Recently, family research, i.e. searching for ancestors has become popular again, particularly since the transformation of the regime in 1989 and the easing of political tension. Getting more and more people seek the roots, the past and the noble origin of their families; but few of them know how to start it. This guide is to help them.
Genealogy or family history research is a time-consuming, complicated and demanding work. At the same time, its result is often very uncertain because, besides practical experience, special skills and knowledge, as well as persistence, it requires some good luck, too. In most cases, people start it as a hobby, for amusement or from curiosity, then, in many instances it becomes a lifetime passion. On the one hand, snobbism, prestige or fashion, can not be ruled out as motivating factors, not to mention its increasing popularity as a business activity. On the other hand, genealogy also serves much more practical purposes like acquiring citizenship or permissions to reside, as well as inheritance cases, changing of names, compensations and restitution, and more occasionally, scientific purposes, e.g. demographic analyses, sociological, ethnographical or public health surveys.
It must be mentioned at the outset that, regarding the great majority of research cases, there are no complete family histories, even less family trees. Only an insignificant part of the families went through a full-scale genealogical research, has perfect family history publications or deduced family tree (e.g. some aristocrat and noble families), whose private archives have been transferred to the custody of a certain institution, or have been published in book form. About commoner and peasant families data or references may be found in local history related publications. In the case of nobles, family trees have also been made for practical reasons. During the 17th–19th centuries, sometimes even earlier, nobles kept record of their relatives by family trees in order to prove who had what rights to the domains of the family. In aristocratic circles it was a point of prestige that how far a family could trace back its pedigree in time. Family tree making had become a real cult. Sometimes, this "rivalry" resulted in extreme, even bizarre instances, as mirrored in some family archives. For example, the ducal branch of the Esterházy family had its history traced back as far as Adam.
Researchers have to use different source materials to nobility research and to families of civic, serf, German, Jewish etc. origin, respectively. The most frequently used languages in the written sources preserved in the Archives are Latin ( the official language of administration in Hungary, as late as 1844); Turkish (in Arabic letters); Hungarian; German (in Gothic letters); Church Slavonic (in Cyrillic letters); and more occasionally Hebrew. In most cases, the sources are hand-written documents or registers, which makes them even more difficult to read. Consequently, genealogical research requires a certain level of linguistic, palaeographic, as well as historical knowledge.
The first major group of sources derives from oral tradition. However, the reliability of such sources usually goes only as far as the time of grandparents or, sometimes, great-grandparents. Accordingly, because of the unreliability of oral tradition, in many cases, the research of written sources is necessary even beyond the time of grandparents. Sometimes, notes on family events (births, baptisms, confirmations, marriages, deaths etc.) written in old prayer-books, Bibles or other old and precious books, as well as photo albums preserved in the family can prove to be helpful. Several families have their own little archives”. Due to the compulsory preparation of proofs of origin ordered by the anti-Jewish acts of the 1940s, a significant amount of documents concerning the ancestors seems likely to survive from that period (mainly birth, marriage or death certificates). From the middle of the 19th century, printed death-notices (mourning-cards) had come into fashion. In many cases, besides the nearest lineal relatives (husband and wife, children, parents, grandparents), death-notices mention the more remote and collateral relatives (the so-called alliances by marriage) as well. In the National Széchényi Library an about 800,000-piece death-notice collection can be found. Printed funeral orations (sermons), obituaries published in newspapers before funerals, as well as acknowledgements and obituaries published after funerals contain similar information about the family of the deceased. Information about the history and origin of a family can also be gathered from other newspaper articles, advertisements, contemporary news, reports, feuilletons and events. It is worth reading funerary registers and epitaphs, too. Other written sources are chronicles, (auto-)biographies, almanacs (annals), school registers, memoirs etc.