A Guide for Researching Ethnic Serbian Ancestors from Austria - Hungary
FINDING OUT WHERE YOUR ANCESTORS CAME FROM – WHAT IS THE BASIC INFORMATION YOU NEED TO HAVE CONFIRMED TO BE ABLE TO RESEARCH FURTHER
- original spelling of the surname .
- the exact place of origin
- patron saint of the family
First of all, ignore most of the advice and links available on genealogy websites that are designed for the majority ethnicities in countries that include the province or the region of the empire that your ancestors came from (Military Frontier – Krajina, Slavonija, Hercegovina, Dalmacija, Lika, Banija, Kordun, Bačka, Srem, Banat ).
These regions are today parts of Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Serbia – and both the links and the general/majority population research information available through them are pretty much useless for your research. You are looking into an ethnic minority or, in some cases, one of several ethnicities in a country and general things do not apply .
Think of it this way: how much of the research advice for locating and interpreting records of majority population is useful for researching ancestors who were Native Americans?
You can be searching following such advice for years down the *helpful* links and never come across this web presentation that has for places in Croatia, Bosnia and Dalmatia over 350 articles that come with lists of recorded surnames of ethnic Serbian families:
There are complex differences in social and naming customs, language, religion, households and livning arrangements, marrying and migrational patterns and lots of other quite important stuff between the ethnic Serbs and majority/other ethnicities who lived in these areas.
Just to illustrate how important these differences can be for researching your ancestry: according to the naming customs and traditions, if an ethnic Serbian family lost a child the same name was never given to any other child the same parents had after that (it would have been considered dangerous and *summoning evil spirits* on the child and the family ). At the same time, this repeating of the given name after the loss of one child was common among the people of the majority ethnicity in the same country .
Chances are, you will be working with the vital records that are in fragments, and knowing this particular naming custom will help you eliminate couples who had lost children with the same first name as your last *known* ancestor around the time he/she was born as the possible next generation of your ancestry.
General background information on your ancestors will come from the books and historical documents that depict the settling of the Serbs in these lands from the earliest recorded migrations in XIV and XV century , from charters of freedom and privileges awarded by the Austrian emperors to the Serbian settlers (earliest one from 1538.) and correspondence of these settlers with the crown and military authorities, to the best documented group settlings throughout the XVIII century. Again specific to minortiy research, first confirmed mention of your family and surname in historical records for the area will usually be found in books specifically relating to the history of the ethnicity that they belonged to.
Most important task is to establish the existence of the family and surname in the place of origin at the time when the people you are researching were born or lived in the area, and to determin the original parish and patron saint of the family. For that task, the series of annual church census books authored by the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) that were published in late 1800s called *Schematism of the Eparchy...* are the ONLY source of accurate information.
These church censuses based on SOC vital records are the complete data set needed for tearing down the brick walls you may have encountered during your research before even getting started.
In each eparchy book the complete list of all places that its parishes covered is available(even the tiniest of the villages that may not exist today ).
All surnames of individual families that resided on the territory of an eparchy are listed in alphabetical order , spelled in modern Cyrillic script of the Serbian language , with exact information for all villages and towns where the family lived, which parish(es) it belonged to, and what their patron saint* was for each family . („slava“)
Included is the information in which year the church vital records („matice crkvene“) were started for every parish - so these would be the earliest available vital records , for the parishes where records survived the wars
If any of your ancestors worked as a teacher, trained for a priest, was member of the clergy or had any social position like elected representative or member of the church board, his name and occupation will be found in these books too.
ANYONE trying to locate the family origin or church vital records of ethnic Serbs from Austria Hungary for the period 1850-1900 (when most of the people who later emigrated were born ) who does not consult these books is barking up the wrong tree and merely guessing.
Anyone who has paid a professional researcher who hasn’t looked up information in these books and provided the client with a copy and analysis of the original entry for the family and parish should ask for a refund.
