Getting Used To A New Decade

The sun is shining, the sky is blue, the birds are singing, the mountains are magnificent in their summer glory, with the snow gleaming on their summits. I have everything to be thankful for in my life – but I am aware of a vague feeling of … what shall I call it? Disgruntlement? Wondering why? Well, in a couple of weeks it will be the summer solstice, and I have a birthday coming up. Usually up to now, my birthdays have been occasions for rejoicing and celebration. And this one should certainly be no exception – except that it’s a round one, and I have started resenting those numbers in front of the O. 

It took me a whole year to accept that I had turned seventy (this tells the tale) and my feelings this year are uncannily similar. I really don’t want a big celebration, just some nice little get-togethers with my nearest and dearest, and the opportunity to let them all know how much they mean to me. In this, at least, Covid-19 has been beneficial, as large gatherings are still not allowed so I don’t have to protest too much about not wanting a huge party. Three or four people at a time, spread over a couple of weeks or so – yes, that sounds fine. 

On three of my previous round birthdays, I was gifted wonderful hot-air balloon-rides. The one that had been scheduled for my eightieth came as a surprise for my 75th, so that’s not on the cards this year. I had been contemplating a ride on the longest zipwire in Europe, which is in North Wales, but again, Covid-19 has eliminated that option. Maybe when I’m 90?

What had been planned most recently was that I would join my daughter and son-in-law on their yacht in the Friesian Islands, but it’s become a bit complicated – Covid again – so that has been postponed. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this little sailing trip might materialise after all in the autumn, and offer an opportunity to catch up with an old friend who lives in Amsterdam, but – well, I’m not holding my breath! Great if it happens. He’s coming 88 so I hope we both live long enough!

So why do I feel just a teensy bit disgruntled? I’m counting my blessings, which are actually too many to be enumerated individually here, and feeling very grateful. It’s just that every ten years, the hand of the clock moves that little bit further and I have to admit that time has flown far faster than I would ever have imagined. It definitely speeds up as we age, and the grim reaper appears to be getting too close for comfort. 

The solution is in my hands: I have to admit that I’m no longer, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 or even 70 anymore and face up to the fact that the number eighty is made up of a fat lady and a ring.  What the ring symbolises is beyond me at the moment, but the fat lady looks at me every day in the mirror. She is a reality! I have to accept this number, and start acting my age.

Really, I know that this is a wonderful gift to me: to have lived so long, to enjoy so many privileges and such a comfortable life. Yes, I truly am very grateful, and I suppose I am in a way looking forward to the big day and will eventually come to accept that number. I hope the sun continues to shine on me as I enter the octogenarian decade! 

By the way, if anyone reading this is wondering how to console me for that 0 following the 8, there is a nice long toboggan ride on a mountainside not too far away from my home, and if I drop enough hints maybe someone will take me along on that so I can indulge my inner eight-year-old. Who knows?

Mother’s Day Thoughts

It’s Mother’s Day here in Switzerland, and once again it falls on my mother’s birthday. She made it almost to 101, and would have been 105 today.

She was a lover of flowers and we made it a regular habit to visit a bluebell wood on her birthday (or as close as we could get) which always brought her great joy. England has plenty of bluebell woods, even in urban areas, and we usually didn’t have to go very far to find one. It became a tradition, and the 9 May will always be associated in my mind with woodland and bluebells. In fact, I wrote about her very last birthday trip to a bluebell wood here.

My mother in the local bluebell wood (her 96th birthday)

Yesterday, as I walked into the village I passed a garden with bluebells growing in its undergrowth – Spanish bluebells rather than English ones and not exactly a bluebell wood like you’d find in England, but a tiny vignette of one: a small gift gratefully received. Bluebells aren’t a traditional Mother’s Day flower, but for me they will always be associated with my mother. 

Actually, her favourite flower was lily-of-the-valley, which also could be found blooming in Mom’s garden around this time.  If it wasn’t, I would buy her a potted plant with the tiny white bells.

