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Church Records and Civil Status in Glarus

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Translation from an article issued by Hans Laupper in Yearbook of the Historical Society of the Canton of Glarus, Volume 69, 35ff




Between the land statutes of 1387, the first democratic constitution of the people of Glarus and the introduction of civil registration on January 1, 1876, there is evidence of about 500 civic families in the canton of Glarus. It would hardly be possible to derive population statistics from this. Only since the census of 1837, initiated by the Tagsatzung, do we have more precise figures on the resident population. It resulted in 29,348 inhabitants for the canton of Glarus. For earlier times, we have to rely on the so-called Rödel (directory) of the military personnel, which were created for the distribution of pension money from abroad and the requirements for filling offices. They show an increase in population from 1550 to 1700 from about 6,000 to 14,000 souls. With the advent of industrialization in the 18th century and the greater earning opportunities which it created, the population grew to 20,000 - 24,000 by 1797. [1]


The growth of the population in Glarus is accompanied by an increase in the number of genealogical names. If we do not begin to evaluate these names until 1387, this is due to the fact that the then valid Genossamenrecht (Cooperative Law) was replaced by an actual Landrecht (which is the general term for cantonal citizenship in Glarus). The documents do not allow for a continuity of the local genealogical sequence until the middle of the 16th century; nevertheless, the oldest documents on the history of the country up to 1400 prove 148 different genealogies. Of the 123 family names of the 14th century, a large number have been handed down to us through the register of those killed in the battle of Näfels. In the 15th century another 125 names were added. They are found in documents, but above all in old yearbooks. Another 150 names come from the 16th century. They are recorded: in the so-called Glückshafenrodel of 1504, which was created on the occasion of a free shooting in Zurich for a game of chance; then in the death registers of the Italian campaigns from 1494 to 1515, in documents and files from the time of the Reformation and post-Reformation, as well as in the register of land rights purchases dating back to 1518. In the 17th and 18th centuries, only 19 families were recorded in the Landrecht; this decline was due to an extremely severe restriction on the recording of land rights. In 1834, the Landsgemeinde included the noncitizens who already held a Tagwenrecht in the Landrecht: this resulted in the addition of about 40 new civic families; others followed, so that a total of 86 are listed for the 19th century [2] . After this sketchy overview, we begin with the church records, the actual precursors of the civil registers.


The origin of the church records


The Church also laid the foundations for the civil status system in Glarus. The land of Glarus formed part of the old diocese of Constance; only Bilten, Niederurnen and Kerenzerberg belonged ecclesiastically to the monastery of Schänis and were thus subject to the diocese of Chur. When the diocese of Constance was dissolved in 1819, the entire Catholic part of the country was transferred to the diocese of Chur. The cantonal constitutional amendment of 1836, which triggered a protracted cultural struggle between Bishop Georg Bossi and the Glarus government, ended between the adversaries with the agreement of 1857, according to which the Bishop of Chur may only exercise his spiritual functions as administrator but not as regional bishop in Glarus. 


Until 1279, all parishes, except the three Unterland parishes assigned to Schänis, were ecclesiastically subordinate to Glarus. Until the Reformation, Matt in 1297, Linthal in 1283, Schwanden in 1371, Betschwanden and Mollis in 1444 detached themselves from the parish of Glarus [3] . During the religious turmoil, the majority of the people of Glarus converted to the new faith, especially in the parishes of Glarus, Schwanden, Betschwanden, Matt, Elm, Mollis, Kerenzen and Niederurnen. The seven Protestant pastors of the country initially belonged to the Zurich Synod, but in 1621, with the approval of the Council, they were given their own synod. Ten years later, a separate choir court of seven secular and two clerical members for matrimonial matters was added. The synod was purely a synod of the clergy until the middle of the 19th century. As such, however, it remained subject to some supervision by the state in that the latter seconded several secular assessors. In 1844, the old synodal constitution was amended and the canton became the first in Switzerland to have a synod mixed of lay and clerical members. The Synod is the supreme authority of the Protestant National Church; it supervises and directs all its affairs. It consists of: the Protestant members of the Government Council, the members of the Cantonal Protestant Church Council, the parish priests in office and the deputies elected by the parishes. Since the revision of 1882 it has been presided over, not de jure, but for practical reasons often by the Landammann or the Landesstatthalter, provided they belong to the Protestant confession of faith, while the cantonal church council is presided over by a president and the parish council by a dean [4] . Since 1862 Glarus has belonged to the Protestant Concordat Cantons and has since ordained its clergy itself. All clergy of both denominations have to undergo a re-election every three years, since 1974 every four years, like the state officials. Until the introduction of the federal register of civil status, the pastors were responsible for keeping the register of civil status [5] .


