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Genealogy in Switzerland – A Longenecker Family Search
I recently visited Langenau, Bern, Switzerland and spent two days immersed in all things Langenegger. My wife and I arrived at Langnau Railway Station on June 25, 2004, exhausted from a long flight from San Francisco. As soon as we stepped out of the railway station, we were immediately struck by the unique character of this area.
Outside the railway station are the remains of a cobblestone road, now patched with asphalt. We saw beautiful Swiss houses and buildings everywhere – many of them hundreds of years old – and colorfully decorated with pink and red begonias placed in flower boxes under every window. Emmental, we later discovered, is a wonderful region of covered bridges, friendly people, Swiss clocks and church spiers with bells, jingling cowbells – just what you’d expect from Switzerland.
On our way to our hotel in Bareu we noticed how friendly and polite the locals were – stopping to allow us to cross the road and smiling as we went along with a friendly “Hello” or “Guten Morgan”. The city is lined with long stone tanks sprinkling water from a well at one end and a drain at the other. They look like stone horse tanks. These are available for those who want to drink cold well water.
After we settled into our room at the Landgathof Hotel Adler, the owner kindly invited us for a short ride into the countryside where we saw more beautiful houses and pastures. After we got back we asked some locals in the hotel restaurant about Langenegger Farm and they got a good laugh. It turns out there are a lot of Langeneggers and we didn’t know the names of the people who lived in the original house we came to see.
The hills rise about 1200 feet above the valley floor and are incredibly green with grass and forested areas. Langnau is small – maybe three or four long blocks and the hills are very close. Black and white cows break the lawn and make wonderful tinkling noises as they graze with bells around their necks. The high-pitched bells worn by sheep and goats mingle with the clunk-clunk bong-bong of cow bells and make a delicious backdrop to the scene. This is the last sound as we drift off to sleep under a feather duvet on our first night in Langnau.
The birds woke us up to the wonderfully green world that is Langnau in summer. We had a wonderful breakfast of homemade bread and jelly provided by our host, Stephen. We had hoped to go to the church, but found that our information was wrong and arrived too early. Instead we started our walking tour of Langnau early. Langnau is a small town and we wandered all the main streets around noon after taking a break for lunch to share a small cheese tart and apple pastry from a small shop in the center of town. By then the local museum had opened. It is housed in one of the oldest houses in Langnau and is a great opportunity to see the inside of one of these magnificent buildings and see all the fancy additions made by the builders. It is also a great museum with many permanent and rotating exhibits showing the history of Langnau and its inhabitants.
The museum’s docents have lived in Langenau for over 70 years and know the Langenegger name well. She quickly found a book containing the Langenegger family crests – one for the people in the valley (Langenegger I) and one for those in the high hills (Langenegger Unter). She analyzed the name into Lange (long in English – also pronounced ‘long’ in German) and Neg (hill in English – pronounced ‘neck’ in German). I couldn’t confirm the word ‘neg’ anywhere – but that’s what she said. The book also includes a statement, “Ulrich, von Langnau, wanderte 1748 nach Pennsylvanien [USA] Aus (Faust 61)” which roughly translates to Ulrich Langenegger immigrating to Pennsylvania in the United States in 1748. This is our ancestor Ulrich Langenegger Sr. The book does not provide any further sources for this information. On the map, it is only a 30 minute hike up the hill from the Langenegger Unter Museum and Langneg Eye is about a mile downriver from Langnau. Unter had been owned by someone other than Langenegger for many years, we decided to take a closer look. The Eye property in the valley to see if we could at least get a picture of the house and maybe, if we were really lucky, Meet a distant relative.
Margaret and I walked along the river where many locals were taking a break from regular life to cool off. We were pleasantly surprised by the number of covered bridges in and around Langnau – all still in use. We even drove on one outside of Langnau.
As we reached the long road on our way to Longnegar’s house, two women came up from the river, and one of them spoke English. She told us we were in the right place and that the Langenegger family lived here. She offered to guide us to the right house among several houses and a group of buildings on the property. With a cheery German “woo hoo” she called out to those inside and introduced us to my 9th cousin who lived in the house where Ulrich Langenegger Sr. was born in 1664 (mentioned in the book on moving to Pennsylvania).