A few of these books are available over the net, and they are often referenced in more recently published books on surnames among ethnic Serbs („Prezimena Srba u Bosni“, „Srpski prezimenik“, „Hercegovačka prezimena“, various „origin of the Serbian surnames“ web forums ), but none of these are available in English.
Digital versions of a couple of these eparchy schematisms can be ordered through worldwide digital libraries and academic networks.
You will find these books in church libraries , historical archives in Serbia , documentation centres of Serbian ethnic minority in other countries and some university libraries in the region and largest world libraries. However, most of them are only available through SOC . To request a copy, or information which such book would be of interest for your research and where you can find a physical copy, you will need to contact the Serbian Orthodox Church. (more on how to do that later)
FOR HOW FAR BACK IN TIME DO THE CHURCH VITAL RECORDS OF THE SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH EXIST?
That will depend on the parish and whether the church vital records that were kept in the parish temples survived the wars.
Oldest complete set of Orthodox vital records you can research is for the Zadar town parish (Croatia), 1637-1893.
Oldest vital records in the Military Frontier province were started in the XVII century.
Earliest individual entries I've worked on are for people born after 1770.
I have seen a few complete sets of original SOC parish records starting in early XVIII century in Slavonija and Vojvodina.
For most parishes though, there are only fragments left , and for large number of parishes all church vital records of ethnic Serbs were destroyed.
Best way to find out what happended to the records is to look up what happended to the parish temple – there are detailed reports available through SOC about temples that have been destroyed or damaged in wars, and information is often available on eparchy websites too.
To understand the scale of that systematic devastation of the SOC temples and the reason why so many records are gone, you will need to know that in some eparchies almost all parish churches were completely destroyed - Epachy of Upper-Karlovac (Croatia) had 167 parish temples before WWII and 145 of them were desecrated, torn down and burned to the ground between 1941-1945.
WHERE ARE THE ORIGINAL CHURCH VITAL RECORDS OF THE SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH FROM AUSTRIA-HUNGARY TODAY ?
- Serbia: for all religious communities (SOC included) the church vital records have been returned to its original central authors – eparchy that today covers the territory where they were made. Some state historical archives have microfilmed the vital records that were kept until 2011. in state municipal offices ( the archive of Srem ). Whether or not the churches will make these records available for research is yet to be seen.
- Croatia: only available through Central state archive (HDA ) and are kept in several regional historical archives. Many are not listed among vital records (matične knjige) at all in published lists of archival holdings, and some damaged records are listed only on lists of archival materials that are „to be restaurated“ at some point in the future.
-Slovenia -for the old ethnic Serbian communities in Marindol and Bojanci area the records are in Croatian archives, because these places belonged to parishes and eparchies in Croatia.
Bosnia and Hercegovina – I recieved very conflicting information so far depending on the federal unit/municipality/eparchy I asked about, so I can only tell you that there seems to be no central place where they are located in this country or the central archive which can give you information on all of the records.
Hungary – central archive of the Eparchy of Budim , Hungarian National Archive in Budapest (MOL), in town archives (Szeged), SOC archives.
CIVIL COPIES OF THE ORIGINAL CHURCH VITAL RECORDS
- During the Austro-Hungarian rule, and later, after the WWI and the forming of the *first Yugoslavia* the civil authorities had copies of church vital records made. These transcripts were made and kept in the state municipal offices in each county and in most places the civil transcript was made for church vital records for those born after 1860. or in some places much later . These copies of church records older than 100 years (so anything older than 1912.records) are now public and can be researched in state historical archives.
- The copies, although incomplete and riddled with mistakes, will in cases when the original records have been destroyed be your only source of information. You need to establish to which municipality the place of origin of your ancestors belonged after the WWII, and whether there were any subsequent changes and transfers of these records to some other municipality between then and when they were turned over to historical archives.
- In some municipalities even those copies were destroyed, and people had to re-register births and marriages through making a sworn statement once the civil municipal network of the *second* Yugoslavia was established after the WWII. The research of ancestors from these counties is made even harder by the fact that often these statements were made in the new place of residence, where members of the family you are researching were relocated after the 1945.
