HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF BUDAPEST VITAL RECORDS
Part I. General Rules
Some researchers of Hungarian ancestors have been blessed with a treasure-trove of genealogical information --- the 1840-1895 birth, marriage and death records from Budapest, which are on microfilm at the Family History Library (FHL). By using these records, I have traced my family from Budapest back to Moravia in the late 1700s.
The following information should help even the most Hungarian-shy researcher to get the most out of these records.
Budapest was not always one city
Before the late 1800s, Budapest was comprised of three entities - Obuda (district III), the most ancient section where most Jews lived in the first half of the 1800s; Buda, the Castle district (district II); and Pest, the newer section to where most Jews had moved by about 1900. Vital records were kept based upon the section of the city in which a person lived. The microfilm at the FHL is divided into Obuda, Buda, Pest and Kobanya (district XII on the Pest side).
Never trust the family stories about from which part of Budapest the family originated. Check films for all sections for the family name. My great grandmother related that our family lived in Pest (to her the better part of town). This little fabrication kept me going around in circles for three years, and it was not until I looked at the Obuda records did I find my family. ALL of my family.
Towards the end of the 1800s, Jews in Obuda began, in much greater numbers than before, moving over to Pest. Hence, even if the whole family seemed to have been concentrated in Obuda for years, do not neglect the Pest records. My family spent over 50 years in Obuda and then made the move to Pest (a few at a time) in the 1890s.
The Clerks who wrote down names could not spell
When families went to record the births of their children, or their marriages, clerks wrote down the information. Consequently, researchers have to contend with bad handwriting and most of all, creative spelling. For example, I am researching the Back family. In the records I have found the name spelled Back, Bak and Bag. The maiden name of one Back spouse was spelled Zonzer, Zonitzer, and Schonizter. One must always also keep in mind the 18th century germanic script that was used for the records.
First names seem to be misspelled less frequently but BEWARE they have their own traps - nicknames and versions of the name in different languages. For example, Karolina may also show up as Kati or as Lina. My third great grandfather's name was Wolf in the 1860s, Wilmos in the 1870s-80s and Farkas (Hungarian version of Wolf) by the time he died in the 1890s. That problem caused no end of confusion, since the only time he used Farkas on a public document was on his death certificate. Hence, reject no entry because the name is almost right, but not quite right.
The microfilm copies sometimes obscure names
When the ledgers, which are in book form, were microfilmed, sometimes the father's name got obscured because it was written into the center of the book, or because it was long and chopped in half so that it would fit into the box on the form. For these reasons, each entry must be carefully read. I read both the father's and mother's names because sometimes if I miss the father's name, I catch the entry by looking at the mother's column. In addition, I have searched through the same records several times, and each time I have found something I missed.
Part II. Birth Records
Hebrew names do not always correspond to the Hungarian names
In the box with the child's name, most of the time there will also be a Hebrew name written. After much examination of which hebrew names went with which Hungarian names, I simply gave up. One Hungarian name can have several different Hebrew names associated with it and no correlation may be conclusively drawn. Therefore, great great great aunt Leonora was not necessarily also Leah and was not necessarily named after a Leah or a Leonora.
The other hazard associated with these Hebrew names is that they are extremely difficult to read. In the 1880s rubber stamps with names were briefly used (on and off, depending on who the clerk was) and those names are very clear. However, I discovered that some of the names were Yiddish, not Hebrew - like Freidl, Fruma and Reizel. So read carefully and if a name does not seem quite right read in Hebrew, try applying Yiddish pronunciation of the Hebrew letters.
Information contained on the forms
As the decades progressed, more information was included in the register forms. From the early 1800s to about 1849, the records were in hebrew and barely legible. I am not even sure whether last names are included in them.
From 1851 to about 1873 the form included the child's name, date of birth, father's name, mother's maiden name, name of the midwife, and if the child was a boy, the date of circumcision, the person who did the circumcision and the name of the "godfather."
There was also a space for address, but the street names were usually abbreviated and therefore difficult to understand.
It is interesting that the "godfather" was not always the father or grandfather. I have found names that are totally unrelated to my family, even when the grandfather and uncles were alive. Perhaps this was an honor frequently given to a family friend or a ranking member of the synagogue.
