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Date: Sat, 21 Mar 1998 09:47:54 +0100
From: George Eotvos <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Organization: Family Tree Ltd.
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Subject: jewish genealogical research
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This is the second lecture of FAMILY TREE given at the Mannheim
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our bureau has been dealing - among others - with the history of the
Jewish families who lived in the territory of the Austro-Hungarian
Monarchy and within this, primarily in the territory of the former
This paper - naturally without aiming to be complete - is concerned with
the main problems of the research of the Jewish families who lived in
the countries which came into existence in the territory of present-day
and "historical" Hungary.
The presence of the Jews in the Carpathian basin can be traced back
till the Roman Era, and according to many - even though the continuity
cannot be proven - they were again in the region at the time when the
Hungarians settled down 1100 years ago. In this case their
co-habitation with the Hungarians is more than 1000 years old. However,
our present paper does not intend to deal with this 1100 year
co-habitation, but with a much shorter period, the last 300 years. The
presentation is concerned with those documents which originated during
the co-habitation and the existence or non-existence of which determines
the possibility of a Jewish family history work. That is the reason why
we concentrate only on the last 300 years, as the main part of the
documents originated >from that period. The last 20 years of the 17th
century were decisive not only for the Hungarians but for those Jews as
well, who lived in the Carpathian basin. In 1686 the unified Christian
forces recaptured Buda castle >from the Turks, and with this event
Hungary=92s liberation >from the 150 year long Turkish rule had started.
The Christian forces which liberated Buda indiscriminately killed or
captured all of the residents and defenders of the Castle, among them
many Jews. The news of this event spread quickly, terrifying the Jewish
population of the occupied territories. Though the Turks treated the
Jews mercilessly as well, especially if they were late with the taxes,
they did not cause the Jews any harm because of their religion. Due to
the worthening news many of the Jews decided to leave Hungary with the
withdrawing Turkish army and tried to start a new life in the Balkan
peninsula. Because of this the Jewish population of Hungary decreased
heavily by the early 18th century. Major Jewish communities remained
only on the one hand, in the north-west territory of Hungary, which was
never occupied by the Turks and where their existence was guaranteed by
the largest landowners, and on the other hand at the other end of the
country, in the Temes county.
After the expulsion of the Turks, Hungary was in ruins. Its economy was
destroyed, its population was just a little bit larger than at the
beginning of the 16th century. There was neither a sufficient work
force, nor funds for the reconstruction. Then the new lords of the
country, the Habsburgs, sent their recruitment agents across Europe who
offered different favours in order to draw settlers into the country.
And they were successful. Settlers came >from almost everywhere in
Western Europe, >from Switzerland, Belgium, France and even >from the
territory of present day Italy. However, there were uninvited guests as
well. The situation of the Jews in Poland had been continuously
declining since the Hmelnyickij - Cossack rebellion of 1648. Pogrom was
followed by pogrom, demanding thousands of lives. In the Austrian
provinces and in Czech- Moravian country, though not threatened by
pogroms, Jews lived in the shadow of expulsion and were fettered by
various restricting orders. One of the most flagrant examples is the
orders of Charles III. >from 1723, which prohibits all others outside the
family's first born son to marry and settle down in the territory of
Moravia. Considering all of these facts, it is no wonder that the Jewish
immigration >from Poland and the Czech-Moravian provinces continuously
increased during the following decades. The north-west part of the
country was the favoured territory of the Austrian, the Czech-Moravian
and the Bavarian Jews, while the north-east part of those who arrived
from Galicia and Bukovina. The main direction of their migration isnorth-south and happened mainly along the big rivers (Danube, Tisza).
The Jewish settlers, similar to their Christian fellows, brought with
themselves their traditions and customs. They did not have family names,
did not keep registers, and the disputes that occurred among them were
settled in front of their own Rabbinical court instead of the secular
one. But as we know very well, development is against tradition. After
Maria Theresa's death his son, Joseph II. became the King of Hungary in
1780. He had great and ambitious plans. He would have liked to adjust
the empire to the European development. He wanted a modern state, with a
developed, bureaucratic -in the good sense of the word- state system.
However, for this he would have needed to know the peoples of his
empire. He would have needed to know the numbers of the population of
his empire, what they do, what conditions they live in, etc. And the
Jews cannot be exceptions - the Jews, who did not even have surnames,
and nobody knew their exact number, because the Jewish census of 1767
was not complete and they still did not keep registers. In such
conditions you could not collect taxes normally, and could not recruit
an army. An overall change was needed. >from tomorrow on, everyone who
previously did not have one, should have a family name. In 1787 Joseph
II obliged the Hungarian Jews to take on a German sounding family names
and to use them all the time. He ordered them to keep registers, but
resistance was strong. More than sixty years had to pass before the
absolutist authority which came to be after the defeated Hungarian war
of independence of 1848/49 could force the Hungarian Jews to begin
registration. However we should mention that there were communities
where registers had been kept since the 20s-30s of the 19th century, but
this was not at all common.
Unfortunately the registration of the Jews did not take long in Hungary.
Since 1st October 1895 the state registration had been administered in
Hungary, and the denomination registration was no longer mandatory.
Beside the most populated communities (Budapest, Pozsony) there was no
Jewish registration at all, or just occasionally and in a chaotic way.
