Newsletter III

Ottawa, February 2008

Newsletter III

This newsletter has been in the making for a couple of months, and is now finally coming together. I have found that family history research can become highly addictive, and instead of writing the newsletter I devoted much of my time to finding new names. But then everything else gets put back, including the annual revision of the web site. So if you were looking for an update in early January, you would have been disappointed, but now, at the end of February, it finally has all come together once more. The key topic in the update of the web site is the addition of a heading called "Coat of Arms". This has occupied quite a bit of our time, and I am sure you will be interested in the topic. In the newsletter itself you will find several other topics of interest, and, as last year, I start with a bit of statistics.

The Data Base

Living here in Canada is not conducive to doing original research, and so I am not able to do what every other genealogist does: to look for data in archives. That is not in itself a bad thing, as I am more of an outdoors type, and dusty archives and endless hours indoors are not the way I prefer to spend my time. Fortunately I have found a number of alternatives that have allowed me to build up the data base all the same, and more about these below. First the facts:

The Data base situation is as follows:

Swiss File December 2006 18,393 Names
December 2007 23,114 Names
Growth + 4,585 Names

USA File December 2006 9,362 Names
  December 2007 10,254 Names
  Growth + 1,312 Names

Overall the data base therefore grew by 5,477 names, which gives a respectable growth rate of just under 20%. However this number is very misleading, and needs to be taken with somewhat dampened enthusiasm. A year earlier I had been able to work through the marriage records of the Kanton Zürich, and was able to cross-compare our data base with the marriages entered. The result of that work was that I was able to conclude that we had captured about 94 % of all the Zollinger names before 1900. That left little room in finding additional older Zollingers who had been missed by our various researchers. Since then that figure of 94 % has gone even higher, as we have been able to identify a number of additional persons who's names were mis-spelled, misnamed or mistakenly added to the list. Little chance now of finding new Zollingers. Indeed, if one were to look at the number of Zollinger names added during this past year, it would be a very small percentage of the over 5'000 new entries.

The guidelines set up by the working group are that we cover the parents of a non-Zollinger married to a Zollinger, but we do not go further back. With female Zollingers we allow the coverage of their offspring for two generations, i.e. to their grandchildren. It is here that most of the additions came from. At some point last year I realized that while I had thoroughly searched several websites, foremost for the name Zollinger, I could also search for the non-Zollingers who married into the family. That search activity covered most of my past summer, and was completed in November 2007. In other words, at least 80% of the new names entered during 2007 were names other than Zollinger. Nevertheless this search has helped to complete many a family, and will now allow more extensive comparisons with other genealogists. So a substantial addition, but unfortunately not of Zollingers!

The Web Site

I have no idea how the search system orders the priority ranking of different web sites. If you type the word "Zollinger" into say Google, there are apparently 925'000 entries. But in the past, I was not even able to find our own web site, although I did find the older one, as well as that of Janice Rhoden and Emilio Zollinger. Now suddenly our web site seems to have moved up in the ranking, and can now be found around position 50. This means that anybody searching for Zollinger family history information will now find our web site quite easily. In addition, Emilio has grown tired of answering inquiries, and has now installed a link to our web site. That means a lot more visitors, and a lot more serious visits. But as usual, the bulk of visits remain medical people looking for the Zollinger-Ellison Syndrom, which also covers the majority of all the other Zollinger web sites. These visits are then usually very short, in and out, and can easily be differentiated from the longer and more serious visits of family researchers.

An overview of the visits shows these trends:

Unique Visitors 2006 1,069  
Unique Visitors 2007 1,506 Growth Rate + 40 %
Actual Visits 2006 365  
Actual Visits 2007 438 Growth Rate +20%
Pages Visited 2006 6,025  
Pages Visited 2007 7,931 Growth Rate +28%

These figures show that the web site can now be found more easily, and that more people take a look at it. Most important is the number of pages read, which indicates the serious visitors. This is also reflected in the number of people who bookmark the site. This grew an amazing amount, from 91 in 2006 to 433 in 2007. All in all the web site continues to be quite a success, and has contributed considerably to the establishment of our credentials, and the dissemination of information about the Zollinger family.


But if the success of the web site is translated into contacts, the picture is considerably less rosy. Although there were over 500 serious visitors, no more than a handful of those visitors then actually contact me. It is not clear why that is the case, and I hope very much that in future contacts will increase. Last year I had added a short text to the web site, promising to hand out free family tree booklets, but even this incentive seems to be failing to get people to make contact. In this present revision I will now add a further incentive, the availability of the Zollinger Coat of Arms. (See new Section "Coat of Arms"). We will have to see if, and how much, that will help to increase contacts.

Although the contacts were limited, the ones that we do make are often very rewarding, and have in several cases lead to substantial additions to our data base. I want to thank all these contacts who have worked with me in 2007 for their valuable contributions. Living in Canada, I have limited opportunities to do original research, and therefore depend almost entirely on the help of Zollingers out there who are willing to provide me with data.

