Almost entirely French!
- Before 1537, while Vaud was part of the territory of Savoy, most official documents were in Latin.
- Translation assistance: You can use AltaVista's Babelfish web page to translate entire web pages, or you can
paste sections of text into the window to translate one section at a time. Among other things, you could use the
Babelfish site to translate your correspondence and E-mail. Probably not a perfect translation in many cases, but it does
- Patois: Many word forms that differ from standard French have existed and still are used today in French-speaking Switzerland. (The same is true, in fact,
in France itself.) See, for example, Henry Suter's dictionary of the patois.
The patois is seldom a big problem in documents, even in very early times.
- Maps: First orient yourself to the position of Switzerland relative to neighboring
countries, then study the canton of Vaud. It is divided into "districts", then into "circles",
then into "communes". As in France, the "commune" is a town together with the lands belonging to
it - and in Vaud, some of these lands may not be physically connected, but somewhere up on a
mountainside for summer grazing of cattle. Parish and commune boundaries may be different
and may have changed from time to time. The Swiss Government publishes wonderful maps at 1:25000 scale,
often the only way you will ever find some of the place names that are encountered in parish registers and
notarial records. The 1:25000 maps are available through map specialist stores all over the world.
Information on all sorts of maps relating to Switzerland, including aerial and satellite views as well, may be
found on this OUTSTANDING Swiss Map Page.
See your village from the air!
Aerial views of Vaud, including communes and châteaux, are available on-line!
- Directions: Descriptions of land in notarial records may use an unfamiliar vocabulary for directions. For example, between Lausanne and Geneva, directions may be
noted like this: "Devers vent" means "toward the southwest" ("vent" is the prevailing wind), "Devers lac" means "toward the lake" (Lac Léman or Lake Geneva, thus generally south or southeast),
"Devers joux" means "toward the forest" or "toward the Joux mountain range" which is to the northwest, and "Devers bize" means "toward the winter wind" which is from the northeast. Land is often
described by reference to a "Lieu-dit" (literally, "a place called"), names of which are often very difficult to locate on any map. The names of the neighboring owners will likely
be listed, and perhaps the name of a road or river. Unfortunately, land has been so finely divided, and so often traded, sold, inherited, or transferred as part of a dowry, that it
is often not possible to identify parcels named in old records with any certainty.
For an explanation of "Lieux-dits" in the vicinity of Corcelles-près-Payerne, including the arcane vocabulary of
agricultural land use found in early records, visit Antoinette Burdet's old
Arc-en-ciel site. Though intended for a local audience,
the explanations will clarify most of the "lieu-dit" references from all over Canton Vaud. A more general review of the
place names of the Suisse Romande and Savoie, including
obsolete forms likely to be found in old documents, has been prepared by Henry Suter.
- Strange boundaries of Vaud: Parts of the canton are not connected to each other, and there are parts of Fribourg
that are entirely surrounded by land belonging to Vaud, in the area around Payerne. A similar, but smaller version of this problem exists on the western end of Vaud, where the
tiny enclave of Céligny, belonging to the Canton of Geneva, is surrounded by communes belonging to Vaud. The reasons for this go back to the Savoyard period, reflecting
the situation at the end of the feudal era. You will need very detailed maps in order to make sense of the place names in both of these areas.
- Flags: Here's a link to the Vaud section of the "Flags of the World" site. The flags of the communes are historical, sometimes whimsical. You might
recognize the flag of one of the communes as the basis for a family coat of arms that had you stumped.
- More than one town of the same name: There are several cases where two or more towns have the same name. They are
distinguished, officially at least, by extra words at the end of the name indicating a region or a nearby larger town. But in old
records, you may not find any indication which one is meant. The one intended is almost always the nearest one, but it pays to
remember the possibility of confusion. If the duplicate town name is within the Canton of Vaud, you will find it in the next item:
- Best available references:
- Dictionnaire Historique et Géographique du Canton de Vaud. The accounts of each town include lists of the known pastors and
major civil officials, as well as a lot of information on noble families, origins of names, and historic connections between towns. LDS films #0475856 - 0475857.
