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When ancestors rise again

Mario von Moos and Manuel Aicher help to track down the history of their own family

Most people know their parents and grandparents, maybe even their great-grandparents - but what about more distant ancestors? Mario von Moos and Manuel Aicher help those who are interested to track down the history of their own family.


Ernest Baumeler


It is not uncommon for fates to repeat themselves in mysterious ways in families.

These can be diseases such as cancer or death after a heart attack. Or members of a family always die at the same time of year or at the same age. An almost unbelievable case took place in France. For three generations, a six-year-old child has had an accident on the first day of school. Such inexplicable events make you ponder and can lead to investigations in the world

encourage family history. An answer to the inexplicable is sought.

The motive for researching the ancestors is then no longer just to satisfy one's own curiosity. It's about personal well-being, as the genealogists Manuel Aicher and Mario von Moos state in an interview in their office in Dietikon.


From Schulthess to Henry

"Genealogy," as the technical term goes, is the science of human descent, which can be understood biologically or legally. The layman speaks of "family history" or "family research". Lawyer Manuel Aicher and electrical engineer von Moos have already worked in their

youth began to trace their own ancestors and create their family tree. Both have long since turned their passion into a profession on a scientific basis. They advise interested parties on family history research and carry out such research themselves. One result of her work is the recently published extensive genealogy of the Zurich Schulthess family. The ancestors of the Schulthess family can be traced back to the 15th century. Von Moos and Aicher tracked down almost all of the relatives who emigrated to North America. They were able to prove that an American family named Henry was originally called Schulthess: an ancestor had discarded the name and chosen his first name as his family name. Since the 1990s, more and more people in Switzerland and Central Europe have been interested in genealogical research - especially young people. The drive to do so is often the search for unexplained family secrets or the need to "connect to history or one's own region of origin," as Aicher says.

Help from «Inspector Coincidence»

With the advent of new forms of family and blended families, half-siblings or adopted children often want to know who their biological parents are. Or young people are looking for their biological father because the mother does not want to name them. Systematic family research helps to clarify such questions. Sometimes help from “Inspector Coincidence” is required. Mario von Moos remembers a young illegitimate Valais woman for whom he was asked to find out more about her mother. She had died giving birth to her daughter. Irrespective of this, the Valais woman's grandmother, who lives in Portugal, was also researching her granddaughter and asked an office in Lucerne. There they remembered that the Aicher office was doing research on behalf of the young woman. Contact was established between grandmother and granddaughter within a few days. Of course, genealogical research can also bring the unexpected to light. Aicher mentions a case in which an adopted child turned out to be the biological child of the adoptive parents.

Tracing your ancestors and roots isn't rocket science, but it's a time-consuming hobby. Indispensable for this is the joy of puzzling, combining and researching in old writings such as church baptismal, marriage and death registers for the time before 1875 and afterwards in the state civil status registers. Much biographical data and information can now be found on the Internet. To put it simply, you start by looking for as much biographical data and information as possible about your own parents and their siblings. Then you go back generation after generation until you can't get any further. The tracked ancestors are entered in a family tree or in a pedigree. There are now computer programs for this. But all ancestors will never be traced, many things will always remain open. Based on their many years of experience, Manuel Aicher and Mario von

Moss points out treacherous pitfalls to be aware of. Just searching the internet is not enough. Archive visits and reading of the old German writing are necessary. Obstacles arise when, for example, as in St. Gallen, guardianship and paternity files of persons born before 1950 have been destroyed. Aicher says that data protection can make the genealogist's work more difficult. Because depending on the canton, lengthy and fee-based approval procedures are required for the inspection of files. 

Instructions on the Internet 

A prerequisite for successful genealogical research is critical and unprejudiced questioning of one's own results and the sources consulted. They can always be faulty or incomplete. Gullibility quickly leads to the wrong track or nowhere, says von Moos. Frequent first names such as Hans or Anna make it difficult to tell people of the same name apart. If the voyage of discovery into the past of your own family comes to a halt, instructions on the Internet, specialist publications on family history, genealogical societies or the selective support of a family researcher can help. The reward for the effort: the ancestors get contours and come alive again in spirit. And maybe one or the other family secret will finally be revealed.

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