Here are two questions to ponder.
1. How accurate are census records?
2. Would you expect church records to be more or less accurate, or just as accurate, as census records?
I had an eye-opening experience with my one-place study of St. Dimitry’s Church.
In the past, I would have said that local church records were far more accurate than census records because (1) the church official likely knew his parishioners, (2) the population of a single church congregation would be much smaller than a census enumeration district, (3) life events would tend to be recorded very close to the time of a church baptism, marriage or burial and (4) aside from the age of the deceased, adults – parents or sponsors or the church official himself – would provide the pertinent details for the church books.
I had also assumed, given the tiny size of St. Dimitry’s congregation, that the priest or possibly the cantor (the man who led church responses and songs) would be the scribes since they were probably the only ones who were literate.
There were clearly at least two men making entries in St. Dimitry’s church registers. From 1840, we have:
This page has entries from early 1840. On the left page, the priest’s name, Damianus Csopjak, is written in the top right corner as the official baptizing the infants.
Most of the entries match that handwriting. However, in early February, someone with a smaller, cleaner cursive style made a couple of entries.
I wish I had saved the page, but I even found an image with three distinctly different cursive styles.
However, most of the entries are clearly done by the hand of one man, probably the priest.
Think back now to the post from the other day about surname variations and the need to separate out the correct persons in the correct families.
Related to the problem of keeping straight all the males and females with the same last names, is the difficulty the scribe seems to have had recording the correct first name.
The residents of this area of Slovakia had no opportunity for education until the late 1800s, when the opportunity to attend school through 4th grade was offered.
No parishioner would have asked to look at the church books because he/she wouldn’t have been able to read the entries.
Therefore, errors were not likely to be noticed until long after the events.
It was the priest’s responsibility to record each baptism, marriage and burial in his parish. Although only four priests’ names (Fathers Kaminsky, Damian Csopjak, Anthony Bernatyak and George Andrejkovits) have been found in the parish in the 19th century, there are many different styles of cursive handwriting in the church books.
There is also no way to determine when each entry was made. Was it immediately after the event? In some cases, probably yes.
Were some entries made not days, but MONTHS after the event? I can definitively answer yes to that question, as I found at least two duplicate baptisms, one in January and one in February, which were entered months later – November, to be exact – in the same year. Same baby, same father and same mother.
Someone apparently thought they forgot to write it in and didn’t check the book first.
Are first names entered incorrectly? Absolutely! There are multiple entries where I have found a later priest adding a note to a baptism 30 or 40 years earlier.
The right hand column on each page of the parish register was a space designated for notes. While the infant’s name might have originally said “John,” a note dated 35 years later adds “Joannes recte Petrus” or “John, correctly Peter.” I think a later priest found the error when looking up baptismal information in preparation for marriage or because someone had died.
Anna and Maria are the two most common girls’ names and I’ve found several instances where the scribe confused the two names, but they aren’t the only given name mix ups I’ve found.
I hate to say it, but the mistakes seem to have happened much more frequently with female names.
Look at these families I’ve compiled:
Arendats, John & Anna Buk, Hajtovka GC, GC
1. John, bp 8 December 1828
2. Maria, bp 7 August 1831
3. Joseph, bp 13 February 1839; duplicate, bp December 1839
4. Peter, bp 2 October 1842
5. Andrew, bp 30 May 1844
Dornits, Michael & Anna Miklus, Ujak 37, GC, GC
Anna was buried 28 January 1847, aged 25 years.
- Michael, bp 25 October 1839
- John, bp 30 February 1842 (sic)
- Andrew, bp 1 March 1842
- Peter, bp August 1845; died 2 August, buried 4 August 1866, aged 21 years.
- Anna, bp 20 January 1847. Father is called John, but two Dornits men married wives named Anna Miklus. John and Anna had son baptized on 29 November 1846, so the priest may have erred with this father’s name.
Kravcsak, Joseph, married Anna Fendja, 22 November 1836, Ujak, GC, GC
- Maria, bp March 1838 (Record names father John, not Joseph)
- John, bp 10 January 1841
- Peter, bp 29 July 1849 (Record names father John, not Joseph); married Veronica Szurgent, 16, daughter of Michael & Maria Knapik, 20 November 1874
Lastly, there are a couple of issues here.
Miklus, John, 20, & Maria Leskopetra, 17, married 25 February 1850, Ujak 24 & 27, GC, GC
Maria, wife of John, born Leskopetra, died 16 December, buried 18 December 1875, aged 44 years.
- Anna, born 1859; married Michael Drabisin, 22, son of Basil & Helen Palkojanka, 27 April 1879
- Maria, born 4 November, bp 11 November 1860
- John, born 21 August, bp 30 August 1863; Mother called Maria Leskojurka. John died 5 January, buried 7 January 1870, aged 6 years.
- Michael, born 16 January, bp 18 January 1869; died 7 February, buried 10 February 1871, aged 2 years
- John, born 11 June, bp 17 June 1877. Mother called Anna Leskopetra.
- Nicholas, born 1 January, bp 12 January 1879. Mother called Anna Leskopetra.
Child #3 has a mother named Maria Leskojurka, a different branch of the Lesko family. Then, Maria died on 16 December 1875, but children #5 and 6 have mothers called Anna Leskopetra, but no second marriage has been found for John Miklus. Obviously, the mother is not Maria Leskopetra, but is there an unrecorded second marriage for John Miklus or has the priest completely erred with the name of the mother, not once but twice? I don’t know.
The majority of the mistakes – several dozen, at least – were made while Father Csopjak was the local priest. Either he didn’t like having to maintain church books or he wasn’t very organized.
Today’s lesson learned is to not be surprised if you find inconsistencies in church records.
Like census records, the information is only as accurate as the scribe records the data!