Your ancestors in Austria
Austrian family history records, like many European Records are challenging to track down if you don’t know which part of Austria your ancestor came from. If the Census you are consulting states your ancestor was from Austria you need to work out if they came from an area within the modern boundaries of Austria or whether they came from an area within the Habsburg Empire. Translating this area onto a modern day map should help indicate the modern state you need to concentrate your research in. This blog will help you get started.
The Republic of Austria (commonly known as Austria, or Österreich in German) is a landlocked country in a strategic location in central Europe. As such its boundaries and politics have changed regularly. It comprises 9 States, one of which is its capital Vienna. German is the official language.
Austria appears as a margraviate (southeastern frontier territory of the Holy Roman Empire) in 976. The Holy Roman Empire was the major political force in Europe (1500-1806). In the 16th Century Austria served as the heart of the Habsburg Monarchy. In the 19th Century (following the collapse of The Holy Roman Empire) Austria created its own Empire (1804 to 1867). Following the Austro-Prussian War (in which Austria was defeated) the Kingdom of Hungary and the Kingdom of Austria were joined to create the Austro-Hungarian Empire, this lasted until 1918.
The Republic of German-Austria was created following World War One (German: Republik Deutschösterreich). The Republic of Austria was created shortly after following the Treaty of Versailles. In 1938 Hitler (Austrian born) announced the reunification of The Republic of Austria with Germany (the German Reich). Austria’s secession from the Third Reich was by the Declaration of Independence on 27 April 1945. In 1955 Austria gained full independence from the occupying powers (American, British, French and Soviets).
74% of Austria’s population was registered as Roman Catholic in 2001 (Census). 5% were Protestants, 12% indicated no religion. The remaining comprised of Muslim, Othodox Churches (mostly Serbs), Jehovah Witnesses and Jews.
Genealogy records are organised by geographical locality. Both Government records (Civil Registration; birth, marriage and death) and Church records (christening/baptism, marriage and burial) are kept at a local level. Ideally you need to know the town or area in which your ancestors lived. The FamilySearch Wiki gives useful guidance on finding your ancestors town of origin, even if you aren’t sure.
Once you have found your ancestors town or area of origin (if in modern day Austria) then the following links will support you research:
Another useful website to explore is GenTeam. Due to the strategic location of Austria in Central Europe, its ‘ownership’ or boundaries and name as a country have changed regularly as we go back in time (see the section ‘Austria). With Austria you will be searching back through different countries and therefore different record sets.
A useful map and chart on the FamilySearch website will guide you through researching your ancestors in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Birth, Marriage and Death records (Civil Registration) for Austria started in 1938. Before this registers were kept by Parishes.
If your ancestors were from Vienna, for example, then these documents can be ordered online.
A snapshot of a family, on one night of the year; the Census gives an invaluable insight into our ancestors lives.
The results of the Census in the Austria Empire (minus Hungary) are accessible in Vienna. 1869, 1880, 1890, 1900 and 1910 are available, however unfortunately for Genealogists no names of individuals are listed. Enumeration sheets were largely destroyed by a fire in the Palace of Justice in 1927.
Before 1938 the Religious Community kept records of Christening/Baptism, Marriage and Burial. These are generally kept within their own archives. Ideally you should know the religion of your ancestor before searching for and accessing these records.
Until 1849 Catholic Priests had to include records of other denominations in their Parish Registers. Even if your ancestors were another denomination it will pay to search the Catholic Registers up until 1849.
Some churches have started to digitise their Parish Registers online:
- Matricula Online for Lower Austria (Niederösterreich), Upper Austria (Oberösterreich) and Vienna (Wien)
- http://www.vla.findbuch.net for Vorarlberg.
Key contacts and useful websites
Research ancestors in other countries
Wikipeadia, accessed 2019
FamilySearch.org, accessed 2019
wien.gv.at/english/history/archives/ancestors.html; accessed 2019
Robert Parker is a Genealogist and Trainer, based in Kent. He delivers courses, guidance, talks and research services for those interested in tracing their ancestors. See https://myfamilygenealogy.co.uk for further details. Contact Robert to discuss your requirements without obligation.
What stories might your ancestors tell?