Friday, December 28, 2012

Follow Friday: The Register of Swiss Surnames

I recently learned from a post by Wolf Seelentag that the Register of Swiss Surnames is available online. This is an extremely important resource for Swiss genealogical research and the very first place to check when starting out on a name.  A search engine, guidelines and a table of abbreviations are presented in English (here) and in German, French, Italian and Romansh, Switzerland’s four official languages.

In the early days of our Swiss research I got look-ups or used the three-volume set at the library of the Western Reserve Historical Society. Titled Swiss Surnames: a Complete Register, it was edited by Emil Meier and published by Picton Press in 1995. Its original German name is Familiennamenbuch der Schweiz. This is a list of all surnames with Swiss citizenship in 1962 for each community in which citizenship was held. When you don’t know the community from which your Swiss family originated, finding records is nearly futile.

We first learned that our Hoffman immigrants came from Oetwil am See in Canton Zurich. Church records there included members of the family because they did live there. However, they were always noted as “von Oberglatt” (of Oberglatt) the community in which they were citizens – even though our branch hadn’t lived there since about 1750. If you look for Hoffmann or Hofmann in Canton Zurich, you will find that HOFFMANN (2 Fs) is listed for Oberglatt from before 1800. Our immigrants included the widowed mother of seven. Her maiden name was Homberger. The listing for Egg, a community just north of Oetwil am See was one of the places that name appeared before 1800. Her father was a citizen of Egg (remember that’s German and sounds a little like “eck” not that thing you scrambled for breakfast). Her mother’s family were the ones who were citizens of Oetwil am See. Their surname was Muschg. A potential problem with the list shows here. Older church records show the family as citizens in that location, but the register does not have them as citizens before 1800. The reason is that eventually all the descendants I could trace were daughters and the family surnames changed to that of the husbands. In other words, the name “daughtered out.”

It is a big advantage to have this list so handy now. If you have, or may have, Swiss family to research, be sure to check their surnames in the register.