Switzerland Church Records

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For information about records for non-Christian religions in Switzerland, go to the Religious Records page.

Overview[edit | edit source]

Church records (parish registers, church books) are an important source for genealogical research in Switzerland before civil registration began. They recorded details of baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials. The vast majority of the population was mentioned. In addition, church records can contain financial account books, (the record charges for toll bells, fees for masses for the dead, and so on), lists of confirmation, penance register communion lists, lists of members and family books.

You will need to know the religion of your ancestors, as different religions kept separate records. The main religious division in Switzerland was between Catholics (Katholische or Catholique) and Reformed Protestants (Reformierte or Réformée). Catholic records are usually written in Latin or the local language, while other records will be written in the local language.

In Switzerland, the local church records also functioned as registries of the citizens of the parish. For more information about citizenship in Switzerland, click here.

History[edit | edit source]

The area now known as Switzerland was introduced to Christianity in the 300s. The Catholic Bishopric of Basel was established in 346. The area fully converted to Christianity by the 600s. The Old Swiss Confederacy was Catholic until the Reformation of the 1520s, which split the confederation into Protestant and Catholic cantons.
The Protestant Reformation led to the need for recording who was baptized in a particular religion. In Switzerland, the Reformation was begun in Zürich in the 1520s by Huldrych Zwingli, and quickly spread throughout the confederacy. The Counter-Reformation began in the 1540s and led to forcible conversion of some areas back to Catholicism. Eventually, each Canton was allowed to establish which religion it would follow, and all residents were required to belong to the established religion. This means that until recently, most cantons adhered to one specific denomination and virtually all residents of the canton belonged to that denomination.

Denominations[edit | edit source]

Switzerland religions.png

Major Denominations[edit | edit source]

  • Reformed (Evangelisch-reformierte Kirche / église réformée): The earliest Reformed churches began recording baptisms around 1520. Because it took decades for the Reformation spread across Switzerland in the 1500s, commencement dates may vary. By 1650 most Reformed parishes began keeping records. See the Wikipedia article for more information.
  • Roman Catholic (Römisch-katholische kirche / église catholique / chiesa cattolica): Catholic parish records were mandated by the Council of Trent in 1563, though commencement dates may vary. See the Wikipedia article for more information.

Other Denominations[edit | edit source]

  • Swiss Baptist/Mennonite (Wiedertäufer, Mennoniten / église baptiste, église mennonite): The Swiss Mennonites was a strong movement through German-speaking Switzerland begun in the 1520s at the time of the Reformation. The movement was particularly strong in Canton Bern. The religious group was persecuted, and many immigrated to the Palatine in Germany in the 1670s. Many adherents appear in records of the Reformed church. See the Wikipedia article for more information.
  • Brethren (Brüder/Herrnhuter): often grouped with the Swiss Mennonites, the movement also began in the 1520s. Most Amish descend from the Swiss Brethren. See the Wikipedia article for more information.
  • Free Churches (Freie Kirchen): this church was a successionist church of the Swiss Reformed Church. Most of these churches have merged back with the Reformed Church; only the Evangelical Free Church of Geneva remains.
  • Russian Orthodox Church (Russisch-Orthodoxe Kirche): The center of the Russian Orthodox Church in Switzerland is the Exaltation Cathedral in Geneva, but the church was founded in Bern at the residence of the Russian ambassador in 1817. The congregation was closed in 1848, while a new congregation was established in 1854. See the Wikipedia article (in German) for more information.
  • Methodists (Methodisten) The first Methodist congregation was founded in Lausanne in 1840, and the branch was officially established in 1856. Additional branches were established in 1860 (Basel) and 1866 (Bern).
  • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Kirche Jesu Christi der Heiligen der Letzten Tage / église de Jésus-Christ des Saints des Derniers Jours): This church was brought to Switzerland in 1850 when the Swiss Mission was created. Most of the early membership of this church immigrated to Utah. See the Wikipedia article for more information.
  • Christian Catholic (Christkatholische Kirche) was established after the First Vatican Council (1869-1870) and is centered in Bern. See the Wikipedia article for more information.

