Hungarian Vital Records

Posted by Sam Schleman

The Austro-Hungarian Empire was a dual monarchy, which included the Kingdom of Hungary. Beginning in the 1850’s the Austro-Hungarian authorities decreed that all religious institutions maintain records of births, marriages and deaths for their congregants. This system remained in place until October, 1895, when it was replaced by a centralized system of civil registrations for all religious denominations.

Some communities began keeping vital records as early as the 1820’s and others kept records only sometime after the 1850’s. The local synagogue created the records and sent a copy to the megye (county) archives.

Today, most of the records which have survived are in the Hungarian National Archives in Budapest, which is where the Mormon’s microfilmed them. No one has systematically determined what records may still exist in the different megye archives. Recently a considerable number of records were discovered which were supposed to have been turned over to the Slovak archives when Hungary was partitioned in 1920.

However, these “unknown” records were kept in Hungary and Slovakia had no knowledge of them, and the local authorities did not wish to acknowledge they had these records. Similar situations may exist elsewhere, but have not been investigated.

A complicating factor is that the Kingdom of Hungary was partitioned in 1920, at the conclusion of World War I, by the Treaty of Trianon. Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory and parts of 19th century Hungary today lie within the borders of Slovakia, Romania, Ukraine, Austria, Croatia, Slovenia, Poland and Serbia. Access to these records varies enormously by country.

The Hungarian Special Interest Group (H-SIG) formally created a vital records project in early 2006. Prior to that, a small number of people undertook to transcribe the vital records from their ancestral homes into an on-line database. As of the creation of the formal project in 2006, about 30,000 records were on-line.

Because no translation is required, volunteers from H-SIG that have no language skills are able to undertake the transcriptions; “Jakab Klein” is pretty much the same in Hungarian, German, and English. Also, it was recognized that the people researching town “A” were pretty much independent of those researching town “B.” This meant that numerous towns and transcribers were able to work simultaneously and independently of one another.

The source from which transcribers are recruited is the JewishGen Family Finder (JGFF), which enables one to determine everyone who is researching a particular town. An individual letter is sent to everyone listed in the JGFF for a town we are about to transcribe. Priority has been given to those towns with the greatest number of researchers. This is not only the “most bang for the buck” but since only about 10% of those listed in the JGFF for a given town usually volunteer to transcribe, it was not feasible to undertake towns with 25 or less researchers. Of course, this means that 90% of those researching a town do not volunteer. They are missing out. The exception is that some transcribers have undertaken ancestral towns single-handed. Volunteers who contribute significantly (in my opinion) get a copy of the spreadsheets for “their” town; which makes researching that town far easier and faster.

The Hungarian vital records project is, we believe, the largest volunteer project under the auspices of JewishGen. Over 250 people from eighteen different countries have helped transcribe records, and at any given time, about 100 volunteers are working simultaneously. Some just work on “their” town and depart, or leave the project due to numerous other reasons. Transcribers range in age from college students to people in their nineties.

To date, about 265,000 vital records are on line and another 100,000 will be added in early spring. When we have the materials available to us, we transcribe about 10,000 records per month. We expect the AHD to go over one million records within the next year. Accomplishments about which we are particularly proud are that transcriptions of Miskolc will soon be complete and we have completed all Budapest births and marriages; deaths are being worked on currently. I’m not sure if any other European capital city has been fully transcribed before.

Other things of note are that we recently placed on-line the first records from Transcarpathian Ukraine, as announced by Warren Blatt at the last IAJGS conference. These are the first records from this area posted to JewishGen. We have also recently arranged for a local person to photograph the vital record registers for Bihar and Maramures counties in present-day Romania. These records have never been filmed by the Mormons and have been inaccessible to researchers from Transylvania until about five years ago, and then only by personal visit or hiring a professional researcher to visit the archives. We have around 5,000 pages from these registers.

As the project manager, one of the most rewarding aspects of the project has been the fantastic people I’ve met, many of whom have become close friends. A Forensic Psychologist in New Mexico, the wife of a retired Supreme Court Justice in Australia, an author of Jewish historical novels from Israel, a survivor of the death marches in Germany at the end of WW2, from Australia, who turns out to be the first cousin of a boyhood friend with whom I had grown up in upstate New York – the list goes on and on.

And how do the transcribers feel about their work? Here are a few unsolicited quotations:

“I do feel a sense of pride and satisfaction at having been a part of the work that has been accomplished, and the work had a special meaning for me; somehow, if even for the seconds I deciphered the script and entered the names, those people were being somehow remembered. “

“I wanted to learn something new and now I have. Had no idea what a spread sheet was all about and now I am quite comfortable with it.”

“I would like to take this opportunity and thank all the volunteers from the H-SIG doing this unbelievable important work of transcribing the records from LDS microfilms. Without you people, most of us would still be tracing in the dark.”
“I am just very, very curious to check those years for my family records, now that my ability to decipher the old German has improved a lot thanks to working on this project.”

“Just a side note.... I've been working with microfilms at the local LDS Family History Center. Thanks to the transcriptions of the Budapest births that I worked on, it was relatively easy to find what I was looking for. The format was very similar for the birth records in XXXX. Had I never worked on the Budapest births, I'd probably have quit in frustration.”

“It's so rewarding to know I'm part of an effort much larger than myself. As the recent upload attests, I'm able to benefit from the work of others, and hopefully others are able to benefit from my work.”

“I'm like a kid in a candy store! And you are the shopkeeper.”

“I already found a relative! I honestly didn't think I'd find them, so this is a big deal for me! Woo Hoo!!! The birthplace of this relative is listed and now I have a whole new line of inquiry!”

“Yesterday when I opened the first image and saw the first entry, I was stunned. There was Bertha XXXX, my grandmother, my father's mother was (nee) Bertha XXXX. Even the date of birth looks correct.”

“Wow! I feel like I have been given the ultimate present. I have been up until 2am pouring over the records back and forth. I have pushed the XXXX’s back further and found children, spouses and dates. I have added new names who have married in. I found last names to great-great grandmas, marriage dates, birth and death dates. I found siblings.”

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