To continue this interesting discussion, I would like to point out that in America the issue of nobility is viewed quite differently than it is in Europe. Europe has a long history of ennoblement of its heroes, and even where nobility is no longer officially recognized, it is often a matter of esteem. America has no such history.
There have been three waves of Hungarian immigration to America. The first, though relatively small, played a significant role in America's history. This followed Hungary's loss to Austria in the 1848-49 war. For the most part these immigrants were noble and many had held high positions in the Hungarian government and military. Since one of the goals of the 1848-49 war was to secure a degree of democratization in Hungary, they viewed America as a shining example of freedom and political equality for all men. This, of course, in some respects was at odds with their own noble backgrounds and produced a variety of individual responses. The extremes are exemplified by UjhÃ¡zy and Utassy.
UjhÃ¡zy was probably the most well known and most highly respected of all of the emigres of this period. To demonstrate his dedication to a democratic society, he changed the spelling of his name to UjhÃ¡zi, dropping the noble y. This sophisticated, learned man, used to all the perquisites associated with nobility, became a highly successful farmer who worked his fields with his own hands.
Utassy, on the other hand, attempted to use his nobility, or his pretentions to nobility, to enhance his position in America. He adopted the spelling "D'Utassy" and held himself out to be a baron to further this goal. (Vasvary suggests that his original name was David Strasser.) While this, as well as his documented military service in the 1848-49 war, enabled him to obtain a high position in the army during the American Civil War (Colonel of the Garibaldi Guard of New York), fraud and corruption led to his court martial and he was relieved of his position in 1862 and spent a year in prison. After his release he became an insurance salesman.
There is no doubt that initially these Hungarian Ã©migrÃ©s were regarded with awe and esteem by Americans. If they held themselves out to be noble, real or not, so much the better. Some discovered that appending â€œDr.â€ to oneâ€™s name had a similar effect. In the end, however, water seeks its own level, and their degree of success or failure in America depended on what they did, not who they were. Whatever esteem they may have had initially on account of their â€œnobilityâ€ soon wore off, and whether they were of noble birth or not became totally irrelevant.
The second, great wave of Hungarian immigration took place during the later 19th century up until World War I. For the most part these were peasants with no claims to nobility who immigrated for economic reasons. There were some, however, who might have made genuine claims to noble ancestry. One occasionally runs across a descendant of these immigrants with a family story that â€œmy great-great-grandmother was a [countess/baroness, was â€œroyalty,â€ whatever],â€ and research sometimes supports such a claim. Many noble families suffered reverses and eventually could not be distinguished from the peasants except, perhaps, for their names. Would this have afforded them an advantage when they immigrated? Not in the least. To â€œperpetrate a fraudâ€ by falsely assuming a noble name would have been ridiculous when working with fellow immigrants in the mines or steel mills.
The third, moderate wave of Hungarian immigration took place after 1956, and of course you are intimately familiar with that. This consisted of much more of a mixture of backgrounds, some well-educated, some not. I am not aware of members of this group of immigrants making significant claims to nobility. If they had done so, real or fraudulent, it would not have made much of an impact. By the 20th century, noble ancestry has been looked on by Americans more as a curiosity than anything else.
I support those who seek information about their Hungarian ancestry whether it be noble or peasant. Not because it affects how they are viewed by others, for good or bad, but because it leads to a deeper understanding of the fascinating history of their â€œmotherâ€ country. And to paraphrase Martha Stewartâ€”knowledge is a â€œgood thing.â€