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Genealogy in Switzerland - A Longenecker Family Search
I recently visited Langnau, Bern, Switzerland and spent two days immersed in all things Langenegger. My wife and I arrived at the Langnau rail station on June 25, 2004, exhausted from a long flight from San Francisco. As we left the train station we were immediately struck by the unique character of this area.
Outside the train station are the remnants of a cobblestone street, now patched by asphalt. Everywhere we looked were beautiful Swiss houses and buildings - many of them hundreds of years old - and all colorfully decorated with pink and red begonias placed in flower boxes below each window. As we found later, the Emmental is also a wonderland of covered bridges, friendly people, church spires with Swiss clocks and chimes, tinkling cow bells - everything you expect Switzerland to be.
As we walked toward our hotel in Bareau we noticed how friendly and courteous the locals are - stopping to allow us to cross the street and smiling as we passed with a friendly "Hallo" or "Guten Morgen." The town is dotted with long stone tanks with well water splashing in at one end and draining out the other. They look something like a stone horse tank. These are available to anyone who wants a cool drink of well water.
After we settled into our room at the Landgasthof Hotel Adler, the owner kindly invited us to a short ride into the countryside where we saw more beautiful houses and pastures. After we returned we asked a few locals in the hotel restaurant about the Langenegger farm and they had a good laugh. Turns out that there are a lot of Langeneggers there and we didn't know the name of the people who lived in the original house that we came to see.
The hills are about 1200 feet above the valley floor and incredibly green with grass and forested areas visible from anywhere in town. Langnau is small - perhaps three or four long blocks across and the hills seem very close. Black and white cows break up the greenery and produce and wonderful tinkling sound as they graze around ringing the bells around their necks. Higher pitched bells worn by sheep and goats blend with the clunk-clunk bong-bong of the cow bells making a delicious backdrop to the scenery. This is the last sound we heard as we drifted off to sleep covered with a feather quilt on our first night in Langnau.
The birds woke us up to wonderfully green world that is Langnau in the summer. We enjoyed a wonderful breakfast of homemade bread and jelly provided by our host, Stephen. We hoped to attend church, but found that our information was incorrect and arrived too early. Instead we started our walking tour of Langnau early. Langnau is a small town and we walked all of the main streets by about noon when we took a break for lunch to share a small cheese tart and an apple pastry from a small shop near the center of town. By that time, the local museum had opened. It is housed in one of the oldest houses in Langnau and is a great opportunity to look around inside one of these magnificent buildings and see all of the fancy joinery done by the builders. It is also a great museum with a number of permanent and rotating exhibits that depict the history of Langnau and its residents.
The museum's docent has lived in Langnau for 70 years and knows the Langenegger name very well. She quickly found a book that contains the Langenegger family crests - one for those in the valley (Langenegg Ey) and one for those up higher in the hills (Langenegg Unter). She also loosely parsed the name into Lange (Long in English - pronounced 'Long' in German too) and negg (hill in English - pronounced 'neck' in German). I haven't been able to confirm the word 'negg' anywhere - but that is what she said. The book also included a statement, "Ulrich, von Langnau, wanderte 1748 nach Pennsylvanien [USA] Aus (Faust 61)" which roughly translates that Ulrich Langenegger immigrated to Pennsylvania in the United States in 1748. This is our ancestor Ulrich Langenegger Sr. The book doesn't give a further source for this information. On the map, the Langenegg Unter is just about a 30 minute hike up the hill from the museum and Langenegg Ey is about a mile down river from Langnau. Since the Unter had been owned by someone other than a Langenegger for many years, we decided to take a closer look at the Ey property in the valley to see if we could at least get a picture of the house and perhaps, if we were really lucky, meet a distant relative.
Margaret and I walked along the river where many of the local people were taking a break from regular life to cool off. We were pleasantly surprised at the number of covered bridges in and around Langnau - all still being used. We even drove over one just outside of Langnau.
Just as we approached the long driveway to the Langenegger house, two women came up from the river and one of them spoke English. She told us that we were in the right place and that the Langenegger family did live here. She offered to escort us to the right house among a group of several houses and buildings located on the property. With a cheery German "Woo hoo" she called out to the people inside and introduced us to my 9th cousin who lives in the house where Ulrich Langenegger Senior was born in 1664 (the same one mentioned in the book that immigrated to Pennsylvania).