This flower is a traditional gift in France on 1 May – a nice legend here, by the way, that goes back to the Renaissance. It was a custom to give flowering branches to friends as a way of driving out the hardships of winter. In 1560 King Charles IX was visiting the Drôme where he was offered a spray of lily of the valley. On 1 May of the following year, he presented every lady in his court with a spray of this fragrant little flower as a token of good luck. 

On my table today is a vase of bright yellow, fragrantly scented roses, a gift from my daughter who visited me a couple of days ago. The number of mothers in our immediate family has grown to four, with my daughter sandwiched between the generations, so today she is fulfilling her role as mother and grandmother rather than as daughter. I hope – and am pretty sure – that her children and grandchildren will have shown their love and appreciation for all she does for them (far more than anyone could expect).

It has been a bright, sunny day, filled with the song of the blackbirds who seem to have nests all around here, also celebrating their motherhood, no doubt. I have also been able to chat with my granddaughter and newest great-granddaughter. I am feeling very blessed.

Going To Hell In A Handcart?

Something I keep hearing from older people (and have also found myself repeating) is the phrase:
“I wouldn’t like to be a youngster in these present times.”

How glad and relieved we all are that we don’t have to cope with the pressures, problems and challenges facing young people in the 2020’s. And as I reflect on the point of view of these cogitating codgers who are my contemporaries, I find myself asking:

How is it possible that we, as bright young things growing up with the world at our feet in the nineteen-fifties and sixties, emerging from the rigours of post-war austerity and, although rebelling against them, still imbued with the ethics and ideals that drove our parents and grandparents, could make such a cock-up of the world? 

How could we get it so wrong?

Were our eyes fixed too firmly on material progress, so that we failed to pass on the best of those despised ethics and ideals?

Is this really the legacy we want to leave to our great-grandchildren?

Born into a world at war, with bombs falling around us and every family marked by the loss of a brother, husband, father or son, we British children benefited from the determination of post-war governments to give us everything possible to “have it better than our parents”. We received free schooling (and free orange juice as small children and free milk at school), and those of us who were academically gifted were able to receive a good, solid university education thanks to grants and scholarships even if our parents weren’t wealthy enough to pay for it or support us during our studies. Others could train or take up apprenticeships: If we were willing to work, there was a range of jobs we could choose from and no need to be unemployed. If we were unable to work, social security ensured that we didn’t have to starve. Wages generally were higher and purchasing power greater than pre-war. Instead of renting we bought our homes at reasonable prices, and paid for them thanks to generous mortgages. We received free medical care, thanks to the brilliant scheme called the National Health Service, so that we grew up stronger and healthier than any generation before us. We grew up in what would have seemed to our great-grandparents to be the Promised Land, believing that we could do anything we wanted.

We grew up selfish, spoilt, demanding.

And we taught our children to be selfish, spoilt and demanding. 

Or did we?

Didn’t some of those ideals we drank in with our mothers’ milk still drive us to some extent?

Didn’t we try to do something about injustice and inequality in our daily lives? 

Didn’t we try to live honestly according to the moral compass we had inherited at home and in school?

Were we really only interested in making more and more money and acquiring more and more things, more and more stuff? In beating or milking the system, so that institutions like the NHS crumbled from the abuses practised on them?

This old world keeps turning, and as Ecclesiastes points out, there’s nothing new under the sun. (Although I can’t help wondering what Ecclesiastes would have made oi the Internet – probably “Vanity, all vanity …”)

Distance lends enchantment, including distance in time. In spite of everything, measured objectively the quality of life, general health and longevity do appear to have improved for most people, And there is an awakening, an awareness that the sense of entitlement pervading modern youth is maybe not so ubiquitous and ineradicable as it may seem. Youth always focuses on self: it takes maturity to put others first. 

