Friday, June 26, 2020

1921 Carpathian Ruthenia Census Goes Online

Cover page from Beregszász census
This week we got a great news for those with interest in Carpathian Ruthenia, also known as Transcarpathia or Zakarpattia: the 1921 census for this region is now available online.

This is the census of Czechoslovakia, the country that Carpathian Ruthenia was part of after October 1918, under the official name Podkarpatska Rus. The census was conducted between November 1, 1920 and March 31, 1921.

The collection has been preserved almost completely, making it a valuable source for genealogy research in this region. The original documents are held by the Berehove branch of the State Archive of Transcarpathia Region in Ukraine. I can attest that this archive was rather difficult to access. So, the ability to work with the census from the comfort of your own home is very welcome.

The census questionnaire contains information about the town/village, address and names of the residents, including their date and place of birth, native language, religion, occupation, etc. The documents are in Hungarian and Czech. 

Digitizing of the records was done in collaboration between the Ukrainian archive and Budapest City Archive of Hungary, and the resource is published on the Hungaricana website.

In a recent post I mentioned another resource, where part of this census has been published. But I now recommend the Hungaricana one over it, because it is more complete and user-friendly.


Saturday, May 9, 2020

Main Repositories of Soviet WWII Records

As I described in this blog post, online resources on Soviet WWII records are very comprehensive. But, they are not complete. Having done your online research, you may want to turn to archives if:

1. you did not find your ancestor in the databases, or
2. you found your ancestor, but would like to have further details

Soviet WWII documents are spread throughout various archives and countries. Here are the main repositories holding such records.
  • Central Archive of Ministry of Defense (known as TsAMO - Центральный архив Министерства Обороны РФ) holds a massive collection of records, such as Soviet military personnel cards, lists of casualties, German cards of Soviet prisoners of war. I wrote in detail on how to make an inquiry at this archive here
Soviet military card, source: Wikipedia
  • State Archive of Russian Federation (known as GARF - Государственный архив Российской Федерации) has collections of the Extraordinary Public Committee on investigating the crimes of German Nazi occupants and the damage they caused to Soviet citizens, collective farms, public organizations, state enterprises and institutions of the USSR, of separate camps, as well as collections on repatriation. Inquiry form can be found here.
  • Russian State Military archive (known as RGVA - Российский государственный военный архив) holds so-called "filtration cases" on the Soviet prisoners of war and forced laborers, who returned to Soviet Union. Some of this type of records can also be found at regional state archives or archives of security services in Russia and other ex-Soviet countries, usually, in the region where the "filtrated" person was born or lived before the time of war. Inquiry form is found here.  
Filtration case cover, source: Gulag Museum

  • Federal Archive of Germany (Bundesarchiv) will help you establish the fate of Soviet military personnel, who were captured by the Nazi army. Inquiry form in Russian and German is found here

Friday, May 8, 2020

Soviet WWII Military Cards from Central Archive of Russian Ministry of Defense

In this blog post I presented the most important online resources for Soviet Second World War research. Once you have done your Internet research, you may want to extend your search to archives. In this post I would like to share with you my tips on getting WWII military records from Central Archives of the Russian Ministry of Defense (TsAMO - Центральный архив Министерства обороны Российской Федерации). Its official website has no information in English, so I hope this will be helpful.

What Information You Can Find at TsAMO

The archive, located in Podolsk, Moscow region, holds a massive collection of Soviet/Russian military records since 1941 until nowadays. It is one of the largest archives in Russia, boasting the total of 20 244 243 files, including 10 951 948 from WWII period. They include documents on casualties among soldiers and officers, awards of the surviving military personnel, as well as their detailed path in the war.

Recently, I requested military records on a WWII veteran from Kyiv, Ukraine, for one of my projects. Although my client was confident that his grandfather was a captain during WWII, he did not appear in any online database. We had to turn to good old archives. And sure enough, his files (8 pages!) were found at TsAMO, including a tiny, but precious photograph.

Here are some examples of the records we received.

