Monday, February 18, 2008

Crossing borders and language barriers

I love the taste of the töltött káposzta, palacsinták and kifli recipes that have been handed down in my family.

I enjoy pouring over maps of the areas of Croatia and Hungary where my family originated, wondering if their villages look today like the pictures I have of them or the places I saw on my trip to what was then Yugoslavia years ago.

The peoples and cultures of Croatia and Hungary have a warm place in my heart - they are a part of me in many ways.

Oh, how I wish I could have inherited a natural proficiency for their languages along with my love of their culture!

I read with interest Jasia's Database Envy post at Creative Gene a few months ago. Though her troubles relate to the difficulty of reading Polish records, letters, documents and such, the story was all too familiar. Take out Polish, insert Croatian and Hungarian (and a little bit of Latin for church records) and you have the same difficulty in my family history search that Jasia has found: a genealogical language barrier.

It has been so exciting to receive new microfilms from the Family History Library at my local center with images of my ancestors' vital records from various Hungarian and Hungarian/Croatian villages. I've noticed often, however, that it takes me a lot longer to discover the significance of my finds than the others around me who are searching through English-language records, even though the Family History Library's Hungarian and Latin genealogical word lists have offered me much help.

Then there's the new digitization of records in Croatia. I had learned about the ARHiNET project of the State Archives in Zagreb several months ago and intended to write a post about it. I hesitated, planning to search the site for matične knjige (church records) of my family members and then write about my experiences. My problem: I couldn’t even get past the Croatian language log-in prompts.


These fields threw me for a loop at first.

But it got worse...

Korisnicko ime:
Potvrdi zaporku:
Kontrolno pitanje:
Kontrolni odgovor:

Kontrolno pitanje i kontrolni odgovor služe za ponovno dobijanje zaporke u slučaju da ste je zaboravili. Molimo upišite smisleno pitanje i odgovor.
At least I could read the field asking for:

Many of the others were words and phrases that I had not yet encountered. Not only had I not seen many of these words before, but some were not even in my handy-dandy Serbo-Croatian phrasebook. What a struggle it was to get through this gateway into the site itself. I could only imagine what difficulties would befall me once I entered.

Ivan Ćurković, my fellow Croatian genealogy blogger, thankfully does not share my struggles. A native Croatian speaker, he surely breezed through what I found to be a huge roadblock. At his blog,, he has written a nice explanatory article about the digitization of the Croatian archives. I appreciated his well-informed update about the project, and also several of his other recent posts about Croatian resources online, particularly his mention of the website and a Vjesnik online article, both about the meanings of Croatian names. But there’s one problem: what is a great resource to Ivan is only a tease to me, since I am only at the word-by-word-phrase-by-phrase Croatian language translation level.

I am hopeful that slowly but surely I will gain more of an understanding of these languages that my forebears spoke daily. Thanks to helpful sites like Tomislav Kuzmic's Croatian-English Dictionary online, and's online language translators, I may have a chance. Who knows, I may even be able to start reading whole books in Croatian!

Though finding the Croatian and Hungarian languages only a couple of generations back in my family can make the genealogical research process difficult, I do enjoy the challenge of learning these languages, and the feeling of camaraderie with my ancestors who spoke them well into the 20th-century.

If you're joining me on this quest to learn Hungarian and Croatian (maybe even a little Kajkavian), I wish you...

In Croatian: Sretno!
In Hungarian: Jó szerencse!
(Good luck!)


  1. Lisa,

    Good luck indeed! I feel your pain as I try to read Polish and Russian. And, I'm planning a trip to Croatia for this summer...what a beautiful country but they are seriously in need of some vowels. ;-) I'll let you know how I make out!

    What's Past is Prologue

  2. Croatian is indeed a hard language to master, even for us 2nd generation kids. Although I understand a good deal, I too struggle at times. I believe that Croatian is still one of the most beautiful languages out there but sometimes I wish that there were less grammar rules!

    I think ARHiNET will solve our problems of getting to the resources we need to get to. I just wish they would have a fully functional product before going online!

  3. Hi Lisa,
    You have quite a challenge here to understand Croatian.I have never learned the language,but as you know well, language learning is an intense activity.
    So nice to have a fellow blogger who is fluent in Croatian :)
    Another country & language for example...

    My husband has roots in North Italy.The region is called Aosta. Due to it's proximity to France, the region has been through history laregly French speaking, though in the church registers they use latin!
    That last point set us back the first time we were researching.But, we managed with a dictionary and through practice, to isolate the "key" words.

    It's going to be exciting to read about your continuing discoveries.

    Have a nice day ;)


For more from Lisa, visit

Related Posts with Thumbnails