Starting Family History
It was in the year 2000 when I first contacted Leland Zollinger in Hendersonville, North Carolina, as a result of a contact address I had found in my own family history book. Leland apparently had visited Switzerland, and had at one point visited my mother in Wetzikon, but as he did not speak German, they were not able to communicate. All he could do is to leave his business card. Then, almost thirty years later, contact was finally established. In the course of my correspondence with Leland, I told him about the family history books written by my uncle Gustav Emil Zollinger. Leland had never seen those books, and was very keen to receive a copy. But as the books are very large and heavy, I decided that instead of copying the documents, I would visit Leland in North Carolina myself, and bring the books with me. During the spring of 2002 I then spent a most pleasant week in the Blue Mountains, North carolina, with Leland and Frieda as most gracious hosts. We transferred all the data form Gustav’s book into Leland’s computer, and covered a lot of other family history topics too. Leland’s own approach to family history was unusual: for many years he would travel every summer to a different US city, look up the Zollingers in the telephone book there, and then drop in to visit them, and to elicit their family history. In doing this for most of his life, he had been able to build up a remarkable data base on the Zollinger name.
The Second Visit
During that visit I came to realize that Leland was coming to the end of his active family research, and I had the impression that he was hoping I would be willing to help him. But at that time of my life I was very busy with family, house renovation, cottage and other hobbies, and I had to make it clear to him that I could not be of any support. But what concerned me was his old computer, it was the first issue of the Macintosh with a hard drive. When we entered new family data, he had to delete other files first, to make space, as his hard drive was 100 % full. Once I was home again, that issue kept nagging on me. What if that computer burned out, what if Leland should get ill? These questions kept coming back, until I had no choice but to do something about it. I just had to make the effort and try to safe and preserve his data, and with it his life’s work. So I asked Leland if he would be willing to let me make a copy of his family data, and when the answer was positive, I decided on a return visit in May 2003. I had also arranged for a friend from Augusta to come up to Hendersonville with me, to help us transfer the files. Leland was a step ahead of me, and had already taken his computer to a technician, who made copies of the whole hard drive onto a CD ROM. The total hard drive data needed only about a quarter of the space of the CD!!
At home again I then extracted the family history files, and copied them onto a new CD, as well as into my computer, just in order to store the data and so preserve it. Task accomplished! But over time I started to wonder what was in the file, and I kept looking through it. Looking at the data, the first impression I gained was that it was very poorly organized, and before I knew it, I started a new system. I decided on separate files for Switzerland and for the USA, with linkages on both files connecting those families who had emigrated. At the time the Foundation File contained 6,800 entries for Switzerland, and 7,390 for the USA. So now the job was done. But then I was continuously pulled back to the file, and I kept making further improvements. Each time I would make a new file, and would also burn a new CD, to make sure each step was documented and preserved. It was in the winter of 2004, when I made the decision that since I now had adequate time, as well as the interest, that I wanted to actually continue Leland’s work.
At that time Leland and I were in possession of two large family history books, oddly enough both written by a Gustav Zollinger. My own books, written by Gustav Emil Zollinger, my uncle, were unknown to Leland, and the books in Leland’s possession were written by a Gustav Zollinger of Herzogenbuchsee (the Dentist). This second Gustav Zollinger was a most an amazing person. Aside from being a dentist, he was a renowned linguist who understood and spoke numerous languages, including Chinese and Egyptian hieroglyphs, and so he was also able to read old documents in Latin, High German and the Swiss Vernacular with great ease. His main book covered the elusive early family information before 1634, which he painstakingly searched through, spending years in archives, where he focussed in particular on the early documents of the monasteries of Einsiedeln and Rüti. In both those “Gustav Dentist” books, other family documents were mentioned, and so I decided that my first task had to be finding more family history books. One that he mentioned was written by Christoph Zollinger of Kilchberg, and I was able to find the author, and so easily acquire a copy of his book. Over time Christoph also became a good friend, whom I visited several times. A further book was written by teacher Robert Zollinger of Unter-Engstringen. He had been in personal contact with Gustav Zollinger, and they had many a heated argument over the origine of the name. After much searching and many fruitless contacts, I was finally able to find the Robert book in an attic in Florida. At the same time I was also able to find a Frank Zollinger, a nephew of Gustav Zollinger (Dentist), and on a visit to him, I found a second book he had written, as well as his correspondence file. A further Zollinger book written by a Vreni Zollinger of Glarus also existed, and after several setbacks I finally was able to receive a copy of that book too. All this data was then entered into the data base, where I successfully used the PAF software. And so the Swiss data base grew. I was also aware of the existence of a family book belonging to a Zollinger branch in New Orleans, USA, but to this day I have never been able to find it. And later in my search for family books I was able to contact two prominent LSD (Mormon) family historians, Blanche Madsen- Zollinger of Salt Lake City, and Katherine Meyers-Zollinger of Orem, Utah. Both provided me with the family tree books of their branches, and they also made me aware of the very extensive data base on family history that the LSD church maintains. That then became my next task. This vast amount of already collected information formed an amazing source, and with its data I was able to further build up the data base. I literally was able to stand on the shoulders of all these giants that had come before me, and all that credit for the success of this project must be directed to them.