ORIGINAL CHURCH VITAL RECORDS OF THE SOC THAT CAN BE RESEARCHED ONLINE:
- one (1) fragment (1779 -1784 ) of the Vukovar parish death records available on ARHINET in Croatia:
-Family Search has put online some original church vital records of the Serbian Orthodox Church from Croatia. They are labelled * Orthodox* :
The labels of the *parishes* are off and do not match the actual content - you will find information where to look for records for specific villages on our forum regularly updated :
Church vital records of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Croatia are written in OLD CHURCH SLAVONIC language (crkvenoslovenski).
Old Church Slavonic language Cyrillic script:
To be able to interpret them more accurately, especially the records from the period before the language reforms of Vuk Stefanović Karadžić in mid XIX century, you will need to get familiar with Old Church Slavonic Serbian redaction (crkvenoslovenski) :
Serbian language :
Serbian language Cyrillic cursive:
For the time being, until we are able to catalog all different types of records that are available online via Family Search,look for updates and ask for help in deciphering them on "Rodoslovlje" facebook page:
INDEXED CHURCH VITAL RECORDS OF SOC
- database of surnames from GOMIRJE MONASTERY parish vital records (1750-1806 ) available through Serbian Genealogy Society „Rodoslovlje“.
- No other current indexing projects that I am aware of. Some established minority researchers have similar surname databases and indexes and you will need to contact them for information on the records that they covered.
PERSONAL INFORMATION FROM YUGOSLAVIA CENSUSES AVAILABLE ONLINE
-none, and in most successor states you cannot obtain any personal information that was collected for any past census of the population due to privacy laws.
ANY WEBSITE THAT CLAIMS YOU WILL BE ABLE TO RESEARCH THESE CENSUS RECORDS ONLINE IF YOU REGISTER WITH THEM IS A FRAUD. !!!
CIVIL CENSUSES OF THE EMPIRE AND CHURCH CENSUSES OF THE SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
- The only censuses you can look at for personal information on individuals and households are those that were conducted by the Austrian/ Austro-Hungarian Empire, BUT : only for some of the regions or places, and some only of people who owned taxable property . (1828, 1869) – available in Hungarian State Archive in Budapest, Hungary , archives in Austria, regional historical archives and on LDS microfilms.
- online through website of the Serbian Cultural Society SKD „Prosvjeta“ in Croatia is the book by Karl Kasser „Popis Like i Krbave 1712.“, in which the transcribed census of LIKA and KRBAVA (Croatia) regions from 1712. with names of individuals, hoseholds and property is available. No index .
- Information from Serbian Orthodox Church censuses – I know of eparchies where six were conducted during the XIX century – personal information from them would only be available through the SOC .
MILITARY LISTS, CONSCRIPTIONS AND RECORDS:
-In most parishes the church vital records were tied to military conscription and were annually inspected and approved in regiment headquarters – you will find these inspection dates and signed approvals in all vital records of ethnic Serbs for the period until the Military Frontier province existed (it was dismantled in 1873.)
In many cases the earlier such records of the SOC eparchies are listed as part of archival holdings of the regiments. Primary function of the church administration was to keep records for the military command.
-All men who lived in Military Frontier province were conscripted into obligatory military service at birth , and all border people were regularly counted as each soul that lived in this harsh border protection zone was considered a military asset. They were the first and sometimes the only line of defense from the Ottoman invasions. The logic behind allowing the Serbs to settle in these deserted lands and granting them religious and other freedoms and giving them land to own was that they would fight with all they had to protect it – and they did.
-That freedom was also why so many of them settled in the Military Frontier province – anywhere else their faith was outlawed for centuries and persecuted as *schizmatic*, and they would have had to live as common serfs who were *owned* by the feudal masters.
-Main sources of information are lists of watchmen, soldiers and officers, correspondence between the ethnic Serbian settlers and the empire authorities and military command, muster rolls, military vital records, annual schematisms of the army forces, documents from regimental archives like monthly salary sheets with names of all soldiers in paid service etc.
