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, R├Âthenbach 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 50┬║, 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