Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Julius Billiter

The genealogies collected by Julius Billeter (1869-1957) cover more than 1200 families from all over Switzerland and are a very good starting point for your own genealogical research. Some advice on how to interpret his handwritten notes may be useful for the person reading his notes for the first time. Whilst being very useful, Billeter's notes have to be considered a secondary source, and there are


Julius Billeter's records are usually very accuarate for individual family groups (father, mother, children). The problems to be found in his research are when he tried to place a family group where a person was a parent, together with the correct family group where they were a child.

There are usually very few errors in transcription. Out of the hundreds of dates of births, marriages, and deaths of research he did on my family surnames, I recall only a couple incorrect dates. One is where he copied the entry number of the burial for that year (they were numbered consecutively) for the day of the month.

Billeter's research on my lines involved about a dozen of my family lines at half a dozen churches. At present about 25% of his connections from one generation to the next on my direct lines have been found to be incorrect.

To give some examples:

Billeter listed Anna Messerli (who married in 1759 at Wattenwil to Jacob Zimmermann) correctly as the daughter of Christian Messerli of Burgistein (Parish Thurnen) and Anna Grünig. Christain Messerli and Anna Grünig had married in 1739. He thought that Christian Messerli was the Christian baptized 5 Nov. 1713, at Signau, son of Christian Messerli of Thurnen and wife Barbara Salzmann. A search of the Signau records showed that both Christian Messerlis of Thurnen, father and son, were buried within a month of each other in 1736. A man cannot die in 1736 and then marry in 1739.

He believed that Anna Grünig was the Anna baptized 28 June 1711 at Thurnen, daughter of Christain Grünig and Anna Marti. What Billeter had not found was that in 1754 "Anna Grünig, Christian Messerli's widow from Burgistein," married at Kirchdorf to Benedict Riem. They lived at her home of Burgistein, where on 8 April 1769, "Anna Grünig, widow of Benedicht Riem" of Kirchdorf died, age 50 (=born ca. 1719). She was not the Anna born in 1711.

Billeter also listed the Anna Grünig that died in 1769, widow of Benedict Riem, as the Anna baptized 6 Sep. 1719, daughter of Hans Grünig and Christina Zehnder. There was one other Anna born about this time, Anna baptized 28 August 1718 at Rüeggisberg, and recorded at both Thurnen and Rüeggisberg, the daugher of Christian Grünig of Thurnen and Anna Fischer of Rüeggisberg. Billeter thought she was the Anna Grünig who died 29 March 1788, age 70, single. From the sponsors that Christain Messerli and Anna Grünig had for their children, plus other information contained in the baptisms, it is clear Billeter got these two Anna's backwards. Anna Grünig that married Christian Messerli was the daughter of Christain Grünig and Anna Fischer, and was age 50 when she died in 1769. The Anna that died single in 1788 was the daughter of Hans Grünig and Christian Zehnder. One generation, two people, three misidentifications.

Billeter's original notes show that in many cases he changed his own opinions on how generations were connected. Many pages of his notes contain records of marriages crossed out, and assigned to another person. In some cases he failed to cross out one of the marriages, and both made it into his typed family group sheets of the family.

One example is that it was known that Chistain Wenger of Forst married Barbara Brönnimann of Zimmerwald. His research showed that Barbara Brönnimann, baptized 15 March 1731, daughter of Daniel Brönnimann and Maria Tschirren, married on 29 September 1752 to Benedikt Guggisberg. He also assigned the same marriage to Barbara baptized 30 January 1707, daughter of Daniel Brönnimann and Maria Guggisberg. Examination of the Zimmerwald church book showed only one marriage of a Benedikt Guggisberg to a Barbara Brönnimann on that date. Further research showed that Barbara Brönnimann, widow of Benedikt Guggisberg, died on 6 June 1794, age 90.

In another case, Benedicht Marti had married on 29 April 1644 at Rüeggisberg to Elsbeth Schären. Billeter had stated he was the Benedicht baptized 10 Oct. 1624, son of Marti Marti and Elsbeth Gilgen. Examination on microfilm of the marriage record, shows Benedicht was referred to as the "Neüwe Martis son". Other entries in the church book in 1635 and 1641 show records of "Benedict Marti alias the nüw Marti", "Bendict Marti alias the Nüw", and "Benedicht Marti the nuw". The correct identity of Benedict Marti that married Elsbeth Schären in 1644 is the Benedicht baptized 8 February 1624, son of Benedicth Marti and Christina Pfander.

To use another simplied example, without giving all the names and exact dates: Suppose in a parish there were four men of the same name born in 1700, 1702, 1704, and 1706, and there were four marriages for men of that name in 1724, 1728, 1730 and 1731. Instances of situations of this type have been found where it appears that Billeter has gone through and assumed they married in the same order they were born. (The one born in 1700 married in 1724, the one born 1702 married in 1728, the one born in 1704 married in 1730, and the one born in 1706 married in 1731.) Thorough reading of the church records has shown some of his assumptions to be incorrect.

If Billeter said someone's ancestor named Johannes Grünig that married in 1725 was born in 1700, son of Christain, this can not be "verified" by just looking at the churchbook and seeing there was a Johannes born in 1700, son of Christian Grünig as Billeter said. The odds are about 99.999% that you will find a record of such baptism.

How many other Johannes Grünig's where there that could have married in 1725? Did Billeter correctly identify all of them? Even if you find a record your Johannes was the son of a Christian, how many Christians had sons named Johannes that could have married in 1725? To verify requires going into the churchbook and reading EVERY entry in the churchbook: birth, marriage and death. Neighboring parishes should also be checked for where they may have been sponsors. After acquiring every entry of the family where they appeared both as parents and as sponsors, and putting these with the marriage and death records, a person can start to get a picture of the family. Only then can someone begin to determine if Billeter's research on their line is correct.

His research on some surnames appears to be fairly accurate, while on others it appears practically every generation was wrong.

Summation :
Billeter's research has widely made its way into the IGI, Ancestral File, and many published pedigrees, both on and off the internet. If you find that Billeter did research on your family, use his work as an easy index to the church records - but do not accept it as correct. Examine for yourself all the entries, which contain the added information of sponsors, with stated and implied relationships, and then decide for yourself if Billeter correctly placed your ancestor where he was a parent, in the correct family group where he was a child.

Rick Saunders (http://pweb.netcom.com/~fzsaund/0.html)

The complete surname index is included in the Swiss Surname Directory. A full list of families researched by Billeter is also available from the Family History Library Catalogue.