Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Six Zweifel Brothers (1) - Glarus

Part 1 - From Switzerland

One of my ancestral lines is the Zweifel family from Linthal in Canton Glarus, Switzerland. When my Great Great Grandfather, Frederick Roth, came to America in about 1880, he would be settling in an area already populated by many from his home land. Soon he was married to Maria (or Mary) Zweifel. While he had just arrived in this new land, she was born here and grew-up in post Civil War America.

In 1853 and 1854, six brothers, at least one of which had a family, came to the United States and settled in New Glarus, Wisconsin. They hailed from "old" Glarus, a province in Switzerland and were part of a greater migration that created a "Swiss Colony" in America. These Swiss immigrants had many similarities to other European groups that came over but the way they did it, as an organized operation, was not so common.

The Port of Le Havre, France in 1841. Le Havre was an important emigration
port for Germans coming to America. Over 1/2 million German immigrants
sailed from Le Havre in the 19th Century with most landing in New York.
Some of the Zweifel brothers came through Le Havre.
Growing up in small town Wisconsin in the 1960's and 70's you could still find a few "old-timers" who spoke with an accent. These were the last of a group of European immigrants who filled-up middle America beginning in the 19th century and lasting right up to the beginning of the second world war. The pace of settlement in Wisconsin and other parts of the Northwest Territory was staggering. In the early 1830s there were just a handful of settlers in southern Wisconsin and most of those were located on major waterways like Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River. Those that ventured inland were usually tappers or miners and mostly male. Indian tribes were around and the federal government was still surveying and laying out townships. Just 20 years later by the early 1850's much of the land had been purchased. Some of these purchases were by speculators who would flip the properties but increasingly, the land was purchased by men and families intent on settling down and farming. Most of the earliest to arrive were easterners of colonial descent but they were soon joined by a new class of people from central and northern Europe who would come in waves starting as early as the 1840's.

Canton Glarus

We think of Switzerland as a wealthy place with breathtaking scenery, idyllic farms, fast railroads, stealth banking and precision industry. That is the Switzerland of today but prior to the 20th century the country was part of a much greater central European society. The people there faced many of the same challenges as the rest of the continent: shifting political boundaries, church vs state power struggles, ruling monarchs, serfdom and the slow change to a modern society.

Canton Glarus is an ancient land in western Switzerland. Legend has it that a Irish Monk named Fridolin arrived in the 6th Century, founded Sackingen Abbey and converted the locals to Christianity. German speaking people began to arrive in the area in the 8th Century and by the 11th Century, German language and culture was dominant. The abbey controlled the territory until the 1200's when it was claimed by the Hapsburgs. From that time forward until the rise of Napoleon, the area was under the the direct or indirect control of the Holy Roman Empire, though there was some local autonomy. The Linth river and the deep river valley form most of the habitable land in Glarus. The valley is surrounded by high mountains that can reach to over 11,000 feet.

An economic downturn in the early part of the 19th Century would lead the government in Glarus to establish the Glarus Emigration Society, which would help local citizens settle in the new world. In early 1845, they sent two men to America to find a suitable location, purchase land and prepare for the first settlers. They scouted locations throughout the Midwest before finally settling on almost 1300 acres in south-central Wisconsin. After a long journey fraught with mishaps, the first 108 settlers arrived in August of 1845. Thus the "Swiss Colony" of New Glarus was born. The initial success of the colony led many others to join the migration. Eventually, the Swiss immigrants would settle, not only in New Glarus but also in the surrounding towns and bordering counties, creating a large Swiss population the in southern part of the state.

Linthal and the Linth River Valley in Canton Glarus, Switzerland.

The Zweifel family hailed from Linthal, a town in the southern part of Glarus. They would not be among the earliest immigrants to New Glarus but based on the success of those that went before them, six brothers would venture to America about 10 years later. Zweifel ancestors and other allied families have been traced back to the 1500's. The earliest confirmed ancestor was Bernhard Zweifel who was born in 1555. Another, unconfirmed source goes back two more generations to the 1400's. They list Fridolin Zweifel (no dates) as the father of Hans Zweifel (b.1498?). Hans is then listed as the father of Bernhard. It is unclear, however if these two generations are correct as there was also a Fridolin and Hans listed right after Bernhard.

