Thursday, February 16, 2017

Whither the Wengers? A Bit of Family History from Switzerland

Christian Wenger arrived in Philadelphia on September 30, 1727 on the ship Molly. His birth was registered on May 1, 1698 in Eggiwil, Canton Bern, and his death recorded on February 9, 1772, in Lancaster County, Pa. His legacy includes some 250,000 descendants; of which I am one.*

View approaching Shallenberg,
near the Wenger homestead.

I am working on a project for a Swiss Reformed Church in Basel, Switzerland, honoring the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. The Anabaptist/Mennonite movement, of which I am a part, was part of the Reformation, sometimes referred to the “radical wing”. My associates with the Reformed Church want to hear a report from the perspective of Anabaptists/Mennonites who have remained in Switzerland, and from the perspective of those who have emigrated to the USA. It will fall on me to do the emigration part.

In order to bring my project alive, I’ve been doing work on the origins in Switzerland of some of my forbearers. My great-grandfather, John Clemmer (Clymer) married a Catherine Wenger, and from her I get my Wenger heritage. I had heard that the Wenger homestead still exists somewhere near Eggiwil in the Emmental Valley of Switzerland, and I was determined to fine it. I had driven around the Eggiwil, Röthenbach and Martisegg area in previous trips just to sniff the air, knowing that these were places where the name Wenger was found.

Then I discovered a website* that gave a more precise location of the family homestead. Armed with that information, I headed to the area. The drive from Eggiwil to Schallenberg was gorgeous. There was a restaurant near the Schallenberger Pass, so we stopped in for a cup of coffee and a chat with the hostess. I told her I was from the USA and was looking for the farm of my ancestor who had emigrated some 300 years ago. “Do you know where “Schinegg” is,” I asked her. “Indeed,” she responded. She pointed to a hill right outside the window of the restaurant. “That’s it up there,” she said.

The Wenger homestead
Schinegg, Switzerland
The path to the farm was covered with about 6” of snow, and with the temperatures nearing 50º, it was slushy in places and packed ice in others, making our ascent precarious to say the least. Undaunted, we started the climb.

Halfway up encountered a couple descending. Emboldened by my conversation with the lady in the restaurant, I told them that I was a descendant of one of the people who lived in the house on Schinegg, and was visiting from the USA. A very interesting conversation ensued. Discovered that their son-in-law currently occupies the house during the summer. The whole hill on top of which my ancestral home sat, was owned by an association of farmers, and that each summer, they would take their heifers up on the hill to spend the summer eating the lush grass on the hill sides. This is a long-standing tradition in Switzerland. Farmers don’t have enough pasture or grass to feed their milking cows, so they send the young ones away for the summer.

Many people find it hard to understand why someone from such a beautiful place would leave. Indeed, the surrounding scenery is breathtaking, but the fields on which they had to work are almost vertical; not an easy life by any stretch. In addition, the Anabaptist/Mennonites were persecuted fiercely in the Canton of Bern. They literally did their best to get rid of them in any way possible. Many were pushed to the least workable lands, many lost their farms entirely. So the reasons for leaving were both economic and religious.

For more pictures of the Wenger house and our adventure, visit this album: Pictures of the Wenger house in Switzerland

*Thanks to this website for some of my information Website with information on the Wenger family history

4 comments:

  1. Don, this is fascinating! John E. Fetzer, former owner of the Detroit Tigers, communications pioneer in radio and television, and founder of the Fetzer Institute, was a direct descendent of Christian Wenger. He took a trip in the 1960s to find the farm in Lancaster that the Wengers began (now in Landis family ownership) and then went to Switzerland to investigate more. His book The Men From Wengen (1971) might be one of the most extensive resources available. He consulted with J. C. Wenger at Goshen College.

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    1. Thanks for your comments Shirley! I didn't realize that my limited research would create such excitement. I found a book published in 1902 in Elkhart called "History of the Descendants of Christian Wenger." The link I provided was the main source of the location of the homestead, but I have no idea how she obtained her knowledge.

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  2. Hi Don,
    It appears we are distant relatives!! I am of the same Wenger line as you but, if I'm not mistaken, our lines split at Ulrich Christian Wenger Sr. If I got things right, you are a descendant of Christian Wenger, husband of Eve Grebiel. I am a direct descendant of his brother, Johannes "Hans" Heinrich Wenger I! I found your blog because I'm getting ready to make my first trip to Switzerland and am going with two generations of Wengers--two aunts and two cousins--and am trying to find the best Wenger footprint I can. To see the Wenger Homestead here on your site is an absolute thrill!! I would love to hear about the project you're working on and if/how the Wengers weave into that.
    Cheers,
    Beth

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    1. Thanks for your comments Beth! Looks like you are more up on your Wenger family than I. I am indeed a descendant of Christian married to Eve (sometimes Eva), although rather distantly. My great-grandmother was a Wenger. My interest in the Wenger line was mostly because, 1) There was a specific place to visit, 2) He supposedly has the most descendants of any immigrant to the USA, and 3) He was born and lived very near my Swiss wife's relatives and near where we were married (Langnau). My project only involves tracing the names of some of my forbearers; Clymer, Horst and Wenger whose migration patterns can be traced. I've found lots of dead ends and rabbit trails in my reading.

      Where did your Wenger family eventually settle in the "New World?" My source says that Hans Wenger died in Zweibrücken, Germany. He is also listed as a half-brother to Christian, born in Wattenwil (Gurbetal) rather than Eggwil (Emmental) where Christian was born. I think their common father moved (or was forced) from Wattenwil to the Eggwil area because of his Anabaptist (Mennonite) beliefs.

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