I recently traveled to Slovakia to research family history records not available in the United States. The records were part of a set supposedly available online. But due to a frustrating bureaucratic snafu, I have not been allowed to view critical early records.
My Slovak ancestors – forbears of my maternal grandmother Anna Sabol (1904-1988) – were Evangelical Lutherans who lived in the small villages of Kysak, Trebejov and Obišovce, in what is now eastern Slovakia. Their lives centered around a small church in Obišovce, which kept metrical books of births, marriages and deaths. From 1787-1895, those church ledgers were the official vital records. Beginning in 1896, a local government office in Kysak took over that function.
The Obišovce church records were all filmed by the Family History Library of the Church of Latter Day Saints, part of a massive, global effort. They were originally made available on three rolls of microfilm and, fairly recently, online. But the first 200 pages (1787-1837) were embargoed for a completely stupid reason. They were on a roll of microfilm that included records from another town that were less than 100 years old. Under Slovak law, records can only be made public after 100 years. And even though the records I was looking for were more than two centuries old, I could not get them released.
Included in the embargoed records were all marriage records before 1838. I really needed those records to figure out who was who. In the dozen or so villages surrounding the church at Obišovce, there were only a small number of family names in use. And for some strange reason, parents used the same handful of names for their children. Boys were almost invariably Andrej, Jan, Juraj or Michal. Girls were predictably Anna, Alžbeta, Barbara or Maria. So in the same small village you might find three Anna Filaks and four Andrej Sabols.
I really wanted those missing records. So I did a little research and figured out that I could view them in Košice, Slovakia’s second largest city. I also gathered that some of the post-1896 civil records might be viewable there, which provided more incentive to book a flight.
Košice was worth the trip. It’s a quiet city with a beautiful, historic city center. My first stop was the Košice State Archive on ulica Bačíková. It is a regional branch of the national archive system, housed in an attractive pre-World War I building near the city center. There, I had access to the missing first roll of microfilm. I spent two days poring over those records. I also photographed each page to allow further review back home.
Written in Latin, those early records contained many important finds, particularly among the marriage records. The oldest marriage record for a direct ancestor dates to January 28. 1790. My fourth great-grandparents Andrej Macko and Dorotya Marton were married that day. From the record, I know that my fifth great-grandparents were Jan Macko, Alžbeta Kolar, Juraj Marton and Alžbeta Madzak.
The records also allowed me to trace the Daniel family back seven generations to my fifth great-grandparents. This helped to resolve a question about the family’s origins. My second great-grandfather Andrej Daniel was born in the town of Žehňa, home to another Evangelical Lutheran church. He moved to Obišovce as a young boy with his widowed mother. Now I know know definitively that the Daniel family’s roots are in Obišovce, not Žehňa. This marriage record from January 25, 1804 documents the union of my fourth great-grandparents Andrej Daniel and Barbara Galdun, both residents of Obišovce. Their parents (and my fifth-grandparents) Matej Daniel, Barbara Benko, Jan Galdun and Anna Zuropal were all from there as well.
Finally, I may have learned something new about the Sabol family. I found the November 5, 1828 marriage record of my third great-grandparents Michal Sabol and Anna Tkacik. It lists Michael’s parents as Michal Sabol and Alžbeta Misik. But other records say his mother was Alzbeta Suchodolinsky. Sure enough, there is a marriage record dated February 8, 1809 between a Michal Sabol and Alzbeta Liska. The Liska family seems to be closely entwined with the Sabols. The families even lived together for a time. And, intriguingly, Alžbeta’s father is identified as Georgius (or Juraj) Suchodolinsky. So is this the marriage record of my fourth great-grandparents? Seems likely, but a little more sleuthing is in order.
I also spent a morning at a second archive, located in a drab Socialist office tower on the far outskirts of the city. There, I was able to pore through a decade’s worth of original marriage and death records from 1896-1905, bound up in giant ledgers.
Those volumes contained death records for two of the four great-great-grandparents who watched their children leave for a new life in America. I found the death record for Barbara Macka, mother of my immigrant ancestor Maria Daniel. In bureaucratic Hungarian, we learn that she died on November 23, 1899 of senile exhaustion (aggkori végkimerülés).
Finally, and most surprisingly, I learned that Jan Sabol, father of my immigrant ancestor Andrej Sabol, died of gelation (megfagyás) on New Year’s Eve 1895. Put another way, he froze to death.
I have found so many missing pieces of the puzzle so I have to say it was worth the trip. I am still analyzing this trove of records and will write more about my findings in future posts.