Eastern European Church Records
9/26/2009
Stake out your forebears from Albania to Zagreb with our guide to tracing Eastern European roots.

Going to church
Where do you get the records you need to trace your family in the old country?

Duncan Gardiner, a professional genealogist who specializes in Czech, Slovak, German and Carpatho-Rusyn research, says a big mistake Eastern European genealogists make is assuming the records no longer exist. "In my experience, very few have been destroyed," he explains. "Always have [finding records] as a goal."

Parish registers will be the backbone of your overseas research. The Council of Trent gave churches the responsibility of recording births, marriages and deaths in the 16th century, but the dates for vital records in your country will vary. Here's a quick look at church records across the region:

  • Hungary: Baptisms (keresztelo), marriages (hazassag) and burials (temetes) span from the early 1700s to 1895, when civil registration began. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) has filmed registers (anyakonyv) up to 1895, and they're available through the FHL and FHCs. These films also cover places in Romania and Yugoslavia.

  • Slovakia: The LDS has filmed almost all vital records (matriky), with roughly the same dates as Hungary's. You'll find Slovak matriky for both Protestant and Catholic parishes.

  • Czech Republic: The earliest existing Catholic matriky are for the late 1500s, but most priests didn't comply until the 1600s. From 1620 to 1781, Austria allowed only Catholicism, so Czech Protestants' matriky were kept by Catholic priests. Czechoslovakia started civil registration for non-churchgoers in 1918, but the state didn't take over vital records until 1950.

  • Croatia: The FHL has microfilm of Catholic, Orthodox and Greek Catholic parish registers from roughly the late 1500s to 1940s. Civil registration began in 1946.

  • Slovenia: One parish has records as early as 1458, but that's an exception—most go back to the 1600s. Civil registration began in 1926. LDS has microfilmed some church and civil registers. Lapajne advises writing to the local archbishopric in Slovenia for records.

  • Bulgaria: Bulgarian Orthodox parishes have registers to about 1800. Microfilmed FHL records cover the Sofia, Panagurska and Pazardijk districts from 1893 to 1910.

  • Romania: Government vital records began earlier than elsewhere in Eastern Europe, in 1865. For the previous three decades, Romanian Orthodox priests carried out civil registration. After 100 years, churches transfer vital records to the district (judet) archive.

  • Yugoslavia: Not surprisingly, with the recent unrest in the former Yugoslavia, the availability of records is murky. Pre-1946 parish registers are kept in local churches—Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim. For areas formerly under Ottoman control, the Turkish government may have records of your family (also true for Romania and Bulgaria).