Applying What I’ve Learned in My One-Place Study to Genealogy Research: A Summary

The one-place study of St. Dimitry’s Church, serving Udol and Hajtovka, Slovakia has been both an enjoyable and informative project.

Compiling baptism, marriages and burials recorded in St. Dimitry’s Church registers for Udol and Hajtovka has taken about two months.

I am winding down the data collection, which has gone fairly well. Records begin in November 1827 and continue to 1935. However, I’ve decided not to tackle the last 15 years for two reasons.

First, there are living people who are included in that time frame. Second, that record set (c1920 to 1935) is in Cyrillic.

Regarding my need to learn Cyrillic script, I think I’ve done quite well considering the non-familiar alphabet and a number of instances of poor cursive and/or faded ink.

I have extracted information for the years from 1850 to 1857, which are also in Cyrillic and I’m quite pleased with my efforts. I have only 18 baptismal entries, 7 marriages and 8 burials which I still need to decipher.

Not bad considering I have no previous experience with Cyrillic writing.

NOTE: If you are reading this and would like to help out a fellow genealogist and tell me/confirm what the surnames in Cyrillic are, I would be extremely grateful. There are no sentences involved, just first and last names for births marriages and burials. First names aren’t the issue, just surnames. I think I know what several of them are, but because the name only appears once – i.e. no family with children to connect them – I am hesitant to accept what I think the name says. Please leave a comment if you can help. 🙂

What’s my takeaway from all of this?

Church records, created at a time where many were illiterate, and often in rural locations,  likely have way more errors and omissions than most of us ever imagined.

If your family lived in such a place, you might consider your own one-place study to learn how many ways your family surnames were spelled and to build out single surname family trees to identify every person with that surname, regardless of whether you know where they fit into the family.

You might be surprised at how many children and adults turn up in one record but not another.

If creating a full one-place study isn’t your cup of tea, but you have families recorded in church records, I highly recommend building out collateral branches of the family tree found in those records.

This will provide an opportunity to determine how accurate – or inaccurate – the church books might be.

Be sure to take into account the following factors:

1. History of the area and who might have been in charge of the records

Records in an area with frequent governmental control changes might literally change overnight.

Here are two baptisms from 15 September 1850:

Being familiar with the village surnames, it’s no problem to read these two entries.

The next baptism took place one month later on 13 October 1850. During that time span, governmental control changed (not the priest, who was in the parish long before and long after this date).

In this second entry, 13 October is easy enough to figure out. The script hasn’t completely converted to Cyrillic here. It’s a bit of a hybrid. The C is our S and the y is our u, so the baby is Susanna.

In this case, the scribe hasn’t converted the N in Susanna. The name would look like CYCAHHA, which I’ve learned from experience!

The parents’ names are in the next box – Vancso (Vancsov), John & Petrisin, Anna.

It took me long enough to learn to read just names of just the main characters, so to speak. I skipped the names of the godparents and other details as I compiled the event information.

2. Surname spellings, name changes/extensions might refer to one or multiple people (e.g. Lesko becoming Leskopetra, Leskojurko and Leskoszifa to separate out members of a large family) and the use of aliases in the area might or might not be common.

In my own Rusyn direct line, I had not come across any ancestors using aliases and didn’t even realized they existed in the area until I delved deeply into the records.

I was used to seeing them in Scandinavian records and am familiar with French “dit” names, although I have no French ancestry, aside from a Huguenot family who fled to England in the late 1500s.

It is also important to recognize that names aren’t consistently written in the same way in every record.

The first mention of John might only identify him as John Lesko. Another might call him John Leskopetra, while a third might call him John Leskopetra, son of Michael. Leskopetra, I learned, only means that he was from a branch of the family who was Peter Lesko, not that the person was a son of Peter, as compared to, say, Johannes Jensen in Denmark, being “Jens’ son = Jens sen.”

Complicating matters is the appearance of, say, two Michael Leskopetras close in age, and three John Leskpetras, also close in age.

Without mention of the mother’s name, it is dangerous to create family groupings as the probability of error is extremely high.

3. Religion, or, more specifically, mixed religion families is a HUGE signpost telling the researcher to look elsewhere for more records. I will soon be sharing more of the actual history of Udol and Hajtovka. Noting families who were Greek Catholic, but married Roman Catholics allowed me to fill out family members who lived a full 35 years before St. Dimitry’s records began in 1827.

