Many famous people have left behind traces that are held by the Swiss Federal Archives. The private fonds of federal councillors, for instance, often yield abundant research results. There are also private archives and person-related files with information on many academics, artists and well-known foreigners.
Federal councillors, national councillors and generals
The Swiss Federal Archives often deliver abundant results for research on former federal councillors – for instance, Jakob Stämpfli (1814-1862), Jonas Furrer (1848-1860) or Willi Ritschard (1941-1984) – and former members of the General Staff of the Swiss Army such as Emil Sonderegger (1888-1975). High-ranking federal officials such as top diplomat Walter Stucki (1888-1966) and nationally well-known pressure group politicians such as the farmers' leader Ernst Laur (1895-1964) or labour leader Robert Grimm (1893-2000) have handed over their private archives to the Swiss Federal Archives. The Swiss Federal Archives also endeavour to acquire the private archives of the members of the national parliament. Lilian Uchtenhagen (1961-2008), Verena Grendelmeier (1939-2001), William Rappard (1868-1972), Otto Schoch (1963-1991), Thomas Onken (1964-2000) and Oskar Wettstein (1833-1919), for instance, have all donated their documents to the Swiss Federal Archives.
The Swiss Federal Archives safeguards documents on famous foreigners who have spent time in Switzerland. Among them are "Sissi", the Austrian empress Elisabeth of Austria (1881-1996) who was murdered in Geneva in 1898, and Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini (1836-1855). The Federal Police often maintained person-related files on political refugees such as Mazzini, whom they kept under observation. Others left traces as federal employees – for instance, physicist and Nobel Prize winner Albert Einstein in the documents of the patents office.
Academics and artists
Only a few academics have donated their personal archives to the Swiss Federal Archives. There are a few exceptions among historians: Erich Gruner (1915-2001), Walther Hofer (1920-2013) and Ulrich Im Hof (1917-2001), for instance, bequeathed their private archives to the Swiss Federal Archives.
Person-related files on foreign artists can be found in the Name Register of the Police Department (1855-2003), especially in series "N" and "P". This is mainly because many artists fled from Germany and other countries to Switzerland during the Second World War and were registered by the federal police or immigration police. Articles on a number of famous figures can be found in the Swiss weekly news programme Schweizer Filmwochenschau (1940-1976), backups of which are maintained by the Swiss Federal Archives.
Tips for further research
- Historical Dictionary of Switzerland: short biographies of important Swiss personalities. It can help to establish which federal offices may have had contact with or created files on a person prior to researching the person in the Swiss Federal Archives.
- Database of council members of parliamentary services: details on the lives and offices of all former federal and national councillors and members of the Council of States.
- HelveticArchives – the archive database of the Swiss National Library: repertory of handwritten bequests (overview of handwritten bequests in Swiss libraries and archives, accessible online).
- Directory of the public archives (ger) of Switzerland: private archives and estates in cantonal and municipal archives and libraries. Examples: the estate of the former Federal Councillor Heinrich Häberlin in the Cantonal Library of Thurgau (ger) in Frauenfeld; the estate of Hans Peter Tschudi in the Cantonal Archives of Basel (ger).
- Archives of Contemporary History at ETH Zurich: private archives of many famous figures from the worlds of business, culture, politics and academia.
- Archives of the ETH Zurich: estates of many physicists and mathematicians, including Albert Einstein. The ETH Zürich also safeguards the private archives of Thomas Mann, Carl Gustav Jung and Max Frisch.
- University libraries and archives: various private archives of academics.
- Swiss Literature Archives (ger) at the Swiss National Library in Bern: numerous private archives of deceased and living authors.
- Centre Dürrenmatt in Neuchatel: estate of author and painter Friedrich Dürrenmatt with changing exhibitions and events.
- Swiss Social Archives and the Library of studies on the history of the labour movement (ger) in Zurich: mainly the private archives of prominent figures of the labour movement and left-wing politics, but also of famous emigrants.
- Archives on the history of women in Switzerland: fonds of exhibitors of the feminist movement in Switzerland.
- arCHeco: register of economic fonds preserved in archives of Switzerland and Liechtenstein containing, among others, documents on important persons from commerce and industry.
- For documents on well-known members of parliament, please contact their respective parties; for documents on important representatives of employers' associations and trade unions, please contact the respective office.
- Association Films Plans-Fixes (french) in Lausanne: video interviews in French with celebrities from the worlds of art, politics, sport and academia hailing mainly from western Switzerland. The films can be purchased from "Plans Fixes" or viewed at the Swiss National Library in Bern.
Publications of the Federal Archives
Knoch-Mund, Gaby, Privatnachlässe in schweizerischen Archiven und Bibliotheken, in: Studien und Quellen, Band 18, hg. vom Schweizerischen Bundesarchiv, Bern 1992, S. 9-63.
Schweizerisches Bundesarchiv, 1897-1958 (PDF, 131 MB, 26.06.2012), Bundesarchiv Dossier 13, Bern 2001.
Schweizerisches Bundesarchiv, Max Daetwyler – Friedensapostel, 1886-1976 (PDF, 102 MB, 26.06.2012), Bundesarchiv Dossier 2, Bern 1996.
Schweizerisches Bundesarchiv, Walter Otto Stucki (1888-1963): eine aussergewöhnliche Gestalt der Schweizer Geschichte, Geschichte aktuell, 27.5.2013.
Last modification 04.11.2019