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Your mother may have told you stories about her great-grandmother in Switzerland. These oral histories can help you start your research. Write down these memories.
Ask family members about specific individuals and gather details including nicknames, places they lived, vital information (including birth, marriage, and death dates), occupations, and other important clues. Then start looking for the records or documentation needed to verify this information.
A list of the Swiss genealogy records or documents you may need follows.
A census is an official enumeration of the population in a particular area. In addition to counting the inhabitants of an area, the census generally collects other vital information, such as names, ages, citizenship status, and ethnic background.
In the United States, the first census was taken in 1790.
The first Canadian census was conducted in 1851 and included Canada East, Canada West, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia only. Click here to access Canadian census records
Swiss Civil Registration Record (Vital Records) Birth and marriage documents can be very useful as they often provide maiden names and the names of other relatives or witnesses.
Birth registers: name, date and place of birth of child; names, residence and occupation of the parents.
Marriage registers: names, ages, residences occupation of bride and groom; date and place of marriage, names, residence, occupation of parents; names of witnesses and person who performed the ceremony.
Death registers: name of deceased, age, sometimes place of birth, date and place of death, occupation, name of surviving spouse, name and residence of informant, cause of death, sometimes names of parents, sometimes names of children.
Church records (Kirchenbücher) are the most significant source of genealogical information for Switzerland. These are excellent sources for reasonably accurate information on names, dates and places of birth/baptism, marriage, and death/burial. Church records are often called parish registers or church books. They include records of births, baptisms, marriages, deaths, and burials. These records may include financial account books, fees for masses for the dead, lists of confirmations, penance register, communion lists, lists of members, and sometimes family registers.
Church records are crucial for pre-1876 Swiss research. Since civil authorities in several areas of Switzerland generally did not begin registering vital statistics until the late 1800's, church records are often the only sources of family information before this time.
Passenger arrival records can contain many facts.
Ellis Island was the gateway for millions of immigrants to the United States from 1892 until 1954. You can make a passenger search via the The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation.Nearly 22 million people were processed through Ellis Island, but many others arrived through other U.S. ports, or Canada.
This link provides good information on how to use ship passenger lists to research your family's immigration journey. It contains many links on where to find information and how to find information.
The National Archives has a good page on U.S. Records of Immigration Across the U.S. - Canadian Border, 1895-1954 (St. Albans Lists).
The five major U.S. arrival ports for immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries were: New York, Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New Orleans. You can use these links to find information about the available indexes for these ports.
You can find a list of nearly every U.S. arrival port at: US Ports of Arrival & Their Available Immigration Records 1820-1957.
Cyndi's List has many links to ship, passenger & crew lists.
With the majority of Switzerland speaking German (Swiss German), most requests we receive concern the old documents that are hand written or printed in old German script.
It's not easy to read. But you can begin with a basic understanding of German, genealogical terms and familiarity with German handwriting Difficulty in reading a record may not result from a record keeper's poor penmanship but rather the use of a different style of handwriting.
As most early German documents were written in some form of Gothic handwriting or printing, familiarity with this style of writing will aid in deciphering early German records.
Here are links that contain French, German, Italian words with their English translations.
When you get to the point where you can recognize words or phrases, the following information is important:
Taufen = baptisms. The baptism register contains the name of the child, the name and occupation of the father, the name of the mother including her maiden name, and names of the sponsors. If a child is born out of wedlock, the baptism information may be written upside down, or if the mother’s name comes before the father’s it indicates the child was born out of wedlock.
Toten/Todten registers = death registers. Death registers may include the profession of the dead person, the cause of death, the date and place of death, and the date and place of the burial. This register might also be called the Begaben Register, meaning the burial register.
Ehe Register = marriage register. This will list the married couple, sometimes their ages, their parent whether the parents are alive or dead, the father's occupation and towns of residence.
Abbreviations in Registers:
Measurements and Other Terms German|English
Juchart Measure of land,used for acre. Originally the amount that could be ploughed in one day, which varied considerably from place to place. In 1838 it was fixed at 36 are (= 0.89 acre). The metric system became the only legally recognized system in 1877.
Kopf (pl Köpf)|c 4 liters (around 6 Köpf to a bushel)
Pfund (pre 1848)|c 500 grams
Scheffel (pre 1848)|c 55 liters
Zentner (pre 1848)|100 pounds
Gemeinde, Landgemeinde, Grossgemeinde|Town
By the 16th century the slight miscalculations of the old Julian calendar had reached a point where the calendar months no longer corresponded with the solar year. For that reason Pope Gregory XII proclaimed a new, improved calendar in Feb 1582; at that time the introduction involved jumping forward 10 days.
The Gregorian calendar ran into resistance, especially in the Reformed areas. In Switzerland it was introduced slowly, over the course of 200 years.
Basel Land 1700
Basel Stadt 1700
Fribourg (Freiburg) 1584
Geneva (Genf) 1700
Grisons (Graubünden) 1812
Lucerne (Luzern) 1584
St. Gallen (Sankt Gallen) 1724
Unterwalden (Nidwalden/Obwalden) 1584
Valais (Wallis) 1622, 1655, 1656
Britain and it's colony, the future United States, adopted the Gregorian calendar on 14th September 1752.
Between 1793 and 1805 the French revolutionary calendar was in force in those areas of Geneva and the Bishopric of Basel which France had annexed.
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