Tag Archives: One Place Study

Applying What I’ve Learned in My One-Place Study to Genealogy Research, Part 4

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.

  1. Michael, bp 25 October 1839
  2. John, bp 30 February 1842 (sic)
  3. Andrew, bp 1 March 1842
  4. Peter, bp August 1845; died 2 August, buried 4 August 1866, aged 21 years.
  5. 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

  1. Maria, bp March 1838 (Record names father John, not Joseph)
  2. John, bp 10 January 1841
  3. 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.

  1. Anna, born 1859; married Michael Drabisin, 22, son of Basil & Helen Palkojanka, 27 April 1879
  2. Maria, born 4 November, bp 11 November 1860
  3. John, born 21 August, bp 30 August 1863; Mother called Maria Leskojurka. John died 5 January, buried 7 January 1870, aged 6 years.
  4. Michael, born 16 January, bp 18 January 1869; died 7 February, buried 10 February 1871, aged 2 years
  5. John, born 11 June, bp 17 June 1877. Mother called Anna Leskopetra.
  6. 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!

Applying What I’ve Learned in My One-Place Study to Genealogy Research, Part 3

Many of us have puzzled over surname spellings. I know I have and I don’t mean slight differences like Sargent and Sargeant.

Researching records from the 1800s and earlier brings up two issues.

First, in many rural European towns, fixed surnames were just coming into vogue. Surnames basically fell into four groups – patronymics, such as Peterson (son of Peter), occupation (Miller, Shepherd), location (Hill, Rivers) or physical characteristics (Short, Brown).

Therefore, early records might vary between a patronymic surname and a different fixed surname by which the family was known.

Secondly, surname variations also existed – not just a letter or two difference in spelling, but enough difference to make one wonder whether records referred to one family or more than one.

I came across multiple surname variations in the families of Hajtovka and Udol that I had to stop and do some extra digging to figure out if the families were the same.

For example, the surnames Fedor and Fedorko both appeared often. In the early 1800s, not enough extraneous information was included in each record for me to be sure if I was looking at one family or two unrelated groups of people who shared a similar surname, but were from two unrelated families.

As I built out family groups, I learned that Fedor and Fedorko are two forms of the same surname and both forms can be used to identify one person.

This is a made up example, but illustrates the idea well. Let’s say, John Fedorko married Maria Murcko in 1830. Later register entries for the births of five children name both parents (mother by her maiden name).

However, in three of those entries, the father is called John Fedor and in the other two, he is John Fedorko. John is the only Fedor/Fedorko in the parish married to a Maria Murcko, so I believe that Fedor/Fedorko refers to one family.

That was not the only surname I came across which was found in more than one form. The Lesko family was quite prolific in the area. Furthermore, when infants must be baptized with a saint’s name (John, Michael, Stephen, Andrew, Nicholas, Demetri and Peter cover 95% of the male given names used in these villages) AND you have a family with many members, it becomes challenging to separate out the men and women who share the same given names.

In the Lesko family. the solution was to add an ending to Lesko to identify which branch of the earlier (smaller) Lesko family a person belonged.

Surnames then began appearing – in some, not all – of the records as Lesko, Leskopetra (Peter’s line), Leskojurka (Jurko is the nickname for George) and Lesko Oszifa (Joseph’s line).

Therefore, (again – made up example) Andrew Fabian’s marriage entry might show his wife to be Maria Leskopetra. However, in the baptismal entries of their children, she might be named either as Maria Lesko or Maria Leskopetra. By the time Maria was buried, the priest might only call her Maria Fabian, born Lesko.

Oszifa, which I mentioned above as relating to Joseph, most often appears as the surname Osifcsin.

One last example is the surname Mucha. In the Rusyn/Slovak dialects, the CH sound can also be written as CS, TS, CZ or even just with H. Mucha is often found in St. Dimitry’s records as MUHA.

But. . . it is also spelled Muchanin and Muhanin. I suspect, but don’t know for sure, that -NIN and -CSIN might be ways of indicating a younger generation, used the way we use junior.

Another surname issue, which I have seen in French and Scandinavian records is the “dit” surname, or “also called.”

I had never seen this in Slovak records, aside from the various Lesko family branches, which aren’t truly “dit” surnames.

One of the reasons why a man, or family, would adopt an entirely different surname to the birth name is that there were too many local people with the same given and surname.

Another reason for a surname change might be that the current family has no male heirs to carry on the name. A young man marrying into the family would agree to adopt the alias – the surname of the bride’s family.

They might also make the same choice to change a surname to one less common so everyone could clearly identify who belonged to a particular family group.

Until I expanded my research into Plavnica records, I had come across only a handful, maybe, of alias surnames.

Here are a few examples:

Michael Prisztas recte (recte = rectify or correctly) Arendacs

Basil Bondira alias Peter Petrojanka, which would literally mean Peter, who was a son of John in the Peters family

Paul, alias Cikon Matisz, with not only the alias name of Cikon, but Matisz would place him as being from the town of Matysova.

How about Drab and Drabisin? Yep, they are the same surname and I think the priest wanted to save ink since there was no other local name similar to Drabisin.

Havran and Havrancsin? Also the same family.

Fengya is a very common name in the parish. However, only one of the branches in that family tree adds a clarifier – Fengya Ilyasa – who are descended from Elias Fengya, who lived and died before the church records being in 1827.

I’ve even found an entry for John Mikulik/Kacsmaroszemanov. I’m not even sure how to separate out the names since Kacsmar and Szeman are both local surnames. Somehow, John Mikulik was also known as John Kacsmar and/or Szeman? I don’t know.