Bernhard was married to Elizabeth Fuerstenauer and they had a son Fridolin (b.1578, d.1656). Fridolin must have had some prominence in the village. He was noted as a local councilman and also an overseer of church land. He was also married three times. In 1603 he married Maria Zuercher and they had two children. In 1609, he married to Anna Truempy and they had one child. Finally, in 1615 he married Elizabeth Stuessi (b.1582, d.1650) and they had eight children, including a son Hans Heinrich (b.1622, d.1662). Hans was a military man. He was a Captain and a commanding officer of the four Protective States for the Abbot of Saint Gallen in Wil, a town north of Glarus. He married Rosina Elmer (b.1627, d.1702) in 1644. She was the daughter of Rudolph Elmer (b.1572, d.1670) and Anna Elsiner (b.1573, d.1661). The Elmer's were dressmakers in Linthal. Hans and Rosina's third born was Johann Rudolf Zweifel (b.1657, d.1727).

Johann Rudolf was noted as a councilman. He married Sabina Stuessi (b.1667, d.1745) in 1688. She was the daughter of Niklaus Stuessi and Sara Wild. Johann and Sabina had 11 children including their third born, also known as Johann Rudolf (b.1693, d.1755). Johann Rudolf Jr. was a farmer and married Anna Zweifel (b.1705, d.1772) in 1722. She was the daughter of Adam Zweifel (b.1668) and Elsbeth Voegeli (b.1674, d.1712). Johann and Anna were almost certainly related and probably cousins. They had seven children and their second born was Adam Zweifel (b.1726, d.1794). Adam was also a farmer and married Rosina Voegeli (b.1736, d.1801) in 1757. She was the daughter of Jost Voegeli and Rosina Zweifel. Adam and Rosina had nine children. Their fourth born was Johann Heinrich Zweifel (b.1764, d.1835). Johann, was a farmer and in 1787 he married Barbara Zweifel (b.1763, d.1807). She was the daughter of Heinrich Zweifel and Anna Thut and once again, Johann and Barbara were probably cousins. They had eight children including their second born also named Johann Heinrich (b.1787, d.1862).

The Immigrant Generation

Johann Heinrich Jr. married Ursula Zweifel (b.1794, d.1870) in 1813. She was the daughter of Captain Johann Rudolf Zweifel and Anna Schiesser. Johann Heinrich was noted as a farmer and a painter and he was drafted into a battalion that was sent to fight Napoleon (probably in the campaign of 1815). Johann and Ursula had 13 children:
  • Johann Heinrich (b.1814, d.1853) who married Margaret Siegrist in 1841.
  • Johann Rudolf (b.1817, d.1883) who married Anna Zweifel in 1842.
  • Adam (b.1819, d.1900) who married Verena Durst in 1847 and Louisa Figi in 1874.
  • Anna (b.1820, d.1839).
  • Fridolin (b.1823, d.1879) who married Regula Oswald in 1854.
  • Peter (b.1824, d.1912) who married Barbara Zweifel in 1869.
  • Albrecht (b.1826, d.1957).
  • Jost (b.1827, d.1911) who married Verena Zopfi in 1854 and Katherine Schuler in 1888.
  • Bernhard (b1829, d.1922) who married Barbara Kundert in 1860.
  • Barbara (b.1831, d.1909) who married ? Schiesser in 1856.
  • Niclaus (b.1834, d.1857)
  • Ursula (b.1836, d.1838)
  • Anna (b.1840, d.1882) who married Johann Rudolf Zweifel in 1860.
Six of the brothers: Adam, Fridolin, Peter, Albrecht, Jost and Bernhard would come to America in 1853 and 1854 and settle in the area around New Glarus, Wisconsin. They would be leaving the Linth Valley in Canton Glarus; a place that had been home to their family for over 400 years.

A Birds Eye View of New Glarus About 1860.
In 1833 the Township that would eventually become New Glarus was surveyed and by 1835 land sales had begun. At that time there were only a few squatters in the area. In 1845, the Emigration Society purchased the first 1200 acres from the federal land office in Mineral Point, Wisconsin and shortly thereafter, the first settlers arrived. Almost immediately, a school was started and by 1846 a second group of immigrants would arrive. The Village of New Glarus was platted in 1851 with streets named after those in Glarus, Switzerland. In 1854, 10 years after the first arrivals, the contract with their sponsor, Canton Glarus was over. New Swiss immigrants would continue to arrive and settle throughout Green County and beyond. This would include a large group from Canton Bern. The nearby town of Monticello would also be founded by Swiss and there would be a major Swiss presence in the county seat of Monroe.