- www.about.ch, an excellent web site for geographic, political, and social information on Switzerland. Under a tab labeled "Various", I
found a postal code search form that accepts wild cards. It was possible to search for "CHE*", producing a list of all the communes in Switzerland that begin with "Che"!
- Church records: All available parish registers up to about 1821 have been microfilmed by the LDS Church and
may be obtained through your local LDS Family History Center. Almost all parishes filmed are protestant. Many of the
registers were filmed with one or more "Répertoires" or indexes. Some of the registers go back to the 1560's. Handwriting
varies, of course, ranging from clear and elegant to completely illegible. See Helpful Hints section, below. Some records
of the parish consistories have also been microfilmed, much more difficult to read, but possibly containing interesting
material about local disputes, relationships, occupations, origins of families, etc. An inventory, including available dates and information
about which villages are in each parish, is on LDS film #0840625.
Learn to read church records!
Details and samples are available, with complete transcriptions and translations.
Commune Name to Parish Name Index:
Since many small villages do not have their own church, making it difficult to know where their church records
were kept, we have provided an index based on information compiled by the Cantonal Archives of Vaud.
- Civil Registration (Etat Civil): The Canton of Vaud began civil registration in 1821. Prior to that time, the church registers were the
official record of vital statistics; beginning in 1821, the government provided each parish with special books in which the pastor was required to record vital statistics,
even if the people involved were not members of the Eglise Réformée. The LDS church was able to microfilm most of the civil
registration records from 1821 to 1875. These records are organized by parish, similar to the older church records. In
some parishes, church records after 1821 included other registers (such as communions), and at least some of these have been
microfilmed in addition to the civil registers. The LDS Family History Library Catalogue should be consulted to
determine what records are available. In general, the civil registration records are very detailed. The cantonal archives
is believed to have an index to "all" of the recorded marriages contained in the civil registration records from 1821 to
1875. At this time, we don't know if it is possible to obtain information from this index except by visiting the archives.
Certainly, the archives staff is busy enough just conserving the collections and fighting off further budget cuts. However,
it might be possible for the archives to provide a correspondent with the date and parish of a requested marriage, after
which the correspondent could obtain the microfilm from the LDS Family History Library and find the original record without
further troubling the cantonal archives. If anyone is successful with this method, please let us know.
- Notarial records: The Vaudois were fastidious about recording all contracts and business transactions with a notary.
A substantial part of the records of notaries dating back to the 14th Century have survived and are housed at the Cantonal
Archives. These records have been microfilmed by the LDS Church. There is no general index, unless at the Cantonal Archives
itself, and individual volumes are also generally not indexed. If an index appears at the front of a volume, it rarely includes
all parties to a transaction, so the records must be scanned page by page. Even when the notary has prepared an index that
includes all of the parties, we have found that many volumes have additional loose documents inserted between the pages,
and of course these documents are NOT part of the index! In one case, the inserted document, which seemed not to be related
to any other record in the volume, was the testament of my ancestor Aimé duTruit (or Aymo de Torculari in the Latin documents of the time)
dated 16 jul 1513! Sufficient reason NOT to depend on any index! Notaries kept both "registres" (registers) and "minutaires"
(minute books). The former are the more important "actes de notaire", usually with a descriptive title that names the principal parties.
The "minutaires" are generally much more informal, often highly abbreviated, and usually without any sort of titles to
most documents. In the minutaires, you can find the rough drafts of the documents that were judged important enough to be copied
into the registres, and sometimes the two versions don't say exactly the same thing!
From time to time, one finds signatures of some of the parties along with the signature of the notary
himself. Notarial records are organized in the LDS Family History Library catalogue generally by district,
under the name of the district's principal city. For the district of Moudon, for example, you would
look under "Switerland, Vaud, Moudon - Notarial Records". Usually, you will
want to examine records of all notaries in the district where your ancestors lived, covering the dates of interest, starting from
the most recent and working backwards. Among the transactions you might find are testaments (wills), transfers of land or property,
rental agreements, IOU's for such items as cheese and cattle, settlements of disputes, marriage contracts, and grants of
citizenship. The importance of these records in revealing relationships, alternate spellings, origins, and aliases ("dit" names)
cannot be overstated! An inventory of these records, prepared by the Cantonal Archives, is on LDS film #0885759, continued on film #0840625. Notarial
records are not easy to use, but the gems buried in these dusty pages may reward your patience.