In Glarus there were four Catholic and six Protestant parishes around 1600. Näfels, the most important Catholic parish, had already separated from Mollis in 1532. By 1875, two new Catholic and six Protestant parishes had been founded. Bilten separated from Niederurnen in 1607. In 1699 and 1724 respectively, Protestant Netstal, 1780 Catholic Netstal, 1724 Mitlödi and 1744 Ennenda separated from the large parish of Glarus. Luchsingen, which was partly subordinate to Betschwanden and partly to Schwanden, founded its own Protestant parish in 1753; Mühlehorn separated from Obstalden in 1760 and Oberurnen from Näfels in 1868. After the introduction of the civil registers, the following followed: Catholic-Schwanden in 1895, Catholic-Luchsingen and Catholic-Niederurnen in 1937, Braunwald in 1942 [6] .


The listed data show the development of the individual parishes in the canton of Glarus. Their knowledge is necessary for the use of the church records. They include: the baptismal and birth registers, the copulation or marriage registers and the death registers; furthermore, yearbooks, Urbare, Zinsrödel, pupil and confirmation registers and lists of church members, etc.


In Switzerland, church records, which record the baptisms and later also the marriages and deaths of the faithful of a parish, begin at the end of the 15th century (1481). They owe their existence to the regulations of episcopal bodies. Some of them have been authentically handed down to us. In the diocese of Chur they go back to the decree of Bishop Heinrich IV of 1490. A corresponding example for the diocese of Constance does not exist. Only a baptismal register from the Church of St. Theodore in Kleinbasel (1490) suggests that similar decrees were issued by the Lake Constance bishopric. In 1563, the Council of Trent decided on the definitive introduction of baptismal and marriage registers for the entire Catholic Church. It did not lay down anything about death registers; these were introduced partly by decisions of provincial synods, partly by the "Rituale romanum" of 1614. This also contained precise instructions on how the entries in the baptismal, marriage and death registers were to be written [7] .


In the canton of Glarus, church registers began towards the end of the 16th century. Despite the Tridentine resolutions, it is paradoxically the Protestant parishes that first establish church registers: 1571 Mollis, 1595 Matt and Elm, 1598 Glarus and 1601 Linthal. Among the Old Believers they only appear in the middle of the 17th century: 1654 Linthal, 1655 Näfels.


Until the 19th century, no official directives on the keeping of church registers can be found in the sources on regional history. The extent to which the Protestant regional synod influenced the civil status system therefore remains open. The first printed Landbuch of 1807 is also silent about this. A written reference can only be found in the "Landsgemeind-Memorial für die Gemeine Landsgemeinde des Jahres 1836", which states among other things: "So that in the future there can be no doubt about the surnames and the individual members of the newly purchased countrymen, the authorities have ordered that an exact register of names based on the baptismal registers be compiled and filed in the civil status archive [8] . "Finally, the "Gesetz über das Gemeindewesen für den Kanton Glarus" (Law on Municipal Affairs for the Canton of Glarus) of 1837 brought general provisions on the supervision and storage of church records. It stipulates in § 121: "The stillstand (the church authority) has special supervision over all church books, baptismal, death and family registers to be kept by the local pastor and ensures that all books and writings are well stored in a suitable container in the rectory. Likewise, it is also incumbent upon him to see to it that the duplicate of the baptismal and death registers prescribed according to official decree is placed in safekeeping in another suitable location [9] . "A further specification on the keeping of the church registers is contained in the "Resolution, concerning church affairs" adopted by the Landsgemeinde in 1837. This states: "The church registers, to which the clergyman shall keep the baptismal register, the register of deaths, the register of marriages and the register of confirmations accurately and carefully according to the established scheme and shall send the following lists annually to the authorities concerned:


(1) A list of births, deaths and marriages shall be ordered from the respective magistrate at the end of the year or no later than 14 days after the New Year. This list shall contain those born between January 1 and December 31 (according to the subdivisions: boys, girls, illegitimate among them); those who have died (with the subdivisions: male and female sex, according to decade) and finally the marriages.


2. a list of those who have died shall be made out to the Sanitary Commission in accordance with the schedule drawn up by it.


3. a list of early cohabitants (from 1 January to 31 December), i.e. those new spouses to whom a child has been born within 36 weeks of copulation, shall be submitted to the President of the National Poor Law Commission.


4. a list of boys born in the year to be designated shall be submitted annually to the Military Commission.


