Friday, October 19, 2007

A rose by any other name...

Surnames can be blessings or curses in the search for family history. While a more common last name is a good thing during roll call in elementary school and beyond, the more rare and unusual last names tend to be blessings during family history research. Up to a point, that is.

I have a nice mix of both types of surnames in my family tree. One of the least common ones happens to be one of the surnames which is the subject of this blog: the Ujlaki family.

My Ujlaki ancestors back to the mid-1800's resided in what is now northern Croatia, right on the border with Hungary. My continual question (one that I am always researching for further proof) is:

Just what type of heritage did this family have?

Their homes were right on the border of today's Hungary, and were swallowed up as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and more modern-day Hungary at different times throughout history.

Were they true Croatian Slavs? Or did they hail from the Hungarian Magyar tribe?

My great-grandmother Ilona Ujlaki's Ellis Island paperwork indicates Hungarian/German ancestry, the first place I had ever come across that idea. Would this note indicate her husband Ferencz' heritage, or hers? If her husband's, that might explain the sky blue eyes that he passed down to several of his children. Would he be of Austrian descent? Or German?

Then, there are the languages that he spoke. Croatian, Hungarian, English... those make sense. But Polish? Why and how would he have learned Polish? Did the family have relatives there?

All these questions, and no help from the Ujlaki surname. I have been unable to determine if the name is truly of Croatian origin or Hungarian origin or other. Perhaps it is a Slavic variation of an originally German name?

So many questions - so few Ujlakis to help me find the right answer.

I'm wondering if genetic genealogy could possibly provide me with a clue to my family's past.

My question for The Genetic Genealogist during the Carnival of Genealogy with a genetic twist:

What would you suggest for the best way to determine the original genetic heritage of a family? What types of information can I learn from a genetic test? How specific can genetic tests get with regard to origins - Western European vs. Eastern European, Croatian vs. Hungarian vs. Austrian?

When a surname is so uncommon (like Ujlaki) what are the chances that I might find someone else interested in a project for that name? Is it worth the time and money for someone with a relatively rare surname to participate in a genetic surname project?

I'll always be on the lookout for modern-day Ujlakis and descendants of Ujlakis (and Ujlakys and Ulakys, etc.). As all genealogists learn, a rose by any other name still shares the genes of a rose.

What I'd really like to know: just where did the Ujlaki family get its start?


  1. Very good question, Lisa! It will be interesting to see how Blaine answers this. I'm looking forward to this next edition of the COG!

  2. Lisa,

    And here I thought that people with rare surnames had fewer genealogical mysteries... your article has changed my way of thinking.



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