Austro-Hungarian Web Site


© by Felix G. Game

As some of you may know, I went to Hungary in May to cash in on my research results - to actually meet the relatives I had uncovered, and to update my records with the missing years since 1895, which is when the LDS films stop. I hope that some of the events leading up to this journey will be of interest to those of Hungarian ancestry.

To begin, until six months before my mother's death in 1990 I did not even know where her ancestors came from. I asked her just in the nick of time and was given the magic word which then unlocked a whole new World: the name of the village where both my maternal grandparents came from is called Pázmánd . Knowing only their names and approximate time frame of their births, I wrote to the parish priest, and he actually managed to find both their birth records, and to send me the extracts which also showed their parents! Now I had one more generation and four more names, which was enough to get serious about my "Hungarian Connection". I searched the Family History Library Catalog and found that Salt Lake City had the films for that parish going back to 1720. From those films I extracted every one of my grandfather's ancestors (Farsang and Szanyó), and also the ancestors of my grandmother (Biller and Bartus) - reserving the main thrust for the Farsang line. Two things became obvious right away: I could only go back to about 1840 before I ran out of people named Farsang, and that after going back only three generations these "Hungarian" Farsangs were still using their original German names of Fasching (Farsang is a straight translation of the German word Fasching; in English both mean 'carnival').

Luckily the death entry of my GG-grandfather contained a 'comment' to the effect that he had been born in Etyek, a village not very far from Pázmánd. Once again the LDS Locality Catalog produced the required films for Etyek, and I was able to assemble one more generation of Faschings before I ran out of people again, but by this time I had spotted yet another little comment scribbled in one of the registers, which stated that GGG-grandfather had come from nearby Budaörs. You already know what is coming: I found the films for that place also, and quickly documented the whole family right back to my GGGGG-grandfather, who was the first Fasching to be married in Budaörs. But he had not been born there. According to his calculated YOB (year of birth), he was born in 1747, and he either came from yet another village, or was perhaps the original immigrant who followed the call of Empress Maria Theresia when she was recruiting settlers for her vast, but depopulated areas. One of these days I will know the answer to that puzzle, but in the meantime I am more than satisfied with having documented every single child born to these Fasching/Farsang people during the last 250 years, and for having established how they had migrated from Budaörs to Etyek and from there to Pázmánd from where my grandparents then moved to Budapest. The change of the family name is clearly traceable from the German Fasching to a Hungarian spelling of Fasing which still retains the original sound, until the name is finally translated into Hungarian and by 1842 becomes Farsang.

It may be a good idea to mention that "German" in the above context does not necessarily mean German nationals from Germany, but could just as easily mean 'Bavarian' or ' Austrian'. I am betting on Austrian origins based on a preponderance of evidence as follows: The word 'Fasching' is of southern German origin and is used in Bavaria and Austria, while the German words used further north are 'Fastnacht' and variations thereof. Since the word means the period before Lent, it is tied in with the Catholic religion, and that again points to Austria and Bavaria, the two predominantly Catholic parts of the greater German turf, of which most other parts are Protestant - mostly Lutheran. I have also done an extensive telephone search, and have found that many Faschings can be found in most parts of Austria, but especially in the Provinces of Burgenland, Styria, and Lower Austria, all three being very close to the Hungarian border. 

Obviously, the question of where these Fasching ancestors came from is almost more important than pushing back yet another generation or two. One would expect answers to be readily available in the county archives, but a half day spent at the archives in Székesfehérvár convinced me that none of the existing material deals with the settlers' origins. Frankly, they don't seem to have mattered all that much. Large tracts of land were available for little more than a click of the heels and a bow while kissing the hand of someone 'well-placed' at court. Consequently one can find more information about who owned the land, than about the ones who worked it. I had no difficulty finding out that a man named Lyka Döme bought all of Pázmánd in 1720, and that it was valued at 130,000 silver Forints. (Note that it does not say he paid that much for it, only that it was said to be worth that much). I did not waste any time trying to find out who Lyka Döme was, but his castle sits right across the street from one of the cousins I stayed with, and I looked at it all day through "my" window as I was going through local records. The castle is now a school, and on its front lawn is a tall, thin concrete slab reaching skyward. I inquired about its purpose and was told that underneath it was a mass grave for fallen Russian soldiers.

