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Croatian Research at the Family History Library

By Thomas K. Edlund


The officers of FEEFHS, in their ongoing effort to encourage and assist genealogical research in Eastern Europe, have asked me to summarize the resources available from the Family History Library (FHL) which relate to the former Austrian kingdoms of Croatia and Slavonia, with marginal reference made to Slovenia.

Such a request is meaningful only when contextualized to the intellectual access systems provided by the information retrieval systems of the FHL. As with the holdings of other libraries, the collections of the FHL are inventoried and described in a catalog. Distributed yearly to over 2,700 Family History Centers worldwide, the Family History Library Catalog (FHLC) is the single resource providing information to the microfilming efforts of the Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU).

The intent of this lecture is to familiarize the researcher, in a general way, with the methods of locating materials of interest currently available at the FHL. The presentation is actually intended more as a "practicum" than a lecture. In addition to retrieval procedures, I will cover background history, size of the collection, the GSU's microfilming endeavors in contemporary Croatia and Slovenia, record types represented in the collection, research aids necessary to use them, and finally review specific examples.

A Short History of Croatia

Organized in 1946 as a Republic of the South Slav Federation and now an independent country, Croatia is comprised of the old Austrian territories of Dalmatia, most of Istria, and the former Hungarian crown land of Croatia-Slavonia. It extends in a crescent from the fertile plain between the Danube, Drava, and Sava rivers east to the Gulf of Venice, and then southward along the Adriatic coast to the frontier of Montenegro; bound on the north by Slovenia and Hungary, on the east by Serbia. Within this crescent, boarders follow those of Bosnia-Herzegovina south to the Crna Gora corridor.

Prior to 1919, the period represented by FHL church records, the population was 82% peasant. The economy of Croatia-Slavonia was based on agriculture and cattle breeding. Mountain folk of Istria and Dalmatia have been traditionally wine and olive growers, or fishermen and seafarers. The people of both areas are primarily Croatian and Roman Catholic.

Croatian history The Croats, or Chrobáti Hrváti, migrated to the Danube valley in the 6th century C.E. from a region called White Croatia, now in Ukraine between the Bug and Dnieper rivers. They continued south along the coast to the Roman stronghold of Salona (conquered in 614 C.E.). During the 7th century they were converted to Christianity, and a Bishopric for all Croatian lands was established at Nín (north of Zadar). Shortly afterward they received privilege of using the national language in church services.

From the time of the first Dux Croatorum, the power and influence of Croatia grew. The leadership of Branislav was followed by that of Dimitrije Zvonimir in 1089. Zvonimir, however, a man personally crowned by Papa Gregory VII yet considered a papal lackey, was assassinated while enlisting support to battle the Seljuk Turks. Anarchy and civil war followed.

The Byzantines secured a position in Dalmatia, and in 1091, László I of Hungary occupied most of Pannonian Croatia. Claiming the throne as Zvonimir's brother-in-law, for the next eight centuries Croatia was connected with Hungary. The relationship often changed; some kings attempted to abolish the personal union and to integrate Croatia with Hungary. On other occasions, Croats selected their kings independently.

Slowly, through the intrigue and incest which defined the Middle Ages, the power and influence of Croatia was whittled away. With the extinction of the Arpáds (the Hungarian national dynasty who introduced feudalism to Croatia), the Croats crowned Ladislas, a Neapolitan prince, as King in 1403. This noble ruler, obviously interested in "the good" of his newly acquired country, promptly sold Dalmatia to Venice, which ruled it for the next four centuries.

The appearance of the Turks in the Balkans during the 15th century imposed a period of hard struggle. Bosnia, which under Kotromanic / Kotromanich became an independent kingdom, fell in 1463. The Croat defeat at Krbavsko Polje in 1493 was followed by the defeat of Louis II of Hungary in 1526, and the greater part of Pannonian Croatia and central Hungary fell to the Turks. The once wide Croatian kingdom was reduced to a reliquiae reliquiarum. Zagreb, formerly a heartland city, was now a border fortress and the new capital.

This depressing decline brings us only to the opening of the Hapsburg period, a time of attempted Germanizing that shatters the spine of even amateur students of European history - a foreshadow of Germanizing to be attempted again during Nazi occupation. Briefly, affairs went from bad to worse. Notable highlights of low points included the failed coup d'état of Prince Zrinsksi and the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand at Sarajevo.

This is a backdrop to the records we will look at today. The church books of Croatia and Slavonia reflect this historical turmoil in many ways, most notably in linguistic diversity. The vital records of a single parish in northern Dalmatia can be written in Glagolitic, Italian, Latin, Croatian and Hungarian.

