Family Research Strategy
For every quest, the need to strategize is important, lest your search become haphazard, bumping into roadblocks, collecting data out of context and repeating paths. Before you begin, be clear what your goal is. Identifying your ancestry? Completing a family tree? Connecting with overseas relatives?
Family research is often like peeling back the layers of an onion. It will take time and patience. Information is often dependent on other information, so the order of your investigation (which is essentially the strategy) is tantamount.
It is presumed that if you are reading these pages, you are beginning your quest for European ancestry and that current and locally-based family information is a known quantity. As the classic genealogical approach is to "Work backwards," it is presumed that you have already documented the living family tree and all ancestors who lived in the emigrant's destination country.
I offer an approach which starts with your known ancestors and ultimately ends with prospecting for living cousins in Slovakia and environs. The focus is on the majority of the population, namely peasants, who immigrated. Depending on your goals, you may need more or less steps than are shown here.
Learn about the History of Slovakia - The region's domination by other countries for centuries has caused much confusion. It is important that researcher have minimally a thumbnail understanding of major events and rulers. This will be critical as you examine records from various periods of time, in order to properly understand the context and language in which they were written.
Collect all known information about the family and ancestry. Of particular importance in our region of research are items listed below. It will provide important clues to focus the place name search.
Surname spelling variations and pronunciation
Birth year approximation
Immigration year approximation
Familial Relationships and Friends
Identify the Birthplace/Last Residence - Perhaps the most critical step in the entire research process. This will then validate that research within Slovakia is the correct place for you. Then once you have the village name, learn about the village. Search the web, find others researching your village, look for municipal websites in Slovakia.
Build your Tree
Church Ledgers - Amazingly, Slovakia Birth, Marriage, Death Records are available and accessible for essentially all of Slovakia. Churches were the keeper of vital records, under order of the Kingdom of Hungary. These records allow you to construct a family tree. The pre-1895 originals are now stored in the Slovak National Archives, with the Mormon's Family History Center faithfully creating microfilm copies. These records will take your tree back to the 1600's - 1700's. Additionally, certain Church ledgers may also be found at the present-day parish and the Hungary Archives.
Magyar 1869 Census - When the territory of Slovakia was within the Kingdom of Hungary, various census were taken. The 1869 census is notable in that it was one of the only census the covered the complete population and is also the best-preserved. Provides a snapshot-in-time, also shows relationships. the Mormons have also copied these records.
Landowner Records - Most of these records are held by the Hungary National Archives. Certain landowner tax census have been filmed by the Mormons. Most of this information is of little use to those researching peasant background as most peasants were never property owners. Occasionally the (peasant) head of household may be included in the description of a property.
Nobility Records - Lucky the nobles, which I do not descend, who have the best preserved records. The National Archives of Hungary holds extensive records for these fortunate few. The Mormons have filmed and cataloged certain of these documents. Of little value for peasant research. I have begun a brief collection of nobility resources which I am cataloging here as I stumble upon them.
Military Records - Not much use in determining lineage, but another interesting "snapshot in time".
Network With Researchers Globally! - Our area of research is relatively small, such that the number of people with knowledge of the area are actually quite small. Not much has been written about this region, we are in an embryonic stage of documenting East Slovakia.
Reach Out to Slovakia - Search for and contact living relatives in Slovakia - Perhaps the most fulfilling step in the entire process. Start with a letter, maybe even end with a visit!
Help Other Researchers - Once you've completed the circle your immigrant ancestors began, do a favor to those less experienced. Don't checkout, network! Offer your advice and encouragement. Genealogy is a hobby for the majority of us. It is through the generosity of others sharing what they know that we all accelerate our search.
We live in exciting times. New government documents and archives, especially from Slovakia,
Czech Republic and Hungary are opening up monthly. Census, property records, church records have become available over the past ten years. You are embarking on a task in which the discovery process has accelerated tremendously in the past decade. Pouring through manifests used to take years to uncover a few dozen ancestors. Today it can be accomplished in minutes. Making village contacts through letters was expensive and slow while your letter was forwarded, translated and responded to months later. Today, many resources exist to speed the process.
Coupled with a good strategy is is good attitude. I leave you a few words of encouragement and I wish you all the best in your quest. You will be amply rewarded.
Don't miss the Guide to Family History, published by the National Archives of Hungary - A worthy treatise on the love, labor at tactics involved in tracing family history of those who lived in the former Hungarian Empire. Certainly applies to Slovakia History.
Photograph - Detko and Babka (Grandfather and Grandmother). Sculpture at Open-air museum at Humenne, Slovakia, 2001
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Last Update: 27 April 2013