Archive for September, 2011

Genealogical research in the Banat

The Banat is one of the regions of Europe known as contact zones, where peoples of different ethnicity, religion and language co-existed, and to an extent still co-exist – sometimes harmoniously, sometimes uneasily, as is the case the world over. 

Imagined as a Venn diagram, the Banat is perhaps a natural intersection for the Serbs to the west (who had pushed north to escape the Ottomans) and the Romanians to the east. However, there is also an artificial historical factor, caused by the ruling Habsburgs’ intervention and planned settlement of the land in the 18th century and more natural immigration of Imperial subjects in the 19th century. The majority of these were German speakers – they became known as Swabians, although Swabia was only one of various German regions from which they came. In addition to the Germans, the Banat received, among others, Bulgarian, Croat, Czech, French, Hungarian, Slovak and Swiss settlers – mostly but not exclusively Catholics (there were also Protestants of different persuasions, among them again many German settlers). And further broadening the mix of peoples in the area were Jewish merchants and professionals, Austrian civil servants, and Gypsy (locally Tsigani or Ţigani) settlements.   

Resources and professional genealogical research services for those with German Banater ancestry are well-established. In the wake of WW2, rightly or wrongly, the Germans in Yugoslavia and Romania became persona non grata. The descendants of the Banat Germans now live in Germany, in Canada, in USA and elsewhere and, like all displaced and diaspora peoples, show a keen interest in their roots (roots which, of course, pass through the rich black soil of the Banat and extend beyond it to Baden and Lorraine, Westfalen and Württemberg). 

However, Bluebird Research, as well as undertaking German genealogy in Serbia and Romania, can assist with your genealogical research in the Banat whatever the nationality or religion of your ancestors. We work in both Romania and Serbia; we are just as interested in the cultural and social history of the Hungarians and the Slovaks of the Banat; we have a special interest in the Jewish communities, now mostly lost; and in the Serbian Orthodox families, many of which can trace their histories back to “continental” Serbia (for instance to Šumadija), or to Herzegovina, or to Montenegro. 

If you have ancestors from the Banat, and would like professional assistance with your family history research, please get in touch with us for a free assessment and estimate of costs. Research is affordable and success rates are generally high.

Eastern European merchant marines

This week the family history website Find My Past has published the central index to the register of merchant seamen on British vessels. The original record series was created by the then Registrar General of Shipping and Seaman (part of the Board of Trade). It is now held on microfiche at The National Archives in Kew, England and can be seen under shelf references BT348, BT349 and BT350. 

The resource takes the shape of record cards which form a central index to seamen registered to serve on British-registered vessels within the period from approximately 1918 to 1941. 

What makes the Central Index Register cards interesting from an Eastern European genealogical research perspective is that many of those employed in the British merchant navy were engaged at overseas ports. For example, there are large numbers of records relating to Estonian, Greek and Latvian sailors. Additionally, there are smaller but still significant quantities of seamen from Cyprus, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Ukraine and the former Yugoslavia, and even some from landlocked Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Some of these men may have settled and even become naturalised in Britain but presumably a majority remained citizens or subjects of their country of birth. 

The front and back of each index card have been scanned and an online index published so that the records of individual merchant marines can be searched for and located. Two, three or more cards of different dates exist for some individuals. 

The cards evolved a little over time, from CR1 to CR2 to CR10 types, and the details recorded changed too. However, the basic format remains the same, as does the core detail of name, year and place of birth, rating, Discharge A Number, ship name and/or official registered number, and date. Some cards give physical descriptions, while others sport a black and white passport-style photograph and signature. 

The data is handwritten onto the printed index cards. The handwriting is not always legible and may be faint or contain abbreviations. The place of birth information on the cards will reflect the date at which they were created and the spellings current at that time, sometimes anglicised or misspelt. For example, the Estonian islands of Hiiumaa and Saaremaa often appear as Dagö and Ösel respectively (typically minus their diacritics), being their old Swedish names, and similarly the Saaremaa capital Kuressaare is often given as Arensburg. 

This online collection is not a complete record of those sailing on British merchant vessels between the Wars. The majority of cards dating from 1913 to 1921 are known to have been destroyed in 1969. Moreover, a fourth record series at The National Archives (shelf reference BT364) is not being published, on account of data protection and personal privacy concerns. The series BT364 also covers the period 1921 to 1941 and was extracted from the materials that now comprise BT348 to BT350 inclusive. It remains possible that this series, which has also been scanned and indexed, may be released too in due course. 

A final note: while some of the individuals contained within these records will have seen service additionally in the Royal Navy at some date, it must be emphasised that the majority would have served only on British merchant vessels and were not in the armed forces.