Archive for March, 2011


Welcome to my professional research pages.

My name is Stephen Rigden and I am a professional researcher covering Eastern Europe.

If you would like to discuss your research and/or need any assistance, please use the Contact Us Tab at the top of this page


3 The Quays, Belvedere Road, Faversham, Kent, England, ME13 7LP


1st class BA with Hons in English Literature


I have been a professional genealogist since 1987. I formerly worked for 21 years for a leading London firm of forensic genealogists, where I was Head of Research until 2009. Currently, I work part-time for a major British family history website. I am the owner of Bluebird Research.

My interests include Slavic history, Russian literature and travel in Eastern Europe.


I provide specialist family history research services across Eastern Europe, including the Balkans, Greece and Russia (with Siberia). I also undertake genealogical research in Cyprus and Egypt (Greek communities only) and in Armenia. For more information click here

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Italianised names in Istria

When researching Croatian family history in Istria, one should not be surprised to find that names, both Christian names and surnames, do not appear in their expected forms. Just as in the diaspora a name may be changed to make it more pronounceable to an English speaker or to be typed on an English-language keyboard lacking the diacritical marks of Croat (so that Babić becomes Babich or Babitch, and Blažević becomes Blazhevich), so names were changed in Istria under Italian and earlier under Austro-Hungarian rule. The difference is that, under Italian rule, such changes were not always made voluntarily by the subject but imposed upon him or her by the state or the church. 

The Italians occupied Istria in November 1918 and within a few years had started to suppress Croatian (and of course Slovenian) national culture. In October 1919, religious education in Croat was forbidden in schools and measures begun to encourage parish priests to use Italian rather than the local vernacular in church services. In October 1923 a diktat was issued closing all Croat-language schools; they could only re-open if education was conducted in Italian. In January 1929, Croat-language newspapers were shut down. Most pertinently for our purposes, in November 1928 parents were forbidden to baptise their children using Slavic names, so in baptism registers from that date one should expect to see only Italian equivalents of Slavic names (unless the local priest defied the ruling). From April 1927, surnames, especially those which Italians regarded as having Italian or Latin roots, or claimed to have been translated from Italian and given Slavic suffixes, were to be italianised as well, so that Babić might become Babicci, and Horvat became Crevato. In April 1936 an official publication was issued prescribing the way in which names should be changed. 

These are but the legal manifestations of the pervasive creeping suppression of Croatian nationality in Istria during the inter-War period of Italian rule. Of course, some Croatians emigrated to the new Yugoslavia or to America, while a minority consciously opted for Italian culture. It can be expected that most, especially away from the larger towns, simply wanted to be able to get on with their lives and lived quietly, passively accepting the italianisation of the external forms around them and keeping their essential Croatian national identity intact. Those in positions of authority – such as teachers and priests – doubtless tried to continue using Croat where they could but switched to Italian if they had to. Roman Catholic parish registers – the baptism, marriage and burial registers – and the wonderfully informative status animarum documents, encapsulating a wealth of information about a family, usually evidence the pressure to italianise, and you should expect to see Italian spellings of names. However, this was seldom standardised, so that a single family surname can be rendered in different ways at different times. This demands constant alertness on behalf of genealogists, especially when surnames showed more significant alteration than a tinkering with the surname suffix. For example, one can expect a Croatian surname beginning with a K to be changed to a C, a name beginning with a Cu or a Ču sometimes changing to a Z depending on the spelling convention required when writing it in Italian, a name starting with Krm- or Krt- acquiring a vowel, and so on. 

 If you have roots in Istria and are interested in knowing more about your Croatian family history and ancestry, please contact us and we would be happy to provide you with an assessment of the research that can be done and an estimate of costs.

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Albanian ancestry

Mary Edith Durham was born in 1863, the eldest child of parents Arthur and Mary Durham.  Her father, originally from Northampton, was a consulting surgeon in London. In the English decennial census returns, the family can be seen living comfortably, replete with domestic servants, at 82 Brook Street in the West End (in 1871, 1881 and 1891) and later at 20 Ellerdale Road in Hampstead (1901). Miss Durham received a private education before studying art at the Royal Academy (she is described as “artist, painter” in the 1891 census return) and then caring for her widowed mother. 

Miss Durham’s life abruptly took an unexpected course in the early 1900s, when she undertook a trip along the Dalmatian coast to the Bay of Kotor in what is today Montenegro. Here she discovered a lifelong passion for the southern Balkans, initially all-embracing but gradually developing into partisan advocacy for the Albanians. She wrote many books and articles about Albania, Montenegro and Serbia, ranging from travel to anthropology to politics. 

