village Cross-Reference Lists (various formats)

15. Fuzzy Gazetteer Looking for a Village?  "FuzzyG" (or Fuzzy Gazetteer) searches for place names world-wide and can handle variations in spelling, thereby making the searches more robust.  "FuzzyG" is a service of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission.

16. German Place Names in Slovakia  In certain areas of Slovakia, German place names were sometimes used.  This was more often found in the western sections of the country.  (credit to David Law)

III. Place Name Terminology

I've also constructed a handy reference of Common Place Name Terminology contrasting Magyar, Slovak, Polish, German and English for terms such as "lower" and "upper", "big" and "little".  Many villages such as "Dolne Behynce", "Horne Behynce" and "Stredne Behynce", while nearby each other, may be uniquely separate settlements and may have their own records.

IV. Historical Counties (Comitatuses) of Hungary (pre-1918) (megye)

1910 County Maps (off site)

Prior to the end of World War I in 1918, Hungary was administratively organized by a series of counties.  While these county names continue to be used in present-day Hungary, their use was abandoned by the former Czechoslovakia, present-day Slovakia, Ukraine and the Balkan Countries.  Slovakia, Czech Republic and Ukraine were formerly referred to as  "Upper Hungary." 

Quite often, the researcher will note a village and county name on an immigration or government document, such as "Zboj, Zemplin".  Zboj is the village name, Zemplin is the former county name.  This is an important distinction lest the researcher be misled into identifying the county name as the village name.  After 1918, most immigrants in other countries appropriately discontinued the reference to the old county name in most documents.

Historical county names included in present day Slovakia include (from east to west):

Ung (south), Zemplin/Zemplen (north), Saros, Abauj-Torna, Szepes, Abauj-Torna (north), Borsod (northwest), Gomor es Kismont, Lipto, Zolyom, Arva, Nograd (north), Turoc, Trencsen, Hont (north), Esztergom, Bars, Komarom, Gyor (north), Nyitra, Pozsony, Moson(east).

Historical county names included in present day Ukraine include (from east to west):

Maramaros, Bereg, Ung (east), others.

Figure 1: Slovakia with Hungary County Overlay

Credit to Kristian Slimak, used with permission

The above map shows present-day Slovakia with the pre-1918 Hungary county borders overlaid on the document.  This can be quite helpful in narrowing your search, when you know the county but not yet the village name.

 

Sorry, I have not researched the separation of Hungary into its Balkan components in 1918/19.  See Treaty of Trianon .

Notes:

  • The counties with the highest immigration rates are emboldened.  Generally speaking, these were in the most impoverished areas along the east Carpathian mountain ridge - the predominantly Greek-Catholic Ruthenian/Rusyn population.

  • Parenthesis indicate the section of the county absorbed into the new nation.  The county names still exist in Hungary, in a reduced form.

  • I am working on an "overlay" map, which will present both the new-day Slovakia overlaid on the Old Hungary Kingdom map.  Stay tuned.

  • The 1910 maps are by far the most complete and detailed set I have seen thus far online.  I highly recommend them.  They are large files, but contain precious details that are important to genealogists.  In many ways, they are also works of art.  They also contain the administrative districts which can be useful when it is referenced by family folklore or an old document. 

  • Please pay careful attention to the fact that after 1918, the Treaty of Trianon not only reduced the size of Hungary, but eliminated or reformulated many old Hungarian counties.  It also created new countries such as Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Yugoslavia and reconstituted Poland for the umpteenth time.  For example, my roots are from Zemplin county.  Pre-1918 Zemplin county included the far reaches of today's northeastern Slovakia and extended well south into today's Hungary.  You may be surprised to learn that Zemplin county still exists, but only the portion in present-day Hungary.  There is no Zemplin county in Slovakia today.  Another example is Ung county.  Ung county is no more.  Ung's lands are encompassed by a great deal of today's Ukraine, as are the former Bereg and Máramaros counties.

V. Administrative Districts (jaras)

Counties were further segmented into administrative districts known as "jaras."  Administrative districts are rarely seen on immigrant's papers.

Janos Bogardi has put together a very good web site Radix on Hungarian Roots.  At first, you may say "what does Hungarian research have to do with Slovak, Rusyn, Ukraine, Czech research?"  As you begin to quickly see, it's quite important, once you begin to understand the historical context.  Janos' "1882 Gazetteer of Hungary" does an excellent job of enumerating the villages within counties and administrative districts during the period of Hungarian rule.  These are also valuable to the researcher when putting the puzzle pieces into place.

VI. Putting it All Together

By now, I hope you have an understanding of why a village name is so important.  Let me give you a personal example of how place names led to the verification of my grandparent's place of birth.  My elderly aunts told me that their parents came from Ukraine or Czechoslovakia. They never knew the name of the village or had forgotten.  I asked them for any place names that had been discussed.  They could remember "Nova Sezlika", "Zboja", "Zemplinska" and "Galicia".  They also recall my grandmother saying "We were just hill people from Karpaty."   That's it.  NO OTHER INFORMATION!!  I didn't know if they were villages, counties, countries or just regional names. I also assured myself I only had phonetic spellings, so actual spelling could be anything, depending on the language spoken.  I learned that "Karpaty" is the Carpathian Mountains.

So I began to look first for a place name in Ukraine, trying to stay near the Carpathian Mountains.  "Nova Sedlica" (which means "new settlement") appears hundreds of times in Ukraine.  Nothing for the others.   As I began to study the circa 1904 time which they immigrated, I identified "Galicia" as a county in southern Poland, scouring maps for the names there.  Nothing, but it is in the same region.  I then turned to Slovakia, since it was closer to Ukraine than the Czech republic.  I found the village of Zboj, and right down the road, just 3 kilometers was "Nova Sedlica".  Both villages are only about 2 Km from present-day Ukraine, in the mountains.  It seemed like more than a coincidence.

At the same time, I requested Social Security, INS, ship manifests and church records, all in the United States.  As the records came back, I discovered that my grandparents were indeed from villages of Zboj and Nova Sedlica. 

With some names, I could then begin to examine some records.  First stop were Slovak Republic phone books which were not online when I conducted my research.  Found some "Tarkulic" names!  Next stop, Family History Center.  Found church records for Zboj and Nova Sedlica.  Next stop, 1869 Census for Zboj and Nova Sedlica.  Bingo!  The census is great because it gives you an idea for what station in life your ancestors held. 

The entire process took about two and one half years of dogged research.  If you pursue it more casually, it could take quite a bit longer.

In summary, focus on the important stuff first - find the ancestral village first.  Seeking people with similar sounding surnames is futile.  Names changed for so many reasons, and the same name could show up far away in an unrelated village - a real time sink and setback to your research.                                                            

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Last Update: 27 April 2013                                                    Copyright © 2003-2013, Bill Tarkulich