Size and Scope of the Collection

As of May 1, 1996, the FHL Croatian / Slovenia collection consisted of church books from 673 Roman Catholic, 179 Orthodox, and 36 Greek Catholic parishes. The GSU has been filming in Croatian since March 1985. The filming agreement, signed on 18 December 1984 by then Departmental Director Richard G. Scott, was for 750,000 frames. While that exposure count was surpassed some 54 months ago, the Society still has two cameras in Croatia. The microfilming so far has been organized in 9 projects summarized as follows:

1) Various church books from the State Archive of Croatia. Filming is completed.

2) Orthodox church records of the Blaski diocese. Filming is completed.

3) Documents from district church archives throughout Croatia. Project still in progress.

4) Church records from the Archive of Osijek. Project is completed.

5) Material from the Historical Archive of Varasdin. Project is completed.

6) Catholic church books from the Historical Archives of Zadar and Split. Project is completed.

6A) Orthodox church books from the Historical Archives of Zadar and Split. Project is completed.

7) Dubrovnik -- ongoing.

8) Rijeka -- ongoing.

At present, 2012 reels of 35 mm. microfilm, each comprised of an average of 750 frames (2 pages of text per frame) are cataloged and available for use. In processing documents account for another 287 reels of film. Primary areas of focus are Slavonia, Dalmatia, Rijeka, Slovenia (Marburg, Vas, and Zala). Span dates for these films are late 1500's to the 1940's. Languages represented are Croatian, German, Glagolitic, Hungarian, Italian, Latin, Serbian, and Sloven.

In Slovenia, filming began on 26 September 1992 and ended in January 1994. Total output for the project was 249 reels. The records are exclusively civil registration: 1868 to 1918. Language of the text is Hungarian. Records are from the counties of Zala and Vas, comprising about 60 civil registration offices currently located in Croatia and Slovenia. The split is about 50-50.

The FHL also has extensive records filmed under contracts with the Österreich Kriegsarchiv. These include, but are not limited to, 265 reels of church records, 294 reels of land and tax documents from the district of Laibach, Slovenia; as well as 76 reels of church records from the district of Tarvis, Slovenia.

Record Types

The record groups microfilmed in Croatia are diverse, forming a linguistic tapestry as varied and beautiful as the Balkans themselves.

General Information

In the broadest of terms the FHL collection for Croatia and Slavonia begins in the mid-1400's and continues through the end of World War I. Significant termination dates are 1869 for Austrian Army and Naval records; and 1900 for church books from the former Yugoslavia. Church records, in the main, begin in the later 1600's. The earliest examples are from the 1460's.

Linguistic diversity for the collection is greater than for most other geographic areas. Languages of primary interest are:

  • Latin An Indo-European language, moderately inflected, and used extensively by the Roman Catholic Church.
  • Serbian a Slavic language closely allied to Croatian. considered the official language of Yugoslavia. Serbian differs from Croatian slightly in vocabulary and is written in the cyrillic script.
  • German Official language of the Austrian Empire, and as such the language of record for the Austrian military.
  • Glagolitic Properly speaking, Glagolitsa is a script, not a language. The literature of Dalmatia, however, took on a unique character that can be considered at least a dialect. In most circumstances one can read the text of a Glagolitic manuscript if s/he is familiar with Croatian and the epigraphy.
  • Croatian The language used for most post-Latin period Roman Catholic parish registers.
  • Hungarian All civil documents now being filmed in Slovenia.
  • Italian Language common to the 1600-1800 Roman Catholic parish registers for Dalmatia and Istria.
  • Slovene Language of Slovenia, closely allied with Serbo-Croatian.

Religious documents for the area, in order of significance or volume, are Roman Catholic, Orthodox (also referred to as Greek, Serbian, or now Croatian Orthodox), Greek Catholic, and Jewish. Greek Catholic has two meanings in South Slav research. First, it refers to an Orthodox believer who is not a member of the state religion. Second, it refers to a Uniate -- one who practices the Eastern rite but recognizes the ruling authority of the Bishop of Rome.

Military Documents

The overwhelming majority of military records relating to Croatia and Slavonia microfilmed by the FHL are from the Military Archives in Vienna. The Kriegsarchiv collection, unfortunately, is not longer intact. Many of the more recent documents were claimed by modern successor nation of the empire, including both Hungary and Yugoslavia.

I would like now to briefly discuss two main document groups contained in the collection: the records of the Central Command and those of individual units.

Records of the Central Command

This record group is the only possible source of information on Austrian soldiers and officers prior to 1740. Genealogically relevant series are:

1) Commissions. 1466-1866, containing officers' commissions, instructions, appointments and information concerning military service (complete with biography).

2) Nobility Grants. 1636-1753, these grants were received for distinguished service or valor.

3) Vital Certificates. A small, but indexed, collection of birth, marriage, and death certificates.

