A Brief History of the Perlaky Family

By Robert Perlaki



The following has been abridged from my book entitled “A perlaki Perlaky család történeti és irodalmi hagyatéka” (Historical and Literary Accounts of the perlaki Perlaky family). The text can also be found in Hungarian on the family’s website (www.perlakycsalad.hu). This synopsis is intended for those descendants who do not speak Hungarian but who are interested in the family’s history. Quoted passages are shown in italics. For reasons of space, detailed references have been omitted but can be found in the book and on the website.

When referring to ancestors, we have used the Hungarian or “Eastern Name Order” where the family (surname) precedes the given (first/Christian) name. The English equivalent of the Hungarian Christian name is shown in brackets. Dates are given in Western European format, i.e. Day/Month/Year.

The original Hungarian text has been translated into English and edited with explanatory notes by Joe de Perlaky, to whom I owe my thanks.


Except for some of the aristocracy, research into a family’s history cannot generally uncover the distant past. To appreciate the reasons for this, it is necessary to have a basic understanding of the records held by archives. These represent the main source of information.

Genealogical research is a lengthy, complicated and exhausting process. Results are often ambiguous because in addition to specialist knowledge, experience and dedication one also needs luck. In the main, people start such research as a hobby, for pleasure or simply out of curiosity. In the vast majority of cases there are no complete family histories, let alone family trees. Extensive genealogies and family trees are available only for a tiny minority of cases.

Oral accounts are one of the main sources of family history. However, their reliability usually only extends as far back as grandparents. In the past people were better acquainted with their family’s extended relations. Nevertheless, due to the unreliability of anecdotes, one has also to depend on written sources. These can sometimes be found in family heirlooms such as old books, bibles, prayer books and other documents and records.

Printed obituaries became popular in the second half of the 19th Century. Relatives outside the immediate family circle were often mentioned in such notices. Other written sources will include school registers, personal histories (CV’s), diaries and private memoirs.

Public records are the most reliable source for all types of research into family history. The Hungarian National Archives contain microfilmed records of pre-October 1, 1895 parish registers within Hungary’s present borders. This huge and unique collection was actually assembled for the Mormon Church. The Hungarian state established national registers in 1894 and this came into force on 1st October 1895. After this date public records have been held by local authorities. However, these are generally inaccessible for family historians and genealogists.

Origin of the name

According to anecdotes, the Perlakys all stem from the same root, Perlak. In Sándor Payr’s work on the Transdanubian Lutheran Church, quoting from Nagy Iván he reports:

„Perlak, the historic rural town, is the ancient seat of the Perlaky family. Tradition has it that in 1475 one of its members, Perlaky Dávid (David) was the Serjeant at Arms (personal attendant/guard) of King Matthias (Mátyás). Allegedly the town itself was the property of the family. Later, during a plague it was occupied by the forebears of the Zrinyi clan, who drove the family to abandon their ancient lands.”

Nowadays Perlak can be found in Croatia, formerly part of Zala County, not far from the Hungarian border. Called Prelog in Croatian, it is about 20km from Letenye about 5km off Highway 7 (E71). The first written mention of Prelog was in the charter of Lord Roland Ratold in 1264. In the 13th century settlers began to arrive in the region now called Muraköz in Hungarian (located between the Drava and Mura rivers) by Royal command. Their task was to populate the area and develop trade.

These colonists, who were mainly Germanic, settled in the 1260’s on the lands of Count Lankret known then as Subotica (Hungarian: Szabadka, not to be confused with the Vajdaság [Vojvodina – Serbia] town of the same name) which included Prelog amongst other localities. The name Prelog (Prelak literally “too light”, Perlak, Perlok) stems from the Croatian vlak (train) and lecsiti, vlecsi, vlacsiti (pull) and prelavcsiti (cancel) from the Kajkavian dialect. This is based on the fact that here there has always been a transport hub, namely a crossing of the river Drava.

In the September of 1480 Matthias Corvinus, the king of Hungary and Croatia resided in Prelog with his entire army.  This provides evidence that in those times Prelog was a well resourced area.

