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The Search for Swiss Roots
The Search for Swiss Roots

Swiss Center Genealogy

The Swiss Center receives nearly 400 inquiries a year from people looking to find the records and the stories linked to their Swiss immigrant past.
We are unable to do the work for you, but we do have tools, suggestions and advice for you to begin or further your search whether you are a novice genealogist or experienced family historian.
In order to learn about your Swiss ancestors you need to know the following information.
Civil Status
Civil status documents (birth, marriage, divorce, death) have only been recorded by Swiss authorities since 1876.
Prior to this, civil status was recorded by the Roman Catholic and Protestant (Calvinist and Zwingli) churches. You do want to discover which religion an emigrant belonged in Switzerland. Records would be held in a Catholic or a Protestant church prior to 1876.  It is rare for people to change religion upon emigration, so if in doubt, it can be assumed that the religion practiced overseas is the same as in Switzerland.

Place of Origin
Know the town of origin. “Town", or place of origin, refers to city, small town or commune/community where civil documents are kept. Town is known as the "Bürgerort / Commune d'origine / Comune di attinenza”.
This place of origin is handed down from father to child, and to the wife upon marriage.  Until recently, a woman would acquire the place of origin from her husband and lose her own.
Documents concerning changes in civil status are recorded in the “town”, regardless of the place where the event actually took place. This has been true since 1876, although in some cases since the end of the 17th century.
There is however one important exception: the places of origin register only those documents which are sent to them. In past centuries when a person emigrated it was very seldom that changes in civil status were reported back to Switzerland and therefore the family registers were not kept up to date.
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Finding Living Relatives
Switzerland’s data protection regulations have made research more complicated. The Federal Civil Registry Ordinance requires a cantonal research authorization, which is subject to a fee. What this will cost is set at by the Canton.
The Swiss law on data protection has been translated into English: Federal Act on Data Protection 235.1

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