Legacy Tree Onsite: Exploring the Archives of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Legacy Tree Genealogists works with researchers around the world to access records for our clients. We recently asked one of our onsite researchers to share valuable information on the resources available for family history research at various archives in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Although the country had many names over the years, in 1995, the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (located on the Balkan Peninsula in Southeast Europe) officially changed its name to Bosnia and Herzegovina. One of the most significant challenges facing those pursuing genealogy research in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the lack of digitized records and a lack of centralized records storage.
The country’s archival holdings suffered from war during the 90s and from more recent events as well. In 2012, approximately 80% of the National and University Library collections, housed by Sarajevo’s City Hall, were destroyed by fire in a bombing.
The websites of many regional Bosnia-Herzegovina archives offer little digital resources for genealogists. Records such as birth, marriage, or death records, regardless of religion, are not online. Only the History Museum and the National Library of BiH (Sarajevo) offer the option of online searching through their archival collections. Researchers must request historical information by submission in writing to the respective archive.
In 1981, the first complete review of archival material in Bosnia and Herzegovina was published as part of the edition Archival Funds and Collections in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Today, the 462-page guide “Vodič Arhiva Bosne i Hercegovine,” published in 1987, and its subsequent supplements, printed in 1993, remain the premier resource for researchers. Researchers can find copies at fourteen libraries around the world.
Birth, Marriage, and Death Records
Key records for genealogical research are birth, marriage, and death records. Before 1946, the responsibility of recording these life events in the territory of today’s Bosnia and Herzegovina rested with religious entities like the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, and the Islamic Community of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The metrical registers maintained the recording of births, marriage, and deaths by religious officials. After 1946, the recording of these records became the responsibility of the local Register Offices, and this practice continues today.
Political Divisions and Their Impact on Bosnia-Herzegovina Records
Bosnia and Herzegovina are comprised of two political entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH), with mostly Bosniaks and Croats, and The Republika Srpska (RS) with mostly Serbs – each entity governing roughly one half of the nation’s territory. Bosnia and Herzegovina has a solid regional or localized political system. Its archival system reflects this structure, with local or regional archives housing the records.
The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s national structure consists of 10 autonomous units called cantons:
- The Una-Sana Canton – The center of the cantonal government is Bihać (Bosniak majority).
- The Posavina Canton – Its capital is Orasje (Croat majority)
- The Tuzla Canton – The cantonal seat is the city of Tuzla (Bosniak majority)
- The Zenica-Doboj Canton – The cantonal seat is the city of Zenica (Bosniak majority).
- The Bosnian-Podrinje Canton Goražde – The cantonal seat is in Goražde (Bosniak majority).
- The Central Bosnia Canton – The center of the canton government is Travnik and is classified as ‘ethnically mixed.’
- The Herzegovina-Neretva Canton – Mostar is its administrative center and is classified as ‘ethnically mixed.’
- The West Herzegovina Canton – Its seat of government is in Široki Brijeg (98% are ethnic Croats).
- The Sarajevo Canton, officially the Canton (and capital city) of Sarajevo. (Bosniak majority).
- Canton 10 – The local government seat is in Livno (Croat majority).
The Archival System of Bosnia-Herzegovina
The oldest record collections originate from Austria-Hungary’s rule over Bosnia and Herzegovina, while other records (1918–1941) are from the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and most records cover the period of Socialist Yugoslavia (1945–1991)
- The Archives of Bosnia-Herzegovina
Located in Sarajevo and a major repository for Holocaust-relevant material.
Email: [email protected]
Address: Reisa Džemaludina Čauševića 6, Sarajevo
- Federation Archive in Sarajevo
The central administration unit of the archival system and does not currently hold Holocaust-related material.
Address: Marka Marulica 2, Sarajevo
- Historical Archive of Sarajevo
This location offers a unique digital library for historians and genealogists and holds approximately 15,000 items, most of which have not been digitized or microfilmed. The Jewish Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina is a branch of this Archive.
Email: historijski.arhiv.sar[email protected]
Address: Alipašina 19, 71000 Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Archives of Republic of Srpska
The Archives of Republic of Srpska is an administrative organization within the Ministry of Education and Culture of Republika Srpska, one of two constituent entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Archives’ headquarters is in Banja Luka, and it has five regional offices:
- Regional unit in Doboj (Vukosavlje, Derventa, Doboj, Modrica, Pelagicevo, Petrovo, Srpsko Orasje, Srpski Brod, Teslic and Samac)
- Regional unit in Zvornik (Bijeljina, Vlasenica, Zvornik, Lopare, Milici, Osmaci, Srebrenica, Ugljevik and Sekovici)
- Regional unit in Foca (Visegrad, Kalinovik, Rudo, Srbinje, Serbian part of Gorazde and Cajnice)
- Regional unit in Istocno Sarajevo (Bratunac, Pale, Rogatica, Sokolac, Serbian Ilidza, Old Town of serbian Sarajevo, Serbian New Sarajevo, Trnovo, and Han Pijesak)
- Regional unit in Trebinje (Berkovici, Bileca, Gacko, Ljubinje, Nevesinje, Serbian part of Mostar and Trebinje)
The remaining archival locations have a limited if any, web presence.
- Archive of Unsko-Sanki region (Bihac)
- Archive of Herzegovina-Neretva region (Mostar)
- County Archive of Siroki Brijeg (Siroki Brijeg)
- Archive of Bosansko-Podrinjski Canton (Gorazde)
- Archive of Central Bosnian Canton (Travnik)
- Archive of Brcko Canton (Brcko)
- Archive of Tuzla Canton (Tuzla)
Bosnia-Herzegovina Genealogical Research in Museums
Museums and libraries are also excellent repositories for genealogical research in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A selection of museums which may hold information about your ancestors originating from Bosnia-Herzegovina:
- Sarajevo Museum (1878-1918)
- History Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Sarajevo)
- Herzegovina Museum (Музеј Херцеговине) (Trebinje)
Additional Resources Specific to Holocaust Research
The Archives of Jewish communities (Sarajevo, Doboj, Mostar, and others). This archive has relevant documents for Holocaust research.
Outside Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Jewish Historical Museum in Belgrade (Serbia) holds a significant amount of material about the Holocaust in Bosnia. Also, resources may be available in select Croatian archives, such as the Croatian State Archive in Zagreb and Osijek, which have significant Holocaust record collections.
If you need help researching your ancestors from Bosnia-Herzegovina, the experienced team at Legacy Tree Genealogists will exhaust all possible resources to extend your family tree. Our network of onsite researchers has access to the archives you need to make serious progress on your family history. Contact us today to discuss your research goals and request a free quote!