A research project to identify Swiss immigrants to Wisconsin
An intensive and comprehensive study of Swiss immigration to Wisconsin during the 19th century has been in progress since 1980. The goal is to produce brief biographical and genealogical studies of all persons of Swiss birth who came to reside in Wisconsin prior to 1900. The focus is on major sources of emigration, the journey to America, migration routes, and the settlement process.
The purpose of the research is to identify individuals by name, age, and occupation; locate immigrants' communes and cantons of origin; chronicle their settlements; and identify their descendants. This study will consolidate all that is currently known about each immigrant and gather together material pertaining to
the Swiss in general.
The total number of Swiss immigrants who came to Wisconsin in the 19th century is approximately 12,000, according to the most reliable estimates. Because these figures were gleaned mainly from census records, it is likely that additional Swiss were included in groups speaking a common language, i.e., German, French, or Italian. Therefore, it is possible that 20,000 would be a more realistic number.
Preliminary research indicates that the first Swiss settled in the Wisconsin territory (then part of Michigan and Illinois) in the middle of the 1820's. The greatest number immigrated to the state in the 1840's and 1850's, with a significant increase appearing in the 1880's. The main cantons contributing their citizens were Bern, Graubuenden, Glarus, and Zürich.
Noteworthy Wisconsin-Swiss communities were located in Buffalo, Green, LaCrosse, Milwaukee, and Sauk counties, but Swiss dispersed widely throughout the states. Several prominent national figures in religion, politics, and art had Wisconsin-Swiss connections, namely Archbishop J. M. Henni, C. Hermann Boppe, E. L. Philipp, P. Rindisbacher, and Dr. N. Senn.
In the early stages, the project focused on the naturalization records of seven counties to identify the immigrants. A complete search of other vital records, including census records, cemetery transcriptions, diaries, genealogies, family Bibles, letters, and newspapers also provided useful information. Six research trips to Swiss archives were made between 1980 and 1996.
During this period, complete histories of Swiss settlements in Fond du Lac, Waukesha, Waupaca, and Wood counties were also compiled. Partial studies of the Swiss in Buffalo, LaCrosse, Milwaukee, and Winnebago counties have been steadily progressing and are nearing completion.
The story of the Swiss presence in Wisconsin has not been adequately told. With the help and cooperation of a large number of people, especially the Swiss descendants, the story will unfold, resulting in a definitive study of this important and interesting ethnic group. The progress of this research will be presented in articles on Swiss origins and settlements which will appear in genealogical and historical journals periodically.
Due to the scope of this undertaking, there is no deadline for completion of this project. Anyone with a "Swiss connection" is invited to submit information on an early Swiss immigrant. All contributions, no matter how small, are welcomed.
Maralyn A. Wellauer, Project Director
2845 North 72nd Street
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53210-1106 USA
The Swiss Connection
Telephone: (414) 778-1224
Fax (414) 778-2109