Other churches in Switzerland prior to 1900: Seventh-day Adventists (Adventisten vom 7. Tag), Swedenborgian (Schwedenborgianer), Anglicans (Anglikaner), Society for Propagation of the Gospel (Gesellschaft zur Ausbreitung des Evangeliums), Scottish Presbyterian Church (Schottische Presbyterianer Kirche)[1]

Information in Church Records[edit | edit source]

Baptisms (Taufen / baptêmes)[edit | edit source]

Children were usually baptized a few days after birth. Because a birth meant that a new citizen was born (even if the family were not local citizens), baptism books were usually very specific in identifying places of citizenship for children. In some areas, separate sections or even separate books were kept to separate these entries from local citizens. Depending on your parish, you may find the following types of baptism books:

  • Baptism register (Taufbuch / baptêmes): Baptisms of residents. This is a generic baptism book that may include the other types of baptisms.
  • Baptism register, citizen residents (Taufbuch Bürger / baptêmes des citoyens): Baptism book that only includes residents of the parish who are citizens of the parish.
  • Baptism register, Non-citizen residents (Taufbuch auswärtige Bürger / baptêmes des citoyens étrangers): Baptism book that only includes residents of the parish who are not citizens of the parish.
  • Baptism register, non-resident citizens (Taufbuch Ausbürger / baptêmes des citoyens expatriés): Baptism book that only includes citizens of the parish who live outside the boundaries of the parish. These records are not chronological by baptism date, but are recorded in the order in which the priest was notified of the baptism.

This means that you may find up to two baptism records of a child: the original in the place of residence, and the duplicate in the place of citizenship. Each priest may record different information for the baptism; be sure to identify all copies of the baptism.

Note: if a citizen of a parish is residing elsewhere, and has a child who died before the priest sent the notification to the place of citizenship, the child is most likely not reported to the home parish.

Baptism records content[edit | edit source]

Baptism registers usually give:

  • the infant's name
  • parents' names
  • father's place of citizenship, if not local
  • status of legitimacy (if illegitimate, this is sometimes indicated by a note in the margin or an upside-down or sideways entry)
  • names of witnesses or godparents (Taufzeugen, Gevättern, Paten) who could be relatives
  • baptism date

You may also find:

  • the child's birth date
  • the father's occupation
  • the family's place of residence
  • death information, as an added note or signified by a cross. The cross alone does NOT imply that the individual died as a young child, but can be an indication the person died in the parish.

Marriages (Trauen, Heiraten / mariages)[edit | edit source]

The earliest marriage records may give only the names of the bride and groom, and often provide no information about the couple's parents or even place of citizenship. Couples were often married in the groom's home parish; beginning in the 1700s, the couple may have traveled to the canton capital. If there were no marriage restrictions, girls typically married for the first time between ages 18 and 25. Men typically married for the first time in their mid-twenties. This varied by location and time period.

Marriage Banns or Proclamations (Aufgebote, Verkündigungen / bans de mariage)[edit | edit source]

Some marriage registers give the dates on which the banns were announced. For two or three weeks before the marriage, marriage banns (announcements of the intention to marry) were read and/or posted in church. This gave community members a chance to object to the marriage. Most proclamations took place on consecutive Sundays. The banns were required to be read in the place of citizenship for the groom and the bride, as well as the places of residence, if the bride and groom lived elsewhere. Before the marriage ceremony could take place, the non-local party was required to present the officiating pastor with a paper stating that the proclamations had been read, and there were no objections. A note stating that this person had been granted permission to marry elsewhere may be found in the marriage register, particularly in the 1800s. The marriage banns themselves may exist in a separate record (Verkündungsregister). Some parishes kept the marriage banns and other marriage information instead of marriage registers.