About this same time, just 10 years after the first families emigrated from Glarus Switzerland to New Glarus, Wisconsin, the six Zweifel brothers would join the migration. It is unclear exactly why they decided to leave their home at Linthal in northern Canton Glarus. Perhaps they were affected by the economic hardships of the time, they may have heard of the opportunities in the new world or maybe they were just looking for adventure. The tradition in Glarus was to split the father's land holdings between the male children. The brother's father, grandfather and great grandfather had all farmed in Linthal. It may be that the allotments of land were getting too small to sustain the families and the promise of larger tracts of land in America could have been enough to draw them west.

Part 2, the lives of the six Zweifel Brothers in America can be found here . . .


  1. Thank you for posting this! I think we are related somehow. I have many Wichsers, Zweifels, Voeglis, Thuts, and Heftis from Linthal in my genealogy line, but I know very little about them.

    1. Carrie,

      Thanks for visiting and reading, I am sure we are related as I think most in the US with links to New Glarus or Linthal are. In addition to the six brothers, there were at least two other Zweifels, probably cousins that came over to New Glarus around the same time. I have not researched the other families that you mentioned but many of them do show-up in my family lines. Good luck with your family search.

  2. Greetings from Alberta, Canada. Three Zweifel clans that I know of in Alberta. One group near Lloydminster had eleven sons, and they still live there. Another was David Zweifel, who played for the Edmonton Symphony. My clan came from Zweifel (Obegg then Brügetz) who married Marguerite Schiesser (Samiklausen).Andreas settled near Stettler,
    Alberta, and two brothers Jost and Jacob are in the Stettler Cemetary.
    Their sister Regula Schiesser who married Rudy Junker is buried in
    Long Beach, as both Andreas and Regula retired there. Andreas changed his name to Andrew Sheaser (to Americanize) and his direct
    family still live on Monroe Street in Minneapolis. Andrew was my grandfather Henry Zweifel's Uncle. Andrew divorced ca. 1923, due to
    his second wife's claim that he was a bigamist and that he never did divorce Bertha Schulz. Andrew's two children Margie and Andrew did have contact with my grandfather (their cousin) in the 1940's and 1950's.
    I have not had contact since.
    Yes, Andrew did immigrate to Wisconsin as a cheesemaker, but he ended up surveying Western Canada (Alberta) after going to the Yukon Gold Rush. He had already left his wife Bertha.
    If any of this helps, let me know. Otherwise, it is part of the entire clan's legacy. Norman Zweifel (grandson of Henry Zweifel)
    p.s. I visit Linthal quite often, and had a trip planned for 2017, but it didn't work out. Love to hike and spend a few days in Brügetzhaus.

    1. Norman,

      This is good stuff, thanks for stopping by, reading and sharing. I will see if I can figure out the relationship but I do know there were a lot of Zweifels coming out of Linthal.

    2. Not sure if you will see this but my great, great, great grandfather was/is Henry Zweifel

  3. Hello from Richmond, VA. I have a Zweifel in my family but getting information about his ancestors has proven to be quite a challenge. his name was Auguste Zweifel, born about 1834 in Linthal, Glarus. Somehow, it seems he ended up in Paris, living with and possibly adopted by a Barrier family. He eventually made his way to Memphis, TN with his daughter Claire. There he operated a hotel. Claire is a great grandmother of mine and passed in 1940 near Chattanooga, TN. I'd be thrilled to get any info. Thanks to anyone who can help.

    1. Raoul,

      Thanks for visiting and reading my blog. There seems to have been many Zweifels that came out of the Linthal area. I was lucky in that someone did research on the six brothers (my line) that came to New Glarus, Wisconsin. I wish I could help you out but I don't have much information beyond that. Good luck in your search.

  4. Pertaining to the note about Auguste Zweifel, I should have included an email address.

    1. If anyone is reading this and can help Raoul with his search, please contact him - thanks.

  5. I descend from Bernhard and Elizabeth through their son Peter. This is marvelous work. Anything else you can add about my line would be appreciated. Thanks

    1. Sorry for the late response, thanks for visiting and sharing. I will look at my info and if I find anything, I will post it here.