Anyone wishing to research their family history will probably get the best results from the archives of their town or canton of origin. The Swiss Federal Archives only contain documents relating to private persons who have come into contact with the federal administration – for instance, because they were refugees or emigrants.
The civil status system in Switzerland
Switzerland’s civil registries register every citizen and keep a record of who was born when, who married whom and who died when. The task is the responsibility of the municipalities and cantons. Anyone in Switzerland wishing to research their family history or seeking information about his ancestors will therefore achieve the best results at the researched person's place of origin or in the archives of the canton of origin.
Documents in the Federal Archives
The Swiss Federal Archives do, however, contain numerous person-related files categorised by name. There are various reasons as to why the administration may have gathered documented information on private persons. These persons may have fled to Switzerland, taken on Swiss nationality or perhaps been the subject of surveillance by state security. The authorities have sometimes also maintained files on foreigners.
To acquire information on private persons, the researcher should know when and why someone came into contact with the federal authorities – this information is often contained in general files that are not categorised by personal names. Exact details of the person's name and life circumstances, place of residence and place of origin are also helpful for targeted research in the Swiss Federal Archives.
Tips for further research
- Historical Dictionary of Switzerland with, among others, an article on genealogy (ger).
- Family Surname Book of Switzerland and other genealogical publications: a directory of Swiss family surnames and the places of origin of Swiss families.
- Cantonal archives (ger) of the canton of origin or the municipal archives (ger) of the place of origin.
- Ad fontes (ger): academic tool for handling written historical sources – a practical instrument for practising the transcription of old writings in old parish and civil registries.
- Cantonal Archives of Lucerne (ger): website with tips, bibliographical references and links for family research
- Swiss Society for Genealogical Studies (SSGS): bibliographical references on the situation of sources and genealogy in Switzerland.
- GenWiki (ger) of the society for computer genealogy: information on genealogy.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons): website for genealogy.
- Swiss Society for Jewish Genealogy: information mainly relating to Jewish families.
Last modification 04.11.2019