The world has always had its horrors and its evils, and probably overall it’s no worse today than it was in the past.  We just know more about them more quickly.  It’s encouraging that young people are taking up arms against perceived wrongs and injustices, and I read in a news item this morning that manufacturers are actually being encouraged now to make products to last – built-in obsolescence is no longer desirable, if appliances aren’t recyclable. 

So maybe we didn’t do everything wrong? 

Perhaps, in our ignorance, we fell into some disastrous traps, but perhaps those are mistakes that our grandchildren will avoid and may even be able to rectify.  Every generation faces different pressures, problems and challenges, and the old folks have always complained that “fings ain’t wot they used ter be”. I’m glad I don’t have the pressures, problems and challenges facing young people in 2021 because I really am not equipped for that. But I believe my grandchildren and great-grandchildren are.

Perhaps, after all, the world CAN be saved, and perhaps the dystopian visions are indeed an illusion. I hope so.

Vive la jeunesse !

Day of Reckoning

“In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love …” 

but I am neither young nor a man, so at this time of year my thoughts turn – not so lightly – towards my wardrobe. It’s a well-known fact that clothes left to their own devices for any length of time in a wardrobe will shrink. 

What fit me and looked pretty respectable last year is now either bursting at the seams or the zip won’t close, and even if it does, the garment only serves to emphasise the lumps and bumps I would rather be hiding or at least camouflaging. I’m not a twenty-something pregnant person proud of my bump! 

Today is the day of reckoning: I spent the morning sifting through the contents of my wardrobe, trying to decide what to keep and what to jettison. My bed has disappeared under the pile labelled “JETTISON”.

It’s always the same old story: “If I lose 5 kg I can wear this again …” Some of those garments are 20 years old (oh my goodness, even 30!) – so even if they did fit me, I’d look like a time warp! No, they’ll have to go. Over the past 20 years I have gained at least 20 kg – about 7 of them in the last year. It’s too easy to blame Covid for sitting around, nibbling and munching, instead of getting out and getting exercise. Or even staying in and doing exercises. Mea culpa. I alone am responsible. I can cope relatively easily with 5 of the seven deadly sins, but Greed and Sloth are my downfall.

I have to face it. Those extra kilos are unlikely to vanish. Even in the privacy of my own backyard, shorts and a sun-top are no longer an acceptable option. In fact, I am living proof that  elderly ladies of a certain breadth of beam should rigorously avoid trousers unless worn with a loose thigh-length top. I can’t spend the rest of my life on Zoom – I need to cover my nether regions decently, and pants aren’t the answer.

In the sunny days to come, you’ll find me in skirts. Or variations on a bell tent. 

Simon Armitage’s poem on the funeral of Prince Phillip and his generation.

No introduction needed.

Cathy's real country garden

The Patriarchs – An Elegy

The weather in the window this morning
is snow, unseasonal singular flakes,
a slow winter’s final shiver. On such an occasion
to presume to eulogise one man is to pipe up
for a whole generation – that crew whose survival
was always the stuff of minor miracle,
who came ashore in orange-crate coracles,
fought ingenious wars, finagled triumphs at sea
with flaming decoy boats, and side-stepped torpedoes.

Husbands to duty, they unrolled their plans
across billiard tables and vehicle bonnets,
regrouped at breakfast. What their secrets were
was everyone’s guess and nobody’s business.
Great-grandfathers from birth, in time they became
both inner core and outer case
in a family heirloom of nesting dolls.
Like evidence of early man their boot-prints stand
in the hardened earth of rose-beds and borders.

They were sons of a zodiac out of sync
with the solar year, but turned their…

View original post 91 more words

Making Sense of Easter

Recently, I have been reading a book by NT Wright called “Surprised by Hope”. I can definitely recommend this book, but it has to be read slowly and carefully, in bite-sized pieces or all of this food for thought might give you a kind of spiritual/mental indigestion. NT Wright is a well-known theologian, and among other things a former Anglican bishop of Durham in the north-east of England. He has a lot to say about the Resurrection, and in the very last chapter he writes:

“The  forty days of the Easter season until the Ascension might be a time to balance out Lent by taking something up, some new task or venture, something wholesome and fruitful and outgoing and self-giving. You may be only able to do it for six weeks, just as you may be able to go without beer or tobacco only for the six weeks of Lent. But if you really make a start on it, it might give you a sniff of new possibilities, new hope, new ventures you have never dreamed of. It might bring something of Easter into your innermost life. It might help you to wake up to a whole new way. And that’s what Easter is about.”

