Reasons to emigrate from Switzerland to America in the 19th century

In April 1815 volcano Mount Tambora in Indonesia erupted, destroying all vegetation on the island Sumbawa and bringing destruction to the nearby islands. More than 100’000 people died. Moreover, the effects were felt around the globe, 1816 was known as the “year without summer” in Europe and North America. The ensuing famine and impoverishment of parts of the Swiss population led to a wave of emigration.

Between 1840 and 1850, the crop failure caused by potato blight caused a food crisis in Europe. Without access to other food, many people starved to death. This crisis was particularly devastating for Ireland. But the rest of Europe also suffered.

The economic downturn caused by the Crimean War brought new misery to the communities. Although soup kitchens offered one meal a day for the needy, there were simply too many poor families. Overpopulation and massive poverty left the impoverished people with no hope for a better life here. Those responsible in the communities found the solution to the enormous problems in the emigration of the poor. The communities provided funds for the long and arduous journey to North America. This is how poor people were encouraged or even forced to emigrate.

Finding your immigrant ancestors

With improved family registers we have a good understanding of emigration in the 19th century. In the following example of Johannes Amsler, born in 1829, we find a note “emigrated to America  in summer 1872”.

Boezen Family Register Familienregister Bözen
Boezen Family Register I, Page 156

Johannes Amsler, alt Trüllmeisters Sohn (born) 14. August 1796
von Bözen wohnhaft in Scherz siehe Pag. 58

Cop. d. 30. November 1827 mit
Elisabeth Rey von Scherz, (born) 30. Sept 1804 – gestorben 1833


Johannes nach Amerika ausgewandert im Sommer 1872 (geboren) 1. Oktober 1829

Example of US Passenger and Crew List documenting immigration
Passenger and Crew List – New York

The US Passenger and Crew Lists for this year show his arrival on Ellis Island on September 27th 1872 from Le Havre, France. Most Swiss left from this port and this explains why he was mistakenly considered to be French. It often happened that immigrants were assigned the wrong nationality when they immigrated.

It is therefore possible to discover Johannes Amsler’s descendants in the USA with the help of local census records and other publicly available data of the USA. It is also possible to track down the Swiss roots of the immigrants, as long as their places and dates of birth are known.

de_DE en_US