-Earliest such lists with individual names of soldiers for the Military Frontier province are from 1551 and 1577.
-During the XIX century in military records valuable genealogical information was recorded – all Military Frontier regiments kept central land ownership records, in which the change of the head of the household (zadruga) was recorded as the change of the name of the owner of the land. Through researching them, you can document the succesion of generations in your family even if all vital records have been destroyed. The period for which these regimental land records are available is 1770 – 1873 and later.
-The central archive which holds military records of the Austrian/Austro-Hungarian Empire is the Austrian state military archive in Graz. The copies, and original documents of great local importance (like land owners register) can be found in historical archives in the region. Some microfilms are available throgh LDS.
- You may consider enlisting the help of a specialized military history researcher to locate and search these records, if you want to thoroghly document the military history of your ancestors and locate all holdings that have information on your ancestors.
-I know of one indexing project concerning these records, but it is not public and is part of academic research.
OTHER RECORDS OF IMPORTANCE:
-citizenship registration records
-military land ownership records („katastarske knjige“)
-records of military and civil courts
-civil service records (postal service, railway service and other )
-school records and university records
As these are kept and accessible in each country in a different way, you will need to ask around about what the rules and restrictions for researching them there are, and the location of the records in each country individually.
OTHER SOURCES WHERE YOU MAY FIND INFORMATION
-In first editions of the books published in second half of the XIX century I found an interesting source of genealogical information: the author would in foreword list the people who have preordered a copy of the book, often with information on that person’s place of residence, status, occupation, and names of the family members for whom the book was intended as a gift, as well as their relation to the person who was making an order (daughter, son,...).
-Again, best place to look for similar information are the books that specifically relate to the communities, history and customs of ethnic Serbs – one such amazing list of names and genealogical data is found in the book „Life and Customs of the Frontier Serbs“(„Život i običaji Srba-Graničara“) which was published in 1887, with valuable information on people from all parts of the empire.
-Each larger village or parish has had at least one *monography* - a book on its past published in Serbian language. Most such books will have data on the individuals and families who emigrated, and if authors are still around, their knowledge and assistance is priceless . These books are only found in family libraries and antique book shops, but some appear from time to time on the online book auction sites in Serbia.
-Many ethnic Serbs returned from emigration in 1914. to fight as volunteers in WWI on the side of the Serbia. Information on them can be found in military archives in Belgrade.
FINDING LIVING RELATIVES:
FINDING THE DESCENDANTS OF THE SAME FAMILY
-This is extremely important, as they will help you with information learned informally from their family members, with translating what is only available in local language, or visiting the archives and temples on your behalf . Besides surname and place of origin, they will share your patron saint.
-For ethnic Serbs, people who share the same surname and patron saint and come from the same village are viewed as *relatives* ("rod"), and the fact that you may not actually be directly related is not important at all .
- If they are researching the same family roots offer to share/cover the costs of obtaining the documents and travel but please do not offer a fee – if you are *family*, then that would be considered almost an insult. Instead, make an album of photos of your ancestors and share the story of how they emigrated and lived in the US – everyone likes to brag about *having cousins in America*, and this will be a perfect gift to anyone making a family tree of their own in the old country.
CONTACTING THE DESCENDANTS
-Best if someone contacts you after you post your query on message boards in English – you will be able to communicate directly. Make sure you have email notification turned on to know when someone has replied and repost your message periodically –someone may show up and respond even ten years after your original message was posted .
-Dialing random telephone numbers or sending out letters to everyone you can find in Yellow pages or phone directories with the same surname - well, you can always try that too.
-Try to locate the facebook page of the family – most families/surnames have a group, and post there a warm greeting to all your *cousins* and ask for help in English. Contact the group administrator too, usually it is a person with an interest in family history who can help you the most.
-General advice on contacting the descendants would be - thread carefully – if the family still lives in the same area your ancestors came from do not ask about their ethnicity – some people will tell you these things straightforward, but for others that may be something they do not wish to discuss or disclose.