- Huguenot Census: After the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, thousands of French protestants fled their homeland. Many of
them arrived in Vaud and were received, to the extent that resources could be found to help them, as refugees. The authorities in Bern
were worried about how to care for all of the refugees, so they asked each commune to carry out censuses of the refugees. Some of these
records have survived and were published in the Bullétin de la Société de l'Histoire du Protestantisme Français (1935). Most of the published records
are also available on microfilm. Even with capricious spellings of names and towns of origin, most refugee families can be identified
in these records. LDS film #0840625. Note that the first waves of French protestant refugees in Vaud date back to the 1530's, but only the
very recent arrivals were listed in the "Huguenot Census".
For some reason, many Americans believe the Huguenots were persecuted because they were Christians. This is simply not true; they were
persecuted for breaking away from the official church of France, the Roman Catholic Church, which represented the first 1500 years of the Christian faith.
- "Livre d'Or des Familles Vaudoises": Most families having citizenship (bourgeois status) in Vaud are noted in the Livre d'Or, with information about where
they came from and when. If the family was still extant in 1800, or if the family played a significant role in the history of the canton,
it will probably be listed here. If the surname is associated with only a few communes, there is a very good chance you will be able to
find your ancestors by searching the church records of those communes. LDS film #0491155. The title translates as "Golden Book of the Families of Vaud".
- Bibliography of Swiss Genealogies (Mario von Moos, 1993, Picton Press): best available finding aid for published and unpublished material on Swiss families.
- Vaud query page (this service provided by RootsWeb Message Boards,
a subsidiary of MyFamily.Com, Inc.)
- Two forces that shaped Vaud: Two historical threads turn up again and again in genealogical research in Vaud. The first is the plague,
which visited all areas from at least the 14th Century until the 17th Century. The result was some odd family structures, numerous remarriages, and
a lot of children who disappear without a trace. ("A list of the plagues that have occurred in
The second is the Renaissance (including the Protestant Reformation, for our purposes), which suddenly
put a premium on knowledge professions. Among these were medicine, the clergy, civil government, teaching, printing, etc. A classic study demonstrating
how these factors shaped real lives is Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie's The Beggar and the Professor: A Sixteenth-Century Family Saga (1997, University of Chicago Press).
Incidentally, if you thought your European ancestors before 1900 always lived within 15 miles of their birthplace, think again! At least in the 16th and 17th
Centuries in Vaud, the people you are looking for can turn up almost anywhere.
- Dates: In the surviving church records, there seems to be no equivalent to the calendar changes that
bedevil researchers in England. The year begins on January 1 as far back as the church records go. With a little
practice, the names of the month can be spotted even when the handwriting is very bad. However, numerical abbreviations
for the months require some explanation. If you find a month listed as "7bre" or
"Xbre", you are dealing with September or December, respectively. Likewise, you will find "8bre" for October and "9bre" for November.
The practice of using Roman numerals for months, now common in France, for example, does not appear until the 19th
Century in these records. In a late record, you might find "21 X 1880" (21 October 1880). "X" month is not to be confused with
"Xbre" month (the first is October, the second is December!).
In fact, the date of the new year had settled at January 1 in most of Vaud by about 1538. The switch from the Gregorian to the Julian reckoning, involving
the correct treatment of the leap day in years ending with '00', and difference of 11 days between the two calendars, was accomplished at the end of
1700. December 31, 1700 was followed by January 12, 1701.
- Counting: In addition to the normal French numbers, you might notice "octante" or "huitante", alternate words for
eighty. If either of these was used in place of standard French "quatre-vingt", you will probably also find "nonante" for ninety.