(5) The police commission is to be notified of every child born in the municipality whose father is a Württemberger or Frenchman and unmarried, and at the same time the baptismal certificate is to be sent [10]. " 


The Landbuch of 1854 maintained these provisions. No additional regulations were made for civil status until 1875.


The possibility of transferring the church records into the possession of the political communes or the state, as provided for in the Federal Act of 1874, was enshrined in the Cantonal Implementation Act of 29 September 1875. In § 6, it stipulated that "the old registers and files or copies thereof relating to civil status should, as far as necessary, pass into the possession of the civil status offices". Sporadically, extradition seems to have taken place on the basis of this provision; the limitation to "necessity" has prevented a uniform solution. A concentration of all church records in the National Archives, which would have been the guarantor of safekeeping, thus also became illusory.


The keeping and preservation of the registers


There are many things to tell about the church records before 1876. Generations have left their traces in them. It would be of great interest to trace the handwritten entries of the parish priests or the coming and going of certain families. But this would go beyond the scope of this work. In the foreground of our considerations is the keeping and preservation of the registers. What was the situation? 


The controls of the registers by the organs of the church commission and the synod were often not very effective. Pastor Johann Martin Leonardi, who worked in Betschwanden from 1809 to 1839, kept no books at all during his thirty years in office. When he was found out, his involuntary resignation inevitably followed. After his departure, the parish had to order extra surveys to fill in the gaping gaps in the church registers. Pastor Levin Feldmann, who served in Schwanden from 1729 to 1735, did no better: he hardly knew the books from the outside and entered nothing. Only with great difficulty did the authorities later succeed in adding at least the births of the burghers' children; the marriage and death entries of those years are completely missing.


In Netstal and Linthal, too, several priests left behind a ghastly disorder. They cared little for the preservation of the books; in many cases the bindings and entire rows of pages disappeared. In the death registers of Linthal, for example, the pages from 1703 to 1708 are missing, as well as those from 1735 to 1742. When the Obstalden parsonage caught fire on March 4, 1834, parson Jakob Menzi saved his chickens. He only remembered the books when it was too late. Even for the time after the introduction of the civil registers, the genealogist Johann Jakob Kubly-Muller handed down such an example. In 1912 he wrote in his essay "Die Genealogiewerke des Kantons Glarus":


"For many years the civil registry office of Glarus was located in the municipal building on the elevated ground floor, in a room that could have been entered through a window from the Bahnhofstrasse without much effort. The books were all kept in an old fragile box, which had been donated by the relief committee of the 1861 fire and which, because of its defective condition, had found no other buyer or lover! It had been just good enough for the storage of the most important books. A threatening outbreak of fire during a lunch break, originating from the overheated stove, had drawn the attention of the authorities to the unsuitable location and even more so to the inadequate safekeeping [11] . "


In addition to these unpleasant occurrences, there are also some bright spots. We owe an exact list of the entire population of his extensive parish (Adlenbach, Hätzingen, Betschwanden, Diesbach-Dornhaus and Rüti) to Pastor Johannes Marti, who was in charge of the pastoral care in Betschwanden from 1693 to 1702. The pastor Johann Conrad Brunner, who was active in Linthal, also rendered outstanding services. He left us, among other things, the names of the interrogation children, the confirmands and all pupils for the years 1646 to 1674. The fact that the names of the population of Mühlehorn have come down to us until the beginning of the 18th century, despite the devastating fire of Obstalden, must be attributed to the foresight of Pastor Felix Kubli. For his newly founded parish, he extracted the church registers of Obstalden. The parish registers of the Sernftal provide further evidence. They are, so to speak, without gaps. While the names of the deceased in the great plague years of 1611, 1625 to 1629 are missing in Glarus and other parishes, they are listed completely in Matt-Engi and Elm. The parish registers of Ennenda are also among the best and are impeccably preserved, as are those of Näfels. [12]


Until the first decades of the 19th century, the baptismal registers gave only the dates of baptism, but not the dates of birth; in the case of the death registers, the date of death listed could be the date of death or the date of burial, depending on the arbitrariness of the clergyman. Only the new law of 1875 brought uniform regulations.