This idea struck me as worth trying out. What can I do to make every one of the coming 6 weeks productive, to give of myself in some beneficial way? 

Do the little amigurumi animals that I made for my great-grandchildren count? They were certainly well received, and are giving pleasure to their owners, so I’ll take that as my first contribution. I also now have several documents to translate for a good Christian cause, so that is my next “venture”. I’m sure that as the weeks progress, I shall be provided with opportunities to do something “wholesome and fruitful and outgoing and self-giving”, and I’m looking forward to recognising those opportunities. 

Yes, a much better way to celebrate Easter and all it represents than simply gorging on chocolate eggs!   

And finally – yes: the snow has returned, blotting out all the lovely spring blossom, and contrary to my prediction it is sticking. It’s still falling now. The snow plough has just been to clear our road and forecourt of our house. It is very beautiful, but such a pity for the birds, animals, flowers and fruit trees that were enjoying the warm sunny temperatures last week.


Crochet – keeping up to speed despite Corona

Time has been slipping through my fingers as fast as my yarn during these last few weeks. No time for lockdown boredom! Have yarn, will crochet.

So here’s a quick update on my various projects since the tapestry pictures I last showed here in November. Fish and butterfly were professionally stretched and framed – a vast improvement – and gratefully received by their appreciative new owners, marking 40th and 25th birthdays respectively, and now hang proudly in their new homes. My middle granddaughter celebrated her 30th birthday in January, for which I stitched a third picture based on a photo I took representing sunset as seen from our family home in Brittany. Unfortunately, Corona interfered with the stretching and framing of this, so she’s getting it as an Easter present instead (which is why this photo shows it still wrapped up). 

What else has taken shape in my hands?

Two shawls for my newest great-granddaughter, a white one in a very soft silk-alpaca mix aptly called “superkid”, which has a small granny square inside a larger one as a symbol of “great-granny made this”, and a corner-to-corner rectangular beige one that I hope will also be useful as well as nice and warm. 

Rather like Baa-Baa Black Sheep, some very kind friends delivered two bags full of vividly coloured yarns which made a gorgeous rainbow in my stash drawer.

Some of this went into two rainbow scarves – one for me and one for a friend’s little granddaughter who “commissioned” it after seeing mine – and another corner-to-corner rectangular scarf in more muted colours for my daughter who also donated a few skeins.

Then two beanie hats, a pink baby bonnet, two more granny shawls and a decorative floral wall hanging gradually reduced the number of balls and skeins in my rainbow drawer. Another granny shawl is in the making – it’s already been made up once, but was somewhat misshapen so I unravelled it and this time it’s working out as intended.

My eldest granddaughter had a birthday at the vernal equinox but not a round one – for her I crocheted a multicoloured shawl, reflecting her bright personality, and as this didn’t need framing she actually received it punctually (and gratefully!)

Finally, a flash of inspiration (“What can I make with just one skein?”) and some amigurumi appeared instead of Easter Bunnies for my other 4 great-grandchildren: a llama for the oldest boy who loves these funny beasts, a Steinbock (or ibex) for his little brother, who is a fan of the two who advertise for the canton of Graubunden, a unicorn for their four-year-old sister and – conceived but not yet formed – a Haflinger pony for the horse-mad older sister. These of course required stuffing but that wasn’t a problem: I simply cannibalised a spare cushion. One cushion goes a long way in terms of crocheted menageries!

