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Social customs
relating to genealogy

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The understanding of social customs can often help genealogists.

For example, knowing the naming conventions (see below) can often help find the originating family. I was once asked to find the church records for a Cvijeto Antunovic' of Los Angeles who was born near Molunat, Croatia, around 1868. His parents' names were not known. The records showed 3 Cvijeto Antunovic's born around that time near Molunat. I then noticed that Cvijeto's only son was named Tony and his only daughter was Mary Ann (both born in the States). One of the Cvijetos had parents with these names (actually Antun and Mare, which are the Croatian equivalents). So I concentrated on this Cvijeto and eventually was able to prove he was, indeed, the right one. Knowing the naming conventions for southern Croatia saved me a lot of time.

The naming conventions of southern Croatia
The oldest son is named after the father's father. The oldest daughter is named after the father's mother. The 2nd oldest son is named after the mother's father. The 2nd oldest daughter is named after the mother's mother. The others can be named after favorite aunts or uncles or, sometimes, after the saint of the day they were born (in Catholicism, all days have corresponding saints). This naming convention has been going on in southern Croatia for at least 400 years and is common today.

This leads to many first cousins with the same name -- which, in turn, leads to many nicknames to distinguish them.

A son is almost never named after the father. They may have the same first name but you will probably find that the son was named after one of the grandfathers or uncles who happened to have the same first name as the father.

Often a child would die and the next child born of the same sex would receive the dead child's first name.

The naming conventions in northern Croatia
(We need to know more about these. Please write to us if you have something to add here.)

For certain, many families named children after the Saint of the day they were born on. This can be seen in the church records where many children born on the same day received the same name. A girl would often receive the feminine version of a male Saint's name (e.g., Ivana for St. Ivan). If some families followed the naming conventions as described above for southern Croatia, we are not sure. Please inform us if you can add something to this information.

Middle names
In the States, a man born in what is now Croatia would often be shown as having a middle name. Few people born in the villages were given middle names. What appears to be a middle name (in death certificates, tombstones and draft registries) is almost always the father's first name. This leads to many brothers with the same "middle name" and to the oldest son having the same name as the father's "middle name." This can often be used as an identifying feature in cases where information is scarce.

Birthdates are often wrong
Prior to around 1900, few people in what is now southern Croatia (then Austria) knew their exact birthdates. It was not a custom to know or celebrate one's birthday. When authorities asked, the person would often take a guess or make up a date, and stick to it for the rest of their lives. This leads to many incorrect birthdates in U.S. death certificates and tombstones. When writing for, or looking for, church records in Croatia, it's always best to qualify your identifying information by saying something like "to the best of our knowledge, he was born on xxx." An educated guess would be that over 60% of all birthdays as shown in U.S. documents of people who were born in what is now Croatia are wrong -- maybe higher.

In much of what is now Croatia, a family with only daughters would often find a man who was willing to marry one of the daughters, live in her house, and assume her surname. This arrangement would perpetuate the surname and keep the property in the family. This was very common and persisted well past 1900. It was called a "domazet" arrangement (doma = home; zet = son-in-law).

In the Stanja Dus"a, this was shown by the woman staying on the family page and the husband being imported onto the page. In the usual situation, the woman would leave the page of the family she was born in and reappear on the family page of her husband.

Most men who married into a domazet situation were the younger of several brothers. That's because the oldest brother always had first chance to marry, and if he did so, he inherited the family property. Other brothers were allowed to marry in order of age but only if and when the family could support them. Often this was never. So a domazet situation was often the only chance a man had to marry. This social situation of the younger brothers finding it difficult to marry was also one of many reasons for emigration.

Inheritance of property
The oldest brother was always given first chance to marry. If he did so it was supposed that he would inherit the family property. The younger brothers would have to wait their turn which often never came. In some cases, if the older brother died or was sick or sonless (after an appropriate amount of time), the next oldest brother would be allowed to marry. Or, in some cases, if the family became prosperous enough the next oldest was allowed to marry. Daughters were always brought up expecting to go to the houses of their husbands and, in most cases, did not inherit their father's property.