Military card, listing the years and places of military service, along with a photograph

Registration card, listing birth date and place, ethnicity, education, social status, military rank and service details, awards, spouse's name and address

How to Make an Inquiry at TsAMO

There are two ways to make an inquiry: in person and by regular mail. No emails, unfortunately.

Here is how you do it, if you cannot visit the archive:

1. Download and fill in an application form

There are three types of forms, depending on the person's military rank: for a civilian, for a conscripted soldier or for an officer. If you don't know this information, make the best guess you can.

You can fill in a form online here or download and fill it offline: for a civilian working in a military unit; for a soldier serving in the conscription service or an officer. In both cases, the form needs to be printed out, signed and mailed. 

For the offline forms there are two additional options: a form to request a search for a burial place or a person's destiny or a form to request information about a wound or disease while on military service.

The forms are in Russian language, so if your Russian is not good enough, it is important to have someone help you with this step.

What to include in your request:
  • Full name of the person
  • Number of the military unit (omit, if you don't know it)
  • Years of military service
  • What you are looking to find (be specific what you want to learn: for example, awards, military actions, wounds etc.) 
  • Purpose (e.g. genealogy, family research)
  • Full name of the applicant 
  • Address of the applicant
2. Attach documents proving family relationships, as well as an authorization from a relative, if the applicant is not a relative him/herself.

3. Mail the request form to the following address:
Центральный архив Министерства обороны Российской Федерации
142100, Московская обл., Подольск, ул. Кирова, д. 74.

Correspondence and Payment

As a general rule, Russian archives have to respond within 30 days after registering the request, but the mailing time is added. If you are corresponding from outside Russia, the mail may go via respective Consulate of Russian Federation, which would add more time. On average, it would be about a month and a half for each round of correspondence.

The archivists will first inform you whether or not they found anything for your inquiry. If so, they will ask send you an invoice to pay for the services.

The payment process is tricky. The invoice you receive from the archive is not one that you can pay internationally. It is in Russian-specific format and the easiest way to pay it is to have someone in Russia make the payment in one of the local banks, and pay this person via one of the international payment systems. This adds to the cost, but it is still very affordable. The fee for my inquiry was 292 Rub which is about 4-5 USD, so it is more about time and efforts, than money.

Within 15 days after receiving the money, the archive will forward the documents to you.

As you can see, this process requires patience, but it is totally worth trying, if you are determined in learning about your relative's path in Second World War.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

More Ukrainian Records Go Online: #Covidscansharing Project

While archives are closed to public due to the current quarantine, there are some positive developments in Ukrainian genealogy. I would like to highlight one of them, #CovidScansharing project, launched by Ukrainian genealogist Serhiy Fazulianov (СергійФазульянов). Its scope is to share digital copies of genealogy-related documents from researchers' private collections. Most of these records are not available online elsewhere.

The website is in Ukrainian language, but it is fairly simple and can be used with an online translator or basic knowledge of Cyrillic script.

The website features links to useful social network accounts and archive-related projects.  But there are three most useful folders, which can be found just below the blue #CovidScansharing button:

ДРАЦС (Abbreviation of “Державна реєстрація актів цивільного стану”, Ukrainian for “Public civil registry”). This folder contains correspondence with civil registry offices concerning their holding of vital records, that are older than 75 years. The reason this is important is that many records that have exceeded their privacy restriction period are still held by civil registry offices of Western Ukraine (Ternopil, Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv, Rivne, Volyn oblasts/provinces). Some of them have responded with a list of such records, clarifying the situation for researchers.

Описи (Ukrainian for “Inventory”) folder contains various catalogs/inventories of Ukrainian archives. This is an important resource, especially in Ukraine, where historically there have been many administrative changes, and thus, it is sometimes a non-trivial task to locate the needed documents. Unfortunately, not all archives have their inventories online on the websites, so having them available save a lot of time and energy.

