Switzerland What's the Next Step?
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Determine the actual name of an ancestor
A difficult problem for some researchers is to determine the actual name of their immigrant ancestor. Some ancestors in their eagerness to be assimilated into American culture, traded their dificult foreign names for American names. This occured often with given names and to a lesser extent with surnames. To learn more about historical background of Swiss surnames and given names see the topic Personal Names.
Determine the date of birth, marriage, and death
If you cannot find an exact date, you may estimate dates based on other information. You need at least the approximate year of an event. This information could come from a US census.
You may also use standard genealogical approximation. From a marriage date, you can estimate that a man was married at age 25 and a woman at age 21. You can also estimate that a first child was born one year after the parent's marriage and that subsequent children were born every 2 years after that.
Search home sources
Thoroughly go over all home sources available to you, including family history papers, copies of records, pictures, old letters (i.e. with an old address), family bibles, journals/dairies, copies of vital record certificates and church records, memorabilia etc. Interview extended family and close relatives as well as former neighbors--all of which may prove very helpful in gathering as much knowledge about an ancestor as possible.
Evaluate your sources
Evaluate what you have searched. This is a lot easier if you have documented your sources during your initial gathering of information.
Organize your material
Enter your data using software or record it on paper by using family group sheets. Enter your sources, record also what has not been found, so you will not repeat unnecessary steps. Establish a research log, so you have a comparison for later when the time comes to check dates and names for accuracy.
Another very important piece of evidence to find the correct origin of an ancestor is the place name. Again, you may run into problems here because many ancestors gave a place name as a point of reference. Also, a given place name may be spelled according the recorder’s understanding. Sometimes it helps to know what language your ancestor spoke and something about topographical features of the homeland. It is not enough information to just know that your ancestor came from Switzerland. There are family name books for Switzerland that may help you, but because some names might be quite common, it is still very important to know the town of origin.
It is also most helpful to know the time frame when you search for a Swiss ancestor. If you know the religious affiliation of your ancestor you may also get faster results in locating your ancestor. Most Swiss people were Catholics or Protestants, however, in some areas, the records of people of other faiths were kept by the predominant church. For example, Jewish, Anabaptists,and Mennonite births were occasionally recorded at the Catholic or Lutheran parishes, especially in areas where the Church was used as the civil registration office.