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Slovak Family Traditions

Excerpts from Tradicie slovenskej rodiny (Slovak Family Traditions), 1997

While the following material is of general interest, it will be of especial interest to those analyzing Magyar Census records, when trying to determine familial relationships.  This book contains much detail on relationships, property ownership, family roles and customs.  It goes a long way towards explaining the many questions that arise when examining vital records from Slovakia.  I have excerpted only brief passages below.  The reader is advised to obtain the entire book for a more complete understanding.  The book is written in Slovak, summarized in 34 pages of English, 133 Black and white photos from 1920 to 1980, the bulk of which are from 1935 to 1965. A must-have for anyone who wants to understand how our immigrant family lived (and why they acted the way they did once they got to America.)

 “Viewpoints on teenagers were united as well.  In comparison with a town, where daughters from rich families were particularly limited in their contact with young men, village girls were not restricted.  They spent the summer in filial farms without adult supervision;  during winter they spent much time with young men at spinning and tearing feathers of quills.  A steady beau came to his -girlfriend’s parents’ house even at night.  The family as well as the whole village knew about their relationship.  Local people kept an eye on love matches.  A young man who wooed one girl could not woo another at the same time.  All the young men helped a friend against an intruder.  Under these conditions, a wedding usually preceded the birth of a child.  An illegitimate child was usually born as a result of a casual relationship that originated during the farming season that could not be controlled by the local young people.”

 “Neither was a married couple isolated in a village community.  That was not only connected with the fact that the newly-wedded couple could seldom lived (ibid) independently in their own household, but also with the fact that the village had their new place in society in mind.  They did not belong to a group of unmarried girls and boys any longer; they were included in a group of married men and women.  They seldom went out in couples.  The female and male worlds were divided.   A bride went to church with other young women and stood among them in church as well.  Older women sat on one side of a church apart from their men.  A pub belonged to the men; women had other means of entertainment without them.  The separation of married couples was emphasized by hamlet communities (in German = Weller).  A village was mostly a residence for women;  men lived in hamlets with cattle.  Only close relatives of a couple attended christenings and funeral ceremonies (weddings were exceptions).”

“….A family could not have secrets even if it wanted to have any.  In spite of that (or due to that), marriages did not split up.  Divorces were rather exceptional.”

 “.. The higher marriage age in the West corresponds to fewer children in a family, and the lower marriage age in the East corresponds to more children in a family.  In 1920, mothers aged 15-19  had more than twice as many children in Slovakia as in Bohemia.    The total number of children born exceeded Bohemia so much that demographics defined Slovakia as a source of a work force for the  Western part of the common state.  Another indicator is size of households.  Couples married at the low age settled  with heir parents (East).  They formed an individual household when their age at the time of their marriage was higher (West).     Even in 1950 households  in Slovakia were much more numerous than in Bohemia.  “

p. 213

 “…Finishing compulsory education was considered a general turning-point in the children’s lives (in the past that was the age of 12-15).  The boys could mow the grass and harness a horse or ox;  the stronger ones could plough.  Girls could replace their mothers in everything they did.  At this age boys could go out and see girls in the evenings.  Nobody restrained their independence.  If there were seasonal residences within the territory of a village, young people who come of age lived there without supervision.  Boys and in some places, girls, looked after cattle and sheep several kilometers away from a village.  Some adult duties belonged to the prestige of the head of the family.  They wee not entrusted to growing descendants.  E.g., among the male duties, only a farmer could perform sowing.  A son learnt to sow after he became a farmer.  Similarly, only a housewife (a mother) could cook and bake.  Younger women (daughters and daughters-in-law) could only help her.  They could mix dough for the bread, but only a housewife could place the bread in the oven.  Only a housewife could put the food on the table.  They were symbols of the leadership of the leadership of a farmer and housewife.  It was the difficulty of this work that resulted in these decisions, but the situation in the family.”

 “…Adult children lived with their parents and gave them their wages, because there was only one purse in a family, which was kept by the father or mother."

" Military service was an important step towards maturity for young men, as they gained a wider overview of live.  Obedience towards parents was conditioned by mutual respect.    After military service young boys could get married, and they did not wait a long time.  The most usual wedding age of men’s first marriage was 24 on the average.  Young women were 2 to 3 years younger (in some places the lower limit was even greater).  The wedding age of young people did not vary too much from the average.  Delay would mean social embarrassment.  A bachelor and spinster became alienated from their contemporaries if they remained unmarried.  People talked about their shortcomings, and they cast a shadow on their whole family.”

 “The main guarantee of a good marriage and family harmony was the choice of partners.  In a family and community, there were rules about who was suited to whom.  First of all, love had to unite a married couple.  A family did not have to restrain the relationship before the marriage nor the wedding that completed it.  The marriage was to be strengthened by the social and financial equality of the couple.  It was important for a bride and bridegroom to settle in with the husband’s or wife’s family.  Eventually, it was important whether a married couple came from the same village.”

