It is with Rudolf that most of the Habsburg genealogical trees start. He is regarded as the forefather of the dynasty, even though by that time the family already belonged to the established aristocracy of Swabia. Rudolf was thus no newcomer who had arrived out of nowhere.
The lineage can be traced back to the late tenth century: Guntram the Rich is the first verifiable ancestor. His son Ratbod (died before 1054) was the founder of the family abbey of Muri in the Aargau, whose chronicles are the most important source for the history of the ‘original’ Habsburgs. Ratbod’s grandson Otto was the first to call himself von Habsburg, after the castle near Brugg on the lower reaches of the River Aare.
The main domains of the family lay along the Rhine in the border area between present-day Switzerland, France and Germany. The dynasty probably originated in Upper Alsace, where the Habsburgs were lord protectors of the see of Strasbourg. Later the family concentrated on developing their dynastic power in the areas to the east of this territory, their eventual possessions extending from the Vosges along the Upper Rhine right into the regions around Zurich.
The family maintained relations with the imperial Hohenstaufen dynasty, numbering among their supporters. It is however unlikely that there were any relationships of kinship between the two dynasties. Rudolf’s father Count Albrecht IV was captain of the city of Strasbourg in the service of the Hohenstaufens. From his mother, Heilwig of Kyburg, Rudolf had within his grasp the domains of the Counts of Kyburg, a lineage on the verge of extinction which possessed extensive areas of the Thurgau south of Lake Constance. Rudolf’s brother Hartmann died a prisoner in Lombardy as a liegeman of the Hohenstaufens. Another brother, Albrecht (V), was a canon in Basel whose diocesan lands overlapped with the possessions of the early Habsburgs.
Rudolf focused on expanding the family holdings of territory. Besides the lands he had inherited from his mother, his marriage to Gertrude of Hohenberg brought additional possessions in Alsace. Rudolf was thus an important feudal lord with considerable influence in the Alemannic area.