Researching in the Austrian Empire

Submitted by GFS Susanne


What was the Austrian Empire?

Austria was once an area occupied by the tribes of the Danubian and Celts cultures. It was conquered and controlled by the Romans from 15 BC to 10 AD, and many tribes fought for its land; the Goths, Alemanni, Lombards, Avars, and Slavs. In 800 AD, Charlemagne set up his Ostmark campaign in Austria. But the Magyars (Hungarian tribes) overran the area and took control for a short time. The land was fought for again by Otto I of the Holy Roman Empire, re-conquering it. Leopold of Babenberg was named ruler. The Babenberg dynasty called the area Austria (Osterreich in Germany), and ruled it until 1246.

The Hapsburgs were the ruling family of Germany and most of Europe by 1918. Hapsburg comes from Habichtsburg, meaning Hawk's Castle, the name of the family's castle in Switzerland. Rudolf I was elected emperor of the Hapsburg lands in 1273. The empire was strong and powerful and took control of the lands of Austria, along with Styria and Carniola (Yugoslavia) in 1282. In 1438 Albert II was elected emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. The family would go on to control the empire until 1806. Austria was named an Archduchy in 1453.

The Hapsburgs continued to grow in strength and power. They took control of the kingdoms around them, whether through marriage or war. The Kingdom of Bohemia (Czechoslovakia) and Moravia became part of Austria by 1526.

As emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V was head of Catholicism in Europe. Trouble developed with Protestant Bohemians and in 1618 the conflict grew into the Thirty Years War, settled by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, reducing the Holy Roman Empire. But Austria remained strong. In 1686 Austria invaded Buda (Hungary's capital) expelling the Turks. They crowned Francis Joseph King of Hungary. Austria went on to control the Spanish Netherlands (Belgium and part of Italy) in 1714, and gained Galicia (eastern Poland and western Ukraine) in 1772. In 1845 the Hungarians were given more control over their part of the Empire because of rebellions caused by the Austrian authority over them. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was born with its governments in Vienna and Budapest. The new Austro-Hungarian Empire remained a ruling dynasty in Europe until 1918, with Charles I as the last Hapsburg emperor.

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  • Records

    Before any government in Europe began to keep records, the church priests and pastors kept them. Catholic Church records began in about the late 1500s, but most churches records began late in the 1600s.

    The Austrian government required by law that civil records be kept for all births, marriages, and deaths in 1784. These laws covered the way church records would be kept also, and since the religion of the area was Catholic, the Catholic Church kept records for everyone, Protestant or Jewish. The government felt that since the churches were already keeping records, they would have them unified in a specific format and just duplicate them for the civil record offices. But this uniformed record keeping did not begin at the same time all over the empire.

    You have to know where your ancestor was from to find any records, because records were kept locally.

    Finding where your ancestor actually came from can be a most challenging task. You will have to search ALL US records available in hopes of finding the one document that will give you the name of the town, province or country.

    Once you have the location you can begin to find where the records are located. To find the parish, church, or civil office, you will need to look in a Gazetteer. A Gazetteer is a dictionary of place-names describing towns, villages, parishes, counties, states, provinces, rivers, mountains, and any other geographical feature.

    For the Austro-Hungarian Empire the Gazetteer to use is the Gazetteer of the Crownlands and Territories represented in the Imperial Council. There are 14 volumes that contain sections for each of the provinces and districts in the Empire. The Latter-day Saints have filmed the Gazetteer. The LDS FHC will have reference material to help you use the Gazetteer as it is in German and contains many abbreviations.

    FHC=Family History Center, is a branch of the Latter-Day Saints(LDS) Church in Salt Lake City, Utah. There are over 2,000 local branches in about 50 countries around the world with libraries containing filmed records. The FHC is open free to the public. You do not have to be a member of the church to use the library. No one will try to convert you or preach to you. To locate a FHC near you, check your phonebook yellow pages under "Churches, Latter-Day Saints" for a listing, or call 800-346-6044.

    Latter-day Saints Family History Pages:
  • The official site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  • Deseret Book On-Line® — The Ultimate LDS Resource
  • Provinces found in the Austro-Hungarian Gazetteer are, with film and item #:
    Bohmen 1187927 #1        Mahren 0924736 #1
    Bukowina 1187928 #2        Niederosterreich 1187925 #2
    Dalmatien 1187928 #3        Oberosteereich 1187825 #3
    Galizien 1187928 #1        Salzburg 1187925 #4
    Karnten 1187926 #2        Schlesien 1187927 #2
    Krain 1187926 #3        Steiermark 1187926 #1
    Kustenland 1187926 #4        Tirol und Vorarlberg 1187926 #5

    FEEFHS MAP ROOM-Austro-Hungarian Maps

    Look in the Gazetteer for your town or village. It will give you the name of the parish and civil record office where records were kept. You can then check the LDS catalogue to see if those records have been filmed. If not, you will need to write (in the language of the country) to obtain the information.

    The LDS now has 119 films for records from 1607-1945 in the L'viv Archives You can find an explantation for the films from the InfoUkes Website found at: InfoUkes
    Check microfilm 1921625 for an Index in Ukrainian

    Unfortunately actually getting these records can be difficult depending on the country. Some countries have not yet understood the genealogists need for records, and make it almost impossible to obtain them. But do not give up!

    P.O. Box 510898, Salt Lake City, Utah 84151-0898

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