4) Wills. 1639-1771, this collection is quite incomplete yet indexed, and is arranged chronologically.

5) Pension and Assistance Records. Accessed by unit designator (i.e. regiment). Includes:

  • Pensions: 1749-1922
  • Invalid Office: 1723-1803
  • Orphans' Commission: 1702-1770
  • Soldier Orphans: 1770-1870

6) Army Rank and Regiment Schematics. 1583-1849. records continue commission records; include decorations, orders, and sometimes death dates.

7) Payment Books. 1753-1819. Documents record pensions, wages, and salary data, with supplementary biographical data. Completely indexed.

8) Marriage Bonds. 1750-1918. To insure the monetary support of family members, officers less in rank than Lt. General were required to bond themselves in the event of death. These records are important as a supplement to the regular muster lists, which did not generally include names of family members. Information of value includes the officer's name, name of spouse, spouse's place of origin, and on occasion spouse's parents. Records are completely indexed.

9) Military School Records. Biography of students. Includes both the Marine-Akademie (1802-1918) and the Kriegsschule in Vienna (1871-1914).

10) Military Court Records. Archival documents include the Courts of Vienna (1753-1869), Graz (1784-1849), the Invalidenhaus in Vienna (1805-1860), and Pettau (1760-1859). All series contain valuable probate information. Some are indexed.

Records of Individual Units

Records for soldiers and officers after 1740 are also available in micro-format at FHL. While many of these records created after 1869 were transferred to modern nations derivative from the Austrian Empire, pre-1869 documents have been filmed and provide a complete record of each person who performed military service. Many record series include:

1) Muster Rolls. 1740-1820. Contain name of soldier, place of birth, age religion, learned occupation, and marital status. After 1770 the rolls include names of dependant children. Musters were taken annually, and indicated soldiers' transfers. Arrangement is by unit.

2) Foundation Books. 1820-1918. These series comprise a local continuation of the muster rolls. Their purpose was to establish a statistical foundation for the military service. They served as a running sensus of soldiers (and their needs) so the government could plan for horses, feed, etc. After the introduction of universal conscription in 1869, foundation books were kept by the state military registration district. The records have a sheet for each soldier, which was updated annually.

3) Service Records. 1823-1918. These documents supplement the muster and foundation books with information concerning an officer's actual service record. Common genealogical valuable information concerns parentage. Files are arranged alphabetically.

4) Records of the Navy. 1760-1918. Materials from this series are identical to those from the Army. Many of the records have been deaccessioned to the government of Croatia. Access is by unit.

Church Records

In my opinion, the church books of Croatia and Slavonia comprise some of the most rewarding and genealogically concentrated records in the FHL. The documents are well preserved, properly organized, and accurately filmed.

Content of the registers is identical to church records from other countries, e.g. births, marriages, marriage banns, and deaths. Occasionally encountered are confirmations, communion records, and anniversaria. To date I have not seen any documents corresponding to the German Familienbücher. Microfilming has been exclusively of original parish registers. To find these records, the researcher must use the FHL catalog.

The Catalog

The Family History Library Catalog (FHLC) is the single source of access to genealogical records microfilmed by the GSU. This reference resource has three major sections: author-title, locality, and subject. The major difficulty the catalog possess for an English speaker is that it is written for an international audience. Elements of description, such as title, author, or content notes composed in the language of the source document. simple as this sounds, Serbian record are cataloged in Croatian, while Latin records are in English.

Title Access

Title access, most common in libraries containing published materials, is not really an option when dealing with manuscripts. The vast majority of catalog records are described, as far as title is concerned, by generic, i.e. "uniform" terms. For example, religious vital documents are referred to as "parish registers." Obviously this traditional access point is meaningless, and I mention it only because many patrons approach a library catalog with this avenue in mind.

Author Access

Another traditional library access point is the author of a text. Such a approach will work with the FHL catalog. Authorship can be a either a person(s) or a corporation, i.e. a religious group. Generally, religious vital records are found under corporation authorship, such as Jewish, Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Lutheran. Examples include:

Rimokatoli ka crkva. upa Zagreb    
Pravoslavna crkva. upa Vukovar    
Grkokatoli ka crkva. upa Karlovac    
idovska op ina Zagreb

Using the author catalog is effective if you know the religion (i.e. author) desired. It is useful because one can locate in one place a list of parishes alphabetically arranged by religious denomination. The same principle works for military records; the difference being a file sort of regiment / unit instead of denomination / parish. The FHL author / title catalog is most useful for obtaining an overview of what is available in a general category, not for a specific location.

Locality Access

Just as the author/title catalog groups together records of a corporation, the locality catalog arranges records that relate to one city, town, village, or continent. Similar record types are cataloged together by subheadings, such as: Church records, Civil registration, Census. Even the beginning researcher is aware that in earlier times localities enjoyed a wide range of spelling variations. Additionally, tradition at the FHL dictates catalog records to be written in the language of the text, or of the nation state.

