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Canton Vaud

Sources and Methods for Genealogical Research

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If one of your ancestors originated in the Canton of Vaud, it is very likely you will be able to trace your roots in this region back to 1500 or even earlier. The amount of genealogical information available today is simply astonishing! Be prepared to spend some time on your research, but not necessarily a lot of money - most of the resources are available through the Family History Library in Salt Lake City for a small rental fee that covers the cost of shipping microfilms to your local LDS Family History Center, which is open to all. To get your adventure off on the right foot, I have listed below some of the things you will need to know:
Warning for beginners! You should not believe everything you find on the internet! Good genealogy should be based on PRIMARY SOURCES (records created at the time the events took place, by eyewitnesses or participants), not on records that have been interpreted by somebody who wasn't there. More discussion of research methods.
QUICK LINKS: Queries Church Records Tutorial Notarial Records Tutorial Vevay, Indiana
Commune-Parish Index Resources for Communes Histoire du Canton de Vaud The Terriers of Vaud

Language

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 surprising well.
    Looking for a few good words? Try the highly-regarded French Genealogical Word List from the LDS Source Guide.
  • 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.

Geography

  • 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"!

History

  • General history of Switzerland: a good account has been compiled by K. Augustiny, but Vaud has its own peculiar story. So far, I have not found a comprehensive history of Vaud on the web, so I have taken steps to fill the gap. It is hoped the new online edition of the Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz will eventually supply most of what is needed. Until the new online edition is complete, the standard reference in these matters is still the venerable Historisches-Biographisches Lexikon der Schweiz, in German, covering a vast number of place names and families, available most easily on LDS films #1181541 - 1181543.

    For a classic popular history of Vaud, I have begun to publish an internet version of Auguste Verdeil's Histoire du Canton de Vaud (1849-1852).

  • Prehistory and Roman: Many places in Vaud show traces of Roman or earlier settlements, and many place names date from Roman times. However, I know of no families who can trace their origins back that far even in the best known Roman settlements such as Avenches and Yverdon. The locals are proud of a brief victory of the Helvetians over the Romans (famous painting), but they were definitively conquered nonethless in 58 BC.
  • Feudal Period: The present area of Vaud spent several centuries under the House of Burgundy, followed by a confusing series of allegiances that would make your head spin. Fortunately, this is not something a genealogist is likely to need! However, when the trail leads you into early notarial records, you might want some background on the medieval social order; pay a visit to NetSerf, a comprehensive site for all things medieval, including a glossary.
  • Vaud as part of Savoy: In 1253, Pierre II Comte de Savoie inherited the estate of his father-in-law Aymon de Faucigny, including much of the area of modern Vaud, beginning the "Savoyard Period" of vaudois history. For several years, Pierre had been buying up most of the other fiefs in the Pays de Vaud, so he now held title to almost all of it. One result of this domination, of possible importance to genealogy, is that quite a number of interesting documents about local affairs have turned up in the archives of the old state of Savoy, formerly in Turin, Italy, and now consolidated in Chambéry, France. The Dukes of Savoy did not react well to the ideas of the Protestant Reformation, and in the early decades of the 16th Century, they began to interfere with the neighborly ties that had been established between Swiss city-states (some then becoming Protestant) and the episcopal city of Geneva.
  • Bernese occupation and the Reformation: As a part of the process that liberated Geneva from the control of Savoy, the army of Bern simply marched into Vaud and took over the whole thing, at least the part that Fribourg did not claim. The Bernese encouraged the Reformation, which triumphed in short order, and appointed local overseers and representatives. Best of all, they recorded everything! Many prominent families of Vaud were granted coats of arms by the Bernese. While we know that many volumes of records were transported from Bern to Lausanne at the end of the Bernese occupation, it is likely that a great deal could be learned about families from Vaud in the archives of Bern.
    The Bernese occupation, 1536-1798: What the Bernese did, and what they did not do.
  • République Vaudoise: Inspired by the French Revolution, a brief insurrection led to the creation of an independent "République Vaudoise". Napoleon Bonaparte got into the act, too, but the significant outcome was that Vaud finally became a part of the Helvetic Confederation in 1803.
  • Vaud becomes a Swiss Canton, 1803: Fortunately, the recent history of Vaud has been relatively peaceful and free from upheavals. There is one exception the genealogist should be aware of, the "Bourla-Papey" episode of May, 1802. Convinced that feudal tithes were about to be reinstituted, "peasants" went on a rampage, breaking into the archives of a number of communes and burning whatever papers they found there (hoping thus to make feudal titles unprovable). Evidently the damage was not as serious as it might sound, for the records of Vaud are still a remarkable resource for the genealogist and historian. The matter of the feudal titles and the taxes and tithes that went with them was resolved by a law of 31 May 1804 that banned the feudal regime forever from the Canton of Vaud.
  • Why so many left Vaud: The above historical outline conceals some important incentives for emigration from Vaud. During the Bernese occupation, with no encouragement whatever for the development of commerce, and taxation limited only by the capacity of the authorities to find some aspect of life not already taxed, almost the only opportunity for a young man to better his position was to become a soldier in mercenary service. When advancement in the military was blocked by Bernese regulations, he could simply join the regular army of another nation, such as Holland, England, or France. So many men followed this path that Vaud suffered a serious depopulation. Others found in their education and command of the French language the key to advancement abroad. Swiss men and women found an eager market for their service as teachers, governesses, and servants throughout Europe. Huguenot families, though initially welcomed, also found reasons to leave. In search of a permanent home, thousands of Huguenots continued their exodus beyond Switzerland and into Germany, Holland, England, Ireland, or even farther afield. After the French Revolution, many Huguenot descendants returned to France, and the native vaudois found business opportunities there. In the 18th Century and later, religious movements and the official disdain that followed provided the impetus for various groups to leave for the New World. A reading of local history will often provide a reasonable explanation for the departure of your Swiss ancestors.

Genealogical Resources

  • 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.
    What's available on microfilm? Look at the Vaud holdings for the LDS Family History Library.
    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.
  • Learn more about notarial records (including some examples)
  • 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.

Queries

  • Vaud query page (this service provided by RootsWeb Message Boards, a subsidiary of MyFamily.Com, Inc.)

Helpful Hints

  • 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 Switzerland.") 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.
    Get started in paleography with our brief tutorial on reading church records and notarial records (with examples from records of Vaud). For more experience, try the excellent Cours de Paléographie, entirely in French but worth the effort.
  • 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.

Useful Links

  • 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!

Neighboring Cantons

  • Genève
    • 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 notarial records.
  • Neuchâtel
    • 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.
  • Fribourg
  • Valais

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