The winter passed away peacefully while I was busy with all this, and I was even able to sit outside in the sunshine to make my little animals. Sunshine and blue skies, with temperatures above 20°C this week – though tonight is cold again and the weather forecast says we are going to get some more snow tomorrow. I’m not bothered about that, though – it won’t stick and spring is definitely here. There are lambkins in the fields, catkins on the hazels and willows, the “lawn” around our house (it’s more of a meadow) is dotted with violets, primroses, cowslips and daisies, and the purple-leaved tree outside my bedroom window has suddenly burst into a mass of delicately scented pink blossom and is abuzz with bees.

Daffodils and crocuses are giving way to grape hyacinths and tulips in our flowerbeds. My neighbour’s old pear tree has clumps of ivory blossom on its gnarled branches where the blackbirds are serenading one another, and the forsythia is aflame in the hedge of another neighbour. I can’t help but sing with Pippa as she passes

“The year’s at the spring,
And the day’s at the morn,
Morning’s at seven,
The hillside’s dew-pearled,
The lark’s on the wing,
The snail’s on the thorn,
God’s in His Heaven,
All’s right with the world!”

 A blessed Easter to you all.

Freedom For and From Religion — Laughter: Carbonated Grace

This post was in my WordPress feed this afternoon, and I really feel that I should share it with you all. Eileen writes so movingly about something that she knows about from her own life experience, and she puts her case with dignity and empathy.

Another post that was in the same feed – on a different topic – has a reference to Galatians 3;28: There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

For Christians, surely that should sum up our attitude towards any kind of racism, sexism, ageism, or other kind of discrimination on the basis of inherent characteristics, and warn us against prejudice.

Freedom for and from religion are the same thing. It is important for all of us to protect that freedom. As a “born-again” Christian and mother of two gay sons and with a grandchild who is transgender, I appeal to you to not foster the misunderstanding, prejudice, and persecution of future generations by ignoring that […]

Freedom For and From Religion — Laughter: Carbonated Grace

From Rags to Riches

This week I have been allowed to borrow some very precious old documents with the family trees of my son-in-law, including a particularly ingenious arrangement of heirs in 1886 showing their consanguinity. This brought me back to the Eggs, who occupied my attention for a while a year ago, and it has finally allowed us to fill in some vital missing links as well as solving a few mysteries where several people shared the same name.

Digging around online in the roots of the tree, I came across the story of one of the earliest forebears, a man known as Pierre Arbensen  or d’Albenson – until he arrived in Zurich, at which point he became Peter Arbenz. 

I have mentioned before that many people in the olden days had a very cavalier attitude towards names, maybe because most of them couldn’t read and write so it was all phonetic. Pronouncing your name in a certain way probably created a more positive impact on the group you wanted to impress, or if your name sounded foreign to them they would translate it or say it as they perceived it. Clerks would then write down what they thought they heard.

Pierre Arbensen/d’Albenson aka Peter Arbenz was  born in 1543 in Torgnon in Châtillon, a French-patois speaking village high up in the Aosta Valley on the Italian side of the Matterhorn. The name seems to come from their pasture, called Albenson (which seems strange for a French-speaking area of Italy, but that’s another investigation!). 

The family scraped a living, with Pierre and his father selling satin, silk and coral, and his two brothers trading ironware, but life for this family was very hard in their desolate alpine village, especially in winter. After his father died in the mid 1500’s Pierre packed up his wares, crossed the Alps and made his way to the canton of Zurich to seek his fortune.

On 23 August 1567 “Peter Arbensen” appears as godfather at a baptism in Zurich cathedral (Grossmünster) and on 24 October 1567 he is “Petrus Arbesun” as godfather to another child in Winterthur. Eventually he arrived at the town of Elgg near Winterthur, where on 10 May 1570 he married Ursula, the daughter of a successful cloth merchant in the Vordergasse (High Street) who sported the splendid name of Pantaleon Mantel. This man – locally known as Pantli – was also from Torgnon but had been a citizen of Elgg since 1538. He may have been a friend of Peter Arbenz’s father, or simply a business acquaintance.