-For many places of origin, the descendants will not be living there today and posting on official town pages or unofficial blogs or forums you can google for that town or village is not useful at all. You need to locate the place where the ethnic Serbs who originate from or used to live in the place of your interest *hang out* on the web . Most such forums are only available in Serbian and you will need to register. Serbian Genealogy Society forum will have more information and links to these internet pages and you can ask for help to register and post a message on one or several of them.
-After the WWII ended in 1945. 250 000 people (42 000 families) were relocated and colonized by the communist authorities to other parts of the country mainly from devastaded areas in Croatia and Bosnia, and almost by default ethnic Serbs. You may need to research in villages and towns to which they were sent ( Vojvodina) to find relatives and information.
- Due to family ties, the bulk of the refugees from the most recent conflicts settled in and around these previously colonized places too.
- You may need to contact the Refugee Association in Serbia to find out where the descendants of the family you are researching are today.
WHAT IF THERE ARE NO DESCENDANTS?
Some families of ethnic Serbs were during the WWII completely eradicated in the places your ancestors came from. Anyone looking for information on these families can recieve assistance from:
- victim’s organizations like „JADOVNO 1941.” , Association of the Prebilovci victims, Association of the survivors and descendants of Jasenovac concentration camp victims, Association of the child-survivors of the „Jastrebarsko” concentration camp for children, Association of the Prkos and Dugo Selo massacre victims and many more local associations tied to a specific village, concentration camp or execution place.
- authors and researchers who have collected testimonies of the survivors and published books on this subject .
- historical archives in Serbia
-Sebian Orthodox Church
-other people seeking information on their family members who are not listed in the official records of the victims that were killed /taken from the same village or on the same day.
-From my personal experience in seeking information about family members who were victims of the WWII genocide, you can recieve immense help from people working in state archives in the region who can help locate the information and documents for descendants of such families if you contact the right person in the right archive.
-You will also recieve no help or even be denied the information from civil vital records in many municipal offices in several countries, which they are oblidged to provide by law to the descendats . There is no way around such blatant and often deliberate ignorance, and you must seek information elsewhere.
- Archive of the Republika Srpska in Banja Luka, Bosnia is the one you should contact first, as they have recieved after the wars most of the archival materials related to this and are willing to help. Central historical archive in Belgrade has the detailed census of the civilian victims that was conducted after the WWII, and many more original documents.
RESOURCES OF THE SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH:
DOCUMENTS AND RECORDS
-Although in many cases they do not posess the original church vital records there are a lot of church archives and a lot of documents they hold that are not available to public – lists of donations to the temple, lists of parisheners, diaries of the parish that were written by the priests, internal communication and correspondence with church or civil authorities.
Here is the wealth of the genealogical information from one such diary of the parish written by the Serbian orthodox parish priest in 1926, that has been published in a book recently:
-Books of mentions ("Pomenik") - names of people that were mentioned during the religious service, both living and the deceased.
- Obituary lists for large territories from monasteries:
- In many very old almanachs and written annual summaries of parish or monastery history made by the monks and priests of the SOC that preceed the date when the vital records were started for the parish , names of merchants, land owners and other non-clergy from parishes are mentioned with details of place of residence, clan and other information.
Very important are the records of church baptism or marriage certificates that were issued later (to obtain a passport or provide documents to the authorities in the country where they emigrated) which will have data on your ancestors .
-Sometimes the current parish priest is young and from elsewhere, and he may need to direct you to seek some other/older member of the clergy or someone from the area who knows everything about the village and its past. Such a person will have information on all different branches of the same surname and families known by their clan *nicknames*, locations of cemeteries and any living members of the same family, and much, much more.
-SOC even has its own *vetted* historians and researchers that can help you, and whose published articles and books must be consulted by anyone conducting more than primary research . I do not know if you can ask any of them to search for your ancestors as they are established scholars. They will have the most accurate information on the archival holdings related to the SOC, both in church archives and the state ones. Their work is published and availble through academic networks in the region, mostly in Serbia.