The LDS Data Base.
I was already using the LDS software PAF, and was then easily able to tap into the vast LDS family history file. To my surprise I found that it contained an amazing amount of Zollinger data, both from the USA and Switzerland. This was because several of the children of the two original LSD (Mormon) Zollinger immigrants had returned to Switzerland as missionaries, and while they were there, they also had made an extensive effort to research their family roots. This work started after 1850, and was most intensive in the years 1880 to 1900. At the time it must have been very slow and painstaking work for these missionaries to find their ancestors. But all their data ended up in the LDS data base, where I had easy access to it. Even so, it was very time consuming work, as each entry only shows one family at the time. But with a lot of cross-comparing, most of the families could later be linked together. Unfortunately the data base does not cover persons who were still living at the time of the research, and so all family data stops at around 1880. On the Swiss side the data did go back many generations, and while the more recent data between 1700 and 1850 was very reliable, further back (before 1700) much of the information was largely conjecture. But for these earlier generations I already had the various family books, and so I could compare data from the different sources, and correct the many discrepancies.
By now the research into the Zollinger name had become my main hobby, and the detective work of finding more information had captured me. Once the LDS data base was largely worked through, and my data base had grown substantially, I was looking for new approaches. I was able to find a professional family history researcher in Switzerland, and Fredy Dobler became not only a valued provider of data, but also a good friend. Thanks to his research, I was able to find even more data, and with his access to first hand documents, we were able to continue to expand the Swiss side of the family tree. It was also Fredy who made me aware of family historian Hans Schulthess of Wallisellen, who had painstakingly transferred the marriage book data of all parishes of the Kanton Zürich into his computer. At that point in time he had made part of his large file accessible to the public, and Fredy was able to forward a copy to me. Later on, I was able to purchase the rest of the relevant data directly from him. From his data I now had detailed and highly accurate information on all Zollinger marriages between 1525 and 1880, which I could now incorporate into my data file. Not only did this give me the dates and names of all Zollinger marriages, but even more important, on the basis of much searching and comparing, I was able to establish, to my surprise, that over 95 % of all Zollingers in the marriage document were already in my file. That meant nothing less than that for the Zollinger name my older data, up to 1880, was almost complete!
The Web Site
Several years earlier, Leland Zollinger, with the help of Paul Zollinger of Rittman, Ohio, had established a web site devoted to the Zollinger name, and to their research. At that time Paul had been very active in family research, and he still organizes yearly family reunions of his branch in Ohio. But his life and profession had changed, and he could no longer devote the necessary time. I had hoped that with his help I could upgrade the web site, but when I could not get the necessary committment, I decided to establish a new web site of my own. With the help of a web master and a designer, and a lot of writing, the web site was launched in 2004 (for its address see “Contact Information”). One of the main aims of this web site was to allow interested Zollingers find information on their name, and then hopefully to contact me (or Paul or Leland), and in doing so provide us with new contacts and more information. The content of the web site grew every year, as I added family crests, pictures and more stories. But while it gained widespread praise, it did not fulfil its primary purpose, which was to solicit new contacts. Over the many years since its launching I have had no more than a dozen E-Mails a year from persons who found the web site. Not that the web site was not visited, in fact, even in its first year I recorded 529 visitors who read 2,360 pages. That was only a start. By 2010 the web site had over 4,000 hits, and an amazing 16,600 pages were read. But this substantial traffic still did not produce more than a trickle of contacts. My plan for the future of this web site is that with this update (March 2012) the information will be complete. But my ambition had always been to establish a parallel website in German, but to date have not found a collaborator to make that project a reality.