Our new-found cousins were gracious and greeted us warmly even though we just showed up on their doorstep after over 250 years without a Christmas card! We had a short conversation about the family and viewed some of the information that they had there. Coincidentally, the couple's sister-in-law next door was in Pennsylvania to attend a Longenecker reunion while we were in Langnau. We exchanged contact information so that we can follow up with them with information we find that might be useful to them. They kindly offered us a cool drink from their well before we took a short walk around the farm to get some photos. The cows were in the barn as it was unseasonably hot that day. Milk from their cows is sold into a coop of local farmers that makes it into cheese. If you are looking for some authentic Langenegger cheese, look for the Emmentaler type as that is what they make there. It is sold in the US as simply Swiss cheese - the type with holes in it. I must admit that it tasted much better in Langnau than in California.
The house is located an easy hike along the river from Langnau and consists of the original house plus some additional houses and outbuildings. I found the house a challenge to photograph by itself. It is a typical Swiss farm house arranged with living quarters and barn under one roof. On one side is an earthen ramp going directly into the attic over the barn that is used to move hay into that area for storage and use during the winter.
The roof is steep by US standards but not as steep as I expected in an area that gets lots of snow. Most roofs in the area are tile and include a series of brackets about six inches high that hold the snow in the winter so that it doesn't all fall down at one time. Some buildings had a simpler system with only one set of brackets near the bottom of the roof that held a four inch pipe running the entire length of the house - apparently for the same purpose as the brackets on other buildings. In addition, this system probably uses the snow to insulate the roof from the cold. Another interesting thing about some roofs and houses - the builders sometimes put their initials and the date of construction on the roof by using different colored tiles. Others painted this information under the eaves or on the face of the building under the eaves.
The Langenegger house is not as fancy as some in town but is large and includes some fancy joinery work that we saw repeated inside the museum, on the covered bridges, and elsewhere in the area. The main structure appears to be large beams carefully joined together at the proper angles so that they get stronger as more weight is put on them - and held together with wooden pegs. On one bridge near town we saw metal strapping that seems to have been added later.
The business of the farm centers around the milk cows. There was a large field of corn planted near the house along with a well-kept garden that seems to grace every house we saw in Switzerland. Along the driveway approach to the farm there are some cherry trees with mostly green fruit just beginning to turn pink in places. The rest of the farm appeared to be in grass. My friend John Garland in Oklahoma would call the fencing "psychological fencing" - not much of a barrier to an animal that wants out. We noticed that a lot of fences appeared to be temporary and electrified so that the cows can be easily moved to fresh grass as needed. We even saw one electric fence hooked up to a solar panel up high in the mountains a long train-ride away from Langnau. Out of respect for the current occupants' time and space, we only stayed briefly.
We returned to our hotel via a path the goes along the river and stopped for a rest in the shade of an old covered bridge. We were exhausted again and happy at getting to meet our distant relatives and to view the old house.
Research: If you are researching this area, no genealogy information is readily available in Langnau. The records office has records from 1886, but doesn't release it without permission of the persons mentioned in the records and the charges to do so are very high. You will have much better luck in Bern where most of the Swiss records are held. There is almost always someone around that speaks English and the records offices are no exception. The records are neither computerized nor indexed - but they are very neatly categorized by location and time frames. You will need to tell them exactly who, where, and when you want to look in order to get the right microfilm. Then it is an old-fashioned search browsing through records written along time ago using unfamiliar styles and letters. Lockers are located outside the office in the hallway and you will have to leave your backpack, purse, etc. there. It's free and secure.
The Archives de I'Etat de Berne is located at Falkenplatz 4, CH-3012 Berne near the main railroad station. It was easy to find the third time I tried. The rail station is large and busy and on several levels. Locate the elevators on one end of the station and take them all the way to the top. If you have trouble, follow the students and the signs to the university in order to find the elevators. Once you are at the top, go toward the campus - the only way you can go really - and pass between two large university-looking buildings. Falkenplatz 4 is the first building on the right after you pass through the campus area. There is a small street stand just across the small park where the students congregate for a cheap and good sandwich - get there early as they run out of sandwiches quickly after noon. The office is open from 8:00 to 12:00 and 1:00 to 5:00 every weekday except Friday when it closes at 4:30. If you want to confirm before going, their phone numbers are 031/633 51 01, fax 031/633 51 02. Copies are one Swiss Frank per page - so take along plenty of cash so that you can get everything you want. You can easily spend 50 franks in one afternoon depending on the records you want. I didn't have time, but you may also want to check out these sources provided by the museum in Langnau . . .
Gene Hall has been working on the family tree for over 25 years and currently is the CEO of FamilyTrackers, Inc. - a World Genealogy Exchange located at http://www.familytrackers.com/
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