In records of the 17th Century and earlier, it is common to find Roman numerals (usually lowercase script letters)
as well as Arabic numerals for amounts, dates, and page numbers. Roman numerals that might be encountered include non-standard
constructions such as iiCxxxxix (249) or even xvXXxviiii (interpreted as 15 times 20, plus 19, or 319).
- Spelling: In general, French spelling before about 1750 has a lot of extra letters you weren't expecting! Most of the
extra letters are at the end of a syllable, probably not pronounced. Once you get used to the sort of changes that are possible,
this will be no problem. Also, the use of accent marks is a fairly late development, another mental adjustment that will take
some getting used to. Among the more common spelling changes, you may notice "aultre" for modern "autre", "dict" for "dit",
"avoit" for "avait", and "estoit" for "était". Names are affected, too: "Jehan" for "Jean", and "Jehanne" for "Jeanne", among many
others. The idea that a name has a set spelling, and that all other spellings are incorrect, is decidedly modern. In the 16th
Century, it is easy to find notaries spelling their own names differently even within a single document!
Actual 16th-17th Century French dictionaries can be searched online! Immensely helpful for words that no longer
exist, including old occupations, though you may have to experiment with possible spelling variations. The definitions are usually phrased in terms that are still found in modern French-English
dictionaries. Try it!
- Paleography: It takes practice to read old handwriting, and there are several common varieties you will find in the
church and notarial records of Vaud prior to 1800. Some of hands are so messy they cannot be read with certainty. In general,
the safest procedure is to read the most recent records you can find for the communes that interest you, so that you become
accustomed to the surnames, place names, etc. of the area. Then you can work backwards into periods with older styles of handwriting,
and you should be able to recognize how the common names of the area were written. Through this process, you will gradually adjust
to the older styles. The only letters that are likely to be completely foreign to modern eyes are "R" and "c". In the oldest styles, the
capital R looks like a V with (usually) two horizontal lines through it; the small "c" is easily confused with "r" or "t". At a slightly later date, the
small "r" is written like the small Greek letter upsilon, or like a small "v" without the final hook (the letter "u" will almost always have a tail).
This style also features a number of combined forms that, while elegant, have contributed greatly to historical misinformation.
- Names and titles: Many surnames encountered in Vaud derive from occupations. "Chappuis", for example, is an old word for carpenter.
Other surnames relate to places ("d'Yverdon", literally "from Yverdon"). Sometimes surnames are identical with given names ("Michel" sometimes
appears as a given name, elsewhere as a surname). These facts would be merely interesting were it not for the possiblity of compound surnames
and aliases. More than one genealogist has been misled by such constructions as "Henri Knecht Schafner", interpreting the actual surname Knecht
as a given name, and the title "Schafner" (an appointed "overseer" or "avoyer" during the Bernese occupation) as a surname. Similarly, if one encountered a mention of
"Jean Michel d'Yverdon", it would not be immediately obvious if the man's surname were "d'Yverdon", or if his surname were "Michel" and he simply
came from Yverdon. Situations like these can often be resolved by further readings in the parish registers and notarial records, since it is likely that the
same person will be cited again in another spot with clearer wording.
- The Alluring Wines of Vaud: From earliest times, one mark of financial and social success in Vaud was to hold title to a great vineyard. A surprising
number of notarial records from all districts involve sales of vineyards located in the district of Lavaux, extending eastward from Lausanne to Vevey
along the shore of Lake Geneva. The properties at Cully were especially popular. Cully's arms feature a large bunch of grapes, and an ancient statue of Bacchus
was unearthed there. A survey of industries and agriculture in 1765 noted that the inhabitants spent most of their time drinking rather than working. The survey report
recommended plowing the venerable vines under to make the area more productive - apparently, someone thought life was too easy there. It is the vineyards of
Lavaux that explain why so many prominent families of past centuries had ties to the district. The genealogist might consider searching the notarial records of
this area for clues about old families.