-This is the most important line of research for anyone looking into the parishes where the original church vital records were destroyed or are only available in fragments. Whether you will recive any information or not is up to the SOC and how much they are willing to help. In my experience, if you contact them in the right manner, many individual priests and some eparchies will go above and beyond to help you find answers.
CONTACTING THE SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
You can send emails and ask by phone. You can hire a researcher to do this for you. You can make a trip and go see the parish priest in the temple. In most cases, you will get no information or direction.
The church is neither backwards or non-responsive, it is simply weary of any outsiders – given the fate it has suffered I find this attitude understandable. Also, you may not be aware of some *unwritten rules* and customs that exist and are known to people who attend it.
First of all, understand that you are contacting a church – and customary thing over here is that before you ask any church to do anything for you (which includes responding to your questions) , you should make a donation to them.
DONATIONS TO THE SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
-Your call. What is culturally appropriate and right from over here, may be totally off from your perspective. Here is a case I recently encountered:
The SOC temple one person’s ancestors were baptized/ married in has been destroyed, then rebuilt by the SOC after the WWII, then destroyed completely again in recent wars, and is currently being rebuilt again through donations of the people from the same village (many with the same surname) who are scattered around the globe and only gather in the village once a year. Asking them about their family or the eparchy about the parish that has suffered so much , this church and these people who are together making an effort to rebuild the same temple again, while at the same time not making at least a symbolic contribution of your own, is something I would never attempt or even consider doing if it were my ancestors and the village that they emigrated from.
- A donation to the SOC should only be carried out either through the SOC central administration in Belgrade or the official appeal for donations of the eparchy your ancestors belonged to. ( There would be no point donating to the eparchy that covers totally unrelated church district). If you are making a donation through central administration, ask them to contact the eparchy you are researching on your behalf.
-Write and explain who you are and what you are trying to do in humble manner and politely
– Do not address the church dignitaries with their title (arhimandrit, jerej,otac, vladika) if you are not sure of the exact corresponding phrase that ought to be used for that position .
- Best if you start your email/letter in the most usual way to adress a Serbian Orthodox priest : „Pomaže Bog!“ (God Helps!) –slightly informal, but covers all the bases – it is both accurate and appropriate in communicating via email.
CONTACTING THE PRIESTS AND VISITING TEMPLES
-If you are contacting the priests directly, you need to mention names or include correspondence with someone from the SOC who is *recommending* you – like your local priest if your family is still Serbian Orthodox, or someone in the eparchy that you contacted previosly about making the donation that can vouch for you being a genuine descendant and for your honest intentions ( there’s been problems with people who work for a fee trying to pass themselves off as descendants, and even distributing false information about the church, parish or the records ) .
-If you are visiting the original temple please try to find and be accompanied by the member of *your family* or someone from the parish who at least occasionally visits the church and is known to the parish priests – again, their presence will *vouch* for you and you will recieve more information than by just showing up and asking for information on your own, or with any other guide you may enlist for such a trip.
If you have contacted the Serbian Orthodox Church in the past and recieved no reply or no information, send me an email and I will contact them for you again .
LDS FAMILYSEARCH.ORG MICROFILMS OF VITAL RECORDS OF THE SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH:
AUTHOR : PRAVOSLAVNA CRKVA
-That is the author information under which you will find the records of the SOC from Austria Hungary.
-List of available parish records : search their catalog for the author -corporate name *pravoslavna* - there are 250 parishes listed but remember – NOT EVEN HALF OF VITAL RECORDS OF THE SOC FROM THE AUSTRIA HUNGARY ARE ON THESE FILMS, AND FOR SOME EPARCHIES NO RECORDS AT ALL ARE ON THESE FILMS. This is especially the case with the records for the period after 1860. For each parish you will need to establish whether more records exist and where they can be found.
-Sometimes the accurate information on the existence and location of additional records that were not filmed can only be obtained after several rounds of communicating with central archives .
- Make sure if you hire a researcher, to have them ask and recieve official reply about the records for the right parish from the central archive of the country you are researching as part of any preliminary research. I’ve seen reports to clients where they only listed records available on LDS films, and missed informing the descendants of other existing birth and marriage records that the central state archive has.