The other item that interested me was the midwife, since in the 1890s (as I learned from these records) one of my great grandmother's sisters engaged in that occupation. In case it is of interest, the Obuda midwife concession seems to have been dominated in the 1860's and 1870's by Esti Schlessinger, Terez Krausz Madarassy and Babett Lowinger.
By the mid 1870s the addresses began to be written out in full and a box for recording deaths "meghalt" was added. I have found that sometimes deaths that are not recorded in the death records were noted in the "meghalt" box, even if they occurred years later. Before the form changed, notes of deaths were sometimes added to the far right hand column of the entry.
Surprise! The forms start out with German headings, evolve to forms with both Hungarian and German headings, and finally, drop the German completely by the 1880s.
The major forms columns from left to right are baby name; birth date [month and day]; sex; father's name; mother's name; address (in the early German records usually abbreviated); midwife name; circumcision information; and name of godfather.
A few words will be helpful to follow the Hungarian records (my apologies for giving "functional" translations only. I speak no Hungarian and my knowledge comes from dictionaries and deductions): szulet (and various forms of the word) refer to birth; neve is name; atya and anya are father and mother respectively; helye refers to place; gyermek refers to child; baba is the midwife; fiuknal refers to circumcision; and koma is the godfather.
Sadly, some babies were stillborn or died before they were named. These babies are designated, in the name column, by ujszulott, veteles and elveteles.
Keep an open mind
Do not look at these records with narrow vision. There will be siblings that nobody mentioned. There will be ancestors who married more than once and had children during each marriage. There will be a few births with mothers' names, but no fathers names listed. And there will be totally inexplicable entries, as in my family where one set of parents had two daughters named Leonora (there is no death recorded for Leonora #1 and I know what happened to Leonora #2!)
Part III. Marriage Records
The Budapest (Buda, Obuda and Pest) marriage records are an extraordinarily rich source of vital records information. With careful examination of these records, a researcher may find far more than just verification of a marriage and the date of the event.
Column headings yet again
The German form categories, from left to right are generally the name of the groom, the name of the groom's parents and the address and age of the groom. The next categories are the same, but for the bride. These categories are followed by the date of marriage, witnesses' names and the name of the rabbi who performed the ceremony. The Hungarian form uses the same categories in the same order, but adds, between the date of marriage and witnesses, the location where the marriage occurred.
Indexes speed the search - a little
Indexes are available, on separate rolls of microfilm, and if you are looking for a particular marriage record, indexes make research more efficient. It is also possible to look at the indexes for the marriage records of all of the people who have the surname in which you are interested. The indexes will list the year of the record and the page number of the record. Finding it will be easy. The indexes are compiled alphabetically by groom surname. Hence, if you want to find a bride, you have to look through all of the groom names to find the proper corresponding bride.
But if you are searching a surname in general and you use the indexes instead of reading through all of the records, you will miss great connections through town names and mother's maiden names.
Birthplaces for everyone
One item of information that the marriage records contributes, which the birth records do not, is the birthplace of everyone - groom, bride and parents of the bride and groom. Since many Jews migrated to Budapest as a part of the movement from the rural areas to the cities, the birthplace of the parents is invaluable for linking families with the same surnames, and for finding the towns where earlier records might be located.
I have used the place of birth information successfully in several ways. First, the obvious way of linking families together and eliminating other potential family links. For example, I have found by using these records that Widder families in Budapest came from two distinct areas - western Slovakia (possibly my relatives) and far eastern Slovakia (probably not my relatives). By being able to identify my family's place of origin in western Slovakia, I was also able to track family members to Vienna and follow their records up to the 1930s.
Brides' and Grooms' mothers' maiden names
Second, I have used the records in a more obsessive way. Since many families moved to Budapest after their children were born, I read each and every record looking at the maiden names of the mothers of the brides and grooms to find the surnames which are of interest to me. This method proved somewhat successful, although very time consuming.
Uses for addresses of families
I have also used addresses listed on these records to see who in my various Budapest families were living near whom at any given time. I have found two seemingly unrelated people with the surname Back, living at the same address in Obuda. Since only four families lived in the house, I can presume that chances are better than not that they were related. Also, it turns out that my Back family, which united in marriage with my Krausz family, was living near Rosza Madarassy, the sister of my great grandmother Paulin Widder, in Obuda. Shortly after the Madarassys moved to Obuda, the marriage of my great grandfather Jakob Krausz and Paulin Widder (who lived in Ersekujvar, western Slovakia) occurred. So, the families must have met and a match was arranged.
