Genealogy research in Eastern Europe has come a long way in the past couple of decades. It used to be that locating church or civil registration records required a lot of effort and waiting. Your options for accessing records were 1) traveling to perform onsite research in archives, 2) spending a fortune to hire a professional to do the research for you, 3) writing a letter and hoping the registrar’s office or priest would understand and answer your quests or 4) hoping records for your ancestral village were included in those microfilmed by The Genealogical Society of Utah, which you could research at the Family History Library or order through a local Family History Center.
But now, FamilySearch.org has changed all that with its growing collection of church and civil registration records from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and other localities. Here are three steps for beginning research on ancestors’ baptismal, marriage or death records from your easy chair using FamilySearch.org’s historical record collections:
- Get the name right. When searching collections from Eastern Europe, you need to know your ancestor’s name as it was originally spelled. You may know your ancestor as John, but would he instead be listed as Ján or János in registrations? My grandmother, for example, is listed as Erzsébet rather than Elizabeth. And how exactly is Fencsák spelled, anyway? Get as close to the original spelling as you can, and keep in mind which wildcards (characters like * and ?) to use to capture alternate spellings in your searches.
- Locate a collection. From FamilySearch.org’s home page, click the magnifying glass labeled Search, then click Browse All Published Collections. Choose Continental Europe and scroll to find the country you’re searching for (e.g., Slovakia). You can also type an ancestor’s name in the search boxes on the left-hand side, click on a map researching in a specific location or, if you know the name of the specific collection, start typing the first few letters of the name in the Collection title box; matching choices (such as Slovak, Church and Synagogue Books, 1592–1910, where I found my grandmother) will pop up underneath.
- Read the directions. When you get to the collection’s page, read the description carefully to understand what exactly is included. Click the Learn More button to access related FamilySearch Wiki articles on a particular collection or topic (e.g., this article on Slovak church and synagogue books). Remember that not all records are online—and some areas are not yet included—so in many instances, you’ll still need to consult the FamilySearch Catalog for microfilmed records, contact churches or archives, or consult with a professional for hard-to-get records and translation assistance. Make sure you sign up for a free FamilySearch account and follow the FamilySearch Blog or subscribe to the FamilySearch newsletter to receive notifications whenever the collections are added or updated.