Our newfound cousins were gracious and welcomed us even though we had just turned up at their door after 250 years without a Christmas card! We had a small conversation about the family and looked at some of the information they had. Coincidentally, while we were in Langnau the sister-in-law of a neighboring couple was in Pennsylvania attending a Longnecker reunion. We exchanged contact information so that we could follow up on information that might be of use to them. They kindly offered us a cold drink from their well before we took a short stroll around the farm to take some photos. As it was unseasonably hot that day, the cows were in the cowshed. The milk from their cows is sold to local farmers’ coops and made into cheese. If you’re looking for some authentic Langenegger cheese, look for the Emmentaler variety because they make it there. It’s sold in the US simply as Swiss cheese – the kind with holes in it. I must admit it tasted much better in Langnau than in California.
The house is an easy hike up the river from Langnau and consists of the original house as well as some additional houses and outbuildings. I felt challenged to photograph the house on my own. It is a typical Swiss farm house with living room and barn under one roof. On one side is an earthen slope that leads directly to the attic and is used to store and use hay in the winter.
The canopy is tall by US standards but not as tall as I would expect in an area with a lot of snow. Most of the roof in this area is tile and includes a series of brackets about six inches high that hold the snow in the winter so it doesn’t all fall off at once. Some buildings had a simpler system consisting of just a bracket at the bottom of the roof with a four-inch pipe running the entire length of the house—apparently for the same purpose as the brackets on other buildings. Additionally, this system uses snow to insulate the roof from the cold. Another interesting thing about some roofs and houses – builders sometimes put their initials and date of construction on the roof using tiles of different colors. Others painted this information under the eaves or on the facade of the building.
The Langenegger House isn’t as fancy as some in town but is large and includes some fancy joinery that we saw repeatedly inside the museum, on the covered bridges and elsewhere in the area. The main structure seems to be large beams carefully joined together at the right angles so that they become stronger when more loads are put on them – and held together with wooden pegs. On a bridge near the town we saw metal strips that appeared to have been added later.
Farm business revolves around milk cows. Adjacent to the house was a large field of corn, and a well-kept garden which graced every house we saw in Switzerland. Along the road leading to the farm are a few cherry trees with mostly green fruit starting to turn pink in places. The rest of the field was seen lying in grass. My friend John Garland from Oklahoma would call a fence a “psychological fence” – not much of a barrier to an animal wanting to get out. We noticed that many of the fences appeared to be temporary and electrified so that the cows could easily be moved to fresh grass as needed. On the long train ride from Langnau we also saw an electric fence with solar panels high up in the mountains. Respecting the time and space of the current residents, we stopped only briefly.
We walked back to our hotel along the riverside and stopped to rest in the shade of an old covered bridge. We were again exhausted and happy to meet our distant relatives and see the old house.
Research: If you are researching the area, there is no genealogy information readily available in Langnau. The Record Office has records dating back to 1886, but does not release them without the permission of the persons named in the records, and the fees for doing so are very high. You will have much better luck in Bern where most of the Swiss records are. Almost always someone speaks English and record offices are no exception. The records are not computerized or indexed – but they are very neatly categorized by location and time frame. You have to tell them who, where and when you want to see them to get the right microfilm. Then it is an old-fashioned search using previously written records using unfamiliar styles and characters. There are lockers in the hallway outside the office and you have to keep your backpack, purse etc. there. It’s free and safe.
The Archives d’Itte de Bern is located at Falkenplatz 4, CH-3012 Bern, near the main train station. The third time I tried it was easy to find. The railway station is big and busy and has many levels. Find the elevator at one end of the station and take it all the way to the top. If you have difficulty, follow the student and university signs to find the elevator. Once you’re at the top, head towards the campus – the only way you can really go – and pass through two large university-looking buildings. Falkenplatz 4 is the first building on the right as you pass through the campus area. Just beyond the small park is a small street stand where students congregate for cheap and good sandwiches – get there early as sandwiches run out early in the afternoon. 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 franc per page – so bring plenty of cash so you can get everything you want. You can easily spend 50 francs in one afternoon depending on the record you want. I didn’t have time, but you might also want to check out these sources provided by the museum in Langnau. . .
Burn des Kantons
031/633 47 85
Fax: 031/633 47 39
3753 Oberhofen am Thunersee
033/243 24 52
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