Switzerland Finding Town of Origin
|Switzerland Wiki Topics|
|Local Research Resources|
Sometimes the most difficult part of researching your immigrant Swiss ancestor is locating their hometown. If your ancestor came from Switzerland to the United States, the following record types might provide that elusive clue to their place of origin.
- 1 Important Tips
- 2 Documents in the Home
- 3 Emigration Questions to Ask Relatives
- 4 The Register of Swiss Surnames
- 5 Vital Records
- 6 Cemetery Records
- 7 Obituaries
- 8 Military Records
- 9 Social Security
- 10 Census Records
- 11 Church Records
- 12 Naturalization Records
- 13 Passport Applications
- 14 Passenger Arrival Lists
- 15 Alien Registration
- 16 Catholic Church Records
Before you can begin to search in the records of Switzerland you must find that one record that gives the name of his or her hometown. You must also know enough about the ancestor to positively identify him in the records. Dates (even if they are approximate), places, and familial connections are key to helping you decide if a person you find, who has the same name as your ancestor, really is your ancestor.
- Do you know the name of his/her parents?
- Do you know his/her birth, marriage, or death date or can you calculate an approximate range of years to search for his/her birth, marriage, or death?
- Do you know the name of the spouse? Did they marry before or after coming to the United States?
- Do you know the names of any of his/her siblings?
- Do you know the names of any children born in Switzerland?
Documents in the Home
Often the document you need to pinpoint the place of origin of your Switzerland ancestor is already found at home. These might include the following:
- Birth certificates
- Marriage certificates or licenses
- Death certificates
- Funeral cards
- Family Bible
- Naturalization papers
- Citizenship papers
- Military service records
Emigration Questions to Ask Relatives
Find the oldest living relatives that you can and ask them:
- What do you know about our first ancestor to come from Switzerland? (open-ended)
- Have you ever heard mention of towns in Switzerland where the family lived?
- Do you have contact with any relatives in Switzerland?
- Do you have contact with other branches of the family in the U.S.?
- When _____________ came from Switzerland, did he travel with other family members?
- Do you know when _________________ arrived?
- Did _______________ever become a citizen?
- Did_________________fight in World War I or II?
- When they first came, were there already family members here who they joined?
- Did_______________ever mention their parents in Switzerland?
- Do you have any old letters or postcards from Switzerland family?
- Do you have any pictures of family members in Switzerland?
The Register of Swiss Surnames
Switzerland has one unique feature that can speed up your search for your ancestor's town. Citizenship was held by specific town. The Register of Swiss Surnames is an online tool, based on the reference book, Familiennamenbuch der Schweiz, which lists for every surname the towns where that family held citizenship. It also gives data on the time period the family arrived there and the former town they migrated from. It can, however, give many localities for one surname, so you may still need to look for records that help you narrow down the list. After a thorough search in U.S. records, if you still haven't proven your town, you can begin looking in the records of each town for your surname. However, especially if your searches will involve correspondence or hiring a researcher, it is best to exhaust all U.S. record possibilities before trying that method. Here are the Instructions for using the register.
- Also, watch the Online Class: Names and Places: The Register of Swiss Surnames
Understand that any birth, marriage, or death certificate gives information about other people besides the primary person it is about
- It is important to remember that a birth certificate for a child might tell it's parents' birthplaces.
- Marriage certificates might name birth dates and places of the bride and groom. They might also give the names and birth places of the parents of the bride and groom.
- Death certificates are very important. Birth and marriage certificates might not have kept by a state during the earlier years of your ancestor's life. There is a greater chance that your ancestor died after detailed record-keeping began. Death certificates frequently state birth date and place. They also state the names of parents and their birth places.
- There are wiki articles giving details on how to find vital records o each state. You can select the state of interest and the record (birth, marriage, or death) from this list: How-To Articles.
- Many records may be online. See U.S. Online Genealogy Records by State, for online vital record databases.
Websites such as FindAGrave and Billion Graves are making it easier to get information from headstones, which frequently give birth dates, and occasionally give birth places. Each state has additional collections of cemetery records. See U.S. Online Genealogy Records by State for links to other online cemetery records.
Modern obituaries usually list birth date and place and parents' names. See U.S. Online Genealogy Records by State and select your state for links to online obituary collections.
Draft records for World War I and II ask for birth place, which can be listed as just Switzerland or in greater detail.
- U.S. WW I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 Index and images.
- U.S. WW I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 Indexes and images. ($)
- U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942, ($), index and images
- United States, World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942 Images with partial index.
- U.S., Alien Draft Registrations, Selected States, 1940-1946, ($), index and images.
- The application for the Social Security card may also contain a town of birth. These records are available for deceased individuals who died after 1935 when Social Security began.
- The Social Security Applications and Claims Index does not cover every application--it has sort of an eclectic mix of what got included. If you find your ancestor in the Social Security Death Index but not in the Social Security Applications and Claims Index, you can send away for a copy of the application.
- The censuses for 1900 to 1930 ask for the year of immigration and whether or not the person was naturalized. This information can help you find naturalization records or a passenger list.
- United States Census Online Genealogy Records will give you links to every census. The FamilySearch links lead to a free search, but the search engine is not as reliable. The other links are for subscription websites, but they can be searched free-of-charge at any Family History Center.
- State census records vary in availability and the type of information they contain, but they are always useful as another source to document an ancestor in a specific locality. See U.S. Online Genealogy Records by State for links to online state censuses.
Just like civil registration records, church baptism, marriage, and burial records can name the birth place in Switzerland of the parents of a child; the bride and groom and their parents; or the deceased and his parents. Church records in the United States can be more work to locate, but if you can find the church, particularly a Catholic or Lutheran church in a predominantly Swiss neighborhood,, where your ancestor would have had their children's baptisms performed, or where they married, you might get lucky!
- Naturalization records may also list an ancestor’s birth place.
- Prior to 1906 any U.S. court could naturalize foreigners. Many pre-1900 records only list “Switzerland” as the country of citizenship; however, there are notable exceptions, so these records should be checked routinely.
- The process involved two sets of papers: a declaration of intention to become a U.S. citizen, and a petition filed some time later.
- Beginning in 1906, naturalization records became more detailed, as the responsibility shifted to the Federal government.
- More information about naturalization records, along with helpful links, is found at Beginning Research in United States Naturalization Records and United States Naturalization Online Genealogy Records.
- U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925, ($), index and images
Passenger Arrival Lists
Passenger lists, especially in the 20th century, may list birth place, last residence in mother country, and name and residence of a close relative in the mother country. United States Immigration Online Genealogy Records is a comprehensive list of passenger arrival databases that you can search right now from your computer. There are many, many databases. The following search strategy will make your search more efficient.
Suggested Search Strategy
- Check the partner website indexes, as these cover many, many databases at once. The FamilySearch Historical Records databases is free to search with a free registered account. The other websites are subscription-based but can be searched for free at a Family History Center near you. Try to search each partner site because their search engines can often bring up slightly different results.
- If it is difficult for you to get access to the subscription databases, next try Additional Nationwide Collections Not Included in Partner Sites. These websites have a lot of overlap with the subscription websites.
- Search the state collection for the first state where your ancestor lived.
- Alien Registration Form'; If your ancestor lived in the United States between 1 August 1940 and 31 March 1944. Search the index online, by entering the person's name and the term A-File. If you find a catalog entry for the person, then order the full file.