Note: In early medieval times Hungarians used the patronymic as surname. This is still the tradition in Iceland and some Scandinavian countries. As the middle ages progressed, surnames developed into 3 main types, one of these being derived from the locality where the person originated. In Hungarian this is achieved by adding “i” to the end of the place name, hence Perlaki means “from” or “of” (as in the French “de”) perlak.

The added “i” does not necessarily signify nobility as this derivation could be coupled with the surname derived from the person’s occupation {i.e. Kovács meaning Smith}, or from a personal attribute, to differentiate it from similar surnames from other localities. As part of their development and that of the Hungarian language, some surnames eventually changed the “i” to “y”, often, but not always, to signify or assume nobility. Where the ”y” ending became the surname, both the locality name derivation and the surname could be used in the full family name, hence perlaki Perlaky. (In Hungarian place names are written in lower case).


Written chronicles are rarely available about families. Fortunately this does not apply to us. On the one hand our family archives have remained largely intact, on the other they merited putting to paper due to the dynastic nature of our Lutheran pastor forebears and their importance to Church history.

Family tradition has it that Perlaky Dávid (David) was the first ancestor about whom there is evidence. Allegedly in 1475 he was King Matthias’s chief Serjeant at Arms. There are reliable indications that the Perlaky family faithfully maintained their traditions, therefore this account is thought authentic.

Apart from one ancestor, the first written reference to the name occurs in the 16th Century. The first Perlakys about whom we have written records show that the family were not only early adopters of the Protestant faith, but many also held office in the Lutheran Church.  Perlak was one of the earliest settlements with a Lutheran parish.

In Lampe-Ember’s well known historical treatise, there is mention of a Perlaky Márton (Martin) who in 1647 was the evangélikus (Lutheran) archdeacon of Bars and the pastor for Léva. Another source dating back to 1612 also mentions an archdeacon named Perlaky Márton who was the pastor in Lendvaszentgyörgyi. Perlaky Márk (Mark), also a cleric in the Lutheran church as pastor for Balatonfőkajár, wrote a letter of complaint on 12th March 1651 addressed to Paksi György (George), the bishop of Dunamellék, during the Lutheran Synod in Veszprém.

There is also the Roman Catholic branch of the family which probably originates from its pre-Reformation roots.

Nagy Iván’s (Ivan) work mentions Catholic members of the family from the 19th century. These include: Perlaki Perlaky István (Stephen), a jurist and professor of law in Eger from 1806 to 1825. Perlaky Károly (Charles), the manager of the royal estates at Csákova. He obtained his proof of nobility on 20th Sept. 1842 from Temes County and published it on 7th January 1843 in Krassó County. Flórián (Florian) Perlaky was the Royal Government Prosecutor for the Arad-Mutina region in 1844. Leó (Leo) Perlaky: Franciscan monk and teacher in Szombathely in 1806. László (Ladislas, Leslie) Perlaky: Piarist (an order educational of teacher in Kanizsa – 1844. The Perlaky branch in Pecska proclaimed their nobility in Békés County in 1828. The latest register of names and titles lists several Perlakys amongst whom there are a number of Roman Catholics.

Catholics – Lutherans

Genealogical sources mention that the Perlaky name is divided into two branches. One is the perlaki Perlaky line which follows to the Augsburg Lutheran tradition. The other appears in different forms: Perlaky, perlaki Perlaky, Horváth alias perlaki Perlaky, Horváth-Perlaky.

Although there is no clear proof, most sources state that both branches have the same root. We initially followed this course and believed that they forked when the reformation spread in Hungary. This was indicated by a number of factors mentioned above. However, examining correspondence between the Perlaky family from Felcsút and the county seat it becomes clear that references to the name change over time. Horváth de Perlak, Perlaki Horváth, Perlaki alias Horváth, Perlaki, Perlaky and after two generations the name Horváth is no longer mentioned.

To summarise, on the basis of documents we can establish that the branch previously termed Catholic was originally called Horváth and also originated from Perlak but over time the name underwent modification and eventually only Perlaky remained. As the name Perlaky has been used since the beginning of the 18th Century, we shall follow the current division between Catholic and Lutheran sections of the family.


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