Some of my Zimmerman ancestors emigrated from Switzerland to the United States (Tuscarawas, Ohio) in the mid 1800s. When I find them on U.S. Census records, there are a bunch of other Zimmerman families that were also born in Switzerland that live nearby. I figure that they are probably family, but I'm not certain.

My guess is that these people are probably from the same town in Switzerland, probably emigrated together, and would be found together in Switzerland at some point. I'm not sure how to find the information that would confirm that.

How would I go about making the connection from the Zimmermans in this town in Ohio to Zimmermans in Switzerland? Any suggestions?

  • Were they from Wattenwil Kanton Bern?
    – user829
    Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 22:16
  • Yes. Wattenwil Kanton Bern.
    – Jimmy Z
    Commented Jun 27, 2013 at 14:52
  • 1
    Do you know the name of the first immigrated Zimmermann from Wattenwil to America and the date of his birth? If so I can look in the Church Register for you (I live near Wattenwil). Greetings, Thomas Kaltenrieder
    – user915
    Commented Sep 6, 2013 at 19:27
  • I too am from the Zimmermanns from Wattinwill Switzerland. My grandfather immigrated to America in I believe the late 1700s to Pennsylvania, his name was Heinrich Zimmermann and he came with his wife Salome and their two boys. They changed their name to Carpenter upon arrival to Americanize it but it took a few generations before it stuck which maybe why your still a Zimmerman. I believe it was his son Gabriel who traveled with Brigham Young to spread the Mormon faith and they stopped in Monroe, Ohio and settled there. He was still going by Zimmerman-Carpenter at that time. Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 18:33
  • @MichelleCarpenterHoman If you are open to cousins contacting you it is permissible to include your email address in your profile like I do.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 1:21

3 Answers 3


"My guess is that these [Zimmermans] are probably from the same town in Switzerland, probably emigrated together, and would be found together in Switzerland at some point ... How would I go about making the connection from the Zimmermans in this town in Ohio."

  • Zimmerman is a reasonably common name in Switzerland/keep careful records.

In 1998, one dschmutz at es dot com provided some present day statistics. "Zimmerman" was twice as common as say "Arnold" but half as common as say "Schmid." All were less common than Müller (it led the pack); at a distance in second place was Meier.

According to Wikipedia, Zimmerman is derived from Zimmermann, a German last name meaning "carpenter." (Which might explain why it is so common.)

  • Ohio towns and counties can be confusing/keep careful records.

There is a town, Tuscarawas, in Stark County, Ohio. I checked the 1850 U.S. census indexing at Ancestry.com. There were not any Zimmermans indexed in that census at the town, Tuscarawas, Stark County, Ohio.

There is also a Tuscarawas County in Ohio. There were 90 Zimmermans indexed at Tuscarawas County in that 1850 census. Of these indexed Zimmermans, 47 were born at Ohio (1809-1840); seven (7) at Pennsylvania (1809-1929); nine (9), at Germany (1813-1830). Twenty-seven (27) Zimmermans in the index (Tuscarawas County, Ohio) were reported born at Switzerland (1791-1840).

In 1850, those 27 Zimmermans (indexed at Tuscarawas County and born Switzerland) lived at different towns, several follow: (a) Auburn, Tuscarawas County, Ohio = 19 souls born Switzerland (1791-1840); (b) Bucks, Tuscarawas County, Ohio = 7 souls born Switzerland (1795-1840); (c) York, Tuscarawas County, Ohio = 1 soul born Switzerland (1830)

  • Eat an elephant one bite at a time.

In many respects, you are asking the question, "How do I learn my [insert surname] family history?" It would probably be easier to count those not interested than to tally genealogists working day in and day out to identify immigrant ancestors, trace them to an earlier homeland and connect them to families here and abroad. Again, many/most of us find families with similar surnames living in close proximity to theirs and hypothesize about possible relationships.

I make better progress when I set out to solve specific genealogically relevant questions; develop a plan, working from the known to the unknown.

Genealogically relevant questions are specific: Who was the father of XXX died XXX, married XXX at XXXX on XXXX? [See Tom Jones, Inferential Genealogy.]

For each genealogical question, you'll want to develop a plan. The plan will depend on the work you have already done, what you have already documented. [See Kimberly Powell's "Think like a detective - Developing a Genealogical Research Plan."]

A good plan makes use of tried and true research methodologies, like the Genealogical Proof Standard, taking full advantage of technology.

A good plan will allow you to systematically locate and learn from a variety of different records. This means you want to learn about availability and accessibility of published histories (local and family) and different record groups, especially local records. (See the Genealogy.se question, "Help tracing ancestor back to [G]ermany?)

A good plan will make sure you interview family members and help you identify skilled researchers with an interested in these families. This work provides clues and possibly even a road map for your plan. In some cases, you may develop the opportunity to collaborate. In your case, consider corresponding with individuals listed below.