This means that, particularly after 1800, the banns and/or marriage may be recorded in up to five parishes: the place of citizenship of the groom, the place of citizenship of the bride, the place of residence of the groom, the place of residence of the bride, and the place the marriage took place. Each priest may record different information for the marriage; be sure to identify all copies of the marriage.

Marriage records content[edit | edit source]

Marriage registers give:

  • the marriage date
  • the names of the bride and groom
  • places of citizenship

The registers may also:

  • indicate whether they were single or widowed
  • give the names of witnesses
  • include other information about the bride and groom is often included, including:
    • ages
    • birth dates and places
    • residences
    • occupations
    • parents' names
    • the names of previous spouses and perhaps their death dates

Burials (Begräbnisse / sépultures)[edit | edit source]

Burial registers give:

  • the name of the deceased
  • the date and place of burial
  • the place of citizenship, if not local

The registers may also give:

  • the deceased's age
  • place of residence
  • cause of death (list of old German causes of death)
  • spouse's name
  • the names of survivors
  • deceased's birth date and place
  • parents' names

In some areas, separate sections or even separate books were kept to record deaths and burials of non-resident citizens of the parish, particularly after 1800. This means that you may find up to two burial records of a person: the original place of residence, and the duplicate of the record in the place of citizenship. Each priest may record different information for the burial; be sure to identify all copies of the burial. Note that keeping burial records of non-resident citizens was not as widespread as those of baptisms or marriages.

Information about parents, birth dates, and birthplaces may be inaccurate, depending on the informant's knowledge.

Stillbirths (Totgeboren / mort-né) and unbaptized children (Ungetaufte / non baptisé)[edit | edit source]

In Switzerland, the term stillbirth is not proof the child did not survive birth; in some instances, the child may have lived seconds or minutes and still been recorded as stillborn.

For both stillbirths and unbaptized children describe children who died before receiving baptism. These were not recorded the same way in all churches. The pastor or priest often determined how to record these births and deaths in his parish. In some areas, stillbirths and unbaptized children were recorded in baptism records. In other areas, these children were only recorded in burial records. Some parishes listed stillbirths and unbaptized children in both baptism and burial records. You should check both baptism and burial records if you suspect that a child was stillborn or died before baptism.

Confirmations (Konfirmationen / confirmations)[edit | edit source]

Protestants were usually confirmed between age 13-18 (depending on time period and local custom), Catholics were around age 12. Some confirmation registers merely list:

  • the names of those being confirmed
  • the confirmation date
  • place of citizenship if not local

Other confirmation registers give additional information about those being confirmed, including:

  • ages or birth dates
  • birthplaces
  • fathers' names

Family Registers (Familienbücher / livres de familie)[edit | edit source]

The earliest family registers can be found in the early 1700s in some areas of Switzerland. By the 1820s, these family registers were widespread in German-speaking areas. These registers provide information about each married citizen of the parish, regardless of residence. There may also be a secondary register of residents of the parish who are not citizens. In 1876, the majority of the country kept these records, and they were required by 1928.

Family Registers Content[edit | edit source]

These registers list:

  • the names of the husband and wife
  • their birth dates and places of citizenship (but 'not' necessarily birthplace!)
  • their marriage date and place
  • their parents' names, occupations, and residences (particularly after 1800)

Children are usually listed in chronological order with their:

  • names
  • birth dates
  • confirmation dates (after 1800)
  • marriage dates
  • death dates may be listed, particularly if they died as children or before marrying

In some registers (particularly those after 1800), when a child married and remained in the same parish, the register gives a “see page” reference and a page number where that particular child appears as the head of a household. Some family registers indicate where the family lived or emigrated to another country.

Organization[edit | edit source]

Pre-1800 family registers are typically organized by location. Most Swiss parishes are composed of multiple villages; each village usually got its own section of the family register.