Фонди (Ukrainian for “Archival collections”) contains scans of records, primarily vital records, as well as other types of documents. For example, from Vinnytsia regional archive it includes so-called “filtration cases” of the forced laborers in Nazi Germany and victims of 1930s Soviet repressions (I wrote about this type of records in this post). Also, I am particularly excited about the 1921 Census for Transcarpathia (Ukrainian: Закарпаття). This collection is not complete, but it covers a large part of this area. Inside this folder, the scans are organized by repositories, where they have been made. Among those, Central Sate archives of Ukraine in Kyiv and in Lviv, various state regional archives and others.

Although the collection is not large at the moment, I think this is a good start and I hope the project will continue to grow. Anyone can contribute to the project with their scans, by filling out a form here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Church Slavonic Language in Hungarian Greek Catholic Records

If you have worked with Greek Catholic church records from northeastern Hungary, Slovakia, Carpathian Ruthenia or Romania, chances are you encountered this mysterious and seemingly illegible language: 
Kis Dobra Greek Catholic baptism records, 1850

As if deciphering old Latin handwriting was not difficult enough, right?!

This is Old Church Slavonic, created in the mid-9th century as the first Slavic literary language for translating the Bible and other ecclesiastical texts. It has never been a language of everyday communication. It has only been used by Orthodox and Greek Catholic priests in church ceremonies and documentation. This is an archaic language, incomprehensible for most native speakers of any modern Slavic language, who never took paleography classes.

Let alone the speakers of Latin script-based languages!

But it can make you feel better knowing that the Hungarian priests in the 19th century were, too, complaining about “not understanding the Slavic language”, which they were supposed to keep records in. The thing is that historically Greek Catholic church was mostly composed of Ruthenians and Romanians. In the 17-18th centuries, after the conflict with Protestants, many Hungarians joined the Greek Catholic church. In the 19th century Hungarian language started to be used, but after the defeat of the 1848 Hungarian Revolution, there was a return to Church Slavonic again. This process was not uniform, and varied not only between Munkács and Eperjes dioceses, but even from church to church within the same episcopate.

It explains the sudden changes in script in the mid-19th century records, sometimes just in the middle of a page, as in the picture below. Notice how the upper two rows are in Church Slavonic and the bottom two lines are in Hungarian. It looks like it is even the same person's handwriting. 

Kis Dobra Greek Catholic baptism records, 1850
It looks like the priests were given new instructions every now and then. I would also guess that they acted based on those instructions, as well as their own preferences and competences. Who can blame them?

If you are struggling with Church Slavonic records, here are some resources that you can use:
Textbooks, for a deep dive into Church Slavonic language:
If you already know some basics of reading Cyrillic letters, it is a good idea to use a table like this one, while reading records. As the script was evolving, the form of letters changed over time. 
Variations of handwritten Church Slavonic alphabet

If you still have troubles with Old Church Slavonic records, please, contact me and I will be happy to assist you.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Death (and Love) in the Time of Cholera in 19th Century Hungary

While I was conducting research for a client in the Greek Catholic church records from Kis Dobra in present day Slovakia (formerly the Hungarian Kingdom), I stumbled upon the documentation of a cholera outbreak in the village.

It started in the beginning of 1873, with just several cases of death from cholera. By summer, practically all death records listed “cholera” as the cause of death.

The disease seems to have affected all ages equally, from babies to middle-aged and older people. Oftentimes, they were relatives, which is to be expected with an infectious disease. Here, two men of 34 y.o. and a 26 y.o. and a 3 y.o. girl from the same family became victims of the cholera outbreak. How devastating it must have been for the family!

The mortality rate was very high, considering that in a small community of less than a thousand people 2-3 people were dying every day for about a year. This is the total population, accounting the members of the Kis Dobra Greek Catholic parish from several neighboring villages, and not the amount of infected people.

According to the Wikipedia page on seven recorded cholera pandemics worldwide, two were severe in Hungary: within the second (1829–1837) and the fourth (1863–1875) pandemics. In Hungary specifically, cholera first appeared in 1831, and is estimated to result in about 100,000 deaths. The next pandemic was in 1872-1874, taking away 30,000 lives. Some Hungarian sources provide significantly higher estimates.

If this were not enough, literally at the same time, there were multiple cases of deaths caused by typhus.