That is because there is no Roman Catholic church in Udol or Hajtovka. Nearby villages that were Roman Catholic have surviving records that pre-date those of St. Dimitry.

It was well worth taking the time to dig through those Roman Catholic records.

4. Ages are notoriously inaccurate. Assembling family units will likely produce a fairly accurate birth order for children in families. However, with the high infant mortality rate, there is no way to determine exactly when each child was born if no baptismal record is found.

Deceased infants produce many gaps in lists of children born to one set of parents and, unlike the typical pattern I’ve found in New England, children do not appear every two years following the birth of the eldest child. Sometimes, the gap is three years.

I’ve even come across a handful of families with 8-10 gaps between children. If the family left the village (probably to find work) for several years, I haven’t yet found them in the church records of other nearby parishes.

As for ages at death, I have found very few – I’d say less than 10% – of reported ages at death matching baptismal ages or ages at the time of marriage.

In fact, when there are multiple people close in age with the exact same name, combined with missing baptismal records, Identifying the parents of John Lesko, aged 3 years, who died in, say, 1852, is impossible. John’s age is probably not accurate – he could have been 2, 3 or even 4 years old. There might be baptismal records for two or three John Leskos who might be this child, but there might also be no baptismal record for any John Lesko who was born between 1848 and 1850.

I also compared ages of people found in a baptismal record who married and also appear in the 1869 Hungarian census. I don’t think I found even one example where the person’s age at marriage plus in the census both matched the baptismal record.

Culturally, the Rusyns wasted no time having infants baptized because of the mortality rate. Frail newborns were baptized by the mid-wife and healthy babies were baptized within two weeks of their births.

Therefore, it is certain that a baby baptized on, say, 11 March 1845 was no more than one month old in March 1845, but might be identified as 26 (instead of 22) when he married married in 1867 and then be enumerated as 27 years old (instead of 24) in the 1869 census.

5. Attention to details is VERY necessary in a one-place study.  I found many instances in which the mother of infants being baptized was incorrect.

It definitely was not a matter of a second marriage.

For example, this is a made up example because I didn’t note where I really came across a family with these errors. However, let’s keep with John Lesko and let’s say he married Maria Fabian. (totally made up example!)

Let’s further say they were the parents of seven children. The baptismal entries might look like this:

1. John, baptized 16 August 1852, parents John Lesko & Maria Fabian
2. Anna, baptized 19 December 1855, parents John Lesko & Maria Fabian
3. John, baptized 1 December 1857, parents John Lesko & Anna Fabian
4. Michael, baptized 28 January 1859, parents John Lesko & Maria Fabian
5. Susanna, baptized 14 April 1862, parents John Lesko & Anna Fabian
6. George, baptized 30 September 1865, parents John Lesko & Maria Fabian
7. Stephen, baptized 10 November 1866, parents John Lesko & Maria Fabian

This family is completely fictional, but it seems obvious that the scribe erred when calling John’s and Susanna’s mother Anna Fabian, not Maria.

I even found one example where the bride’s name was wrong (Maria). I found her baptismal record calling her Anna, she had a number of children and their mother was called Anna in every entry. When she died, she was identified as the wife of (say, Michael), born (say Szova).

In this example, every record matches EXCEPT the marriage entry.

I could go on and one with examples of mistakes.

In spite of the errors and omissions where there should be records, my one-place study of St. Dimitry’s has been a labor of love. I understand much more about the daily lives of my ancestors who settled in those two small villages, whose lives literally centered around their deep Greek Catholic faith. The church was truly the center of their lives, however long or short they might have been.

As for that Lesko family – They aren’t anywhere in my family tree. However, for the Leskopetras became the most populated branch of the Lesko family.

While compiling the records for each family, I came across a burial record for one man who might be the origin of the branch that became the Leskopetras, aka the descendants of an early Peter Lesko – Peter Lesko, buried 14 August 1834.

He was reportedly 97 years old! If his age is even close to accurate, he would have been born around 1737. Even if he wasn’t anywhere near as old as 97, he left many descendants and I think there is a good chance he is the patriarch of the Leskopetras.

One thought on “Applying What I’ve Learned in My One-Place Study to Genealogy Research: A Summary”

  1. Congratulations on completing your one village study. What a great accomplishment and you learned so much about the people living there. Aren’t errors in church records annoying? I wonder if that is why I cannot find a marriage in a Catholic church in Carleton Co, Ontario. Maybe both of their names are wrong. However, I think the priest just forgot to record the event.

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