Two years ago, when Doug Holmes, the illustrious editor of Régi Magyarország went to Hungary, I asked him to take a picture of the Pázmánd church so I could have something from the village in the book I am working on. Doug was not satisfied with just taking a snapshot. Instead he buttonholed a woman just coming out of church and asked her to show him some Farsangs. He then spent the next hour being taken from one family to the next and watching them all scratch their heads trying to figure out how I might be related to them. All through this Doug had his camcorder running and presented me with an hour-long show of would-be relatives. Encouraged by their honest attempts at finding out more about their own heritage, and having gleaned some names out of it all, I began corresponding with a few and received some very positive feedback. When I got there last month the biggest problem I faced was to decide whose hospitality to accept without upsetting the others. They are simple, nice people and I was made to feel right at home. I should add that all the people in Doug's video turned out to be genuine cousins - alas, it was I who had to show them how they all connected. But that is what genealogists are here for, right? Now let me move on to the things I learned on this trip. 

When we wish to interact with them in a genealogical sense, we should understand that Hungarians are, relatively speaking, cash-poor. We should not think of them as having PCs, modems, networks, and most other things we take for granted over here. Being cash-poor makes them frugal and cautious; I have seen two families 'sharing' the same envelope to save postage. I have seen the parish priest asking one of his parishioners if she would mind sticking his reply to my letter into her envelope next time she wrote to me. Sending these people international postage coupons does not do the trick either; some Hungarian post offices do not accept international postage coupons - they do not know them. The one in Pázmánd definitely does not, even though our postal authorities and their embassy both agree that Hungary is part of the International Postal Union, and therefore must accept the coupons. All I can say is that the young woman, who runs the Pázmánd post office, is not impressed. 

The other difficulty with interacting in a genealogical sense, is that most people are NOT sufficiently interested in genealogy (just like here). Sure they can get fired up, and that did happen when I showed up with my giant tree charts, and a notebook computer full of data. I don't think they quite forgave themselves for knowing less than this unknown cousin from "America". The point is that if they receive some mail from over here they simply may not answer. Not because they are being rude, but because they have other, more pressing things on their minds - and when it comes to genealogy, almost everything else is more pressing for them. Yes, I did receive replies to my letters, and ironically it was the villagers who replied, the ones who tend their gardens, their vines and their chickens, and who often do not have a sheet of blank paper in the house, and are "not used to writing". Their kids who are "profs" at the university in Szeged and have Internet access, they were the ones I had trouble with. From them I got one letter in 18 months, and it came after something like a ten month delay. This young couple even has a good PC and when I visited them they were quick to latch on to the opportunity to copy my software. 

Reflecting on the two columns I wrote about the old villages, I can state categorically that village life today is a comfortable mixture of old and new. Most houses have been enlarged, and the roofs are no longer covered with a thatch, but with brick-red ceramic tiles. There is running water and gas for cooking and heating, and many have telephones, TV and washing machines, although I did not see an electric clothes dryer. Their huge lots are utilized to grow vegetables and grapes. Many have chickens, some also keep a few piglets or rabbits. As a guess I would say they grow about 60% of what they eat, and all of what they drink, including their own pálinka (mostly Slivovitz, which is plum brandy). Their diet would give most North American physicians grey hair. They start in the morning with big chunks of pure, white bacon, and a healthy serving of smoked pork plus cheeses, and several hard-boiled eggs. They really wondered about this 'cousin' who meekly asked for 'just one bun and a bit of jam' - please. Yet it is hard to find an overweight person. I guess they move more, walk more - or are just used to digesting all those calories and all that cholesterol. Many live into their eighties, and I spoke with a 91-year-old woman who was definitely a cousin - who had a good sense of humour, and who immediately "had me pegged" for a genuine Farsang cousin because she thought I had a big nose.  

It was interesting to watch how subtly they checked me out. First came the big hugs and kisses - from the men - on both cheeks. I didn't know Hungarians did that, so I was more inclined to crush their hands when I greeted someone, although I accepted all the hugging and kissing from the women. Then they examined my nose, and concluded that it was sufficiently "large" to qualify as a Farsang nose (when they put it that way, one is not a bit inclined to be hurt by such slander). In the morning they asked me how I liked my scrambled eggs, and when I announced that I liked them nice and runny, sort of half raw, I was practically lifted onto the table and cheered. "You are a real Farsang" was the verdict. The most interesting 'test' was when they started pointing out how I pronounced some words "just like we do here in Pázmánd". I was a bit surprised by that until I thought about it and realized that it was perfectly natural: I had learned my pronunciation from my mother, who had learned it from her mother, who had grown up in Pázmánd. The same rationale probably holds true for cooking scrambled eggs. 

