A. Before you start tracing your roots in Switzerland, you’ll need to identify the Swiss canton (akin to a US state) and town where your family lived. That means tracing them in all the US records you can find—generally, the same records you’d use for other US research. You might want to check ethnic newspapers where your family resided, such as the Italian-Swiss newspaper Colonia Svizzera in San Francisco and the German-Swiss Amerikanische Schweizerzeitung in New York. The University of Minnesota Immigration History Research Center is a good source of information about ethnic newspapers.
Also try the German and Swiss Settlers in America, 1700s-1800s CD (Genealogical Publishing Co.), which includes names of mainly German-speaking Swiss who settled Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, New York and elsewhere in the United States. It’s estimated that four-fifths of Swiss immigrants in the United States spoke German.
When it comes to language and culture, Switzerland closely identifies with its German, French and Italian neighbors. The country has four official languages: German in the north, east and center of the country; French to the west; Italian in the south and Romansh (spoken by a small minority) in the southeastern Graubünden canton.
A starting point for your Swiss research could be the free online Switzerland Vital Records Index from FamilySearch. This index has information from births or christenings, marriages and deaths or burials throughout Switzerland.
Also try the book Bibliography of Swiss Genealogies by Mario von Moos (Picton Press), which has information on genealogical works concerning nearly 10,000 non-noble Swiss families.
Jean-Luc Aubert’s Main Genealogical Sources in Switzerland site has a handy chart of records important in Swiss research and the centuries for which each type of record exists.
You’ll also want to check out these Swiss genealogy websites:
- List of Swiss cantons with German, French, Italian and English name translations, many with links to lists of towns in the canton