“Nomen Omen” – the name is a sign, said the ancient Romans. And if your name sounds Slovak, then you might want to follow the signs and find out if that’s really where your ancestors come from. Over the past few years, the seven state archives in Slovakia, which house historical records of births and deaths in their region, have grown accustomed to welcoming overseas researchers, trying to trace their genealogy in Slovakia.
Individual archives have slightly different methods for organising and accessing records, but the procedure for research is fundamentally the same, which makes the State Archive in Bytča typical. It is located in the centre of town in a Renaissance manor house from the 16th century, which was donated by František Thurzo as a place for safekeeping documents, especially ancestral archive and documents of property management.
Nowadays, the Bytča archive contains documents from northern Slovakia, including the counties Orava, Liptov, Turiec and formerly Trenčín. Poring through the records could reveal that your ancestors were aristocrats, or that there is a fortune in inheritance waiting for you. Just be prepared, however, because you might also learn that a genetic disorder wiped out your ancestors and could be coming to you next.
Regardless of your intentions, the first step is to contact the state archive, either via email or with a personal visit. You will then be required to fill in a formal application for information (electronically, by letter or personally), and reveal what is the general purpose of your request.
The more information you can provide, the better chance you have of finding something useful, and more quickly. But the researchers at the archive can usually point you in the right direction, according to the director of the Bytča archive, Jana Kurucárová.
Once you have some of the relevant documents, a search room is available to begin the process. But you will need plenty of time.
“Once, when I gave lectures at a course, one man asked me how much time is necessary for making a genealogical search,” Kurucárová said. “And I answered him: to retirement and then longer. That was approximately 20 years ago and the same man still visits our archive. Every time we meet he says, ‘You were right. This is never-ending’.”
Birth records are kept on microfilm and can be accessed in the search room or the archive area. The assistance of the staff, access to the study hall and hire of a viewer is free, but a birth record costs €1.50 to view. (There are also only four viewers, so booking is necessary).
Even if you do not have the time to research these things yourself, you can request - and pay for -
researchers to do so on your behalf. The archive offers a simple research service (€13.27 per hour), demanding research (€19.91 per hour) and very demanding research (€21.57 per hour), all of which is undertaken by professional historians, employed by the state archive. (Other fees might be accrued for typing, administration and possibly postage.) Documents are usually written in Hungarian, Latin, Hebrew, German and the bohemian Slovak language, and typically date back to around 1720.
“Every research project is a unique saga,” Kurucárová said. “Every time you find something new and it almost never reaches a conclusion. It is not a movie, novel or a script but it is a life which somebody actually lived.”
Genealogical research is about perseverance, and following leads. For example a birth certificate for someone's grandmother, born in 1920, will likely give the name and age of her father, opening another avenue of investigation. “Once, I found a receipt which had been signed by my grandfather,” said Kurucárová. “He was a carpenter in Bytča and I have never seen his handwriting before. It was astonishing.”
Most researchers tend to arrive in the summer months, and come from all over the world. Americans are the most frequent overseas visitors, but other researchers have come from even further afield.
“The name Pedro Haluška features regularly in our records,” said Kurucárová. “This name is now prominent in Latin America and has become separate from the Slovak family line of Haluškas. There is a whole generation educated in another end of the world.”
Others visit Bytča from France, Germany and increasingly, more and more Czechs.
“Once, we had someone from Canada and a movie maker from Austria on the same day,” said Kurucárová.
If all the boxes of documents in the archive were laid beside one another, they would stretch for six kilometres. The oldest document dates from 1263 from Belo IV. (Béla IV), and the archive also includes the death sentence handed down to Juraj Jánošík (1713) and some correspondence of Elizabeth Bathory (1606, 1608).
Visitors can take a tour of the archive in small groups (bringing an interpreter is advisable) or can arrange a trip via the tourist information office in Žilina.
Driving from Žilina:
19 km / 20 mins;
Public transport from Žilina (www.cp.sk), Train: 20 mins, Bus: 35 mins
(Bytča Manor House)
Tel: +421 (0)41 500-1511
S. Sakalovej 106/3, Bytča; Open: Tue-Sun 9:00-17:00; Admission: no entrance fee
The most significant monument of the city of Bytča is the manor house. It is one of the few Renaissance manor houses in Slovakia which has kept its original appearance free from any alterations or modifications. It was built in 1571-1574 on the Gothic foundations of an old water castle. Today the castle houses the State Archives in Bytča. Another building in the area is referred to as the Wedding Palace, the only one of its kind in Slovakia. Its owner, Paladin Juraj Thurzo had it built in 1601 for the wedding feasts of his seven daughters. Today it serves as an exhibition space.
State Archives in Bytča
Tel: +421 (0)41 553-3311
S. Sakalovej 106/3, Bytča (area of Manor House); Travelling from Považská Bystrica turn left across the bridge and before the Billa supermarket turn left from the main road and drive 450 metres directly to the State Archive;
Open: Mon-Thu 8:00-15:30
Director: PhDr. Jana Kurucárová, Tel: +421 (0)41 553-2137
It is generally recommended to visit with a translator. Viewings in the archive are held in Slovak and are available for free, but only for small groups (approx. 10 people). Bigger groups have to make a reservation because there is limited space. The archive contains records and documents and currently manages over 600 funds and collections from 1263 to 2008. The archive covers: central Považie region, Kysuce, Rajecká dolina, Orava, Liptov and Turiec. There is so much material that if it was laid out consecutively it would stretch for 6 km.
Tel: +421 (0)41 553-3902
Lombardíniho 200/1, Bytča
Apartmány Bytča (Apartments Bytča)
Mob: +421 (0)904 811-266
Treskoňova 816/1, Bytča
Dining and drinking
Mob: +421 (0)917 574-752
Zámok 105, Bytča (in the area of the manor house)