Thursday, June 26, 2008

Steffisberg, home of the ancestors

So last Friday night I finally got to Steffisberg, which is where the Kaufmanns originate, or at least the Anabaptist ones. It turns out that their grandfather immigrated from Shopfe near Basel. I got to Steffisberg and I might as well admit that I was disappointed. Steffisberg was no grand location. I experienced it mostly as a place that people try to drive through as quickly as possible.
I have become accustomed to central Basel, but also its surroundings. There just aren't many cars around. When I ride bike the 20 km into town, I hardly have any stop signs because the roads are not full of cars. It's nice. But Steffisberg was more like America in the way it was just full of fast cars. Steffisberg itself is fairly flat, it's just that it is surrounded by beautiful mountains.
In some ways maybe it is a good thing that I don't think Steffisberg is the most beautiful place on earth. I don't find myself pining for the old country.
The church in the photo is the Steffisberg Reformed Church and it is where my ancestors Isaac Kaufmann and Elsbeth Mergerdt had the majority of their children baptised. I am not sure, but I think it is also where Isaac was baptized.
I have been learning a lot about Isaac and Elsbeth. On February 18, 1676, they were married with two other couples in a triple wedding. From the names, Jacob Kaufmann and Anna Kropf, and then Hans Kropf and Elisabeth Buerki, one can imagine that Isaac was married together with his brother and that his brother's wife was married together with her brother.
Isaac was called a Tauferlehrer, or Anabaptist preacher. So the authorities paid a lot of attention to him and I keep finding more information about him. Ernst Mueller mentions him in his book "Geschichte der Bernischen Taufer" and Robert Baecher mentions him in his article "Le prince de Montbeliard acoueille les anabaptistes." Unfortunatelythere isn't much about him in English yet.
The second photo is the view from Homberg. This is a place where Isaac was at one point. This is not that far from Steffisberg, but it is a ways from the church. I can imagine that Isaac came here because it was more remote and made it less likely that he would be found out. In contrast to Steffisberg, this is a beautiful place. I could settle here. I had a nice time in a cozy Bed and Breakfast, Dreiligasse Zentrum.
I visited the church and its graveyard near Homberg. It was filled with names like Gerber, Graber, Oesch, Oswald, Tschantz (Shantz, Johns, and maybe Jantzi, which is another ancestor of mine). I'm not so sure that these folks have Mennonite connections as much as it is evidence that Mennonites come from Switzerland, and that this area had a concentration of Anabaptists.
And in fact this whole area was full of Anabaptists at one point, and the majority of them followed Jacob Ammann, becoming Amish. Because this area is known as the Berner Oberland, or uplands, these Anabaptists came to be known as the Obere Gemeinde, the upper congregation, while the Emmental Anabaptists became known as the Untere Gemeinde, or lower congregation.
My family joins me tomorrow. I have missed them alot. The last week has felt kind of lonely. There haven't been as many people around Bienenberg and I am getting impatient to see my family. In any case I can't wait.
My time at Bienenberg is coming to an end. I don't know how often I'll find an internet connection the next three weeks, but I'll try to keep in contact when I find one.

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