Swiss history For Members

How to research your Swiss ancestry

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
How to research your Swiss ancestry
It is relatively easy to find your Swiss ancestors. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

If you are a descendant of a Switzerland-born person and would like to find out more about them, there are ways to do that.


Researching a family tree has always been a popular, though often a painstaking, activity.

In the past, ancestral records were mostly heavy, dusty, and not always accessible.

Today’s technology and resources, however, make this ‘investigation’ much easier.

What to know before you start 

It helps to know the ancestor’s name, date of birth and death, as well as the community where he or she came from.

The more you know, the easier the process will be.

And if you conduct your search in Switzerland, you are in luck.

That’s because the Swiss are very well organised and, therefore, good record keepers.

Add to this their penchant for documenting and registering everything that goes on in the country, and your job of finding your roots will be all that much easier.

According to the government, “Switzerland's civil status data (birth, marriage, death) is not only registered at the place where the event occurs, but also at each Swiss citizen’s place of origin." (Read more about this below).

That should be your first clue, as it will allow you to begin your research at the registry office responsible for the registration of their birth, marriage or death. 

Keep in mind, however, that the official registration of civil status data did not begin in Switzerland until 1876. Until then, churches kept records of such events.


Where should you begin your search?

These are some good ‘starting points’:

Registry office / cantonal archive

In Switzerland, in contrast to other countries, a person’s place of birth is not as important, at least for administrative purposes, as where his or her ancestral roots lie — that is, where their forebears came from.

READ ALSO : Why do Swiss passports show ancestry rather than birthplace?

Therefore, knowing the municipality from which a Swiss ancestor obtained his or her citizenship rights —  Heimatort in German, lieu d’origine in French, and luogo di attinenza in Italian — would be helpful, as you would be able to pinpoint the place where to start your search.

“Questions regarding the existence of Swiss ancestors should be addressed to the registry office in place of origin," the government suggests. “When the requests go back as far as the 1870s, the research can be pursued in the relevant cantonal archives."

Thankfully, they are easily available, here. 

Church records (parish registers)

Old church records could possibly be found in the archives of the parish where the ancestor was baptised and / or died.
Some old registers have been recorded on microfilm, which certainly makes the search easier.

One thing to keep in mind is that the federal data protection law requires a cantonal research authorisation, and a fee determined individually, for all of the above sources. 


And that brings us to another point, loosely related to your ancestors

A number of people who discovered that they have Swiss roots have wondered whether their forefathers had any money deposited in Swiss banks.

That is clearly a long shot, because even if they had, that money is most likely long gone.

Still, if you would like to find out, you can do so.

According to Swiss legislation that went into effect in 2015, banks must publish a list of ‘dormant’ bank accounts, which had been unclaimed for at least 60 years.

You can find more about this here

And can you get citizenship if you have Swiss ancestors?

Some countries do give citizenship based on more distant ancestry, such as Ireland which gives citizenship to people who have an Irish grandparent, or Italy which considers ancestors going all the way back to the 1800s.

In Switzerland, however, you are likely out of luck - you need at least one Swiss parent, full details here


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