Lesson 1: Finding the home village
To find the old church records of your family (prior to 1946), you must first know the home village. Then you must find the church that served that village. That's where the records will be. Also, in looking for the proper LDS microfilms, you must know the church because the index is listed by church, not by village. (Actually, it's listed by the village that the church is in. Each church serves several villages including its own.)
All vital records (birth, marriage, death) in Croatia for dates prior to around 1946 originated in the local churches. The government did not keep duplicate records; however, the church kept 4 sets of these records. One of these sets (a copy of the original) is now in various State Archives throughout Croatia and has been microfilmed by the LDS church. But the originals are still with the local churches unless they have been destroyed. (See here for an explanation of Croatian church records.)
If you know the home village then, by various methods, you can deduce the village where the church is located. This tutorial shows you ways of finding the home village.
- Once you know the village, you can find the church. See Lesson 2 for more.
- Once you know the church, you can check various sources for the records. See Lesson 3 and Lesson 4 for more.
- Once you find the records, you can learn to read them. See Lesson 5 for more.
Collecting information to find the home village.
There are lots of tricks to finding the home village. But first you must look for every scrap of information about your ancestor(s) that you can possibly find:
- Were they from the country? Near a large town?
- By the sea? In the mountains?
- Were they Catholic? Orthodox? Muslim?
- First names, and spelling of first names, can sometimes suggest a general home region. Collect all the first names you come across.
- Old photos can show regional national dress.
- Types of food, especially sweets and pastries, can sometimes help to zero in on a particular region. Also, the names of these foods can help.
- It's very important that you talk with anyone who may have known your ancestor(s) or who is descended from anyone who may have known them. Sometimes old photos are with these families.
- Collect all the names of Croatian people that married into the family. These people often married into families that came from the same regions because the relatives knew each other back in the old country.
- Collect the names of neighbors with Croatian names. Often people from the same general area would congregate in the States. Census records are good for this. Also city directories. And not all Croatian names end in -ich. See here for a list of surnames in southern Croatia. This is the only list of Croatian surnames we can find at the moment. It should at least help you be familiar with the look and feel of some Croatian surnames.
- Were they familiar with boats or the sea? With fishing? This would imply they came from along the Adriatic coast.
- Check citizenship papers to see who acted as witnesses. Often their countrymen would serve this function. This may give you more Croatian surnames.
- Check passenger ship lists to see who boarded with your ancestor(s). Often relatives and friends from the same region traveled together. The village name may be written directly on this record (though possibly misspelled).
- Church records (outside Croatia) may have vital records with useful information, such as parents' names, best man, maid and matron of honor, godparents, etc.
The lesson here is that no piece of information is too small.
When this information has been gathered then:
- If you don't already know, try to figure out the exact original spelling of the surname(s). See here for a quick lesson. And please don't assume you know how the name was originally spelled unless you are absolutely sure. I know one man named Ubick who knew for sure that his surname was originally spelled Lubic'. However, he was wrong; it was Ljubic'. He never would have found it looking for Lubic'. Ljubic' is not even listed under L in Croatian (Lj is a separate letter). See here for a list of the Croatian alphabet.
- Submit this information to some of the Croatian on-line forums. There are many knowledgeable people who frequent those forums. The forums are listed in the links page.
- Check the Croatian on-line phone directory to learn where the various surnames you have collected may have come from. Here's a short lesson on how and why to do that. Most of the surnames of the villages are still there, like they have been for the past few hundred years. Also check this example.
- And don't give up. Keep looking for information and resubmit to the forums every six months or so.
Submitting to the forums.
Your chances on the forums are much better if you have at least 4 or 5 pieces of information of the type described above. I truly feel sorry for people who submit things like "I'm looking for information on my grandfather, John Ivancovich, who immigrated to California around 1900." You might get lucky and get a response like "My grandmother's sister married a John Ivancovich in California in 1901" but the chances are slim. The worst part is that most knowledgeable people, the very ones who can help you the most, are going to skip right past that request because they know exactly how hopeless it is. However, if you say "Looking for information on John Ivancovich, sister married Pete Vusich, brother named Vinko, immigrated to California around 1900, worked as a fisherman in San Pedro" then you might get someone's attention.
Some forums give you an option (when you submit a message) of "check here if you want replies to this message to be automatically forwarded to you." Always check this box. Then you don't have to always be looking in the forums for replies to your message. You might get the reply you are looking for a year after you post the message. If you don't ask for automatic forwarding of replies, you will never see a reply unless you specifically look for it -- and people usually give up looking after a month or so.
Another good idea is to put your e-mail address directly into the message itself and ask people to respond to you personally. But remember that people may be responding to you months or years from now. So try to give an email address that you won't be changing. The various forums can be found on the links page.
The Croatian on-line phone directory is a very good tool. See here for why and how to use it. Here's an example of how it can be used to find the home village.