After 1800 (and usually with pre-printed form registers), family registers are organized differently. The first register had no real organization; the priest made sure to record all citizens of his parish who were still living so he could track their information as part of his job. After the priest recorded all citizens of the parish, the books are then organized chronologically by first marriage date of the male citizen of the parish. Any subsequent marriages were recorded on the same page.

Some registers have indexes, either at the front or back of the book, or in a separate volume. Additionally, other church books (baptisms, marriages, and burials) record the volume and page number the person appears in the family register.

The information in family registers was compiled from other church books or obtained from the head of the household, and it is subject to error. Whenever possible, you should confirm all information found in family registers with baptism, marriage, and burial records.

Other record types[edit | edit source]

Other record types may include:

  • Lists of communicants
  • Family registers (soul registers)
  • Lists of ministers in the parish
  • Church council minutes
  • Notations about those who have fallen away, i.e. Anabaptists
  • Church censuses, membership lists
  • Church consistory minutes
  • Annual masses for the dead

Notes[edit | edit source]

Whenever possible, events concerning citizens of the home parish that took place in other parishes are listed in the home parish as well. Hence, there may be separate sections in the parish register, which in the FamilySearch Catalog entries may be described as “Auswärtige”.

Women‘s maiden names are usually recorded in church registers throughout their lives, although this may vary in French and Italian areas. However, they may be buried under their married or maiden name. Record keeping conventions vary somewhat by region.

Surnames may be abbreviated. Also, there are many unusual forms of given names.

Locating the Records[edit | edit source]

Online Collections[edit | edit source]

Switzerland church records online.png

This map shows which records for Switzerland are available outside of the Swiss archives:

  • dark green: records are available online, either at FamilySearch or at the canton archive website
  • light green: some records are available online at FamilySearch
  • brown: records are available on microfilm at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah
  • white: records are only available on-site in Switzerland

Church Records by Canton[edit | edit source]

Microfilmed/Digitized Records[edit | edit source]

All microfilm copies of parish registers held by the Family History Library have been digitized on FamilySearch; however, due to contractual agreements, some records may not be shown online. To access online records on FamilySearch, follow these instructions:

  1. Click on this link for the Switzerland FamilySearch Catalog.
  2. A list "Places within Switzerland" will open. Click on the appropriate canton.
  3. A list "Places within (your canton) will open. Select your parish.
  4. A list of record categories will open up. Click on "Church records".
  5. A list of available records will appear. Click on the record title you are interested in searching.
  6. Scroll down to the list of microfilm numbers. Some combination of these icons will appear at the far right of the microfilm listed for the record. FHL icons.png. The magnifying glass indicates that at least one record on the microfilm is indexed. Clicking on the magnifying glass will take you to the index. Clicking on the camera icon will take you to an online digital copy of the microfilm. The microfilm icon indicates that although the record is digitized, it may not be viewed online.

Writing for Records[edit | edit source]

These letter writing guides will help you write to local parishes in the appropriate language:

Language Map of Switzerland[edit | edit source]

SW Locator Map Switzerland Languages.png

Reading the Records[edit | edit source]

Search Strategy[edit | edit source]

This search strategy will help you determine what to write for. Limit tour requests to just one of these steps at a time. Once you have established that the parish is cooperative and perhaps more willing to do more extensive research (for a fee), you might be able to ask them for more at a time.

  • Search for the relative or ancestor you selected.
  • When you find his or her baptism record, search for the baptisms of his brothers and sisters.
  • Next, search for the marriage of his parents. The marriage record will have information that will often help you find the baptism records of the parents.
  • Search the burial registers for all known family members. In most cases, the burial registers will provide age at death, leading to the baptism records of the parents.
  • With the estimate birth date of the parents, search the baptism records for the parents.
  • Repeat this process for both the father and the mother, starting with their birth records, then their siblings' births, then their parents' marriages, and so on.
  • If earlier generations (parents, grandparents, etc.) do not appear in the records, search neighboring parishes.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. The Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Family History Record Profile: Switzerland,” Word document, private files of the FamilySearch Content Strategy Team, 1984-1998.