Their first child, Jacobea, was born on 21 October 1571 in Elgg but they soon moved to the town of Rapperswil where in 1571 Peter Arbenz paid 200 guilders to obtain citizenship. This wouldn’t be Swiss nationality, by the way, or even cantonal citizenship, but only that of the town of Rapperswil, allowing him to settle there and have the same rights and obligations as the native-born citizens. Their second child, Pantaleon, was born there in 1572. Also during their time in Rapperswil, Pantaleon Mantel died. In those days a wife’s property belonged to her husband, so on his father-in-law’s death Peter Arbenz inherited 3,200 pounds of which he had to render 300 pounds as inheritance tax to the canton of Zurich. 

In 1577 the young family moved to Andelfingen, a village in the centre of the canton, where Peter was charged 160 pounds as an “admission fee” and 80 pounds “Schirmgeld” or “protection fee” giving him the right of citizenship with permission to settle there and buy land. At first they lived in the “Kloster” which means monastery, but was in fact a farm later known as Felsenhof, and then they  bought the upper mill in Andelfingen. Peter and Ursula Arbenz had three more sons, Peter (1577), Martin (1580) and Antoine (1582) all born in Andelfingen. 

Peter Arbenz had at least two brothers back in Châtillon. Perhaps his success inspired his younger brother Petitpierre (Little Peter), who had been selling ironware in the Aosta Valley. In 1580 this young man also arrived in Andelfingen and set up as a merchant in the nearby village of Dorf. He married a local girl but had no children. However, in 1589, Antoine (Anton) the son of the third brother, another Panthaleon, also joined his uncle in Dorf bei Andelfingen where he married and fathered the Arbenz dynasty in Dorf.

I have to say that I was a bit confused by the name of Dorf, which means village, until I consulted a map and realised that there is actually a village called Village. This is also a family that likes to use the same names over and over again, so that has also been challenging. However, I think I’ve got it right now and have spouses and offspring, mills and farms, all correctly assigned.

Peter Arbenz’s son Pantaleon inherited the Kloster farm and the mill, but died in 1629 of the plague, which was ravaging the country at the time. Millers were especially vulnerable, as many rats were brought in with the sacks of grain, and it was the rats that spread the disease. In another branch of the Egg family tree, one miller lost his wife and five children to the plague in that same year.

However, on the whole the family was prospering.  Pantaleon’s eldest son, another Pantaleon or Pantli (1594-1645), is recorded as “Obermüller, Bärenwirt, Klosterbesitzer” (Miller of the Upper Mill, Innkeeper of the Bear Inn, Owner of Kloster farm) on his death record. When the farmers brought their grain to the mill, they would sit around waiting for it to be ground and during this time the miller would sell them a glass or two of beer or wine. Opening an inn was thus a logical progression and an opportunity to expand the miller’s business. It was also an chance for the miller and his family to glean all the local gossip and various insider tips, which gave them an advantage over the rest of the village.

Prosperity led to social rank and importance: mills were a lucrative business, millers married their sons and daughters into other millers’ families, and so the Arbenz family advanced, acquiring farms, mills and inns in Andelfingen. Not to mention wealth and status.

Pantaleon’s two sons, Pantli III and Hans Jakob, each had a farm and a mill, and seem to have kept the Bear Inn together. The records get a bit tricky at this point, as each of these brothers and most of their descendants kept using the names Pantaleon, Hans Jakob and Ursula in every generation of their families – quite discombobulating! After hours of comparing names and dates in various records and family trees – plus a lot of head-scratching! – I have figured out who’s who, and have managed to trace the descendance of Hans Jakob down to Ursula Arbenz who married Hans Caspar Egg in 1763, and was the daughter of Hans Conrad Arbenz, miller of the Halden Mill in Andelfingen. 

