We are tracking down Bob's ancestors who lived in Slovakia. We cut our teeth on European genealogy in 2003 when we spent five months in England. At that time we had few language problems (except when we got back before the seventeenth century), and we learned about places to look and questions to ask and what to bring with us.
But Slovakia, conquered and re-conquered over the centuries and not a truly independent country until the mid-1990s, has records in many languages: Latin, Hungarian, German, Yiddish, Hebrew, Czech, and Slovak, sometimes several in the same record. It's a challenge -- we have brought our Slovak-English dictionary and we have purchased a couple of sets of word lists from the Library. Our main tools in our hunt for Bob's ancestors are Roman Catholic church records from the 19th century.
These church records, originally kept by each local priest and maintained in his church, were ordered to be transferred to state archives by the communist government of Czechoslovakia. Many of these archival records were microfilmed in the 1990s by the Utah Genealogical Society, an arm of the LDS Church. The records are incomplete and sometimes quite difficult to read -- ink blots, water damage, and the personal handwriting of each parish clerk complicate things, in addition to the puzzles of translating the column headings and notes.
Bob's grandmother, Anna Jurus, immigrated to New Jersey around 1900, joining a large Slovak community in Passaic. We knew before we got to Salt Lake City that Anna and Bob's grandfather John Hopko had come to America separately. But they had grown up in two villages only a few miles apart. We learned the Hungarian names of these villages from their marriage records in Passaic. So we knew where to start. We divvied up the work, with Bob taking the Hopko family and Elsa taking the Jurus family. Here's how we went about our search, using the Jurus records as an example. Anna Jurus' marriage record.
To begin with, when we had seen Anna's marriage record in Latin script at St. Mary's Church in Passaic, the names of her parents were added later in another hand, and we had awkwardly transliterated her mother's name as Zufanna Lencsik. But it turned out that her mother's maiden name was actually Huszar, which the clerk at St. Mary's had From Anna's baptismal record spelled phonetically as Heucsir and we had misread as Lencsik. This became clear when we found Anna's baptismal record from the village of Tolcsemes. In that record her parents' names were clearly spelled: Andras Jurus and Susana Huszar.
We actually found two records of her parents' marriage; this is not unusual, as the records were often transcribed for the sake of completeness; redundancy was From Anna's parents' marriage not considered troublesome! Here is the clearer of the two marriage records, although the information on both records is the same. This script shows the handwriting of the time, with the 's' looking rather like a modern 'f' and the terminal 'r' looking more like an 's'. In addition, there are accent marks over the second 'a' in Andras and the 'a' in Huszar. In this 1878 marriage record, the names of the fathers of the couple are given, but not the names of their mothers.
Next we searched for the baptismal records of Anna's parents. We found the 1855 baptism Anna's grandparents of Anna's father, which thus gave the names of her paternal grandparents: George Jurus and Anna Filyo. In this record George is spelled Georgius in Latin; the Hungarian spelling at the time was Gyorgy. Our search of the records revealed some of Andras' siblings: Maria, Anna, Maria, and Janos. The second Maria was evidently because the first Maria had died in infancy, although we didn't find a burial record.
Another small piece of documentation is the only known national census of Hungary in 1869, which listed every house, the number of rooms, and carefully named all the members of each family group living in the house. We wonder if any of those 19th century village houses will still be standing. We found five Jurus households in the village of Tolcsemes in 1869; although we're not certain, her grandfather George was probably dead by 1869, and her grandmother and father are probably shown in House Number 36, which had one living room, one bedroom, and one kitchen on one floor, for 9 people.
As we pore over these records, we begin to accumulate a mental picture of the people -- we get to know their neighbors and occasionally we can figure out the occupation (usually farmer) of the men. We watch the same godparents bless one child after another, and then come across the baptism of their own child. A book shows that some of the villages had very long narrow strips of farmland for each farmer, while other villages had wider pieces. But always the farmers lived together in the village and went out to work their fields during the day.
The Family History Library is a comfortable place, just about ideal as a research environment -- rows of computers provide access to the library catalog, to other genealogy resources on CD-ROM and on the Intenet. The chairs are very comfortable, the light is good, and there's general agreement that noise should be kept to a minimum. There are lots of friendly staffers. No, they don't try to convert you, but if you are a member of the LDS church, you get extra help finding and blessing your ancestors!
We always enjoy our visits here. This time we stayed in a two-bedroom suite in Layton, about 20 miles from the library. We had plenty of space and a kitchen where we stored our groceries and made breakfast. Only the weather didn't cooperate -- we had rain and fog and even one pretty good snowfall, which slowed our commute. But we really can't complain about this, because we don't have a boss to report to!
Oh, one more tidbit. If you ask at the very front desk, the greeter will give you a pass to eat at the cafeteria in the LDS Church headquarters building. And on Thursday noons they carve a big slab of roast prime rib -- just like a dinner portion -- complete meal for $6.50.