In August 1931 she published a short piece called “Preservation of Pedigrees and Commemoration of Ancestors in Montenegro”, on the subject of ancestral awareness. 

She recalled firstly how she had attended a Montenegrin Orthodox church service on All Souls’ Saturday (Zadušna Subota) at which the members of the congregation handed the priest a list of the names of deceased ancestors to be remembered and prayed for. Durham called the list a čitulja, which means obituary but in this context more accurately a necrolog (a list of names of the dead to be commemorated). This custom was found among the Montenegrins and Hercegovinians but, she wrote, not among the Serbs. 

She then goes on to write: 

“In the Northern tribes of Albania, all the men know their pedigrees – or knew them when I was there. I did not know then that the pedigrees were of any value, or I could have collected plenty. They go back mostly to thirteen or fourteen generations. Owing to early marriage, generations are rather short… In this district – and formerly in Montenegro – knowledge of pedigree is most important to prevent the possibility of committing incest by intermarrying with someone descended from the same ancestor. I expect that that was at first the sole object of preserving these pedigrees, and that praying for the names therein was a later and Christian idea…  When I was in Njeguši in Montenegro, I was told of a couple who were just about to be married… The young man was from Bosnia. At the eleventh hour it was discovered he was her second cousin, his grandfather having emigrated. The match was at once broken off, and the girl was married against her will to another man, and the unlucky bridegroom left the country. I expressed sympathy with, and sorrow for, the couple. My informants were astounded: “On the contrary, we should be thankful the family had been saved from incest. We saw how necessary it is to keep pedigrees.”” 

These pedigrees, which appear to have been written rather than oral, were unlikely to comprise full reliable dates of birth, marriage and death, and were more likely a list showing the male line(s) of descent from an original paterfamilias.  Even so, 13 or 14 generations is impressive: assuming 20 years per generation and dating from 1915, it means that the Albanians in questions may have had a record of their ancestors going back to the mid-17th Century.

Professional research in Serbia

We offer professional family history research services across the former Yugoslavia, including of course Serbian genealogical research.

In Serbia itself, we can provide assistance: 

  • in Vojvodina, including Banat, formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As well as ethnic Serbian research, we can help investigate ancestry for those with roots among, for example, the ethnic German Donauschwaben and Hungarians of this region.
  • south of the Danube, in continental Serbia, formerly under Ottoman Turkish rule. As well as those with Serbian roots, we can also help those with Jewish connections to Belgrade and other towns.
  • in Kosovo, researching Serbian roots, subject to local conditions.
  • researching the family histories of the many White Russian émigrés who settled in Yugoslavia after the 1917 Revolution and the defeat of the White Army in Russia.

For Serbian ancestral research beyond the borders of modern Serbia, the types of records available and the prospects for success vary with the territory. It is important to understand that few regions have an unbroken documentary record and, therefore, to manage your own expectations as to what is achievable. However, we can assist with research into the family trees of ethnic Serbs whose ancestors came from: 

  • today’s Republika Srpska and elsewhere within Bosnia-Hercegovina.
  • Croatia, including the Krajina around the town of Knin.
  • Macedonia.
  • Montenegro, such as the Bokelji from Boka Kotorska who were prominent among the earlier waves of emigrants to North America.

In these places, vital records created by church and state have been lost or destroyed at various times, including as recently the 1990s. However, even where records are incomplete, it is usually possible to recreate a family history using alternative sources, so please contact us for a free opinion and an assessment as to the prospects for research.

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Armenian genealogical research in Kars

The Armenian diaspora is international and many of its family historians find that they have roots in that part of Western Armenia now in the Kars province of Turkey. Many Armenian villages in this region have either been destroyed and erased from the map or, once depopulated, re-named by incoming Turkish settlers. I have posted several blogs on my Bluebird Research website to help those Armenian genealogists with roots in the Kars area to locate their ancestral villages. These blog pages are as follows:

  1. An extract of all the Armenian villages from the 1902 Address Calendar of Kars province, transliterated from the original Russian. This gives the Armenian population as at 1901 and the administrative geography for each settlement.
  2. The corresponding extract of all the Armenian villages from the 1914 Address Calendar of Kars province, transliterated from the Russian. This gives the Armenian population as at 1913 and administrative geography for each settlement.
  3. A concordance of Armenian settlement names matching the names transliterated from the Russian together with both their Armenian names (transliterated from the Armenian alphabet) and their modern Turkish names.
  4. A blog linking to a Google Map which I have created, showing the location of the Armenian settlements of Kars province and their old and new names.

You can find these and other blogs on Armenian family history at

If you would like professional assistance with Armenian family history research, or simply a second opinion on the avenues of enquiry open to you, please feel free to contact me using the Contact form.

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