In more recent times, Jacobo Arbenz turned up as President of Guatamala in the early 1950’s, ousted in a coup organised by the CIA in 1954. Is the name a coincidence? No: he was the son of a Swiss immigrant, and also a descendant of Pantaleon and “our” Hans Jakob Arbenz from Andelfingen.

Return of the Native

I’m still on a genealogy roll, this time targeting my daughter’s paternal line. We were surprised a few years ago to discover that one strain we had considered to be solidly German, rooted firmly in the Rhineland-Palatinate, was in fact predominantly Swiss. How strange that we had come to live in Switzerland in the early 1970’s without any idea at all of “returning to native soil”. 

I touched a little on the situation in the Palatinate in the seventeenth century in two posts a few years ago (here and here) and in my last post about the Huguenots I mentioned the Thirty Years War and the invasions of Louis XIV that had caused devastation in the area west of the Rhine. As the turmoil slowed down, Swiss and Tyroleans came in to repopulate the area and of course  they intermarried with the remaining inhabitants as well as among themselves. 

As I dived further and further back into our family history, I found more and more well-documented Swiss ancestors. There’s a minor challenge in sorting out who’s who, because not only are names spelled phonetically (Gut – Guth – Gutt – Guttan – Good is all the same) and quite often diminutives are used, so you need to know that in Swiss German Joggeli is Jakob and Welti is Walter, for instance. Women also sometimes have the suffix -in added to their surname (Guthin, wife or daughter of Mr Guth). 

Following some of these individuals back even further brought me to a single village in the canton of Zurich, not really far from our present homes, and eventually all the lines converged into just two couples who lived in the second half of the sixteenth century. 

Fridli Wydler – what a wonderful name! – (1566-1648) married at nineteen and fathered nineteen children that we know of. Eighteen of them were legitimate. His first wife died in 1604 giving birth to her tenth child, his mistress bore him a child in July 1605, and he then married another woman who gave birth to his twelfth child in December 1605. This was followed by another seven. There’s an age gap of thirty-six years between the youngest and the oldest. Presumably, he must have had income from somewhere, but apart from siring children I can find no record of his occupation. I think he was probably a farmer. Most of his children survived, married, and had children of their own so it isn’t surprising that so many lines lead back to Fridli Wydler.

The other gentleman whose name keeps popping up among the great-great-grandfathers is Hans Gut. We know quite a lot more about him, so first a little background.

Tax records have been kept scrupulously in Switzerland for many centuries and provide a surprising amount of information, so we know that a certain Rudi Guttan (Rudolf Gut), born in 1370 in Obfelden/ZH, had at least six children and was paying taxes on his farm, called the Meyerhof, in the village of Ottenbach in 1412. Rudi’s son Welti (Walter) and his grandson Klaus (Niklaus) continued to pay taxes on the same farm from 1450 to 1493. Klaus had two sons, Hans (Johannes) and Heini (Heinrich), who paid the taxes between 1505 and 1517. 

It would seem that Heini stayed at home and ran the farm while Hans went off to find adventure in the Swiss army. In 1513 he was a sergeant in the military march and siege of Dijon, Burgundy, by the troops of the Old Swiss Confederation, and in 1515 went to fight in the historic battle at Marignan in Italy where the Swiss were routed by the French (this was the last battle the Swiss ever fought on foreign territory, though there were a few internal skirmishes over the next few centuries). 

Hans survived all his battles and obviously did well as a consequence of his military exploits, as on his return he bought the large Jauch farm at Knonau in 1517, as well as paying tax jointly on the Meyerhof. 

He lost his second son, Junghans Gutt in 1531 in the religious battle at Kappel am Albis under the leadership of the Swiss Reformer, Ulrich Zwingli, against the Catholics. Zwingli was also killed in this battle. 

Hans figures in the records as “Military Hans”, and died between 1536 and 1544. I can find no information about his brother Heini, who seems to have died without issue, so the Meyerhof farm remained in the hands of soldier Hans’ two remaining sons – another Hans born in 1495 and Heinrich born in 1500. 