Sometimes, the priest entered aliases like Arendacs/Kacsmar. In those cases, there is no way to tell which is the correct name and which is the adopted alias unless the same person is found in a different record with “recte” (correctly) inserted.

My biggest surprise, though, was finding one single entry the brother of my 2X great grandmother, Maria Patorai, who married John Murcko:

Patoray recte Mikulik, Michael, son of John & Anna Szurgent, married Helen Miklus, daughter of Michael & Susanna Pathanej of on 9 February 1874

There is a second, similar entry for one John Patorai:

Patoray, John, 24, son of John Patoray recte Mikulik,  married Anna Fecsisin, 20, daughter of Peter, married 27 January 1873

Three times can’t be a coincidence, but in the baptismal entry of Susanna, the youngest child of John Scerbak and Maria Patorai, she is called “Maria Patoraj recte Mikulik.”

John Patoray and Anna Szurgent are my 3X great grandparents. Grooms Michael and John are brothers, siblings of my Maria.  I can take the Patorai line back to more generations to John’s father and grandfather, both named Andrew Patoraj.

There are no marriages to any Mikuliks in this family.

However, Patorai in all its spellings is an extremely rare surname. Did an earlier generation adopt it because Mikulik was very common in the area?

I don’t know that I’ll ever have an answer to that question, but it seems likely.

One more comment about surnames. There might or might not be a common ancestors between the Murczko and Murczko families in the Udol area. However, one was clearly Roman Catholic out of Plavnica and the other clearly Greek Catholic in Hajtovka. They even intermarried.

If they were cousins, they couldn’t have been too closely related, though, or the church would not have allowed them to marry.

It would be interesting to see DNA results from the two family groups, wouldn’t it?

Today’s takeaway is that it might take extra poking around and gathering extensive family records to determine if similar, but different, surnames pertain to one family.



Applying What I’ve Learned in My One-Place Study to Genealogy Research, Part 1

For the last several months, I’ve been hard at work on my one-place study of St. Dimitry’s Greek Catholic Church neighborhood, which is made of up two small villages in Slovakia – Hajtovka and Ujak, which today is called Udol.

My project consists of two parts – an Excel database of entries of all baptisms, marriages and burials found in the parish register, which begins in November 1827 – and a Word document in which I’ve built out the parish families through the 1800s and added in bits about the earlier history of the area and lists of the house censuses in 1853 and 1859.

I’ve also transcribed the Ujak and Hajtovka families found in the Hungarian census of 1869, when the villages were part of what was then called Saros (sounds like Sharish) County.

This is the first post in a series about how much can be learned with a one-place study.

Before you think, “Oh, I’ll never do a one place study!” –  what I have learned applies to any genealogist seeking “hatched, matched and dispatched” records. In other words, my discoveries might open your eyes, too, as to what is and is not found in official records.

This series will be examining multiple factors in the life of a town:

History of the Region
Religion – Clues to other records
FAN Club
Surnames – Spelling Variations & Aliases
Church Records – Accuracy, Errors & Missing Entries
Social Context
Daily Life in Udol and Hajtovka, Gleaned from the Church Records

Today, let’s delve into the history of a region. While history is important everywhere – for example in the U.S. when county borders changed in a state or the country changed, as with Texas and the Southwest, those were not events that repeated often in the same place in American history.

For those studying families that lived in mainland Europe, history becomes extremely important.

Let’s look at the history of my maternal grandmother’s villages, Hajtovka and Udol, formerly called Ujak.

First, where are they? Before the internet, you’d be hard pressed to locate either village. I couldn’t find them on any maps back in the 1980s. Queries from Nana elicited only that they were not close to any big cities and the nearby river was the Poprad.

That clue meant that her villages were in northern Slovakia near the Polish border. Today, online maps have simplified the search:

Udol is the light green area in the center. Hajtovka is a mile to the west

Slightly southwest is the town of Plavnica; to the northwest is Matysova while Maly Lipnik and Starina are to the north of the village.

These are ancient towns, as most are mentioned in records dating from the Middle Ages.

Populations? Today, Udol has 417 inhabitants, Hajtovka 72, Maly Lipnik 457, Matysova 72 and Plavnica with a whopping 1600.

Still lost?

These villages are in today’s eastern Slovakia in the foothills of the Tatras Mountains. Udol is also one of the westernmost ethnically Rusyn villages.

Historically, they were in the path of many governmental changes. Passing through were other Rusyns, a few Jews, definitely Slovaks and Hungarians and even Russians plus other Slavic peoples. Surprisingly, Chmel’nica, due west of Udol and Hajtovka, was settled by Germans.  A number of Romanis (wanderers) also meandered through the area.

What did this mean politically? In the 1800s, the powers that be determined the official language of government records and documents, which included church records.

Hajtovka and Udol shared one parish church, St. Dimitry’s Greek Catholic Church, which still exists in Udol today. Literally overnight, and I don’t mean 1 January and the start of a new year, the scribe changed the language in which he recorded baptisms, marriages and burials.

While most of the records are thankfully written in Latin, there are time periods where entries are in Hungarian and several decades (including 1851-1857 and the early 20th century) where the Cyrillic alphabet is used.

There isn’t much of a learning curve from Latin to Hungarian, since most entries are in rows and columns so it is a matter of recognizing that Latin Michaelis and Susanna equal Mihaly and Zuzka (Susie) in Hungarian.

I have to admit, though, that sloppy Cyrillic cursive has put a crimp in my extraction progress.

In summary, understanding the history of an area allows a researcher to recognize influences in the daily lives of our ancestors. As we shall see in the next post, it forces us to cast a wider net than we initially expected to catch some big fish!