There is much one can pick up in a small place like Pázmánd. Most people know stories about past members of the family. These are stories well worth recording. I found out about some interesting rascals who liked to poach and torment the gendarmes, and about how my grandmother carried the red flag during the 1919 workers' uprising in Budapest, and how, when their formation was broken up by mounted policemen, she saved the flag, but lost her five-year-old daughter in the commotion (the child was found and they were reunited later that day). This episode is rather interesting because on my fathers' side of the tree I have several officers of the Emperor's army who did not share the same concerns. It must have been something like the American Civil War, where the same family could have people fighting on both sides. 

Because nothing much happens in a village such as Pázmánd, anyone having been involved in anything at all unusual will be remembered for generations. Some of the stories are a bit hard to prove, but that is normal for 'oral tradition'. They told me, for example, about my grandmother's brother, that it was he who installed the two eagles on top of the Franz Joseph Bridge in Budapest (now 'Liberty Bridge'). Once I had researched this a bit, it turned out that the eagles were actually turul , the sacred birds of ancient Hungarian folklore, and that my grandmother's brother was merely 21 years old when the bridge was being built, but that he was in fact a welder. A young welder would be just the one they would send up to the highest point of the structure. They told me about another Farsang who was among the fifty bodyguards who rode with and protected Kossuth in 1849 when he was escaping to Turkey after his failed rebellion against the Austrian rule. The story I have no trouble believing, because I have heard it now from several independent sources, is how they came upon the skeleton of my GGG-grandfather while re-arranging some graves. They found him to have had red hair down to his waist, and his leg bones, when stood up beside the current model of Farsangs, went up to their chests. I cannot help toying with the theory that we are descended from a dumb Viking who lost his way and wound up in Hungary.  

Researchers should not hesitate to ask for help from the parishes, but should keep in mind that they are asking for a favor from an overworked priest. Be polite, be generous with a donation, and you will get answers. Civic authorities also have records; particularly for the period after World War II, when Hungary was under Communist rule, and the Church's supremacy was severely challenged. What the parish may not have, the civic authority may have (write to 'Polgármesteri Hivatal') in the locality you are interested in. I found a ledger in the Pázmánd office showing the exact date and place of death of my grandfather who fell in the war of 1914-18. I had been asking the priest by mail for two years to find this for me, but he could not. Going there in person (with a local cousin) we had the ledgers in our hands within minutes - and they contained additional information about the Regiment he served with when he fell.

There are archives and they have much interesting material. They have a different approach to research than we are used to, and it will serve the visitor well to 'do as the Romans do'. You sit down and wait till the archivist comes to usher you into his inner sanctum. In Székesfehérvár this was a well-dressed, very gentlemanly and scholarly individual who whispered as if he were giving a guided tour through the Pope's bathroom. He listened patiently until he knew what I was looking for, then disappeared and was back in a matter of minutes with a pile of papers all neatly tied with cute little ribbons and bows. He only asked that the papers remain in their original sequence. I could not believe my eyes when I untied some bows and found the original 1720 census returns in my hands complete with big red wax seals.

When I left the archive, I asked specifically if inquiries by mail stood a chance of being dealt with. The answer was positive with some caveats: Ask first for a form on which to request the research services. I am not saying ALL archives operate in this fashion, but it cannot hurt to first ask how they do things. It certainly requires more than a 'yes' or 'no' answer on their part. These forms, where they exist, are in-house inventions made up in isolation by each archive, but they can open the door to understanding how a particular archive likes to do things and what sort of services they are prepared to provide, and for how much. Just remember, they are also understaffed, but may otherwise be dedicated archivists just aching to do something 'useful'. So it is a good idea to give them their strokes, and purr a bit as you talk to them - they are not American civil servants who live off your tax dollars, so do not make waves. And please, remember to leave a good impression so other genealogists also will get a friendly reception.

Send comments to:

To Table of Contents meter  Last changed: 4 Aug 2002