Unfortunately, both of these criteria are subject to change over time. This leaves you, the family historian, with somewhat of a problem. Which language, or what country, did I decide your records of interest belonged to? Believe it or not, there is both a reason to the process. The Library catalog attempts to provide a historical perspective for the patron.

This example can illustrate: the city of Belovar, over the last two centuries, has been located in the national entities of Austrian Slavonia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and now Croatia. I don't mean to infer that the city itself has moved; rather nations, somewhat fragile things, have dissolved or been reorganized with different boundaries. Four different patrons could claim ancestry from the four nation states I just mentioned, and all four might be talking about the same village. 

For this reason, I try to provide locality access for all historical references. You will find the same catalog record reproduced in three places: under the locality headings for Austria, Hungary, and Croatia. This is important, at least for use of the microfiche catalog. For a Hungarian place name can be, and frequently is, quite different from its German counterpart.

What is important for you the researcher to know, is what the "correct" name is. Of course all the names are correct, in one application or another. But when I as writer of the FHLC create what is called a "locality authority," the form I choose by default becomes the official name; at least as far the catalog is concerned, and as such, official for your research. So lets look at the reference works used to establish these authorities.

Maps and Gazetteers

To make locality authorities available to the patron, the Library has designated certain gazetteers as standard reference works. The patron should first locate the village or city an appropriate gazetteer before searching the catalog. Most patrons don't do this of course, although many would avoid a great deal of work if they did. For it is not just spelling problems that are avoided by checking. Some gazetteers state what churches were in the village, and if there was no church, where the people went to attend one.

A cursory glance at the FHLC lists no catalog entry of Lovinac, Dalmatia. It would be wrong to assume the Library has no records for the village, however. If we check the Gemeindelexikon for Austria, volume 14 Dalmatia, we find that Lovinac had no church. Roman Catholics living in the town attend church at Polichic. It was in this village where the parish was located, and under its name are the church books cataloged. So what could have been considered a dead-end is actually faulty research. Lets now review some reference works used to establish locality or parish names.

First is one by Raffelsperger. This is the reference used for Austria before the constitutional re-division of 1867 that followed the seven weeks war. Arrangement is alphabetical for the entire empire. I must warn you though, it is difficult to find an entry if you are coming armed with Slavic or Hungarian spellings.

Second is the Gemeindelexikon. This gazetteer is dated 1908 and is lacking those lands put under Hungarian rule by the compromise mentioned earlier. Included in those territories were the Austrian kingdoms of Croatia and Slavonia. This gazetteer is of use to us for Dalmatia, Istria, and the Kustenland. Each district of Austria was given a volume and organized geographically. To find a specific locality, there is and index at each volume's end. This will refer you to a page number in the relevant volume that will provide information.

For those areas of the former Yugoslavia not in the Gemeindelexikon we turn to the Hungarian gazetteer of 1913. Part two of this publication is for the kingdom of Croatia, which by this time included Slavonia. Arrangement here is alphabetical. Be forewarned of spelling mutations.

Next is the standard Hungarian gazetteer published in 1878. This text is used as a name authority for modern Hungary. It does not contain the areas of Dalmatia or Croatia/Slavonia, but is used for Slovenia. The work is in two volumes. Information is organized by governmental districts. Access to districts is by an alphabetical sorting of villages and cities in volume two.

Finally for all the modern republics that constituted the former Yugoslavia, I use the only source available, a postal directory titled: Imenik naselonih mesta. Two editions exist, 1974 and 1985. Sometimes you need to check both to locate your locality. Arrangement is strictly alphabetical.

These are the basic methods for locating information in the FHLC, and finding genealogical materials for Croatia and Slavonia. If you have research problems with the FHL collection or need assistance in its effective use, please contact me, the reference staff at the FHL, or your local FHC director.

Reference sources

  • Maps
    • Jugoslavija auto atlas. Zagreb, 1973. 1:500,000.
    • Generalkarte von Mitteleuropa. Vienna, 1899-1967. 1:200,000.
  • Gazetteers
    • A Magyar Szent Korona Országainak Helységnévtára. (Horvát-Szlavonországok).
    • Gemeindelexikon der in Reichsrate Vertretenen Königreiche und Länder, XIV (Dalmatien). Vienna, 1908
    • Allgemeines Geographisch-Statistisches Lexikon aller Österreichischen Staaten. Vienna, 1845
  • Dictionaries
    • New English-Croatian and Croatian-English Dictionary. F. A. Bogadek. New York, 1957.
  • Postal Directories
    • Imenik Naseljenih Mesta u SFRJ. Belgrade, 1985.