- Many parishes are mislabelled and you need to check if the name of the parish corresponds to the actual parish of the Serbian Orthodox Church you should be researching. Sometimes you will need to look at a film to establish what the heck is on it, because the label is so wrong that the parish under that name never existed at all.
-The language is wrongly labelled as Serbian/ Croatian and in Latin script – the church vital records of SOC were printed and written in its still official language – OLD CHURCH SLAVONIC, in OLD CHURCH SLAVONIC CYRILLIC SCRIPT, and in its SERBIAN RECENSION.
- Serbian Orthodox Church never had units called *ŽUPA*. The word for parish is *PAROHIJA* and it is clearly visible in most of the first images of these films.
HOW TO READ THE VITAL RECORDS OF THE SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH AND WHAT INFORMATION FOUND IN THEM IS USEFUL?
-To read and extract most data for your research from these church vital records, you need to know about THE NAMING CUSTOMS as you will be researching (most likely) fragments of records for villages where seemingly all people had the same surname, and only a pool of about a dozen first names for each gender. This is a lengthy subject that warrants its own guide and I will not be detailing it here.
-The social relation of *godbrotherhood* („kumstvo“) was & is still extremely important among ethnic Serbs . There were strict rules on who godparented a child (head of the godbrotherhood family household, his widow during the period of mourning etc.) and that is why in reconstructing fragmented records the information on godparent of a child is vital for identifying your family clan.
- I have seen reports submitted by researchers who failed to even mention this or include the entries where the family that was researched was listed in the role of the godparent or a wedding witness . If you are going to hire one, make sure you hire someone who will be able to look through these records properly and thoroughly ie. someone who will at least know enough to tell you that the witness at the wedding was, according to the customs, someone who was of same age as groom and served in the same army unit. This will give you birth year estimate if your ancestor was this witness, and direction where to look in military records to confirm it.
WHY IS AN EXPERT TRANSCRIPTION AND TRANSLITERATION OF THESE VITAL RECORDS SO IMPORTANT?
-Surnames of families can differ only slightly and the difference may not appear to you to be important (Č or Ć, D or Đ) – but it is.
- Researchers unfamiliar with area surnames who have not consulted the church or eparchy books write in their reports how these differences are down to spelling mistakes!!!. The church meanwhile, has families for that period in its schematism listed individually , with surnames recorded in separate spellings, as two different families who happened to live in the same parish.
- Serbian language underwent extreme phonetic changes during the XIX century. If you are working with records that span it you will need to know about transliteration of old sounds that ceased to exists ( the phonetic system was cut down from 46 sounds to only 30, and transliteration of no longer existing vowels depended on the dialect).
- If you are not careful, you will be paying huge fees to someone for *reading rare scripts* who has no knowledge of the transcription and transliteration rules that exist when transfering names written in Old Church Slavonic to Serbian. Such *experts* fail to mention that Cyrillic script is native to all speakers of Serbian language – the only european language of active simultaneous digraphia ( anyone considered literate in it can read and write both the Cyrillic and the Latin script) – so not really a rare skill over here.
RECORDS AFTER EMIGRATING - SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH VITAL RECORDS IN AMERICA
-Earliest would be with first established Serbian Orthodox Churches in US shortly after 1900.
-These records are valuable resource – in some of them the complete address in the old country is recorded together with the original household number, sometimes the parish of origin too.
- There were missionary Serbian Orthodox priests who wandered the countryside and baptized/married people who settled away from the large migrant ethnic Serbian communities.
-If there was no Serbian Orthodox church around, ethnic Serbs attended Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox or Armenian Orthodox church as first choice. Also they went to Romanian, Ukranian, Ruthenian churches.
-If none of these were available either, look for Reformist ,Methodist and other protestant churches they may have attended.
- It would have been more than unlikely that any of these emigrants registered with Roman Catholic Church if any other was available in their place of residence.