The Family Crests
The main page of the Web Site containes the Zollinger family crests, and I
received several inquiries as to what the ladder image on the crest meant. The
old yarn was that the name Zollinger came from the word “Zoll”,
meaning customs, and the ladder was a customs barrier. So I asked Fredy Dobler
for information, and he in turn sent me a number of opinions from a recognized
genealogist and heraldic specialist, the late Prof. Hans Kläui. Kläui
insisted that the ladder crest was being used illegally, since the branch which
originally held that crest died out in about 1700 in Zürich. According
to heraldic rules, such crests can then not be taken over by other branches.
That then sent me searching for “genuine”, i.e. historically documented
crests of the Zollinger family. In various Zollinger family history books, I
had found hints of three such crests. I was then able to find a heraldic specialist
in Rolf Kälin of Einsiedeln, and gave him the task to research further
into those leads. Ultimately he came up with two new family crests (those of
Maur and Lautikon), which he re-designed on the basis of the historic data he
found. These crests are now registered with the Swiss National Archives. But
unfortunately, my own branch, the Zollingers of Oetwil am See, did not have
a crest. Rolf indicated that a person has the right to design a new crest, as
long as it is based on sound historic information. I already had a detailed
history of my own branch, showing that the founder of the Oetwil Zollinger branch
had taken over the leasehold of the “Gotteshaushof” (the Church
Farm) in Oetwil, a large property belonging to the monastery of Einsiedeln.
There was thus a close link of my family to that monastery. In fact, for at
least two generations the Zollingers paid their annual tithe to the church,
and these transactions were recorded in great detail in the tithing books found
in the archives of the monastery of Einsiedeln, as shown by Gustav Zollinger.
My new family crest needed to reflect this, and so the two raven of the Einsiedeln
town flag were combined with the Lautikon Zollinger crest. Now only one major
branch of the family lacks its own crest, that of Ober-Ottikon.
The Phone Books
Back to the search for more Zollinger data. The marriage data of Mr. Schulthess had indicated that the older data on the family was almost complete, and so my focus could now shift away from researching in archives, which I could not do anyway. I reasoned that if I were able to find all Zollingers living today, and if I were able to trace them back a few generations, I would then be able to link them to our existing older data. In doing so, I would be able to generate a complete family tree. With that approach I might then also find branches which had not been recorded yet. I decided to start with the USA side, where I first needed to create a list of all Zollingers in the USA phone books. By this time such a search had become easy, thanks to access to electronic phone books on the internet. On the basis of these searches I was then able to pull out all Zollinger names state by state, and from that data I then created my own “Zollinger Phone Book” containing 776 entries. I then cross-compared these names with those Zollingers already in the data base, to identify those family members who were not on file yet. In 2006 I was then able to get a deal with our Bell telephone company, which allowed me unlimited calls to the USA for a modest flat fee. This made it possible to start calling any Zollingers in the USA and Canada, and over the next three years I systematically called these names, and tried to elicit family history information from them. This was not always easy. Americans are always on the move, and many numbers were disconnected. Others refused information because of privacy concerns and data theft considerations, and many more made promises which they did not keep. In spite of all those difficulties, the list of known Zollingers slowly grew, and the list of “unknown” ones became shorter and shorter. Finally, in September 2009, I considered the task complete. Of the 776 USA Zollinger entries in my book, I had been able to contact 719, i.e. 92.7 %. Of the rest, 33 were disconnected, and 24 refused information or never answered the phone. That does not mean that the task is now finished. But I was satisfied that I had been able to find almost all Zollingers living in the USA today, and not only entering their family data into the data base, but also being able to connect most of them to the overall family tree.
