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 vary from country to country.
In the 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.