A few interesting contacts are worth mentioning. One came from a family member in Oklahoma, that I had been in touch with some years ago, but had never been able to get a full set of data. A seventeen year old Zollinger sent me a quick message, asking for family information he needed for an assignment for a high school project. It took a bit of an effort to establish the family he belonged to, especially since time was of the essence. As most teenagers will, he left it to the last moment, and the essay had to be handed in the next day. This caused a flurry of E-Mails back and forth, but by late evening that day he had a print-out of his family, a family tree back to his immigrant ancestor, and even a family crest! With that kind of material I assume he got a high grade, although I never heard from him again.

Another young Zollinger contact was from Idaho, who was very interested in his family tree, and was able to provide me with considerable information. But what I did not know was that his interest was primarily in the Zollinger family crest, as well as the one of his mother. I was able to send him a copy of our crest, and to point him to where he could find the other one. He thanked me profusely, because I had helped him fulfil a longstanding wish: to have a tattoo of his two family crests. So if you were to travel through Idaho, and you come across a young lad with a ladder family crest tattoo, that's him!

In Switzerland the Zollinger branch from Watt near Regensdorf has now the distinction of being the best documented of all Zollinger branches. That was largely thanks to the help of Emil Zollinger, who took the task of helping me with enthusiasm and with Zollinger accuracy. Unfortunately, a stroke stopped his work not long after he had started, and unfortunately he passed away in 2007. In his honor, a number of other family members then decided to complete the task he had started, and now there is a family tree available that runs to more than 50 pages.

A Jewish Connection

It is now several years ago since I received what must have been one of the most unexpected E-Mails: a message from a Yossi Zur of Haifa, Israel. That name however was an adaptation to his new environment and language, and his original name was Joseph Zollinger. That was a new and most unusual branch of our family, and for a while we worked on trying to put Yossi's family tree together. But Yossi is a busy man, and has only limited time to devote to this activity, although the interest in his family roots is deep. So we lost contact, but then, a few months ago, I worked through the documentation on Ellis Island immigrants. There I was able to pick up data which made me renew my contact with Yossi.

In the Ellis Island files there were two entries of immigrants who gave the town of origin as Suceava in Romania, and their religion was marked as "Hebrew". The link was that Yossi's grandfather also came from Sucueva! My renewed contact with Yossi then turned out to be most fruitful. Over the past years he had ample opportunities to talk to his grandfather about their family (he died in 2007 at the age of 100 years!). On the basis of all that information Yossi was then able to put together a family tree going back to a Shmil-Zanvil Zollinger, who was born about1837 in Sucueva. Due to wars and persecution the family had later scattered, and branches ended up in Israel, the USA and Argentina. As with many Jewish immigrants, Yossi' relatives ended up having small families or no children at all, and most of the branches have disappeared. Not so the branch that moved to Israel, where the name fortunately continues.

The key question for Yossi and me then was how does this branch link to the overall Zollinger family tree? From the Zürich highlands to Romania is a long way, as is from devout Protestants to the Jewish faith. It is obvious from the name of earliest ancestor on record, that his parents must have been thoroughly Jewish in 1837, when he was born. A link must therefore go back at least one or two more generations, to a period between say 1750 and 1800. Unfortunately, information from Eastern Europe is difficult to obtain, and we may never find out. Yossi has now sent me a copy of a book on his family, which is very well presented, and shows numerous historical pictures of the family in Romania. But as it is written in Hebrew, I will first need to find a way to translate it. Can this be the key to linking Yossi to our family tree?

The most logical link may be another Zollinger family from the East, who settled on the eastern shore of the Danube river in a town called Brestowatz, and later moved to nearby Ploschitz (in German Blauschütz). Four brothers Zollinger arrived there about 1790, and the families remained there until the second World War. But that district in today's Serbia is still a very long way to the north-east corner of Romania. Is there a connection? And how could that have taken place? Maybe one day we will be able to make a link between Yossi Zur and the Zollinger family tree.

An honorary doctorate for Jakob Zollinger

During my several trips to Switzerland and my visits to Zollingers, I have always been referred to a renowned family historian by the name of Jakob Zollinger. He was born in the hamlet of Herschmettlen, and spent most of his life as school teacher in the school in the vicinity of Gossau where he grew up. Aside from his profession as a teacher, he was also a devoted historian, recording all aspects of life in the Zürich Highlands, but especially focusing on its architectural history. Over his lifetime he published numerous works on aspects of architecture, sociology, biology and history, all linked to his beloved home area. For this, and for his lifelong involvement in many organizations linked to his interests, the University of Zürich bestowed him an honorary doctorate in 2003.

