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How to start?

How to start your genealogical research

When you decided to start with your genealogical research the challenge begins. The genealogical world is a is a jungle of information and it can be hard to find information on how to begin especially if you ancestors came from Eastern Europe where most of the archives are not microfilmed and still many things are obscure. This is important to realise, your research will take a considerable amount of more time then it would if you were in Western Europe. We advice all to have patience when they embark with their family research.

Now before you begin with your research it is wise to have the following things at hand.

1. A PC with internet connection or be near one,

2. Use of a genealogical program in order to register the data that you discover,

These 2 things are the most important ones, now if you don’t have a PC it is wise to record the data that you collect on pedigree charts.

Some people like working with real paper more then software, this is of course your personal preference, either way we urge people to make regular backups of their PC’s.

Your Surname

Your surname is where you begin. In most cases your surname is the same as that of your father, or in some cases your mother. Usually you will have the same surname as your father. So your line starts with yourself. Then you collect the name of your father, and then that of your grandfather. It is in all cases wise to immediately register the name of your mother and grandmother as well.

Please make sure that you write down the names with the Serbian symbols such as “šđžčć” as there is a world of difference between names with or without these symbols. Please also note that in case of Serbia the Cyrillic alphabet is used and in older records Church Slavonic. This alphabet is like Cyrillic but more complex, you might need help from someone who can actually read this because the transliteration depends on minor details.

Besides the surname you also write down the place of birth, the baptismal date, the date of marriage, and if necessary the date and place of death. All other information that you find you can include as attachments to your research because they will underscore and under build your research’s findings. Now remembers, genealogy is an exact science so you need to work with facts.

The funny thing with surnames is that some surnames are very rare and others are so common that halve of the country may have the same surname but none of them are actually related to each other at all. It is interesting of course to find the general origin of a surname, but the only way to make sure you belong that that one particular family is by doing research. Too often people ask for the origin of a surname that is the same as theirs and then presume they are from that same family. This is not how it works and we urge people to caution with this ideology because it can throw you off the right track. Most surnames originate from Patronyms, there are a lot of people with the name Jovan in Serbia so Jovanovic is a common surname. Also surnames are not always geographically and ethnically bound. Therefore it is crucial for you to start of correctly by recording the name of your father, grandfather and so on using the information that you can find in the national archives and churches.

4 Generations
In 9 out of 10 cases it will be easy to collect the information from 4 generations. This is mainly because of the influence of Napoleon’s policy to record data in archives and government institutes. Most families can without too much trouble track back their ancestry until the year 1800, after that date you will run into what we call the genealogical jungle of the Balkans.

Please note that there are 2 different way’s to do your research.

1. Direct line research: from father to son recording also the maternal line but sticking to the patriarchal line,

2. In dept research: going through each branch of in the tree collecting information from siblings, cousins into even the 5th degree and further

Advised is of course to collect as much information as possible, but you have to stick to point 1 at first because it’s the most crucial for obvious reasons.


So my surname is Stanković, so I must be ethnically Serbian? Actually not perse, the surname does sound Serbian but in this case it means “son of”  and the patronim had the name of Stanko or Stanoje. You could be an ethnic Serb or Roma for that matter. There is also a world of difference between ethnicity and nationality. The latter is often confused in case of ethnic Serbs living in the Austro-Hungarian Empire when they migrated to e.g. the United States. Also please be aware that religion doesn’t determine the ethnic background as one of Serbia’s greatest medieval rulers was Catholic of birth.

Exchanging data

It is a custom to exchange data in the genealogical world with others that share the same roots. It can be a helpful tool to fill missing gaps that others managed to find out. This however is a personal choice; no one can force you to publish your data on the internet unless you yourself do it. We do advice caution, although genealogy is a beautiful activity to pass time it also involves the personal information from you and your family. If you choose to publish your pedigree on the internet we advice you only to publish to data of the deceased and not those who are alive. In most countries it is even prohibited to publish any data of the living without their consent.

Nevertheless we presume that exchanging data with cousins overseas can be fruitful. It would be prudent though to make clear agreements with the other party not to spread the data without your written consent.

Ready to begin?

Ok so you asked the standard questions on the forums, and you read the articles in the Learning Center on our site. But you want to do sirious research and need help. The best way to proceed is to become a member of the SGS. Membership is cheap and gives you more online tools that you can use to do research. Also you become part of a large society of enthousiasts. We are constently working on improving our online services so that the gap between offline and online resources gets smaller.