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The Swiss Center receives hundreds of Swiss genealogy inquiries every year from people looking to find the records and the stories linked to their Swiss immigrant past. We can't do the work for you, but we do have tools, suggestions and advice for you to begin or further your search. In order to learn about your Swiss ancestors you need to know the following information.
Civil Status: Civil status documents (birth, marriage, divorce, death) have only been recorded by Swiss authorities since 1876. Prior to this, civil status was recorded by the Roman Catholic and Protestant (Calvinist and Zwingli) churches. You do want to discover which religion an emigrant belonged in Switzerland. Records would be held in a Catholic or a Protestant church prior to 1876. It is rare for people to change religion upon emigration, so if in doubt, it can be assumed that the religion practiced overseas is the same as in Switzerland.
Place of Origin: Where is the town of origin. This refers to city, small town or commune/community where civil documents are kept. Town is known as the "Bürgerort / Commune d'origine / Comune di attinenza”. This place of origin is handed down from father to child, and to the wife upon marriage. Until recently, a woman would acquire the place of origin from her husband and lose her own.
Documents concerning changes in civil status are recorded in the the place of origin, regardless of the location where the event actually took place. This has been true since 1876, although in some cases since the end of the 17th century.
There is however one important exception: the places of origin registers only those documents which are sent to them. In past centuries when a person emigrated it was very seldom that changes in civil status were reported back to Switzerland and therefore the family registers were not kept up to date.
Switzerland’s data protection regulations have made finding living relatives more complicated. The Federal Civil Registry Ordinance requires a cantonal research authorization, which is subject to a fee which is set by the Canton. The Swiss law on data protection has been translated into English: Federal Act on Data Protection 235.1
The Register of Swiss Surnames provides a comprehensive alphabetical listing of surnames holding citizenship in a Swiss community.
While the Swiss Center has the three volume printed edition of the "Familiennamenbuch der Schweiz" you can now access it online.
Below you will be taken to the Swiss surname search engine. Please note: each entry contains information on the place of origin; the town or village in Switzerland where the ancestor held citizenship rights.
The Swiss Society of Genealogical Studies (SSGS) continues to be our most important resource in helping you search for your Swiss roots.
The SSGS website offers information for your research and has links to research tools and topics, and links to regional genealogical and heraldic groups in Switzerland.
Most importantly, SSGS offers a list of members who know how and where to do the research you need for a fee.
You may also e-mail your questions to Swiss Center President Beth Zurbuchen at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please understand that an e-mail response could take a week or two due to the number of inquires received at the Swiss Center.
Association of Professional Genealogists - Genealogists Specializing in Switzerland
CastleGarden.org: Offering access to a database of information on 11 million immigrants from 1820 through 1892, the year Ellis Island opened.
Churchbooks of Canton Bern with explanation of how to use from Family Search.
Cyndi's List: Cyndi's List has nearly 300,000 links in 180 categories.
DeadFred: Who is that face staring at you? Deadfred.com is a photo-reunion site with some 15,000 surnames and 76,000 records.
Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter: This blog-format site has basic free information.
FamilySearch: The online home of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' vast genealogy holdings is packed with data all free.
Geni: Geni was picked by PC Magazine as one of the best free online applications. A simple interface lets you create an online family tree, add photos and family news, then email relatives and invite them to join you.
A Guide to Genealogy: Good how to resource with many links.
Genealogy: Beginner's Resource: Great links and information about genealogy in general.
Genealogy Today: Genealogy Today offers a both free and fee-based databases (clearly marked with a dollar sign). The name indexes of all fee-based databases can be searched without a subscription. If customers can’t find it, it doesn’t exist. Clearly list and describe the services you offer. Also, be sure to showcase a premium service.
Green County, WI Genealogy: Cemetery lists, names and much more to help you find your Swiss roots in Green County, Wisconsin.
Immigrants to Canada: While not just about the Swiss, this page includes Canadian emigration information of the Nineteenth Century.
Library of Congress: American Memory: Access the library's wealth of digitized historical documents and photos. More than 9 million items in all.
Lists of Swiss Emigrants in the Eighteenth Century to the American Colonies: Text of book by Albert Bernhardt Faust. Contains information of those who left Zurich and settled in the Carolinas and Pennsylvania between 1734-1744.
MyTrees: My Trees lets you search 1 billion names with a single click. The Ancestry Archive totals 328 million names. It is a subscription service. You can earn free access by submitting your own family tree RootsWeb: Helpful advice and more than 31,000 mailing lists and 132,000 message boards. The RootsWeb Surname List has more than 1.2 million surname entries.
WorldCat: You can explore the treasures of more than 10,000 libraries worldwide with this one-click search of more than 1 billion holdings. WorldGenWeb: The WorldGenWeb Project is a non-profit, volunteer based organization dedicated to providing genealogical and historical records and resources for world-wide access.
Genealogy studies are often conducted by adults. If it is your passion, how can you get the children in your life interested and involved?
There is a great website called Genealogy for Kids: Building a Family Tree.
Take a look, and you'll find information for youngsters, but also for you.