Exploring Family Ancestors from Hungary – Thursday Thoughts

The story of family ancestors from Hungary is often closely tied to the nation’s history

The history of the land now named Magyarország in the Hungarian language, known as Hungary in the English speaking world has seen many changes to its territories and peoples over the preceding centuries.

Map of late 20th century Hungary. Accompanying the historytrace blog post "Exploring Family Ancestors from Hungary". Image copyright www.freeimages.com / Sándor Balázs.Your family history research may have revealed that you have ancestors who lived in a variety of countries across Europe and around the world. If this includes ancestors from Hungary, who lived in former or present day Hungarian territories, then researching their lives in these locations when you live on the other side of the globe might seem daunting

However, records of the lives of ancestors who lived in present-day, or former Hungarian territories now located within neighbouring countries, exist in a surprisingly good range of archival collections nationally and regionally. These can significantly help your investigations and in some locations you may even be able to access archival resources without travelling from your armchair.

Understanding something of the history of the Hungarian region in which your ancestor lived prior to their emigration will also help shed light on the circumstances of their relocation. Your ancestors from Hungary may have migrated away from the Hungarian realms at various historical junctures over the last three centuries. Upon closer inspection and with a little background knowledge you may be able to see a correlation between specific historical events in Hungary or trace a latent shift in ancestors’ lives which prompted their final emigration from Hungary to other countries.

As you trace backwards through pivotal points in Hungarian history are there moments which stand out in connection which the date around which your family emigrated? Perhaps your ancestors’ migration took place in the years around the fall of communism in Hungary in 1989, or in connection with the rise of communism in Hungary and the 1956 revolution. Migration during this period to neighbouring countries which had been former Hungarian territories and where there were still Hungarian-speaking communities also increased, as well away from the European continent entirely.

Perhaps family members had left the country following World War II or World War I. Family may have been displaced persecution or war. They may have sought refuge in neighbouring countries or in fact become citizens of neighbouring countries in thier own homes, as boundaries moved and their homelands became subsumed by other nations due to national or military actions. Perhaps your ancestors had lived for a period of time in those other nations before leaving Central Europe. This may be the case with ancestors who emigrated from former northern Hungarian counties which had become Slovakian territory within the new state of Czechoslovakia in 1918.

Or maybe your family had emigrated during the latter part of the 19th century from the Hungary of the Austro-Hungarian Empire when, despite stability following the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, migration to North America, Britain, other European countries and the southern hemisphere was growing in popularity across continental Europe due to a variety of personal reasons, some economic and some a matter of survival.

During the 19th century Hungarian territories also saw significant internal migration. From outlying rural or isolated regions to industrialised towns and cities. But also as transport infrastructure and construction developed following the 1848 revolution from the peripheries to the centre. With the Austro-Hungarian Compromise and the amalgamation of the towns of Buda and Pest on either side of the River Danube as Budapest, the new capital of Hungary in 1873, this economic upswing in the county of Pest and neighbouring regions brought internal movement towards the city and surrounding towns.

Your Hungarian ancestors may even count amongst the ’48ers. Typically a group of elite individuals and their families who left Hungary for political reasons following the failed uprising of the Hungarian Magyars against the Hapsburg overrule of the Austrian Empire, quashed following the revolution of 1848.

Even earlier still your ancestors may have begun their movement away from Hungarian regions during the preceding century. During this period in particular your family’s connection with historical Hungarian regions may have been a transitory association. Upon deeper examination you may find that a Hungarian sojourn was part of a migration journey which originated in other Austrian Hapsburg ruled territories.

The Kingdom of Hungary received several significantly prolonged waves of immigration during the 18th and 19th centuries. Both internal migration from other Austrian ruled territories but also from neighboring lands for economic reasons or opportunities. This was also due to personal restrictions in parts of the Austrian Empire, as is the case for Jewish migration from both the Bohemian and Moravian Crownlands and parts of Austrian Silesia, territories now corresponding with large parts of the Czech Republic and some border regions in neighbouring countries.

In those Crownlands, the Familianten laws issued by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI in 1726 only permitted the eldest son of a Jewish family to marry upon the death of his father, and the number of authorised Jewish residents in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia was capped. Thus migration to the Kingdom of Hungary, where restrictions were not as severe, was widespread.

Another wave of migration came from the region of Galicia in the decades following the partitioning of the defunct Kingdom of Poland between Austria, Russia and Prussia during the period 1772. Or perhaps migration to Hungary had come from the north, from former Polish territories. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth collapsed during the second part of the 18th century and its territories were shared out between the Russian, Prussia and Austrian Empires in three stages, in 1772, 1793, 1795. This too produced waves of migration into Hungarian territories particularly from the region of Galicia. Whilst this wave of migration included many Jewish families, there was also movement of other ethnic groups into Hungarian territories during this period of change.

Particularly in the case of researching family ancestors from Hungary, with its eventful history and mixed populace from a range of ethnic backgrounds, it is useful to look to the motivation for emigration from Hungarian regions by looking closely at the surrounding historical context of both specific time and place. It may also help you to look at any preceding story of migration which can be traced within your family prior to historical sightings within Hungary to see whether this is part of a longer migration story. Ancestors from Hungary may represent just one stage in a centuries’ long journey of migration within Central Europe.

Questions of when and where, of belonging and permanence are important for all family history investigations. Identity is not always as cut and dried as it would seem and I haven’t even begun here to discuss “Hungarian” identity. Suffice to say that the label of “Hungarian” or “Hungary” given to your ancestors which you might find in 19th and 20th century census records from the UK or USA for example may conceal a much more complex identity and association with the lands of Hungary than you at first imagine. This is also true of course for ancestors who originated in a great many other places around Europe besides Hungary.  Ancestral migration is inextricably interwoven with the economic, national, political and social history of the country of origin or temporary former sojourn.

Hannah Gill, historytrace, 23/06/2016

Historytrace can help you to discover your family ancestry in Hungary and neighbouring countries across Europe. Do get in touch using the Contact page of this website if our services could help you explore your family history on a deeper level.

You have been reading the historytracings blogpost “Exploring Family Ancestors from Hungary – Thursday Thoughts”. Copyright text: www.historytrace.co.uk, 2016; copyright image: www.freeimages.com / Sándor Balázs.

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