European Ancestors – Bulgarian Research

bulgarian flag

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Continuing with the migration of the European Ancestors material. The flag shown here is of Bulgaria since 1990 until the present day.

Bulgaria is the oldest state in Europe to have kept its original name since AD681 and most of the population are descendants of the Bulgarian invasion of the South Danube. On two occasions during the medieval period Bulgarians managed to establish empires. On 22nd September 1908 Bulgaria was proclaimed an independent state.

The history of the Balkans is a complex one due to the invasions, petitions and general chaos in the region. By the 20th Century Bulgaria was ruled by a Monarchy which during the Second World War joined forces with the Axis powers. In 1944, after the death of King Boris, the Soviet Union backed the alternative regime and a Republic was declared.

The Republic was Communist and those who were against the Regime or believed to be against the regime were observed, challenged and on many occasions interned into the Labour camps, very similar to those that existed in Russia.

The close proximity of mainland Greece to Bulgaria meant that there was often natural migration between the two countries. Border changes in the region meant that on occasions overnight Greeks became Bulgarians and were asked to change from the Greek Orthodox religion to Muslim. Once the Communist regime was established there was a lack of tolerance to religions, and those who were not comfortable with the regime naturally wanted to cross the border. Those wishing to leave the Country were seen as traitors and if caught fleeing were interned. Those that did make it out were labelled traitors and could never safely return to the Country.

Bulgarian National Archives can be found HERE (the site has been, and still is under construction).

The state archives of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria was formed on 10th October 1951 and carry out a nationwide policy of collection, storage, organisation and use of archive material. There is very little emphasis on assisting researchers.

In 1839 the Emperor of the Ottoman Empire declared that all subjects in the Empire would be afforded the same rights. It is from this time that we see the formation of Official Registers.

There are also the following repositories which may hold information

  • Bulgarian National Library in Sofia
  • National Library in Plovdiv
  • District State Archives
  • Military Archives in Veliko Tyrnovo
  • Church Archives in Sofia

The district archives use the 28 districts which had divided the Country. Each district had a capital which was responsible for the records in that geographical location. In the 1980’s the 28 districts structure was abandoned and instead 9 larger provinces were established, but the former structure was deeply embedded into the structure of the country and establishment of the provinces merely fragmented the storage of official documents.

The 9 Provinces are:

  • Burgas
  • Khaskovo
  • Lovech
  • Mikhaylo
  • Plovdiv
  • Ruse (Rousse)
  • Sofia (Sofya)
  • Sofrya Region
  • Varna

Documents that can be found are:

  • Birth Records
  • Marriage Records
  • Death Records
  • Index of Funds Records
  • Taxation Records

Because of the historical links to Turkey through the Ottoman Empire there are some Turkish records to be found in Bulgarian records. Documents will be in Bulgarian and some early records in Latin script.

In this region there has always been a Jewish population. In the period of the Second World War whilst there was a complete lack of tolerance to the Jewish religion across the German occupied territories, Bulgaria retained its Jewish population and broadly speaking did not deport them, but did deport around 11,000 of those who were of the Jewish faith during its occupation of Yugoslavia and Greece during this period.

A very useful resource is The Foundation for the Advancement of Sephardic Studies and Culture (FASSAC)

With the demise of the Communist Regime in this region there has been an increased availability of documentation about the Country and individuals and therefore research in the region should not simply be restricted to what is available in Bulgaria. Those who were seen as potential enemies of the regime, whether that was correct or not were observed and records were maintained. The reality is that no one really knows for sure how many more records are potentially available about those who lived in this region during this regime.

Researching in Bulgaria is complex because of being part of the Ottoman Empire, boundary changes with Greece, the alignment with Germany during the Second World War and finally the Communist regime that occurred from 1944. From these few historical facts a whole new set of research opportunities presents themselves.

Top Tips

  • Research Wide – in much of Europe there is a necessity to research generally before drilling down to the details of specific individuals. It is imperative to understand the Country and the social, political and economic stance of the time and how that would have affected individuals.
  • Look at the Surnames and Places. Even through the turbulence of region, religious and political intolerance not everyone left their area or homeland. Some changed faiths and political beliefs and adopted a new way of life.
  • Research the places that your ancestors live. Has the place always been in the Country that it was or is in?
  • What was the dominant religion in that place?
  • Border Countries
  • Other researching in the geographical place
  • Others researching the surname anywhere – where there is a regime of intolerance there is migration – therefore there maybe others researching the same surname in other parts of the world.
    • Identify periods of migration
      • Depending on religion (1930 – 1945) – Whilst the Bulgarian Jewish population were not deported during the Second World War how many fled believing that they were in danger? Potentially someone of Bulgarian Jewish faith living in Greece could have been deported.
      • Migration during the Cold War era. Subjects that left were often subject to interrogation by the Country that they entered – as a way of ensuring that they were genuine and not agents of a Communist Regime.
      • Migration that occurred through border changes (Bulgaria and Greece for example)
    • Understanding the Migration. Those fleeing often did so with very little of anything, in an attempt to hide their impending migration. Did they cross the border into another Country and establish themselves there in order to finance their migration on to the US or other parts of Europe?
      • Where was the nearest port? Which might not have been in the country of origin.
      • Where was the cheapest port?
  • Obtain a history of the Balkans such as:
    • A short history of the Balkans by Mark Mazower, published 2002
    • The Balkans 1804 – 2002: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers by Misha Glenny, published 2012
  • Maps
    • Map of the Balkans showing the border towns with Greece and Romania
    • Map of Bulgaria showing Provinces and towns.

About Julie Goucher

Genealogist, Author, Presenter, native Guildfordian, avid note taker and journal writer. Lover of Books, Stationery & History; Surnames, Butcher & Orlando One-Name Studies. Pharos Tutor for all One-Name Studies/surname courses as well as Researching Ancestors from Continental Europe.
This entry was posted in Bulgaria, European Ancestors. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to European Ancestors – Bulgarian Research

  1. This is an awesome collection of links and data. Thanks.


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