Finally, by having parent surnames and towns in one place, it was easy to identify marriages among cousins. I have also tried, with some success, to use the names of the witnesses, if they were not those of the parents, to determine some familial relationship.
Another item which appears on these records, (particularly the later ones) and which fills out family history, is the occupation of the groom, father of the groom and father of the bride. The occupations are written in the same boxes as the names. For example, szabo is a tailor, kereskedo is a shopkeeper, hivatalnok is some type of official, szucs is a furrier, and munkas is a worker/laborer.
You know they were married in Budapest, but the record is missing
Again, if you are sure that a marriage occurred in Budapest, but you can find no record, consider that possibility that the family stories of place of marriage are untrue. And, when in doubt in doubt, look to where the bride lived. It was more likely that a groom would travel to the hometown of his intended bride, than for a family to put their unmarried daughter on a train to travel to a strange city to get married. The 1890 marriage of my great grandparents Paulin Widder and Jakob Krausz occurred in Ersekujvar, western Slovakia, where Paulin still lived with her parents. Jakob was born and raised in Obuda. The only record of their marriage in Obuda is their signatures in the marriage registry of the synagogue, but the Ersekujvar records have the full register of their marriage.
Finally, even if one part of the family lived in one section of Budapest, check the records of the other sections.
Part IV. Post 1895 records
The Family History Library is currently microfilming post 1895 birth, marriage and death registers in Budapest. It is unclear to what year those records will be filmed, but the filming is starting with district I and proceeding numerically.
All of the post 1895 registers are civil, and all religions are combined into the same registration books. According the excellent book Budapest 1900 by John Lukacs, at the turn of the century, Jews were particularly concentrated in districts VI and VII (Theresa and Elizabeth district), with perhaps 1/3 of the Elizabeth district population being Jewish (and living in tenement-like conditions). The boundaries of the various districts of Budapest today are the same as at the turn of the century.
As of 1997, filming of districts I and II had been completed and were being cataloged. How long it will take for the microfilms to become available depends on how many Hungarian speaking catalogers are working on the films, and how often the catalog is updated.
Part V. FHL film numbers
The following are the FHL microfilm numbers for the Buda, Obuda, Kobanya and Pest birth, marriage and death records up to 1895. ("i" indicates index)
Obuda b 1820-95
m 1823-85 642,991
Buda b 1820-95
Buda m 1823-85 642,991
Buda d 1831-95
m 1886-95 642,992
Buda bm 1876-9 642,993
d 1885-95 642,993
Obuda b 1802-95 642,994
Obuda b 1886-95
d 1851-73 642,995
Obuda d 1874-95 642,996
Obuda bi 1803-95
bmd 1889-95 642,997
Pest b 1836-51 642,961
Pest b 1851-62 642,962
Pest b 1863-67 642,963
Pest b 1868-71 642,964
Pest b 1872-76 642,965
Pest b 1876-79 642,966
Pest b 1879-82 642,967
Pest bi 1882-86 642,968
Pest b 1886-88 642,969
Pest b 1889-90 642,970
Pest b 1890-92 642,971
Pest b 1892-94 642,972
Pest b 1894-95,
m 1836-59 642,973
Pest m 1851-71 642,974
Pest m 1871-88 642,975
Pest m 1888-95,
d 1836-46 642,976
Pest d 1847-60 642,977
Pest d 1861-67 642,978
Pest d 1868-75 642,979
Pest d 1879-83 642,980
Pest d 1884-86 642,981
Pest d 1886-88 642,982
Pest d 1889-92 642,983
Pest d 1892-94 642,984
Pest d 1895
Pest m 1848-66 642,985
Pest md 1885
Pest bi 1836-74 642,986
Pest mi 1836-79
bi 1875-92 642,987
Pest di 1836-84
mi 1880-95 642,988
Pest m 1871-85
Pest di 1885-95 642,989
Pest b 1872-95 642,990
Pest d 1876-78 720,185