Switzerland Zürich Census

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Europe Gotoarrow.pngSwitzerlandGotoarrow.pngZürichGotoarrow.pngCensus

Bevölkerungsverzeichnisse der Synode Zürich[edit | edit source]

Population Registers of the Zürich Synod

Areas covered by the Zürich census

Background[edit | edit source]

The purpose of these population registers was originally to record the Protestant Reformed Church membership in the parishes of the Synod of Zürich, Switzerland. Because all citizens of Zürich were included in these censuses, they included the Zürich, Rheintal, Oberthurgau, Unterthurgau, Frauenfeld, and Eglisau bailiwicks, which today include the cantons of Zürich and Thurgau, as well as parts of cantons Sankt Gallen, Aargau, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, and Schaffhausen.

The religious censuses began in 1634 and were supposed to be taken every three years, though this became much more sporadic after 1650. Lists of the Reformed members of each household were made and sent in to the Antistes or rector in Zürich. In addition to the names of household members, priests usually recorded ages, especially for the children, but often for the parents as well. Later censuses, particularly after the 1680s-1690s, usually included exact baptism dates. In some cases, the final pages of the census returns for the parish could include information about the poor, schoolchildren, teachers, citizens living outside the parish, and non-adherents (including Anabaptists and Catholics).

Special lists (mostly the censuses for 1633, 1657, and 1663) focused on Anabaptists, emigrants, and those living outside the parish.

Organization[edit | edit source]

The census is organized by parish. Each parish census begins with a handwritten or typed page indicating the parish, the year of the census, and the page numbers (handwritten in the lower right corner of odd-numbered pages). Within the parish census, the main village of the parish was most often listed first, with all other small villages, hamlets, or farms listed subsequently.

The text of the original records is in German. The spelling of location names may vary throughout the time period of the records.

Access[edit | edit source]

The entire census is linked from the FamilySearch Wiki. Each parish page contains information about which census years are available, including a link to the first page of every census. For an example, see here.

FamilySearch provides access to images, though this may require accessing the records from a family history center.

Content of the Catechism[edit | edit source]

Traditionally, the Church was responsible for the spiritual and secular education of its members. The Reformed faith encouraged its members to study the Bible and other spiritual literature. Pastors were asked to regularly examine the parish members and note their literacy skills and the books available in their homes in the lists they created. There was no required format, so these notes often contained unique abbreviations denoting various skill levels, almost like a school grading system. Understanding this basic rubric can help you decode them.

Parts of the Catechism[edit | edit source]

  • The three prayers: Includes "Our Father"
  • Twelve Articles:
  • Ten commandments: Same ten commandments as found in the Bible.
  • Questions: These included around 129 (Heidelberg Catechism) questions and rote answers regarding religious history and doctrine.
  • Prayers
  • Sacraments
  • Testimonies

Levels of the Catechism[edit | edit source]

  • k. A. – knows nothing (lit: “keine Antwort” – no answer)
  • 1 – knows one of the three prayers
  • 2 - knows two of the three traditional prayers
  • 3 - knows prayers (“Our Father”, the 12 articles, and ten commandments or “Gebote”)
  • 4 - knows parts of the catechism (including the sections “questions” and” prayers”)
  • 5 - knows the entire catechism (including the categories: questions, prayers, sacraments
  • 6 - knows the entire catechism and the testimonies


Description Abbreviation
Prayers o. / orat.
Our Father prayer o.D / Or. Do. / D. / Dominic.
Twelve Articles 12. art. f.
Ten Commandments Dec. / Decal. / Decalog
Apostolic Creed Sym. / Symb. / S. Ap.
Smaller Catechism Q.c.m. / Q. c. min.
Larger Catechism Q.C.M. / Q. C. maj.
Entire Catechism C. m. int / C. M. int. / Cat. / totum Cat.
Testimonies Re. Ta. Se.
Full Communion Com.
Attends school schol.
Can Read p. l.
Can't Read n. l.

References[edit | edit source]

For a much more detailed analysis of the cultural background of the Zürich Census (in German), see Michael Egger's Zürcher Bevölkerungsverzeichnisse: eine 'Pisa-Studie' in der Frühen Neuzeit?