The Solinger of Val Munstair

Finding this branch of the Zollinger family was initially due to a mis-communication. As a member of the Swiss Genealogical Society, I get frequent messages dealing with questions among members. One note I received gave the name of an Alfred Götz, a specialist of the genealogy of the Swiss Kanton Graubünden (Grisons). He had transcribed a large part of the church records of that Kanton, and so I thought he could help me with several gaps in my records pertaining to that area of Switzerland. My inquiry was not only answered promptly, but he sent me a transcript of a search of his data base for the name Zollinger. Unfortunately his data was not able to give me answers to my questions, but instead the data showed an apparent Zollinger family in the Engadin, of which I had not been aware of.

The Engadin is the upper valley of the Inn river, which then becomes a tributary to the Danube. The population of that area predominantly speaks the fourth of the Swiss languages, called Romansch (Romanisch). It is a derivative of Latin, and is spoken in pockets and remote valleys all over the eastern Alps. This language aspect is important, because the records I received show three different spellings of the name: first Zollinger, then Sollinger and finally Solinger. From the data It seems clear that this evolution of the spelling took place over many generations in an attempt to bring the name more in tune with the Romansch language.

The earliest mention of this family showing the name Zollinger was found in the church records of a small hamlet Cinous-Chel between Zuoz and S-chanf in the lower part of the Engadin. The first church record entry was that of a Jon Zollinger who was born on the 11th of October 1733, to parents Jachen Zollinger and Tina Bart. All their subsequent children also have Romansch first names, and one has to wonder if it was this father Jachen who immigrated from the Zürich Highlands to the Engadin, or if the arrival occurred a generation further back. Either way it is clear that whoever the immigrant was, he adapted to the new culture, adopted the language, and as a result the first names of his children conform to the use of local Romansch names. But who that immigrant was, and where he came from, could not be established. Because Jakob was then the most common name in the Zollinger family, the file shows at least a dozen Jakobs who were born between 1690 and 1710 (estimated birth range), who were not married, and of whom no further information exists. It is therefore doubtful that we will ever be able to connect the Engadin Zollingers and Solingers to the main Zollinger family tree.

For two generations the name Zollinger was maintained in Cinous-Chel, but between 1750 and 1770 the family moved from the Inn valley across the Ofen-Pass to the Münstertal. This is the easternmost valley of Switzerland, and contains just a few villages, the main one being Santa Maria. And just a few miles down river form that village one crosses the border into Austria, while the highest mountain pass of the Alps links the Munstair valley to Italy. It is to this most remote corner of Switzerland that the Zollinger family moved, and in the process they seem to have changed the spelling of the name from a “Z” to an ”S”. It must be assumed that at that time in that remote location no other language than Romansch was spoken, and so it would have made sense to adjust the spelling of the name to the local language. Many generations later, around 1900, some of the branches of this family then also dropped the second “l”, and so most of today’s offspring write their name as “Solinger”.

The family is still rather small, and a significant part of today’s Solingers still remain in the Münster Valley, while other branches migrated back to the Engadin, and some to other parts of Graubünden. Only in the last two generations did the Solingers follow a time-honoured Bündner tradition and move to the more prosperous industrialized areas of the Swiss lowlands.

The family Solinger has several family historians, and one of them constructed a beautifully drawn family tree, where every name is surrounded by flowers. But none of them were aware of the origins of the family. There exists also much family lore about the name, especially on the question where they came from, and what the origine of the family crests is. Much of the lore understandably links the family to Austria, as well as to Italy, but certainly it was never linked to the name Zollinger. And as is the case with all such family lore, one can not completely discard the information. But lacking any facts, the logical path to adopt would be to use the one theory which offers the most tangible proof. And as there is proper documentation in the church records of Cinous-Chel and Santa Maria that links the family to the name Zollinger, it is surely acceptable to include this family with the general Zollinger name.


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