Switzerland Finding Your Ancestor in the Records

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Gazetteers in Swiss Research

A gazetteer is a dictionary of place-names. Gazetteers describe towns and villages, parishes and cantons and other geographical features. They usually include only the names of places that existed at the time the gazetteer was published. The place-names are usually listed in alphabetical order, similar to a dictionary.

Gazetteers may also provide additional information about towns, such as:

  • The population size.
  • The different religious denominations.
  • The schools, colleges, and universities.
  • Major manufacturing works, canals, docks, and railroad stations.

Gazetteers can help you find the places where your family lived and determine the civil and church jurisdictions over those places. Some places in Germany have the same or similar names. You will need to use a gazetteer to identify the specific town where your ancestor lived, the government district it was in, and the jurisdictions where records about him or her were kept.

Gazetteers can also help you determine county jurisdictions used in the Family History Library Catalog.

Finding Place-Names in the Family History Library Catalog

Swiss place-names used in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog are based on the Swiss gazetteer as it existed in 1968. Use either "place search" or "keyword search" to see pertinent catalog entries. The canton is listed as part of the place name heading. If a village did not have its own parish, it may only be listed in the notes of a catalog entry for the civil or parish jurisdiction it belonged. Such entries can be found using "keyword search" rather than "place search".  

Civil Registration Records at the Family History Library

The Family History Library has microfilmed few civil registration records for Switzerland. Post 1900 records can usually only be obtained through correspondence of a direct relative or descendant.

The Family History Library has records from many towns in Switzerland.The library's collection continues to grow as new records are microfilmed and added to the collection. Do not give up if the records you need are not available. The Family History Library Catalog is updated regularly. Check it periodically to see if the records you need have been added to the library's collection. To search for the records you need, you will need to check if the records are listed in the catalog

Church Records

Church records (Kirchenbücher) are excellent sources for reasonably accurate information on names, dates and places of birth/baptism, marriage, and death/burial. They are the most significant source of genealogical information for Switzerland. Most people who lived in Switzerland were recorded in a church record.

Church records are often called parish registers or church books. They include records of births, baptisms, marriages, deaths, and burials. In addition, church 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. Church records continued to be kept after the introduction of civil registration, but the Family History Library has not microfilmed many post-1875 church records. See [[]] for more information about post-1875 sources.

The Family History Library has many filmed German Church records. To find the parish records you need, you will need to check if the records are listed in the catalog