Switzerland isn’t the obvious stopping off place for a budget traveller making his way from Bangkok to the south of France. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that you can tack a zero onto Thai prices and you’ll get the Swiss price. And while bearable, the temperature in Zurich in early April is a lot closer to 4C than 40C. Sure, the food’s pretty good, but one can only live on cheese, beer and chocolate for so long. I haven’t found the tipping point just yet but I’m working on it. So what’s the draw? For me, the answer is genealogy. I have Swiss roots!
Bear with me for a minute as we take a trip back to 1749 and call on a guy named Hans Gutknecht in the small town of Oberried (now called Ried bei Kerzers or just plain Rieds). This one-horse town is a short commuter train ride away from the historic city of Bern, from which I am now writing. Hans and his wife Anna Barbara Kieffer were preparing to move to France in 1749 but their son Christian had other plans. He wanted to travel – maybe see the New World.
Once Christian got an idea in his head, no matter how crazy, he was determined to see it through. Before the year was out he was living in Philadelphia and had changed his name from Gutknecht to Goodnight. Much better, don’t you think? No? Well, he soon found a wife who didn’t mind being called ‘Goodnight’ and within a few years they had a son named Samuel and a daughter named Catherine. This is where we say goodnight to the Goodnight lineage as Catherine married a chap named Jacob Dunham. Bring on the Dunhams.
Jacob and Catherine had a son named Jacob and he had a son named Jacob. Jake The Third ended the tradition when he named his eldest son Ralph Waldo Emerson Dunham. Twenty-five years later R.W.E. Dunham had a son who he named Stanley and it was Stanley who rekindled the unique name thing when he tagged his daughter with… wait for it… Stanley. He named the girl Stanley. At least he gave her a nice middle name, Ann, which she went by once the bullying started in high school. After graduating, Ann also had the good sense to get the hell out of Kansas. She married in 1960 and on August 4, 1961 she gave birth to a bouncing baby boy! See where this is going?
Some of you might know that my mother’s name was Helen, not Ann, and I was born in 1962, not 1961. At least that’s what it says on my birth certificate. Ann’s son, the one born in 1961, claims to have a birth certificate – although few have actually seen it – and it supposedly lists his full name as Barack Hussein Obama II.
So if the black President of the United States of America can claim Swiss lineage – 1/256th “Swiss” to be exact – then it shouldn’t be too hard for a pasty white Canuck to do the same, should it?
Actually I have all the information that I need on the Swiss branch of my family tree. You see my mother was a Stouffer and both her parents – Frances Hoover and David Lewis Stouffer – are descendants of Swiss Mennonites who left Bern almost a century before Barack’s great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather. With two grandparents of Pennsylvania Dutch stock (and of course Germany and Switzerland before that), my family tree is laden with Germanic names like Wideman (Weidman), Hoover (Huber), Reesor (Risser), Lehman (Leeman), Macklem, Hershey (Hershie), Barkey (Burki), Grove (Groff), etc.
Through my maternal grandfather, David Lewis Stouffer (1880-1970), I can trace one line back to the year AD 938. The Stauffers (as they were known before emigrating) were Anabaptists (later Mennonites) and these people kept meticulous birth and death records in the backs of their family bibles. The fact that they were Anabaptists is also the reason they were eventually driven out of Switzerland. I’ll write more about that in a few days, but for now I’m heading to the nearby city of Thun to visit the castle in which my ancestor Christian Stauffer was imprisoned as part of the great “Taufer Jagen” (Baptist Hunt) of 1644.