Saturday, October 24, 2009

An Entry NOT About Chickens

Believe it or not, i do have interests outside of the world of raising chickens. I know. Shocker!

One of those interests is genealogy. For whatever reason, something inside of me is absolutely fascinated by the study of family lines and histories and whatnot.

One item of interest that i have discovered is that in a particular one of my family lines (and incidentally a particular one of my husband's family lines - but that's a different point of interest and not yet fully explored), every one of the immigrants to the U.S. seems to have originated from a place called Canton of Berne, Switzerland.

I have also discovered three (so far) near-the-turn-of-the-last-century publications, outlining lineages within my family tree. These books are old enough that they are out of copyright and now available FOR FREE on Google Books. Google Books has become an awesome resource for genealogical research for me.

Sometimes, in these books, a footnote or an introduction will reveal interesting life details that add richness to the search.

Now to the real story (the actual point of this entry - if you're still reading):

This particular line of ancestors of mine were among the first Amish/Mennonite settlers in the United States. I know when you think of the Amish, you think of people who wear dark clothes and refuse to get involved in technology. But there's more to it than that. More specifically, their origination was much more simple. They desired to withdraw from the corruption of the world's ways and adhere to the beliefs and principles taught by the Bible. In the 1500s and 1600s, this was demonstrated by their refusal to participate in the current Catholic or Protestant church organizations.

The Council of Berne, Switzerland repeatedly resolved that the Amish, or the Swiss Brethren, as they were called, should be terrified into conforming to 'acceptable' religious practices. The government of that day actually arrested and imprisoned many of the leaders and elders of this group and put them in hard labor camps and "supplied with bad food."

When the Council's strategy was not effective against this group who did not believe in any kind of violent protest but also were very strong in their faith and "surrendered to His grace," the Council of Berne sometimes sent these elders into slavery or burned them at the stake. Several times, other European countries, and once, someone named, Lord Beatus of Berne, came to the rescue of the Brethren. Eventually, more than once, compromises were made, allowing the elders of the group to be released if they would leave the country and never return. Several groups settled temporarily in Holland, France, and Germany. And eventually, individuals began to migrate to the New World where they proved faithful to their beliefs and eventually propogated a goodly percentage of this country's population.

Now, as with anything, the continuation of an original conviction often does not reflect the beginning intent (if that made sense). And i don't want to be Amish. But i am happy to have descended from people who held true to their beliefs and did not waiver in the face of persecution. That's true conviction in my opinion.

There are a few stories of the proof of the settlers beliefs, and i love to read them because they remind me to be true. True to what you believe and to live for more than your own generation. Some of the first few of these settlers encountered truly horrific challenges in the New World and probably thought that all was lost. Still they were faithful to their beliefs, refusing to practice violence even to defend their own families. Some of them lost everything and nearly their own lives just on the trip over. But now, because they endured, here i am.

I hope my life proves worth their sacrifices.

*Most of the information here was gleaned from "A Brief Biographic Memorial of Jacob Hertzler and a Complete Genealogical Family Register" by John Hertzler, published 1885. You can find it at

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