How to start my genealogical research in Switzerland

(copied from mailing list)

Dear Swiss Rooters,

How do I start my genealogical research in Switzerland ?

1. Collect as much info as available within your family (sounds trivial, but doesn't seem to be trivial). This includes simple things like estimating the time frame of your research in Switzerland : did your ancestor emigrate during the 17th or 20th century ?

2. Visit your local library (some people will be in a better situation than others) or nearest Family History Center and check for books on Swiss history : any genealogical research is going to be made difficult if you have no idea of the historical background ! Often you will even find an introductory book on Swiss genealogy. Check whether they have any reasonable Swiss maps : when deciding where to look next a basic knowledge of Swiss geography will prove very useful.

3. Especially if there is no satisfactory library within your reach - check the web for basic information : start e.g. with the web
pages mentioned in the footers of these messages at Switzerland-L. For obvious reasons I feel you should start with which is the US server of the SwissGen project, now consisting of some 150 pages - so I'm not going to mention all of them here ! But you could try e.g. for some history briefing, or for links to several maps.

4. Determine the place of citizenship of your ancestor. Before you do this you should understand the basic principle of
Swiss citizenship - see : Then you'll check "Familiennamenbuch der Schweiz" (known as the Swiss Surname Register, but literally translated the Family Name Book of Switzerland) or - if you don't have easy access - you consult the "Swiss Surname Dictionary" at but - please ! - read the explanations before sending off your request.

5. All the following steps will depend on what you've found out so far : the sequence of the description here will be somewhat
arbitrary. You may have been lucky and "your" name is limited to a few places of citizenship. On the other hand, if "your" name covers a couple of pages in "Familiennamenbuch" you should forget about beginning any research in Switzerland until you've found some more evidence, where in Switzerland your ancestor originated from : to post a note "am looking for info on Schmid from Switzerland" to this list is just a waste of time - your's and the readers' ! But if you are looking for Gabathuler (just as an example), "Familiennamenbuch" will tell you that all lines originate from the little village of Wartau in Canton St.Gallen.

6. What next ? Well - check what's available on the web for the Canton you are interested in - go to and select St.Gallen (to continue the above example) which will tell you (amongst other information) where to find this village, and that all genealogies since 1629 (earliest church records) have already been compiled - for details see

7. If you are not so lucky, - check whether there are any addresses (or even a Help Team) mentioned on the "cantonal" web page. - check whether there is anyone mentioned for the region of your interest, willing to help (in the above case of Wartau you'll find out that you may e-mail me, and I'll forward this to a friendly person, willing to do a look-up for you !).

8. Contact the local genealogical society : Unfortunately in most cases there will be no e-mail, just a snail mail address (don't forget you include an International Reply Coupon to cover return postage !). Your question will be more welcome to some societies than others - but it's always worth a try !

9. If your ancestors left Switzerland after 1876 (if you are lucky this also applies to a few decades before this) write to the "Zivilstandsamt" (or "Etat Civil" in French) and ask for a "Familienschein" ("Fiche de Famille") - see for some explanations of these terms. Most likely there will be a charge for the "Familienschein" (you may want to ask for a quote if you want to make sure) : see for advice how to transfer small amounts of money to Switzerland, without incurring large bank fees.

10. So there is a fair amount of information you can find at SwissGen. What we cannot offer, is individual research - if you want this to be done for you, you'll have to contract a professional genealogist : a few are mentioned on can only offer you some advice to get started yourself. I might be wrong - but hope, that nobody taking this advice seriously will ever send a note "looking for info on XXX family from Switzerland - please help" to this list - because then you simply wouldn't have done your homework ! Instead you'll be able to ask "looking for ancestors and/or descendants of ......, citizen of ..... (possibly some selection), born around ...., emigrated to USA around ...." with a much better chance to find help on this list - or actually a relative interested in genealogy like you ! Final comment : If there is no personal objection on your part, I would invite you to give your full name, and perhaps the state you live in. Most readers will like to feel they are providing help for warm bodies, not numbers.

Happy hunting  -  Wolf

Note   : Please, do not post requests for research assistance
            to SWITZERLAND-L until you have first read
                 "Swiss Genealogy on the Internet"
Reason : Answers to many basic questions will be found there.

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