A work in progress! With your help, this database will grow. If you don't find your Swiss, French, German, or Italian ancestor who was associated with the area around Vevay, Indiana in this database, please let me know! For a list of some primary and secondary sources for the history and genealogy of the Vevay settlement, and background information essential for the genealogist and historian, see the Vevay sources page.
Settlement of Vevay, Indiana — The first Swiss settlers, the Dufour party, first established vineyards near Lexington, Kentucky. The main party, much smaller than the organizers had hoped it would be, arrived at Lexington on July 4, 1801. Negotiations were already underway to purchase land along the Ohio River. The legal hurdles to this purchase were resolved by an Act of Congress on May 1, 1802, and the first of the Swiss settlers moved to "New Switzerland" that summer. The first families to live at New Switzerland were the Morerods and the Bettens, accompanied at the felling of the first tree by John James Dufour himself. Others, both from the original settlement near Lexington, and more or less directly from Europe, soon followed. The flow of settlers from Europe continued for many decades.
Goals of the database — Over the past 15 years, I have received countless inquiries about the "Swiss" Vevay settlers because of my web site about genealogy in the Swiss Canton of Vaud. With the bicentennial of the incorporation of the town of Vevay fast approaching (2013), I welcomed the opportunity to try to untangle some of the confusion, taking advantage of documents that have recently become much easier to access. I have tried to include the settlers, their ancestors, their relatives, and the families of other important people who figure in the story of their migration. I have also tried to locate and cite the primary sources: church records, legal documents, family papers, etc., both in the U.S. and in Europe. Much of this information is quoted here for the first time, but I am convinced that many other sources have still not seen the light of day. If the reader discovers any such sources in private hands, or in a location that may not have sufficient resources to preserve fragile documents for the future, it is important to make these sources known and to take whatever steps are possible to find a safe, permanent archival home for them.
Many of the difficulties we find in genealogies of these families result from lack of familiarity with the original languages, old handwriting, and especially, lack of familiarity with history, geography, and customs in the homelands in Europe. Another difficulty is that information, much of it probably correct at the beginning, has been copied and recopied, introducing many errors along the way. Failure to cite primary sources adds to the difficulties for anyone who wishes to pursue this interesting story in more detail.
Spelling of personal, family, and place names — The spelling of names of all sorts has changed over the centuries. In particular, the idea that there was a unique correct spelling of any name does not seem to have had much currency before about 1800 in many areas, with the result that we can sometimes find several different spellings of the same name in a single document. But a choice of spellings has to be made for our database, in order to support the use of indexes. For Swiss surnames, I generally follow the modern spellings in the case where the families still reside in the same towns where the Vevay settlers and their ancestors lived, and the most frequently encountered spellings from the period when the settlers left Switzerland for families no longer found in those places.
The Dufour family came from what is now the city of Montreux, so quite naturally it is Montreux that forms the nucleus of this database. The list of the families having citizenship at Montreux as of 1962 can be found in the on-line edition of the Familiennamenbuch der Schweiz. Almost every one of these names is mentioned in the database! Probably an equal number of family names mentioned in the historical records of Montreux are not on this list, the families having died out or moved out of the parish by 1962. Some of these are found today in neighboring parishes; others are completely extinct.
For personal names, I generally use the form of the names found in the original documents around 1800, but there have also been cases where it was necessary to choose between French and German forms of names, etc. The reader should be aware that many different spellings are likely to be encountered in the original documents, and that most of the spelling variations are of no significance whatever.
The Complicated Parish of Montreux — The Swiss origins of the Vevay settlement, and the starting point for this database, may be found in the parish of Montreux, in the Canton of Vaud. There is probably no more challenging place in the Pays de Vaud for genealogy. The complexities begin on the ground. Until 1962, there was not an actual place called Montreux — that was simply the name of the parish, which included a large number of villages and hamlets. While these little communities have since grown together and are now virtually indistinguishable, the genealogist is still confronted with a labyrinth of variant spellings of the names of these places. In some cases, there is still not complete consensus on the "correct" spellings. Within the parish, also, there were two main administrative and judicial structures which did not completely coincide with the boundaries of the villages; these were the Barony of Le Châtelard and the separate territory dependent on the Château de Chillon. In addition, the villages had their own civil institutions, and there were isolated parcels of land subject to various other feudal lords or other entities.
Within these complicated boundaries and overlapping jurisdictions, the old families of the parish of Montreux flourished. They moved freely from one village to another, acquiring property, frequently as a result of carefully arranged marriages. In the church records, an attempt is usually made to distinguish families having the same names by indicating their place of residence. Thus, the church records may distinguish among "Dufour de Salles", "Dufour de Vernex", "Dufour de Chernex", etc. That these distinctions refer to the place of residence, rather than families of the same name but with different origins, is revealed in the terriers and the records of the notaries, where we can sometimes discover how these branches are related to each other. In the terriers, also, we discover that surnames have changed, especially prior to the end of the 16th Century. The analysis of the terriers has scarcely begun. There are several dozen volumes — comprising thousands of pages — covering the 15th and 16th Centuries just for the Barony of Le Châtelard. The parish of Montreux is a sort of case study of the workings of the feudal system in the Pays de Vaud, at once challenging and rewarding.
The church records of Montreux are probably no better or worse than those of any other large parish in the Pays de Vaud. There are inexplicable gaps, confusions, bad handwriting, damaged pages, and, periodically, evidence of less than perfect compliance with the requirements of Their Excellencies of Bern to keep good records. There are long stretches where the names of the mothers are not given for baptisms, or where the place of residence of the father is not mentioned. Where the records are incomplete, the genealogist has to be alert for evidence that things are not as they seem. Are the baptisms too close together in time, indicating that we are dealing with two or more fathers having the same name? Did this man marry a second time to a woman whose given name was the same as his first wife's? Which of the possible fathers was "the elder"? Which one had died before a certain date? To whom does a particular burial record refer, when there is no age listed? Sometimes these puzzles can be resolved by careful analysis of the church records (including valuable information hidden in the lists of sponsors at baptisms). More often, we have to include other sources in our search, such as the terriers and the records of the notaries.
For the purposes of this database, the places of residence of the families of Montreux are listed after the surname, in parentheses. This convention is intended to help the reader follow the story of these families as it is found in the original sources, while at the same time reminding us that the place of residence is not actually part of the family name.
The progress of this project is a result of the kindness and generosity of many persons, all of them endowed with a strong appreciation of our historic patrimony. We express our most grateful thanks to all of them: Catherine Minck-Brandt, Ann C. Brownrigg, Barry Brown, Bill Davis, Nancy C. Emmert, Pat Hiatt, Sheila Kell, Tina Lyons, Bob W. Scott, Chuck Siebenthal.