In Serbian peasant families, surnames were often taken in the very early years of the 19th century. Say there were three brothers, Andrija, Pavle and Stojan, each of whom settled and married in or around the same village. Their families then took a patronymic as their surname, becoming respectively Andrić, Pavlić and Stojanović. The children of the three brothers therefore had different family names, and so on down each male line of descent, which in Serbian is known as a vamilija. Traditionally, kin within a vamilija cannot inter-marry, no matter how far down the lineage. 

Each vamilija has its own patron saint and celebrates the saint’s feast day or slava. The slava is of central importance in Serbian tradition and, especially where a surname is common locally, individual families will be known and distinguished by their slava. The family’s patron saint does not appear in any official state or church records but, if it is known or can be found out, it can prove of assistance in identifying related families when undertaking genealogical research to locate surviving family in Serbia. Historically, too, each vamilija tended to reside in its own neighbourhood of a settlement, although in this respect it should be remembered that many Serbian villages are dispersed communities of scattered smallholdings, rather than concentrated and clustered in the manner of villages in many other places in Europe. Often, too, in rural areas (and Serbia was and still is very much a rural land) the vamilija will have its own burial ground (perhaps on a hillside, unconnected to the church), or section of a village cemetery.

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