Giving up inheritance upon emigrating
When a man emigrated, it was an unwritten law that he gave up his inheritance. However, it was not a written law. This has occasionally led to some strange misunderstandings among a man's descendants in the States (and perhaps elsewhere). The man who emigrated, of course, knew of this unwritten law and expected to abide by it. But he often forgot or failed to tell his descendants in his new home. I have often heard people in the States say that they had property somewhere in the old country but they didn't know exactly where. Well, maybe yes and maybe no. According to the desires of the person who first emigrated, probably not. According to the laws of Austria, then Yugoslavia, then Croatia, it's anyone's guess. I have yet to hear of anyone from the States making such a claim and having it proven in court unless the claimant was mentioned in a will somewhere.

Illegitimate children and orphans
Many people, especially men, who emigrated were not blood-related to the people whose last names they bore. They were orphans (in most cases, illegitimate children) whom the Austrian government, through the Catholic church, "loaned" to various families to be brought up. The government paid a small stipend to the family for each such child. This was the welfare system of the day. Such children always knew they were adopted, and were brought up knowing that someday they must go off on their own -- usually at around the age of 18-20. Most men went into the cities; often along the Adriatic they became sailors. The women went into the cities and became servants. A few of them stuck around the villages they grew up in and found spouses. There are even records of some inheriting land if the family's regular children died but these are very, very rare.

Often life in the villages was difficult for them because they were discriminated against. For such people emigration was often looked upon as a great opportunity. Many became prosperous in their new countries. Sometimes the emigrant told his descendants of his unknown background and sometimes not. Sometimes a descendant finds out for the first time by checking the church records (if they are lucky enough to find them). The Stanja Dus"a often contain records of such adoptions. Some of the words used in the records -- all meaning adopted or orphans -- are espurio, espureo, espurea, spurio, esp., spureo, nahod, nahoda, mulan, d'ignoti, tud'i, nezakonito. See the glossary and miscellaneous terms for more information on these terms.

But the information ends there. You will never find the real parents because that information was intentionally not asked for and, if known, not written down. These children were often given to convents and the policy there was "no questions asked." That rule was applied many years ago to cut down on infanticides and suicides.

The record in the Stanja Dus"a will often give a surname for the child that, in many cases, was never used. A child could not be baptized without a name so the baptising priest invented one. Often it was alliterative -- both names starting with the same letter. A look through some "nahod" registers show the names given were in alphabetical order: Kate Katic', Luce Lucic', Mare Moric', Nike Nikic', etc.

The convents had wet nurses that would be employed from the nearby population, but would give the child to a foster family as soon as they could. The child was then recorded by the local priest into the Stanja Dus"a for that family (in some Stanja Dus"a -- not all) by the first and last name given it by the baptising priest. But in most cases the child was not known by that surname but, rather, by the surname of the foster family. And in many cases the child never knew the surname the baptising priest had given it.

So, the only way to find such a record is to match the first name with a known orphan who was born around the same time (see above: not all of these people knew their exact birthdays). It's a guess but it's the best you can do.

I found a man's record this way once. Luckily the man told his descendants he was adopted, and also told them the village he was from and that he had an adopted brother with the same first name as his. The man was known as "Little Ivo" and his adopted brother (the real son of the adoptive parents) was known as "Big Ivo." Sure enough, the records showed Big Ivo's birthday and a few years later showed an Ivan Ilijic' as being adopted. We have to assume this was Little Ivo even though he was never known by the surname of Ilijic' and probably never knew that that was the surname by which he was baptised. In this case the month and year of the birthdate was the same in the church records and in the man's family records (the day was different). But the birthday could have been off by as much as a year or two for the reasons stated above under Birthdates are often wrong.