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Access the records: Switzerland, Vaud Terrier Records, 1234-1798 .
Foreign Language Title
Terriers du Canton de Vaud, Suisse, 1234-1798.
Collection Time Period
This digital collection of feudal land and property records from the Canton of Vaud covers the years 1234 to 1798.
These are digital images of feudal land records from the Canton of Vaud, Switzerland, now housed at the Archives Cantonales Vaudoises (ACV), where they are classified as "Series F". The volumes are arranged by bailiff (governor or custodian) or by district. Text is in French and Latin. Before 1536, during the period when the territory of the modern Canton of Vaud was ruled by the house of Savoye, the records are mostly in Latin. After 1536, during the period when Vaud was ruled by Bern, the records are mostly in French. After the Revolution of 1798, Vaud became an independent Canton, and the feudal system was abolished.
Similar volumes that cover parts of the territory of Vaud also exist in the archives of the neighboring Cantons, in the archives of the cities and communes of Vaud, and in the archives of Turin, Italy (seat of the old government of Savoye). The ACV also has a few volumes of similar content that are not part of "Series F", not included in the present digital collection. The digital collection will eventually be indexed.
During the feudal regime, land was usually held "in fief". That is, individuals held land under the obligation to make annual payments of money, commodities, or other duties to a higher authority such as a lord or "Seigneur", a religious institution such as an abbey or a local church, a city, or some other institution such as a charitable hospital or a confraternity. The various Seigneurs and institutions needed to keep track of the amounts that were owed to them, and therefore compiled books (or sometimes long scrolls) listing this information. These compilations are the "terriers".
Most of the terriers consist of "reconnaissances", a sort of legal contract. The literal translation in English would be "recognitions". The individual property holders "recognize" or acknowledge that they owe specific amounts of money, commodities, or other duties to the "Seigneur" or institution, in return for holding specific properties. From these transactions, the other term for these volumes is derived: "Grosses de reconnaissances", literally "fat books" of reconnaissances.
The "reconnaissance" has a relatively standardized format, with many similarities to modern contracts. The names of the parties are given, along with the descriptions of the individual properties and the obligations that are attached to each one. The property holders acknowledge that they do owe, and legally should owe, the specific amounts, pledging all their assets to uphold and support the contract. There should be a specific date, the names of the witnesses are given, and the notary signs the document.
Most terriers have a "répertoire" at the front, either in the form of a simple table of contents, or an alphabetical index of some sort. For the purposes of the present digital collection, however, these "répertoires" are found at the end of the series of images for each volume. The images of the répertoires will show an R before the page number. Until indexing of this collection is complete, the répertoires for each volume are probably the best way to locate individual transactions. A few cases are known where the répertoire now at the front of the volume is evidently the index to some other volume. In a very few cases, only the répertoire remains, the entire text having disappeared.
The key genealogical facts found in most of the terriers include:
- The names of the present land holders as of a specific date. When there is more than one owner of a particular property, the relationships of the owners to each other are usually given. Names of spouses and fathers are often included.
- The names of previous owners of the same properties. When the property has passed to the present owner through inheritance, or has been kept in the family by some other method, the relationship of the previous owners to the present owner is normally given, with the result that several generations of ancestry are often listed. Occasionally a reconnaissance will list 5 or 6 generations.
- The names of adjacent property owners are usually found in the descriptions of the individual properties, often with additional genealogical information about them, too, such as names of fathers or spouses.
- In the course of explaining how an individual came to own specific properties, marriage contracts, testaments, leases, and other legal documents are sometimes cited, with dates and the names of the notaries who recorded these instruments. With this information, it is sometimes possible to locate the original contracts. (Most of the surviving registers of the notaries of Vaud are available on microfilm from the Family History Library.)
- Marginal notations often list later owners of the same properties. These notations sometimes include enough genealogical information to connect the later owners with the parties listed in the reconnaissance.
- Some family names in Vaud have changed over the centuries. Terriers that give extensive history of particular properties may include information about these changes.
How to Use the Record
The LDS Church has microfilmed parish registers for the Canton of Vaud from the 1560's up to 1821, making them available through local LDS Family History Centers. Most of the filmed registers are from Protestant parishes. Many of the registers were filmed with multiple "répertoires" or indexes. However, due to gaps in the records, incomplete information, and illegible or damaged pages, the church records will not solve all genealogical problems. For the period when church records exist, the terriers provide an alternative source of genealogical information, supplementing and extending the church records. For the period when there are no surviving church records, the terriers are the main source of genealogical information. The terriers can also suggest the names of other parishes whose church records should be examined.
Many of the terriers show signs of damage from moisture, mice, and other accidents. The decision to digitize the terriers was made partly in order to prevent further damage from handling these volumes, some of which had become very fragile. In other cases, terriers were purposely destroyed, for example during a sort of popular rebellion in 1802 (the "Bourla-Papey" incident), in which roving gangs of disaffected peasants raided local archives, burning whatever feudal records they could find, reasoning that without the records, it would not be possible to continue the feudal system.
There are also cases where the terriers have suffered more mysterious damages. For example, all the pages relating to one village may have been removed from a particular volume. In such cases, all that remains may be the "répertoire" or table of contents of the volume, the whereabouts of the actual text now unknown.
Why This Record Was Created
The terriers were created to keep track of money and commodities owed during the feudal era.
Handwriting varies, of course, ranging from clear and elegant to completely illegible, which in turn may lead to incorrect transcriptions. While many of the terriers were created with great care, and with the expectation that they would be permanent, legal records, the fact that they were created by human hands means that occasional errors should be expected.
Whether written in Latin or in French, these records contain many abbreviations. When a line is found over an m, an n, or a vowel, it usually means an m or an n has been omitted. There are also abbreviations or shorthand symbols for syllables ending in r, and for common word endings, both in Latin and in French. Comparison with parallel passages in other transactions in the same terrier will usually reveal the correct reading of the abbreviations.
Spelling is extremely variable throughout the period. The notion that there was one "correct" spelling of anything does not seem to have been widely held. Consequently, the main difficulty for the genealogist is not to decide which spelling is the "correct" one, but rather to determine if the different spellings do in fact all refer to the same person or family.
Given the possibility of errors, it is always prudent to examine as many terriers as possible. If multiple references to a particular person or family can be located, it becomes possible to spot the occasional slip of the pen, or at least to identify the cases where the terriers disagree on particular facts. And there were so many feudal authorities in the territory of Vaud that it was not uncommon for one family to have feudal obligations to half a dozen different "Seigneurs", each maintaining a separate series of terriers. The redundancy inherent in the feudal system, as implemented in Vaud, usually gives us multiple sources of information for each family.
When the "commissaire" who compiled each terrier found he had made a mistake, he usually did not cross out the wrong word, or attempt an erasure. Rather, he marked the incorrect word by enclosing it in a box of dotten lines, or by underlining it with a dotted line. Then he wrote the correct word. These corrections are easily overlooked! Words may also have been inserted, usually flagged by a symbol at the point of insertion, with the inserted material at the bottom of the page, marked by the same symbol.
Related Web Sites
- The World GenWeb Project, Switzerland, Canton Vaud Site
- More about using the terriers
- Archives Cantonales Vaudoises
Related Wiki Articles
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Sources of Information for this collection
Terriers 1234-1798. Archives cantonales vaudoises, Chavannes-près-Renens, Switzerland.