Family Records and Genealogy


The partially unclosable gaps in the holdings of the parish registers are countered by an equivalent for which the canton of Glarus is often envied. In almost thirty years of work, Johann Jakob Kubly-Müller of Glarus has created a genealogical work based on the entire inventory of parish registers of the canton of Glarus and its former subject areas of Werdenberg, Sargans and Gaster, as well as on roods, directories, documents and materials from public and private archives. In 28 extensive volumes, mostly folios, the author has compiled the family and personal records with all their ramifications, separated according to parishes and in alphabetical order and often supplemented with historical, cultural-historical and personal remarks. Numbers pointing forwards and backwards make it possible to effortlessly compile the genealogical sequences for 10 to 12 generations [13] . This work, which covers all the families of all the communities of Glarus from 1600 to the present, represents the fruit of an immense and laborious task. In order to appreciate it briefly, let us outline its development.


When Kubly-Müller began, a genealogical basis already existed for the main town of Glarus, which pastor and Camerarius Johann Jacob Tschudi had compiled in the years 1770-1772. It is entitled "Extractus from all still existing baptismal registers of the Protestant parish of Glarus, in which the married couple, the time of their copulation, their produced children, their death, along with some memorable particular events, as they are noted on the baptismal, death and marriage registers". Tschudi described their origin as follows: "After the end of January 1766, when the honorable community of Glarus unanimously elected me as their pastor, it happened quite often that members of the community requested information from the baptismal registers; how old you yourself or your deceased friends were, in which years you, your parents, grandparents, brothers, cousins, sisters or other relatives were married, how long they lived as widows, how closely you are related to this or that person, in order to occasionally obtain help in doubtful inheritances, or to make a writing or to put in the necessary light in the Tagwen-, Church- or Landrecht, or otherwise to cheer up something more or less important. To find this out often required much time, effort and attention, and long perusal of the baptismal books. This caused me to decide to make the present excerpt from them, so that in all cases one could make use of it and give everyone the necessary and thorough light they wanted. But this work cost me in truth much more time, effort, work, attention, investigation, patience, etc., than I had imagined at the beginning; nevertheless, such work has taken up my time of 2 years in extra hours, and I also want to continue such work always. Therefore, (I) have done this for myself, for my future relief with sour work. On the part of the honorable community, no one has asked this of me, no one has paid me anything for it, no one has given me any thanks or reward. The book itself (I) have procured out of my money, consequently this fruit of my diligence belongs to me and my heirs, as a true property, to which no one has a right, which because of the future for the necessary required news I wanted to and should notice [14] ."


Unfortunately, this valuable book, which often had to be invoked as evidence in lawsuits because of so-called Tagwenrechtsberechtigungen (the rights of the Tagwen citizens), was not continued after Tschudi's death in 1784. For the time being, it was inherited by the Schindlers in Mollis. Here it remained for many years, until it was discovered by the examining magistrate Heinrich Blumer of Schwanden (1803-1860). Later, it was bought by Landammann Dr. Joachim Heer and returned to the Protestant parish of Glarus. The parish of Mollis owns a similar genealogical table. This was created by treasurer Johann Heinrich Schindler (1757-1820) and partially continued by judge Balthasar Zwicky (1827-1921).


Shortly after the fire catastrophe of 1861, to which Glarus fell victim, the church council of Protestant Glarus under Landammann Dr. Joachim Heer decided to have a citizens' register made. Instead of starting with the conclusion of Tschudi's work in 1784, pastor Wilhelm Freuler of Glarus created a new register, which was completely unusable because of its gaps. It was not until Johann Jakob Kubly-Müller was elected to the municipal council in 1893 that Tschudi's work was resumed and his errors corrected. Kubly-Müller, in his capacity as vow administrator (sworn officer), had to request inventories of the deceased's estate, check the degree of relationship of the heirs and collect the inheritance tax. The last, decisive external occasion for the compilation of the first volume of the genealogy work was the passing away of the factory owner and multiple millionaire Rudolf Heer, who had no children but a numerous and widely ramified kinship. Thus, the vow officer Kubly-Müller felt obliged to find out who was entitled to the inheritance. This prompted him to request the local council to have the genealogies of Glarus produced so that similar cases could be handled less laboriously and more quickly. The council complied with this request and Kubly-Müller went through all the old church records in Glarus from 1595 onwards, compared them with the "Tschudibuch" and corrected the errors found there. After three years of intensive work, the Glarus volume was available.