Professional genealogist, Fredric Z[immerman] "Rick" Saunders, Salt Lake City, who has traced some Zimmerman families from Tuscarawas Co., OH to Switzerland. His WorldConnect file is "Ancestry." See his professional page at GenealogyPro.com, "Fredric Z. Saunders." See also, "Fredric Zimmerman Saunders."

Kathlena, whose pages, "Tuscarawas County Ohio Family Roots" are part of WorldConnect. The file contains some information on one or more Zimmerman immigrants to Tuscarawas County, Ohio.

P.S. JustinY has provided you a general outline. In my experience, 19th century vital records and census at Ohio are must haves, but they do not provide much identifying information. Naturalization records of the day are again must haves, but often provide very little information. In my Ohio work, the more valuable resources are the extant probate, other court, land/deed, cemetery and baptismal records. The published area histories, especially for town and church development are also important. I have found local areas often have some set of unique and amazing collections--you learn about these by communicating with local societies and libraries.

  • Wow! I wasn't expecting such a detailed response. This gives me a lot to chew on. I still need to learn how to ask the right questions and what type of detail I need to provide. My ancestors lived in Auburn, Tuscarawas, Ohio. I have unsourced genealogies that say that they came from Wattenwil, Bern, Switzerland. I know my (deceased) grandparents spent time there visiting churches and such to gather information. Thank you!
    – Jimmy Z
    Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 20:59
  • @JimmyZ YVW ... I think something even better is to come.
    – GeneJ
    Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 21:00
  • 1
    Unsourced genealogies, especially the "old ones" are real treasures. They may contain errors, but make for good initial road maps. Hope we'll see some questions posted about yours.
    – GeneJ
    Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 21:14

I contacted you privately to get information on your earliest Zimmerman ancestor, as we may be related, as my line is from Tuscarawas County, Ohio.

Some general answers to finding a person in Switzerland for others:

  1. For anyone with Swiss ancestry, start here if you are not familiar with it: http://kunden.eye.ch/swissgen/schweiz-en.html There are hundreds of pages there that will give any beginner to Swiss research a good start. Be sure to read the "Assorted information- not yet a FAQ page" http://kunden.eye.ch/swissgen/asinfo-e.htm

  2. Particularly read the section on "Basic rules of Swiss citizenship." http://kunden.eye.ch/swissgen/CH-burger-e.html No matter where in Switzerland a person was born, married, or died, the records should be sent back to their village of citizenship. (Followed more in later dates than early.) It may also be recorded at the location it occurred. If you know or find where a family was from, you can follow them through the church records. Some later Swiss may have never seen their village of citizenship where all their records were sent.

  3. Next, read the section about the Register of Swiss surnames. http://kunden.eye.ch/swissgen/famnam-m.htm Some very uncommon surnames may occur in only one or two villages. Others, as Zimmerman, will occur at many locations. An on-line version of the Register is at: http://www.lexhist.ch/famn/

  4. Another source for Swiss researchers to be familiar with are the Billeter records. http://kunden.eye.ch/swissgen/asinfo-e.htm#6 Also be sure to read cautions about his research: http://kunden.eye.ch/swissgen/billet-e.htm

Another source not listed by the others to find your family in Switzerland is to examine Church records in the U.S. In this case, many of the German language Church records of Tuscarawas County have been published and do identify that "most" of the Swiss Zimmermans in Tuscarawas County (mostly those near Ragersville, Auburn Twp.) were from Wattenwil, Canton Bern. Some are as distant as 4th of 5th cousins to each other, and they arrived over a period of about 30 years or so, not all at the same time.

  • 2
    Great information from a great genealogist. Thank you @RickSaunders.
    – GeneJ
    Commented Nov 29, 2012 at 21:15

First, find the area of Switzerland where they are from. This can be done by finding death, naturalization, or immigration records (though you're not always guaranteed to get a good birth place even if you find these records).

For death records, a simple search on FamilySearch or Ancestry would yield results.

For naturalization, check the censuses which have naturalization information: 1870, 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930. Then use that information to track down their naturalization records. The FamilySearch wiki has a good article on Ohio Naturalization Records.

For immigration, try the 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930 census which contain the year of immigration or the number of years in the US. That can significantly narrow a search for immigration records. I believe Ancestry is the best place to begin a search for immigration records to the US.

If you cant find the region, city, or village where the families are from, you could just try searching for matching families. Choose one from a census record that has relatively distinct names, then search the birth, marriage, and death records for corresponding families. Not only is this less reliable because it's more difficult to prove a connection, but Switzerland records also haven't been indexed well. FamilySearch has some digital images that can be browsed, but I don't know how good their coverage is.

  • Do you have any suggestions for contacting a local historical society of a village, I for example know the village but when I search for "Historische Gesellschaft" and the village name or surrounding towns I am not getting hits. Thoughts?
    – CRSouser
    Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 2:50

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