This is the Hans Gut– often referred to as Judge Hans Gut, because he served as a provincial judge in Maschwanden bei Ottenbach for the district of Knonau – to whom all lines lead back. Either his wife or his mother had the unusual name of Marignons.

Judge Hans Gut had eight sons and three of these – Peter, Andreas and Paul – turn out to be ancestors of my daughter, as their descendants inter-wed. Untangling the births, marriages and deaths during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was something like those puzzles we used to get where you have several anglers with their lines tangled and you have to sort out who has caught which fish. The surnames Gut, Wydler, Meier, and one or two others, constantly recur: families were very large, and the village wasn’t. The same Christian names are also used over and over again, but fortunately there are some clever people on the internet genealogy sites who have figured it all out, so as they quoted their sources I’m pretty sure I have finally got it sorted.

Once again, during the process I learnt a lot of history. 

The three Gut brothers in our tree appear to have been Anabaptists, especially Andreas who was the leader of the local Anabaptist community. This is interesting because their grandfather had fought with Zwingli, who was strongly opposed to the Anabaptists and even persecuted and executed them (by drowning – ironically and cruelly referred to as “their last baptism”). And as the idea of a division between religion and state was unheard of at the time, I don’t think their father would have been allowed to be a Judge if he had been an Anabaptist.

I was saddened to read the accounts of how badly the Anabaptists were treated by their countrymen who claimed to be Christians but it’s nothing new – nowadays this ugly face of intolerance wears the mask of identity politics. My first impression had been that the Swiss who emigrated to the Palatinate had done so chiefly for economic reasons, but as I looked at the events during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries I realised that religion must also have played its part. Some of those who travelled up the Rhine stopped and settled on the way, and these include some of my daughter’s forebears. Others continued, spreading out as far as Russia and the Ukraine to the east, or undertaking the perilous journey to the New World to the west. 

The following was posted by Axel Gut (Canada) in 2011:

“During a cantonal census of Zurich in 1634, seventeen GUT families were recorded, all of them from Ottenbach parish and the five surrounding villages. When the Anabaptists or Dunkards appeared in the Zurich cantonal area, many GUT families were involved from the beginning as they were during the uprising in the Zurich lowlands around 1550.

At that time, a Melchior GUT was recorded as a Dunkard and under pressure of opposition, emigrated from the Zurich area to the village of Finsterthuelen. From this Melchior GUT probably originate all the Mennonite GUTs/GOODs in Germany and America.

The persecution of the Anabaptists in Switzerland resulted in large emigration out of the country. A great grandson of this Melchior GUT by the name of Jakob GUT [born 1639] was arrested as a Dunkard in 1660, taken to prison in Bern Canton, and together with ten comrades, shipped down the Rhine River and out of Switzerland. Jakob with his wife Barbli settled in Kraichgau in northwest Wuerttenberg, Germany.

Many GUT families also emigrated to the Alsace and the Rheinpfalz/Palatinate [Southwest Germany], where the Thirty Years War [1618-1648] devastated the area. After the war, settlers from other parts of Germany and Switzerland were attracted to help repopulate the area. Then in 1674 and 1675 the French invaded the area. Again from 1688 to 1689 the War of the Palatinate occurred, and the French General Melac laid waste to the whole area, making it almost uninhabitable. People were driven from their homes in the dead of winter. In addition the people were taxed excessively, so that the German Princes could emulate the French court by building palaces and gardens. The religious persecutions took many forms. The Electors-Rulers of the Palatinate changed their religions four times in as many reigns. With each change the people were expected to follow the lead of their rulers. An extremely cold winter in 1709 brought much suffering and was the last straw for many.

Did the GUT/GUTHs arrive from Switzerland as settlers in the Palatinate and did they, as did many others, find life there unbearable, and left?”  

(This last sentence links with my post From the Welsh Border to the Palatinate.