A Phone Re-run
Having successfully completed this task with the USA Zollingers, I then asked myself if this approach would also be possible with Switzerland? Luckily, by then the Bell telephone company also offered deals to make unlimited calls to a European country for about $ 30 per month. And so I embarked on a second phone campaign. I established a Swiss Zollinger phone book containing 1,132 entries. Here too I found a considerable number of them already in the data base, especially because Vreni Zollinger had covered the current family members of her branch. Nevertheless I still had over 600 names which needed to be contacted, quite a daunting task. Because of a six hour time difference between Canada and Switzerland, and because people are easiest to reach around supper time, it became my daily routine to make calls between 12 and 2 pm. Some days were full of success, others were most frustrating. The Swiss are a bit more trusting than Americans are, but many of the contact persons were quite old, and so most difficult to talk to. Since my family history work is limited to winter, it was during the winters of 2009 and 2010 that I was able to cover more and more of the names on my list. As I had expected I did not find a single new line or branch, and could link the majority of Zollingers living today to their great grand parents, who were already on record in the data base. Not surprising, I also came across a few quite rude persons refusing to talk to me, but to my immense satisfaction, I often later-on found a brother or sister who turned out to be most helpful. Now, in March 2012, I can with some satisfaction report that this second challenging task is now also complete. Of the 1,132 contacts, I was able to enter 1,067 (or 94.2%) into the data base, and to connect most of them to the family tree. Some 44 never answered, and a further 18 refused information.
At the time of covering the Swiss Zollingers I was also able to find new contacts elsewhere in the world. Families in Australia, Argentina and Uruguay could be added to the file, although as a side line, and not through phone calls. The 91 contacts in Germany were also completed, and that now only leaves the 42 names of France (language problems) and an unknown number in England (no access to phonebook). These few remainders will be followed up as opportunity allows.
An Electronic Window of Opportunity
I can not help but marvel about the exact time period when I started this project, and how a number of technical developments over the last ten years were at the base of all this success. If I had started any earlier, this project would not have been possible, and very likely, in the near future, new developments will make the task so much more difficult as to become impossible.
- In the 1940ies my uncle Gustav Emil could only work out his ancestry project with a complex Cardex system, cross-linking and numbering each card and person. It is now only some 15 years ago that computers started to have enough capacity to allow the design and use of efficient family history software. Among these, PAF has proved to be the best suited software for me, but it seems that it may now no longer be supported.
- The Internet can now provide so much data that it can be overwhelming, and that goes for family research too. Foremost there is now the immense LDS data base right at our finger tips. When I started in 2003, access to that data base was still difficult, and their web site often froze or closed down altogether. Only in the last few years have enough improvements been made to allow full and efficient access to all their data. Thanks to that technological progress I have been able to mine this source to the fullest.
- Many other data bases have also been most useful, such as the immigration records of Ellis Island in New York, the obituary web site www.legacy.com which lists all USA deaths, and the web site www.findagrave.com, showing pictures of a vast number of gravestones. In addition, various US state administrations are increasingly making birth and death records available on line. All these sources have only become accessible in the last few years, and I am sure that in the near future more such sources will be developed.
- The Internet also allows rapid and accurate communication. Among my records I have a file of the correspondence of Gustav Zollinger (Dentist). When I think of all the letters he had written, and the slow answers, I all the more appreciate the quick E-Mail system. However, I also found that just sending an E-Mail to an unknown person does rarely work. It seems that most get blocked as junk, and the majority of people do not seem to be very good at answering such contacts. But when the first contact is made by a personal telephone call, then a subsequent exchange of E-Mail addresses will invariably start a successful communication system.
- Instead of looking through the phone books of each USA state in a library, and painstakingly copying out names, the electronic Telephone Book has allowed me have this data at my finger tips. With minimal effort I could compile a list of all Zollingers in the USA, in Switzerland and most of the rest of the world (I seem to have difficulties with the U.K. and Italy). But times are changing, and this source of information may not be as useful in the future. Even today more and more people no longer own a the traditional land line, and only use a cell phone. Cell phone numbers unfortunately are not listed, and so these persons can no longer be found.
- The Telephone system has been the key part in this project. Extensive contacts by phone were only possible with the large discount contracts, which allowed me unlimited telephone calls at a reasonable price. For my Swiss calls I paid about $ 34 per month, and in many months during these past winters I have used up the equivalent of $ 600 to $ 1,000 of phone time per month. If I had to pay the full cost, I could not have done it.
- Data Protection and Identity Theft are becoming bigger issues as time goes on. Such personal data as birth date, or information on parents and children, can lend itself to misuse. Increasingly my contacts have become aware of this problem, and are more and more reluctant to provide such information. In fact I am sometimes surprised how trusting many contacts still are, one might even say too trusting, although that works in my favour. Undoubtably in the near future people will become progressively less trusting, and their family information will then no longer be so easy to solicit.