GOOGLE AND SEARCHING THE WEB
- research the family surname in both scripts (Latin and Cyrillic) and in original spelling
- make sure your language preferences include all local languages .
- most general search on surname origin would include the surname and these words:
-A good thing is to also try to search surname plus the exact spelling of the place of origin .
-You will be amazed at how much more you can find on the web, although not in English, on the family and surname you are researching just by following these few tips.
ETHNICITY VS. COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
Some genealogy *experts* on the countries that you will be researching seem to have a problem with calling people of this ethnicity ethnic Serbs/calling their church Serbian Orthodox church/ calling the records and temples of that church vital records and temples of the Serbian Orthodox Church/ the fact that such thing as Serbian ethnic minorty even exists in the country of their *expertize*. They will go on about "Ottoman refugees", "Vlah origin", "Byzantine church records", even after being confornted with accurate information from original resources , or the fact that you will only be able to find records of any religion if you know the accurate name under which that religion and church exist today.
People were often misdirected by these *experts* to look for ancestors in the vital records of Roman Catholic Church, to look for descendants on webpages where no ethnic Serbs from the region post such queries, and to hire researchers who get away with sloppiest of works.
This is the main reson why so many researches into ethnic Serbian ancestors were derailed and ended without any results .
The information on the ethnicity of your ancestors is probably a very vague concept to you, and is of no real significance in your life. That information is, however, essential if you wish to research them and your family’s origin and heritage in the old country.
We use the term „ethnic Serbs“ to describe people of Serbian ethnicity (SRBI) and Eastern-Orthodox faith (PRAVOSLAVNI) , whose place of origin is territory of the former Austrian/Austro-Hungarian Empire (dissolved after the end of the Word War I). You will also often find them labelled as:
-Serbs from across the Drina river
- Krajina Serbs.
Depending on the exact region of origin, also:
-Bosnian Serbs (Bosanski Srbi)
and many more localized names.
If you are going for the history books you will find your ancestors named Vlahs, Orthodox Vlahs, Eastern Vlahs, Uskoks, Servians, Rascians, Schismatics, Greek-Not-United.
Some of these names are used in offensive and derogatory way today in some countries to address people of this ethnicity (Vlasi or Vlaji in Croatian, Ráczok in Hungarian) so be careful - rule of the thumb is same as everywhere – cultured communication with members of any ethnic group will never include any label that they may find offensive.
Race or ethnicity listed in ship manifests for ethnic Serbian people who went through Ellis Island is WRONG in most cases.
By the second half of the XIX century ethnicities in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy were more than clearly formed and distinguished . Anyone who tries to *explain* how these people were anything but ethnic Serbs because it says otherwise on their ship manifests is usually talking to an audience not versed in history of the region or the facts about their origin.
Ethnic Serbs were listed as: Slovenes, Slovaks, Croats, Dalmatians, Herzegovians, Austrians, Hungarians, Russians, Slavs and Servians and many other names.
A good researcher will disregard that and be able to tell you your ancestor’s ethnic and religious affiliation based on confirming it in the church books I mentioned earlier.
Likewise is wrong to tie their subsequent declaration of ethnicity in US censuses as SERBIAN to thinking that your ancestors originated from somwhere in Serbia.
ASKING FOR ASSISTANCE:
We started this group to bridge the gap between the information that can be obtained as a native speaker of regional languages (and a few more), and the information available on message boards in English.
We will help you research your ethnic Serbian ancestors in a way which will bring you results, and help you reconnect with your heritage, living relatives, and the rich history of your ancestors and places that they came from.
Post a comment here, a message on our forum, or contact directly through SGS if you are a member for detailed answer.
For most of the public queries, you will be answered via SGS forum or messages and directed how to continue your research, together with the translation into English of the information we located.
In some sensitive cases, we will urge you to contact the appropriate official source ( SOC, civil office, organization or an archive) to obtain the information directly from them.
GOOD LUCK WITH YOUR RESEARCH!
THANK YOU FOR TAKING INTEREST IN YOUR HERITAGE.
© Rodoslovlje Serbian Genealogy Society, 2012.