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The Heir Investigator

Manuel Aicher (48) is a professional family history researcher and the only heir investigator in German-speaking Switzerland. He is head of the Swiss central office for genealogy and owner of an office for heir research and family history research in Dietikon ZH and Berlin. The legal scholar turned his hobby into a career 25 years ago. He and his three employees solve 10 to 20 inheritance cases per year and handle 30 orders dealing with genealogical research. The majority of his cases involve inheritances between 100,000 and 200,000 francs. His biggest case was the inheritance of Nina Kandinsky, the painter's widow, who was strangled in 1980 at the age of 84 in her chalet in Gstaad. It was about 20 million francs. If he works at his own risk, he demands a lump sum that varies between 10 and 35 percent of the inheritance depending on the effort involved. For family reasons, Aicher was already interested in genealogical research when he was 14: his uncle and aunt were Hans and Sophie Scholl from the Weisse Rose resistance group, who were executed in 1943 because they had put out leaflets against the Nazi regime at the University of Munich.

“When inheritances lead abroad, I come into action,” says Manuel Aicher. He solves 10 to 20 inheritance cases per year. It is often a question of Swiss people who died in Germany or the USA and whose heirs must be identified. In the case of Inge Elisabeth Klöss's heirs, Manuel Aicher was commissioned by the Berlin curator of the estate because the documents showed that her relatives lived in Switzerland.

In Switzerland, 178,000 people will inherit CHF 969 billion within the next 30 years. On average, four Swiss people will become billionaires through inheritance every year. Blessed is he who has already settled everything in his will during his lifetime. Because it is not uncommon for entire families to break up in disputes over inheritance.

For Veronique Züllig from Romanshorn, the inheritance from her great-aunt from Berlin was a godsend. The self-employed ad saleswoman put the 96,000 francs in the bank as a pension. "There it is now and it's multiplying," says a happy woman, who has been playing Lottp week in and week out for 20 years and has never won anything. Childless and divorced Veronique Züllig has long since taken precautions. "I made my will to avoid disputes over my inheritance at my grave."


The case of Jean Staehli

A Romanian company is looking for descendants of a banker - and finds Hermann Alb in Zurich. He has nothing left of the industrialist's wealth.


I had a tough nut to crack," says Mario von Moos (64),

Family researcher in the office of genealogist Manuel Aicher. On April 20, 2007, a request from the Swiss embassy in Bucharest landed on his desk. «A Romanian company wants to investigate

through the previous owner of their parent company. This is a banker named Jean Staehli (1846 to 1918), probably from Bern.»

“Would that be something for you?” the embassy secretary asks cautiously. For family researcher Mario von Moos, this information is vague, but his professional pride demands that the case be solved. “Once genealogical research was a privilege of the nobility. In the meantime, the search for family roots has become a mass phenomenon. Millions of people around the world rummage through church registers and on the Internet for their ancestors,” the genealogist knows.

First the search is sluggish

In the case of Jean Staehli, he quickly found out that the name occurs in 24 Swiss municipalities. According to information in bank archives, in the economic archive in Basel and in the archive for contemporary history at ETH Zurich, he researched. None - a banker named Jean Staehli didn't turn up there. Also the matriculation register

of the University of Bern resulted in no entry. In a book about the Swiss colony in Romania from 1931 he finally came across a picture by Jean Staehli with a few details. The trail leads to the canton of Glarus. In Bucharest, the banker appears again and again with people from Glarus; the connection seems to be close to a Glarus industrialist named Bernhard Klaesi. Von Moos turns to Werner Murer, a retired postmaster and family researcher from the canton of Glarus, who solves the mystery. In a family tree of the Klaesi family he finds out that two of Klaesi's daughters have married two of Staehli's sons. Bingo! Four months after receiving the request from Romania, the trail led to one of the surviving ancestors: Hermann Alb (65) from Zurich, great-grandson of Jean Staehli and Bernhard Klaesi.

Hermann Alb is sitting in the living room of his rented apartment in Zurich. Outside, while tram no. 11 rattles across Hegibachplatz, he shows photos of the glorious times of his ancestors: the palatial home of his great-grandfather Jean Staehli in Bucharest; the later villa in Zurich Enge, which already had a lift in 1899. «My grandparents always remembered the good old days

raved about in Romania," Alb begins to tell. Reason for him to deal with his family history. The story of his great-grandfathers, who left their homeland as young Swiss, is quickly told: Carol-1, who was proclaimed king in 1881. helped the country prosper. Above all, German-speaking investors followed the call - including many Swiss who could not make ends meet in their homeland. Jean Staehli came to Romania in the winter of 1868, Bernhard Klaesi arrived in the country two years earlier. He became the founder of the country's largest industrial companies and was a close confidant of King Carol. The First World War forced the families to return to Switzerland. Both great-grandfathers died of the Spanish flu in 1918.

faded shine

"It's exciting when you have someone like that among your ancestors," says Hermann Alb. But history also shows what remained of the wealth of those days. Alb opens the cupboard and points to a gold-rimmed dinner set. "That's all. The history of my ancestors showed that you can win everything and lose everything within a generation." Nevertheless, and this was new to him: “I only found out about the bank of my great-grandfather Jean Staehli through the office of the family researcher. This is where the branch of the curtain company Ado is located today, which made the gold edge the epitome of their advertising. "At least the connection to gold has remained - it used to be the bar on the bank, and today it's the edge in the curtain," he jokes.


Text Ahette Wolffram Eugster

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