All these components of the project are a function of the exact time we live in. On one hand, only during the last ten years of technological advances has this work become possible. On the other hand, further developments may well close many of the present avenues for collecting such information. I thus consider myself most fortunate to have been able to carry out this project during the very time slot when a series of fortunate circumstances made the work possible.
The Final Statistics
As an overall tally of this project, and especially its phone campaign, I now
have 2,114 Zollingers listed worldwide in all the phone books I have been able
to obtain. Of these I have been able to find and enter into my data base 1,969,
or 93 %. Of the rest, some 70 still need to be contacted, and the remainder
refused information, or did not answer. This now provides me with (almost) complete
information on my Zollinger database. Note however that not all persons listed
below bear the name Zollinger. Under the rules established for our data base,
for each person marrying into the Zollinger family, their parents were also
added. And for female Zollingers, the data covers their own families too, but
only down to their grandchildren. To then summarize the achievements of the
- The USA file of the data base contains 3,345 entries with the name Zollinger, plus a further 576 with different spellings (Zullinger, Solinger, Zoller), and, including all the other names, gives a total of 13,120 entries.
- The Switzerland file (including Germany and the rest of the world) contains 12,588 entries of the name Zollinger, containing 1,396 not born in Switzerland. The total number of entries in this file amounts to 32,075 names.
- The combination of the two files then counts a total of 45,195 entries into the data base.
- The Swiss Zollinger phone book contains 1,131 entries, of which 1072 (95.0%) were identified and entered into the data base.
- The USA Zollinger telephone book contains 776 entries, of which 719 were found (92.7%), and are in the data base.
- The world wide Zollinger telephone book (with some gaps) contains a further 160 entries, of which 67 are in the data base.
- In total, all the Zollinger phone book entries worldwide now contain 2,067 entries, of which 1,858 (90.0%) are in the data base.
- Contact by E-Mail has been established with 193 Swiss Zollingers and 117 USA Zollingers.
From this summary it becomes clear that the project has identified almost all living Zollingers (within the outlined limitations), and has also established the family trees of these persons back to about 1400. That means that the vast majority of Zollingers who ever lived have now been recorded.
While this report is entitled “Project Complete”, this is not quite correct. There are still many gaps, and my work can, and will continue by contacting those family members where data is still missing. The web site will also continue to be accessible, and no doubt will generate new contacts. And through my E-Mail address I will continue to receive letters of interested Zollingers. But these still remaining tasks will become more and more difficult as to be near impossible. My work with Zollingers in Uruguay and Argentina is not progressing well, and the Zollinger branch in Israel can not trace their family further back than to about 1800 in Romania. Then I have some 20 branches in Switzerland which I have not yet been able to connect to the overall tree. In many cases the cause is difficult family situations, where for example children were orphans, and thus can not remember even their parents, and certainly not earlier generations. Others show a gap of just one generation, but despite all efforts made, that link has remained elusive.
In the USA, one big, and probably impossible task, is to complete the branch of the “Providence Zollingers” in Utah. While their older data is the best in existence, the majority of the family members alive today are the only group of Zollingers who are very reluctant to provide information on their families. This means that a considerable number of USA Zollingers can not be covered, and unless I can find a member of that family who is willing to work with me, that data may never fully materialize. But I do have access to a web site listing all obituaries, and this will continue to give me updates on these families, as usually all the family members are listed in obituaries (but no birth dates). And finally in the USA too there are still several branches that can not be linked to the overall tree, but where more research or a chance contact might one day provide the hoped for results.
I am well aware that I have been most fortunate to bear the name Zollinger, a name where only one original source exists, and a family which is fairly small compared with the Meiers and Schmids (or Smiths) of this world. Nevertheless I hope that my experiences might help other family researchers, who have a suitable name, to consider documenting not just their direct ancestors, but their whole family name. This is not only a worthwhile task in itself, but will serve as a most valuable resource for any members of the family, who in the future wants to find out where they come from. And while the older generation is dying out, and thus more and more of this data is being lost. But today the means to achieve this goal are on hand, and so it is essential for other families to take on the task to carry out this type of work. The establishment of a complete record of a family name will no doubt be of considerable value to future generations.
If there is a Family History Heaven, and I am sure that there is, then my Uncle
Gustav Emil Zollinger and Gustav Zollinger the Dentist, are now sitting together
and remembering all their hard work researching the name. And I am sure that
they can not help but be pleased and proud that the work which they had started,
has made so much progress.