Meanwhile, life went on in Kis Dobra. Children were born and couples got married. There are records of a death and a marriage that took place in the same family, just two months apart. A 73 y.o. man from the village called Bély dies of cholera in August 1873. A young man from the same house, probably his son or a grandson, gets married in October the same year. This was rather unusual to have a wedding in a mourning family so little time apart. But who knows what the circumstances were? A shotgun wedding? Another drama?

Why is this relevant? Details like these add dimension to a genealogy research. Reading historical records carefully is what creates a story, beyond just basic birth-marriage-death facts. As genealogists we can benefit from digging into every little detail from a record to get details about the life of people we are researching.

What else? Although this was an absolutely accidental find, it came in the time when a pandemic is causing a major panic and anxiety around the world. To me this is a reminder that pandemics have always been part of human history. Our ancestors have been dealing with a multitude of devastating diseases, on top of already relatively short (by modern standards) lifespans. We are the lucky descendants of survivors. However sad the story is, this is a pacifying thought about human resilience.


Tuesday, December 3, 2019

1869 Hungarian Census at Transcarpathia Regional Archive, Ukraine

In 1869 an all-country population census was conducted in the Kingdom of Hungary. It included representatives of all religions and social status, making it a valuable source for family history. This census can be used to bridge a gap in the vital records, or to add depth to the known facts about your ancestors' life in the second half of 19th century.

Like most censuses, the 1869 census lists members of the household, their relationship to the head of the household, years and places of birth, as well as some details about their possessions. The questions with translations are provided on this FamilySerach Wiki page

Cover page of the questionnaire

For most of the present-day Hungary, however, only statistical data from the 1869 census has been preserved, with the exception of several towns (Győr, Hajduszoboszló, Nyiregyháza, Szentes). Personal data of this census is only available for those counties that are now completely or partly in Slovakia, and several towns in Hungary. They can be researched online on FamilySearch, as well as in a JewishGen database.

Here I would like to highlight a collection containing records of the 1869 census, available at the State Archive of Transcarpathia Oblast in Ukraine. More specifically, it is located at the local branch of this archive in Berehove (historically known as Beregszász).

The name of the archive in Ukrainian and Hungarian languages

According to the archival catalog of the Berehove branch, this census, listed as "Анкети та відомості перепису населення і худоби в селах жупи" (Census questionnaires and data on population and cattle in the villages of the county), covers the former Ung county.

Soviet-era cover page

These records are not available online, and can be accessed in person at the research room of the archive. One should sign up in advance and obtain permission from the director of the archive in Uzhhorod. If travel is not an option for you, you can use a local researcher.

Research room at the Berehove branch of Transcarpathia archive

Here are some examples of the census data from Korláthelmec, a.k.a. Putka Helmec, now Khomlets, Uzhhorod district (rayon) of Transcarpathia region (oblast).

So, from this documents we can infer the following.

The family lived in house nr. 166, with one room, one ante-room and one stable.

The household members:

1. Őri Pál, male, year of birth: 1814, Greek Catholic, married, day laborer*, place of birth: Hungary, P. Helmec, illiterate;
2. Homas Éva, female, year of birth: 1814, Greek Catholic, married, day laborer, place of birth: Hungary, Hosszumező, illiterate;
3. Őri Pál, male, year of birth: 1843, Greek Catholic, single, at military service, now on leave, place of birth: Hungary, P. Helmec, can read and write;
4. Őri Mária, female, year of birth: 1849, Greek Catholic, single, day laborer, place of birth: Hungary, P. Helmec, can read and write;
5. Őri Erzsébet, female, year of birth: 1853, Greek Catholic, married, day laborer, place of birth: Hungary, P. Helmec, illiterate;
6. Őri Jozsef, male, year of birth: 1854, Greek Catholic, married, day laborer, place of birth: Hungary, P. Helmec, can read and write.
*Day laborer means that they were landless and hired to work on somebody else's land, paid by day of work.

As you can see, quite a valuable information for a genealogy researcher. If you have ancestors from Transcarpathia, I highly recommend you benefit from this collection, if it has records from your particular town.