In some parts of the country the language of the registers was Hungarian
almost all of the time, while in other parts it was German, and in some
parts a mixed German-Hungarian language was used. Registrations in
Hebrew were very rare.
Thus the two basic conditions for the research of Jewish family history
were born: the family name in 1787 and the registration in 1851. However
both of them mean a strict time limit for the researcher.
Without registration it is very difficult to bind the strings between
1787 and 1851. In this case another important source of research, the
Jewish census, could be of great help for us. It can be a national or a
regional one. Two censuses of the Hungarian Jews are worth mentioning,
the census made in 1767 and in 1848. Both were national an both remained
uncompleted. The first one provides us with mainly statistical and
economical data on the people in the censuses, and since there is not
yet a mandatory family name, it is almost impossible to identify each
persons. We can ask with reason why there is no Jewish census >from 1787.
Surprisingly one was made, however there is only one county (Tolna)
from which the material survived. In this Tolna county material it islisted which persons had which names before 1787 and chose which family
names after this. It is really a pity that the other country censuses
did not survive. The Jewish census of 1848 provides us with more
historical data. Whole families are listed according to settlements,
with age, birthplace and occupation indications. But the great defect of
the material is that there is a lot of material missing >from those
counties which had many Jewish inhabitance .
The main locality for both the registers and the censuses are the
archives. As you may very well know, historical Hungary no longer
existed after the Trianon Treaty which closed World War I. Many new
states came to be within its territory, and due to this fact the
documents concerning the Jews who lived in historical Hungary can be
found at present in the archives of different countries.
- In Hungary the greater part of the documents can be found on microfilm
in the National Archives. They can be researched without limitation,
copies can be made openly. The smaller part of the material can be found
either in the regional (county archives, or in the specified archives:
Jewish Archives, Statistical Archives). A very small part of them are in
the still operating Jewish communities, where official certificate
copies can be obtained, if necessary. For the exact location of the
Jewish material the excellent two volume Hungarian Jewish Archival
Repertoire is a great help for the researcher.
- The Jewish registers in Slovakia can be found in the regional
archives, they are open to research, but in most places it is not
possible to make photocopies. There is a usage fee for each volume of
- Fortunately, we do not have to travel to Austria in order to research
the Hungarian Jewish registers that can be found there, because their
microfilm copies can be researched in the Hungarian National Archives.
- In the Ukraine the location of the Jewish certificates concerning the
Sub-Carpathian territory has not yet been clarified. There is no list
of the registers, still emerging, their exact location spreads from
father to son.
- The situation is a little bit better in Romania, however as a foreign
citizen you have to obtain all sorts of permissions, and making
photocopies is very circumstantial. Unfortunately, there are no good
list at all.
We were talking about temporal and spatial limits which make research
more difficult. However, there is an objective impediment existing as
well, which in certain cases makes the successful completion of
research impossible. And that is the complete absence of the registers.
The frequent border changes and the huge devastation of World War II.
destroyed the complete document material of several Communities, and
many times even the register copies which were kept in the Archives were
destroyed as well. The situation in those cases is nearly hopeless since
there is nothing to work with, the primary sources are missing. In such
cases the other documents, at other times regarded as secondary and
tercially sources, are the main work source for us. Which are these?
- The national census documents. Since 1780 there were yearly censuses
in the territory of Hungary, and its documentation is kept in the
-The local and national electoral name lists. They contain more or less
data depending on the years they are from. They are not really useful
for finding out the family connections, but they contain much precious
information concerning specific people.
-Obituaries. This does not require much commentary, those who have
already seen an obituary >from the previous century may know very well,
what a great help it is for the researcher. In Hungary there are many
places where such collections can be found, but the greatest one is the
more than 800,000 piece collection of the National Sz=E9ch=E9nyi Library =
-Cemetery registers. Unfortunately, only the biggest Jewish cemeteries
have such a database >from earlier times. The quality of the information
found in them varies. Sometimes only the exact grave location of the
deceased is given, but in some cases the exact birth and death data can
be found as well.
- The demographical mobility statistics of the regional periodicals. In
Hungary since the 60s-70s of the past century more and more settlements
weekly or biweekly publish the list of those who were born, contracted
a marriage and died in the settlement. This lists in some cases contains
only names, but sometimes we can find the age, the religion and the
occupation indications as well. Their significance intensifies when the
certificates of a given settlement were destroyed.
- Community monographs and memory books. After the Holocaust everywhere
in the world, where Hungarian Jewish refugees lived some kind of book
series was publishing about the Jewish settlements of their region.
These monographs and memorial volumes nearly all of the cases contain a
deportation list and in some cases the new residence of the survivors.
- Civil registers. These can be researched keeping in mind certain
statutory rights and time limitations.
Considering all of these things, a history of a Jewish family who lived
in the territory of historical Hungary can be researched by our bureau
within two-four months according the demand of the client.
Partner & Research Director
FAMILY TREE Ltd. Genealogical Research Bureau - HUNGARY
Member of the National Genealogical Society (USA)
Phone: (36 1) 331 3569 / Fax: (36 1) 302 7388
COME AND VISIT US AT THE 1998 NGS CONFERENCE IN DENVER, CO, 6-9 MAY.
YOU ARE WELCOME AT OUR BOOTH NO. 533.