Over the years I had come across pointers that another of the interests of Jakob Zollinger was his own family history. It seemed that he not only had extensive documentation on his own ancestors, but he also had a profound knowledge of the Zollinger name in the context of the geography and history of the area. In spite of my many efforts however it had never been possible to meet this Jakob Zollinger, and I always regretted this. Every time I tried, something did not work out, and the valuable information he held remained unobtainable. But among a genealogist's useful character traits are patience and tenacity, and after more than ten years the wait has finally paid off. Many years ago Leland had made me aware that Jakob had a brother in San Francisco, and so I was once in a while in contact with this brother Emil. Now retired, and keen to keep his links to his ancestral home, Emil frequently travels back to Switzerland, and always visits his brother Jakob.

Emil thus became a bit of a go-between, and over the years has continued to work on his brother. And now, finally success. During Emil's last visit in October 2007, he was able to procure a whole collection of recent information on his family, which he has just forwarded to me. It is now my hope that Jakob will also make his earlier documentation on his family available. Many thanks, Emil, for your help. My thanks naturally also go to Jakob Zollinger, who is getting on in age, and unfortunately has not been in the best of health. To you, Jakob, we wish a speedy recovery, and many more years of involvement in the topics so near to your heart (and ours).

In my own Cause

When I originally made contact with Leland Zollinger in the year 2000, I had no idea where that would lead. At the time I had the family history books of my Uncle Gustav Emil Zollinger, and I wanted to give Leland the substantial Zollinger data they contained. But the books were too large and heavy to mail, and as I had frequent flyer points, I decided in March of 2000 that I would go to Hendersonville myself with these documents. I will never forget my arrival there, because Leland carried my bags into his house, and asked me why they were so heavy. I told him that these were the books of Gustav Zollinger, to which he replied: Yes, I have those too!! My heart sank. Did I make the trip for nothing? It turned out that there were two different Gustav Zollingers, both of whom had researched our family history, my uncle was one, and Leland had the book of the other, the dentist from Herzogenbuchsee.

That visit started a long and close relationship between the two of us, and kinder and more caring people than Leland and his wife Frieda you just don't find. But what bothered me after returning home was the ancient Macintosh computer that Leland used, with a hard drive so full that he had to delete something every time he wanted to enter new data! I was afraid that some mishap might cause him to lose the whole data, and with it a lifetime's work. So I proposed a return to Hendersonville, in order to make a copy of his Zollinger documentation. The CD ROM we produced with all his family information on it was only a quarter full! I only did this to safeguard the data from getting lost, because at the time I was far too busy to contemplate doing anything with it.

I had been able to retire early, having traveled extensively in my profession as agronomist and Third World development specialist. But with a second marriage and an adopted small child, my love for travel had to be put on the back burner. While Nikolai grew up, I had to find other interests closer to home. I totally renovated the house, re-landscaped the garden, started to write a column in a stamp journal, and spent much time and effort refurbishing the long neglected cottage. That added up to more work than a full time job, and I loved every minute of it. And Nikolai grew, but fifteen years is a long time, and so I slowly ran out of projects. So one day I started dabbling with Leland's CD, and before I knew it I was hooked.

A reorganization of the data, contacts with literally hundreds of Zollingers, visits to Switzerland and the creation of a web site have kept me very busy over the past eight years, at least when outside work comes to a stop because of the Canadian winter. More recently my work with genealogist Fredy Dobler and heraldic specialist Rolf Kälin have added even more dimensions to the work. But now I have come to realize that a point of diminishing return is starting to set in. The older data, according to the Zürich marriage records, is almost complete. And collecting recent data has become very frustrating. Although most people I contact do have some family data and promise to send me the information, in most cases it never arrives! And I hate nothing more than prodding and pestering people. So maybe a slowing down of the project is happening just the right point in time.

Now my son Nikolai is in his last year of High School, and has been accepted to a University in Nova Scotia. So by September 2008 Diane and I are no longer bound to Ottawa, and after a fifteen year hiatus, my love of traveling can now be indulged again. We plan to travel West in September to visit my son and grandson in Calgary, and then turn South as winter approaches, to revisit my beloved Western states of Montana, Utah, Arizona and Nevada. We may be back in Ottawa for Christmas, but then may spend time in the Caribbean during the height of winter. The following summer will then likely be spent at the cottage, where I do not have an internet connection. And further ahead, I would love to revisit some of the places I had worked in, and where I am still in contact with several friends. Foremost among our plans is a visit to the island of Manus in Papua New Guinea, where I had worked for four years. But Africa and South America are also calling.

You see where this is leading: With all these plans it will be unavoidable that my family history work will experience a serious slowdown. But that is how life turns. I loved doing it, it served a purpose, and I hope that I was able to make a contribution. Now priorities are changing, and we move on. I will certainly not abandon my interest in the Zollinger family, and as time and circumstances permit I plan to continue the best I can. Unfortunately, during the past eight years I have not come across anybody who might have shown an interest in participating in this work. So I guess I will remain the only active Zollinger family researcher for the time being.

So until September 2008 things will remain a s usual. After that, we will see. But don't be surprised if your E-Mails do not get answered as promptly as they have up to now. That is because Marcel is now on the road, and has started a new chapter of his life!

Cheetah   Site designed by Leaping Cheetah Consulting