- Jean-Luc Aubert's pages for
Genealogy in French-Speaking Switzerland
- Cercle vaudois de généalogie
- Archives cantonales vaudoises (A new website,
as a result of a reorganization of the cantonal government. A variety of interesting documents about the archives are
posted here, notably the 2001 annual report, remarkable for its barely-disguised expressions of frustration over reductions
in its budget, and a "dossier" on the fabulous medieval resources of the archives, still only partially catalogued and in
desperate need of conservation. There is also significant guidance on the existence of research aids for genealogists
and historians interested in post-medieval problems.)
- SwissGen, an excellent site for Swiss genealogy
- Inventory of Swiss manuscript collections (Search by surname)
- Olivier Pasteur's intriguing account of the Public Executioner of Moudon, an excellent introduction to the social structure
and customs of Switzerland in past centuries.
- Why has so much Swiss genealogical information found its way to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City?
A Partial Answer!
- While most of the church records and other sources of genealogical information are NOT in the possession of the
individual communes, and the communes will probably not be equipped to respond to queries of any kind, a large number of them
now have interesting web sites. Typically, there is information about local history, historic châteaux, local
officials, and often, photographs. Links to many of these sites can be found at www.ucv.ch.
- The city of Vevay, Switzerland County, Indiana will celebrate its bicentennial in 2013. In preparation
for that anniversary, see information about the Swiss settlement at Vevay and two stories intertwined with it, that of a Swiss colony organized
by Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler that never happened, and that of my ancestor Jean Pierre Samuel Marcel,
who happened to be on the same ship with Hassler, the would-be colonists, and several of the settlers
who were traveling to Vevay. The ship was the Liberty, which arrived from Amsterdam at Philadelphia
in October, 1805.
Resources for Individual Communes
As genealogical records for individual communes become available, they will be added to this list. If you have extracted vital records
for any commune of Vaud, please contact me! There is probably space to post the information here! If you need records, watch this space!
- Bière, Ballens, Mollens: A genealogical dictionary
- New! On-line database
of records from the districts of Aubonne and Morges, will eventually contain all the early church
records that I can read and connect to a family group!
- L'Isle, including history, the château, documents from the archives, and much more!
- Archives of Romainmôtier
- Baptisms at Cossonay, a new project of the Cercle vaudois de généalogie.
- Dutoit, "bourgeois de Moudon" and other places (linked database)
- Moudon: A genealogical dictionary of the Dutoit families (early "raw" records)
- Vallée de Joux (communes of Le Chénit, Le Lieu, L'Abbaye, and environs)
- Payerne: Norma-Jean Elmer's database, hundreds of early families from Payerne and environs
- Testaments probated at Moudon, 1735-1787.
- Testaments probated at Moudon, 1668-1685 and 1691-1698.
- History of the Colony of Chabag, Ukraine
- Vevay, Indiana
- Your ancestors from Vaud never lived in Geneva? That does not mean they left no records there!
Geneva was one of the favorite places for a young man to be apprenticed to learn a trade, and it was a thriving
commercial center. It was also an important center of higher learning. Notarial records for Geneva have been indexed, the main series run from 1536-1700 and 1700-1800.
The indexes are in the form of brief abstracts, so you can sometimes get several generations of genealogical information
from a single entry. These amazing resources are on LDS films #1052015 - 1052019 (covering 1536-1700) and films
#1052028, #1052029, and #1051595 (covering 1700-1800). Also, if your families settled in Vaud as refugees from France, Savoy,
or Italy, they may have stopped first in Geneva, and might be sought in the Genevan church records as well as the
- Société neuchâteloise de généalogie, an excellent gateway to the
impressive resources of the archives and genealogists of this canton. This site also contains, under the selection "Récits et Témoinages", several
important accounts of Swiss emmigration: the reasons why people left, and an account of one family's voyage to St. Louis, Missouri in pioneer days.
- Many of the most basic historical records of Fribourg are still in the hands of the individual communes and (mostly Roman Catholic) parishes.
- However, information on many families from Fribourg is contained on the
Site Généalogique et Héraldique du Canton de Fribourg