Some families of the main village had origins and branches in other communities, and so it was not surprising when the desire arose to work on the other villages of the canton in addition to Glarus in the same way. Subsequently, Kubly-Müller compiled the genealogies of Glarus-Riedern, including the Catholic part, until the end of 1897; then followed Ennenda, Netstal and Mitlödi, then the Protestant Unterland with the communities of Mollis, Niederurnen and Bilten. Finally, he tackled the hinterland from Schwanden to Linthal and the Sernftal. At the end of 1907 Näfels and Oberurnen as well as the Kerenzerberg were still missing. No coherent genealogy could be made for Obstalden because of the parsonage fire of 1834. At the urging of a Catholic friend, Kubly-Müller also decided to work on the outstanding Catholic part Näfels-Oberurnen. By the end of 1910, this extensive work was done. During another three years Kubly-Müller corrected and completed his genealogy work. He also established relations with New Glarus during this time, but these efforts remained without success [15] .


The genealogy work was created in the course of thirty years. Kubly-Müller reports about it: "The incessant work from early in the morning until late in the evening had also taken a hard toll on the eyesight, since the deciphering of the old writing and the spelling was not always an easy thing. And on top of that, the author had only one eye at his disposal, because the other one had been wiped out forever by an accident in his youth [16] ." As writing material he used only the finest, best hand paper, which had to be purchased at great expense from abroad, because the Swiss paper industry did not produce such paper.


In 1928, the genealogy work became the property of the state of Glarus on the condition that it be continued with the help of civil status excerpts and was incorporated into the state archives. Its care was first in the hands of interrogation judge Hans Schiesser, then state archivist Dr. Jakob Winteler and later Dr. h. c. Heinrich Rellstab. It was then kept up to date by librarian Josef Müller.


The great genealogy work meets with lively interest today. It provides excellent services for various types of scientific research, with many requests coming from home and abroad.


We conclude our work with a quote from former Federal Councilor Philipp Etter, who in 1944 wrote the following apt words about the importance of genealogies: "The family is the foundation and cornerstone of our social and state life. Through it we are connected with the soil and the history of the country. The physical and spiritual forces that have accumulated through the chain of generations live on in us and affect our descendants. We all carry within us a mysterious heritage that comes from those groundwaters from which our life source rose and from which our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents nourished themselves. We will never fully strip the mystery of these groundwaters of its veils. But much can be made clearer and more conscious through research into our origins and our ties. Through genealogy we also discover how deeply and strongly our lives are rooted in the native soil through the centuries, and how closely we are bound to the community of other families and genders who have shared with us for many generations in the possession of the same homeland. Thus family lore, which frees the concept of family from the limitations of the horizontal plane and only gives it its true greatness by deepening it in the vertical line, becomes the lever of a stronger sense of community by making us aware of our communion with the earth, with history, and with the people of our common homeland. From this community consciousness flows also the realization of our obligation towards our descendants, whom we have begotten into the same chain of community and who will continue to beget our lineage, so that it may never be extinguished and may always remain connected as a free lineage with the free Swiss earth [17] . "

Back to the beginning


[1] Tschudi-Schümperlin, Ida and Winteler, Jakob, Wappenbuch des Landes Glarus, Geneva 1937, 12

[2] Tschudi-Schümperlin, Ida and Winteler, Jakob, Wappenbuch des Landes Glarus, Geneva 1937, 13

[3] Heer Gottfried, The Churches of the Canton of Glarus, Glarus 1890, 19-42

[4] HBLS, vol. 3, 552f.

[5] Collection of Glarus Law, Volume 3, IV. A. Church

[6] Winteler, Jakob, die Kirchenbücher des Kantons Glarus, offprint from: Der Schweizer Familienforscher, 1946, No. 5/6, 2.

[7] HBLS, vol. 7, 667f.

[8] Landsgemeinde Memorial for the Landsgemeinde of the year 1836

[9] Law on the Municipal System for the Canton of Glarus, 1837

[10] Resolution, concerning church affairs (issued by the Landsgemeinde 1837), in: Landsbuch des Kantons Glarus, 1852, 359

[11] Kubly-Müller, Johann Jakob, Die Genealogien-Werke des Kantons Glarus, offprint from: Schweizer Archiv für Heraldik, 1912, Heft 4, 171f.

[12] Winteler, Jakob, The church records of the canton of Glarus, 4

[13] Winteler, Jakob, Die Kirchenbücher des Kantons Glarus, 4f.

[14] Kubly-Müller, Johann Jakob, Die Genealogien-Werke des Kantons Glarus, 167f.

[15] Vogel, Konrad, Vornamengebung vom Hohen Mittelalter bis 1975 am Beispiel der Tschudi von Glarus, Zurich 1976, 1-3

[16] Kubly-Müller, Johann Jakob, The genealogical works of the canton of Glarus, 182

[17] Archiv für Schweizerische Familienkunde, editor: Johann Paul Zwicky von Gauen, Zurich 1944, vol. 1, 1f.

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