Switzerland Naturalization and Citizenship
Back to Switzerland Page►
Swiss citizenship is kept on three levels: the nation, the canton, and the Heimatort, or home community. For most people, citizenship was inherited, and residency was not a requirement. Thus one or more generations of a citizen’s descendants may never even have seen their original home community. A burger and his descendants remained citizens of their Heimatort or Heimatgemeinde until one of them applied for and obtained citizenship in another town.
The home community was charged with keeping track of its citizens. Therefore, if a birth, marriage, or death of a citizen took place in another parish, notice of the event was often sent to the Heimatort. The information may have been entered in the regular parish register or a special section reserved for “auswaertige Buerger” [out-of-town citizens]. These sections are often identified in the Family History Library Catalog.
The “Heimatschein” officially documented a citizen’s home community. When taking up residence in another town, the person presented his Heimatschein as proof of citizenship. In times of need the Heimatort was responsible for providing financial support. During the 18th and 19th Centuries the community sometimes paid for the overseas passage of poorer citizens.
It was also possible to become a Swiss citizen through naturalization. In that case, the citizens of the potential Heimatort often needed to give their consent before the new Buerger could be accepted into the community. Often the applicant had to pay a fairly high fee to obtain communal rights.