 “In  traditional villages the strong tie of love was already operating in the premarital relations.  The spontaneous choice of a partner was supported by the egalitarianism of the village community.  There were no differences among young people in education, profession or culture.  They were classified according to age and local allegiance…"

"A socially recognized premarital relationship was the first step towards the wedding. A girl's chosen boy came to see his girl at night, often to a common room if she did not sleep in a chamber. A family knew about him. But he had to leave before dawn. The older generation considers it a disgrace that nowadays young people hold each other’s hands, but they did not forbid night visits."

"…Some mothers tried to leave a couple together and leave the door open in the evening.  Their pland not always succeeded.  A girl  decided on her beau, not her parents.  If, in spite of everything, the parents prevented the wedding, harmony in a forced marriage did not come, even after a few decades.  Villagers summarized the theme of love and marriage with the expression ‘ even a prig is not good if it is forced’.  “

 “The social equality of the married couple was evaluated from various standpoints.  The appropriateness  of their ages was one of them;  a woman  should be younger than a man.  Unmarried young people were most suitable for marriage from a social point of view and evaluated the highest.  Large weddings were organized for them.  A single mother and a single father had a lower social position.    According to general opinion, they had a right to marry only those in an equal position – ether an unmarried parent or a widow, a widower, a bachelor, a spinster or a divorced partner.  Neither were the children of divorced parents equal to other children.  A family prevented a wedding in such cases even if they did not know the other partner’s parents and his/her village.  Prohibitions of socially unequal marriages were approved by the whole community.    Nobody blamed the parents if they did not approve of the wedding.  Everybody cared about the complete joining of a married couple.  They assumed that scruples and variances occurred in a socially unequal couple after some time.”

 p. 219

“…A daughter-in-law’s position was easier if she got married in her hometown.  Villagers said that she usually wanted to be close to her mother.  For this and other reasons, local endogamy of wedding was preferred, not because the daughter-in-law’s family had to solve her problems, but the daughter could run home, eat and cry out her sorrows.  … According to public opinion,  only a girl  who did not have any better choice got married outside her native village.  A young man should find a girl “close to his church”.  “

 “… An almost consistent endogamy (marrying within your village) was maintained in large and distant villages that were isolated socially and culturally.  We followed endogamy in village registers, and during the last century (1800s) these villages had more than 1000 inhabitants.  In smaller villages the percentage of endogamic weddings was smaller.    ….

…. Exogamous (marrying outside your village) wedding were widespread in places where young people did not have a large enough choice of partners, i.e., a village was small, religiously or ethnically mixed and families mostly had one child.”

 Pg. 220

 “…Permanent fidelity was controlled by the whole village, was expected in a marriage.  A daughter-in-law often stayed with her parents-in-law  for many months without her husband.   That happened during wartime as well as in cases when men went to distant countries to earn money.  Divorce was not considered, especially in Catholic-oriented villages.  Even in the first half of this century, the divorce rate in Slovakia was almost two-thirds lower than in neighboring Bohemian regions, although the statistics also included the inhabitants of towns and industrial regions.”

 “The future of a young woman was secured by marriage.  A woman seldom had her own property.  A young widow usually could not return home  Her brothers were married; the  parents usually were no longer alive.  She had the right to remain with her children in her husband’s family, but usually she left for a new husband.  If she took her children with her, they became landless persons.  They inherited their father’s property only if they worked and lived with his family.  That was true for all the members of a family, not only for orphans.  A stepfather did not secure their future.  A widow therefore  often decided to benefit the children.  She left the older children with the father’s family and took the younger ones with her.  “

 Pg. 221

 "... Young mothers took their small children with them even to seasonal work lasting several weeks. It sometimes happened that a baby was born on a great estate while its mother was laboring there...." pg. 217

 "...from 1921-1930 more than 17% of the children died in the first year of life. Parents did not go into mourning for the small children; .....Baptism was the entry of the new-born baby into society. If he/she died before christening, he/she was buried on the edge of the cemetery." pg. 217

 ".... A village was rather closed in many of its social manifestations. Villagers had nicknames for other villages. Almost each village had a second, derisive name given it by its neighborhood. Young men could not go to parties and philander in other villages. If they dared to go somewhere else, they seldom avoided fights. A girl who married a man belonging to a strange village had a lower value than a local bride...... Villagers differed from the inhabitants of other villages in dialect, clothes or other features, although a (you) would not be able to see the slightest difference... Relations were polite and friendly according to social customs but only relatives visited each other in families."

 Tradicie slovenskej rodiny (Slovak Family Traditions) , Botiková, Švecová, Jakubiková

 VEDA, Vydavatelstvo Slovenskej akademie vied i 1997. ISBN 80-224-0461-6, 242 pages

Transcribed by Bill Tarkulich

Photo: Two Babka, Sumiac, Slovakia (Central Slovakia) -  Bill Tarkulich, (c) 2001

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Last Update: 15 November 2020                                                    Copyright © 2003-2021, Bill Tarkulich