The Slovakian Census of 1869

Nizny-Komarnik-Gk-Catholic-church
My Radomsky ancestors were known to have come from the town of Nizny Komarnik, in the very northeastern part of Slovakia.  The town stands in a mountainous area just below the Dukla pass, then and now a major route through the Carpathians between Slovakia and Poland.

My family’s connection with this town was mainly a matter of oral tradition, but one we were certain of because our branch of the family had managed to stay in touch with Slovakian cousins there, first through the period of the world wars, then flickering out for a while, then resumed by my grandfather in his retirement.  He had a gift for languages, and, with the aid of a Russian typewriter, managed to correspond with his cousin Michael for a period from the early 1970s until the late 1990s.

Around 1972, my parents and older siblings traveled to Czechoslovakia and visited our living relatives in Komarnik.  But given the language gap and the destruction the area had suffered during the World Wars, much of what was gleaned from them during this trip was mere hearsay.  Nor did it project our knowledge back to a time before living memory.

How fascinating, then, to discover that a census of Slovakia had been conducted when the region was part of Hungary, and that I could view the handwritten records of the census, compiled in 1869, without leaving my home!  Thanks to the FamilySearch.org website, which the Mormons run, this document can be viewed online in its entirety for free.  The pages of the census haven’t been digitally indexed yet, so it can’t be searched by typing in names or dates, but the census’s filmed pages are there to browse.

I should immediately caution that the census is incomplete and, being written entirely in Hungarian, Slovakian, and German, is not that easy to use.  For some regions of Slovakia, no census records whatever survive, but for others the records are complete, making its utility for those of Slovakian descent a chancy thing.  I was among the fortunate ones, for, after scanning all the sections of the census, I found the book for Nizny Komarnik under the Zemplen, or Zemplina, county listing.  Read more about the 1869 census here.

At first, looking at the hand-written census of Nizny Komarnik was daunting.  There were many strange names, some only partly decipherable, given that they had been written down with a dull, thick quill.  But it was not long before I found several households of Radomskys, proof positive that my ancestors had been long associated with the town.  The labor involved in deciphering the records was nothing compared with the excitement of discovering so many positive facts about these much-conjectured-about folks.

I was impressed with the Hungarian government’s census plan.  Unlike the US census, where many households are enumerated on a single page, Hungarian census-takers recorded information about each household in a pre-printed booklet.  The booklet’s front page identifies the household’s location, and I believe it also records the building type and the nature of the property, though I didn’t study it carefully.  Inside, the names of household members are recorded, along with their ages, relationship to one another, religion, occupation, nativity, sex, and birth order.  The back page assigns a number to the household and details its livestock and other property.  Even though Nizny Komarnik was a small town with only 24 dwellings, 99 pages of census records are devoted to it.  I used the Hungarian Genealogical Word List that FamilySearch provides to make sense of the data that I found.

The Slovakia Research Strategies website also has a page dedicated to the Slovakian censuses.  A section of this page is devoted to the 1869 census; within that section are links to translation lists for each page of the four-page census form.  Using these lists, I managed to interpret most of the information written down about my family.

I might never have found Nizny Komarnik in the census without knowing that the names of this and other villages and counties changed over time.  The best website I’ve found for understanding village names is run by Juraj Cisarik, a Slovakian genealogist and tour guide.  Cisarik.com contains a listing of every village in Slovakia, its population, and the names it has had in each period, giving both the Slovakian and Hungarian spellings.  It also gives information about the current and past Slovakian counties and has excellent maps.  For each town, it lists the 100 most common surnames in the town’s 2005 phone book, as well as all the surnames present in the town in 1715.  Check out this sample page for Nizny Komarnik.  This site is truly invaluable.  Thank you, Juraj!

Image: The Greek Catholic church in Nizny Komarnik, photographed by Peter Zelizňák and generously made available to all on Wikimedia Commons.  Thank you, Peter, for this beautiful photograph.

This is the second in a series of pages I’m writing about my origins.
Click here to go to the top “Origins” page.
Click here to go to the previous page, “Slovakia Within the Austro-Hungarian Empire.”
Click here to go to the next page, “Something of the Radomsky Family in 1869.”

9 August 2015

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