LOGO Glarus pages by Bart Geger and Sue Wolf within SwissGen LOGO

Suggestions for Tracing Swiss Ancestors

This page is divided into three sections:


Certain things I learned the hard way. I hope these hints save you time and effort.

  1. Looking for your ancestor's ship? The single best resource I know is the multi-volume series "Germans to America," which presumably can be found in any large library or genealogical center. The editors endeavored to compile as comprehensive a list as possible of passenger lists containing German immigrants to the United States, beginning with the year 1850. (The series currently extends to the 1890's, 70 some-odd volumes in all.) Despite the name, an extraordinary number of Swiss immigrants are included; in fact, between 1850 and 1855, Swiss were deliberately and routinely included. After 1855 the editors apparently narrowed their project to German immigrants only; however, a large number of Swiss are still included, either mistakenly or deliberately.

    If you know the general time period in which your ancestor arrived, search the indices of the corresponding volumes for his/her name, keeping in mind that spelling variations and mistakes are extremely common. (It's a wise idea to make a list of all conceivable spelling variations of your ancestor's surname, checking each variation in the indices.) Even if you haven't a clue when your ancestor arrived, it would not take long--perhaps an hour--to examine all indices in the series.

    Should you find your ancestor, the information includes the name of the ship, date of arrival, port of arrival, and (presumably) a complete list of passengers.

  2. If for whatever reason you're forced to examine microfilmed copies of passenger lists one-by-one, you should narrow your search as much as possible. Here's a few considerations to expedite your search. During the mid-19th century, from roughly 1845-1865, the French port of Le Havre enjoyed the majority of Swiss business regarding emigration. If your ancestor arrived in the U.S. during that period, starting your search with Le Havre might save you time.

  3. For those who already know the name of their ancestor's ship and the date of its arrival in New York, have you checked the "Marine Intelligence" report printed in the back of the New York Times on that particular date? Each issue of the Times contains a list of all ships which arrived the previous day, including a description of their journeys, weather encountered, deaths en route, etc.

  4. I was rummaging through my grandmother's hope-chest when I discovered some old documents, brown, brittle, and faded, tucked in an envelope. I had no idea what they were (they were written in German), so I had a friend translate them. They turned out to be my great-great-great grandfather's original Passport and Certificate of Citizenship from Engi, Canton Glarus!

    The papers are a gold-mine of information. They contain not only a physical description of Bernhard Giger, but also his place of birth (Matt), place of residence (Engi), and the date he received his documents (September 8, 1852). The space allotted for his signature contains only a swirling scribble, indicating he was illiterate. "Corinthian" is written on the upper right-hand corner of the Passport, which turned out to be the name of his vessel to New York. Finally, the Passport bears two stamps, from port-officials at Le Havre, marking his date of arrival at Le Havre and the date of his departure on the Corinthian.

    These documents, especially the Certificate of Citizenship, were sacred to every Swiss traveler. If the New World was not to their liking, the documents made it possible to return home at any time. More importantly, they also made it possible for the descendants of an emigrant to return to his or her ancestral commune and receive immediate citizenship! For these reasons, Swiss immigrants never discarded these documents. They gave them to a child (usually, presumably, the eldest son), who passed them to his child, etc. No one who understood what these documents were would ever throw them away!

    For this reason I suggest you search for these documents in your own family. It's likely an old relative has them tucked away somewhere, not realizing what he or she has. They are about 14"x8" and written in the old Fraktur script. Good luck!

II.Annotated Links

Peter Jehli's Homepage is invaluable for genealogists seeking information about the villages of Canton Glarus. It contains photos, descriptions, statistics, and brief histories of each village, plus numerous links to relevant individuals. This site is an absolute must!

Wondering about the route your ancestor took from Canton Glarus to America? The Alleman Travel Letters chronicle a Swiss family's 1844 journey from Lake Wallenstatt in Glarus to Hermann, Missouri, via Le Havre, New York, and St. Louis. Eighteen pages of personal letters detail everything and everyone they encountered along the way. An incredible resource! Translated by Herman Radloff of the St. Louis Genealogical Society, January 1994.

Sweet Potato's Genealogy Page is a great resource for Swiss research, including addresses for libraries, archives, and historical and genealogical societies in every State. Sweet Potato's also includes surname searches and extensive information on the Swiss family Landis from 1520-1900, in Pennsylvania and Maryland. Special thanks to Stacie, who patiently helped me create this homepage.

III.Recommended Books

Journey to New Switzerland: Travel Account of the Koepfli and Suppiger Family to St. Louis on the Mississippi and the Founding of New Switzerland in the State of Illinois. Trans. Raymond J. Spahn. Ed. John C. Abbott. (Southern Illinois University Press: Carbondale, 1987) Hardcover, 236 pp. with index. Essential for anyone whose Swiss ancestors immigrated to the American midwest. Contains firsthand explanations of the families' decision to leave Switzerland, plus detailed descriptions of their travels to Le Havre, New York, St. Louis, and Illinois. Last time this was checked (May 2002) Amazon (search for Raymond J. Spahn) offered it for $20.

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