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Genealogy Guide: Romania and Moldova

Brief History

Like most European countries, Romania’s borders have changed considerably over time.  Starting in the late 15th century, the Ottoman Empire ruled the Romanian provinces of Moldavia, Walachia, and Dobruja, while Austria and Hungary controlled the Banat, Bihor, Maramures, Satu Mare, and Transylvania.  Austria took over Bukovina (northwestern Moldavia) in 1774, and Russia obtained Bessarabia (eastern Moldavia) in 1812.  An unsuccessful Balkan revolt against the Turks ultimately led to Russian occupation of Walachia and Moldavia from 1829-34.  The two principalities merged in 1859 to form Romania (also spelled Rumania or Roumania at various times), which remained subservient to the Ottomans until full independence was achieved in 1878.  The province of Dobruja was also added at that time.

After World War I, Romania regained control over the territories of Banat, Bessarabia, Bihor, Bukovina, Maramures, Satu Mare, and Transylvania at the expense of Austro-Hungary and Russia.  During the Holocaust period, Romania temporarily gave up northern Transylvania (including northern Bihor, Maramures, and Satu Mare) to Hungary, and permanently lost northern Bukovina and Bessarabia (now the Republic of Moldova) to the Soviet Union.

Jews were present in the region under the Roman Empire, but subsequent invasions and wars severely disrupted their existence.  The Jewish population increased significantly after 1800, primarily due to immigration (first from the Balkans and later in the mid-19th century from the Russian Empire and Kingdom of Galicia).  A 1930 census showed a Jewish population of 757,000 in Romania, including 207,000 in Bessarabia and 93,000 in Bukovina.  During the Holocaust, there were many massacres and deportations.  After World War II, the Jewish population within the new borders of Romania was estimated at 430,000.  By 1965, as a result of massive intermittent emigration, the Jewish population had dropped to 100,000.  By 1989, toward the end of the Communist period in Romania, there were only 19,000.  By 2005, there were only 9,000 Jews left.

Finding Your Ancestral Town

To make the best use of this guide, you should first follow the general guidelines in our research guide on starting your family history research, and if necessary, use our research guides on immigration, naturalization, census, and vital records to identify your ancestral town (vital records might be written in Romanian, Hungarian, Hebrew, German, Russian and other languages depending on the location and time period).  If you determine that your town is within modern-day Romania, you will also need to find out the name of the county (judet) in which it is located.  If your town was in Austro-Hungary before 1920 (i.e., if the town is located in Banat, Bihor, Maramures, Satu Mare, or Transylvania), you should also consult our research guide on Hungary.