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Swiss Genealogy: Billeter's Notes

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Originally appeared in The Swiss Connection (Spring 1998) Vol. 6.3
and Family Chronicle (January-February 1999)

By Maralyn A. Wellauer

Before microfilms of parish registers were available outside of Switzerland, many researchers constructed their lineages based solely on the work of Julius Billeter (born 1869, died 1957). A Swiss genealogist, who extracted information of at least 1000 Swiss families, he worked mostly in the German-speaking part of Switzerland between 1896-1950. He used parish registers primarily, which, in some cases, dated back to the mid-16th century.

Billeter sometimes was a bit "creative" in establishing relationships or assigning ages, particularly to females. For this reason, it is a good idea to verify all statistics and names with the original sources whenever possible.

The Genealogical Society of Utah (LDS) microfilmed his often faint handwritten notes decades ago. To properly interpret them, researchers must be familiar with the unique system of abbreviations he employed and must be able to read his handwriting.

An article by the late Jared H. Suess, "Beginning Swiss Research" (Swiss Records Searched by Julius Billeter) in The Genealogical Helper, May-June 1978, pages 16-18, 117-118, can be most helpful because it contains a list of abbreviations Billeter used for masculine and feminine names and other events, and provides a list of surnames with corresponding film numbers. Also there is a listing of microfilmed family group sheets, which were compiled using Billeter's research. This article is also in Handy Guide to Swiss Genealogical Records (Logan: The Everton Publishers, Inc., 1979, pages 55-62.)

The quality of Billeter's documentation has been the subject of some debate for many years. The best source for learning more about the extent of the errors that occur in his work is Paul-Anthon Nielson's "Observations on the Swiss Genealogical Research of Julius Billeter in Comparison with Original Bernese Vital Records" in Genealogica & Heraldica, Copenhagen, 1980, pages 233 ff. Another critical essay on the same subject was prepared by Manuel Aicher for Archiv fuer Familiengeschichtsforschung.

Before spending much time looking through the pages and pages of notes for a family name, some of which are common or widespread in Switzerland, researchers should refer to a basic guide, Records searched since 1896 up to 1950 (including a list of surnames searched and the places of origin in Switzerland) by Julius Billeter. Typewritten by G.S. (Genealogical Society) Salt Lake City, Utah, 1950. FHL Europe Book Area call number 949.4 D2bj. Also on microfiche (1989) number 6001397

This short guide (42 pages) lists surnames and the communes where the records were consulted. For example, this writer is descended from a Keller family domiciled in Huettwilen (canton Thurgau). Although Billeter has traced many Keller families, he did not work on the Huettwilen family. However, according to the list cited above, he traced Keller families in Weinfelden, Wila, Wildberg, Oberthal, Herisau, Schwellbrunn, Mandach, Bernhardszell, Marthalen, Walzenhausen, Buelach, Stammheim, and Wald.

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