My great-great-grandfather, Josef Antonius Aloisius Schwegler was born in the little village of Wolhusen, Canton Lucerne, Switzerland on 11 February 1829 almost one hundred and ninety years ago. His father Petrus Josephus Antonius, a shoemaker, was married to Barbara Meyer. The little family consisted of three boys and four girls, Barbara Gertrude, Ana Maria Catharina Elisabetha, Petrus Paulus, Maria Josepha, Maria Josepha, Casparus, and Josephus Antonius Aloisius. Maria Josepha, born in 1822, most likely died in 1824, before her sister, also named Maria Josepha, was born in 1825. Of the seven, Josef was the youngest child.
During the 19th-century poverty, hunger and the lack of job prospects drove many rural Swiss to the cities or to seek their fortunes in America.¹1 Being the youngest boy, Joseph would not inherit any land his father may have owned, so he left his hometown of Wolhusen for the big city of Lucerne. No longer would he hear the everyday tinkle of the bells on the cows as they moved in the meadows or the tapping of the hammer as his father made shoes.
It is in Lucerne that Josef most likely met his wife, Maria Aña Josepha Walburgis Bieri, my great-great-grandmother. Aña, as she was called, was born on 17 November and was baptized on 18 November 1831 in the beautiful Catholic Church of St. Leodegar in Lucerne. She was born to Josephus Bieri and Walburgis (Studer) Bieri of Entlebuch.
Josef and Aña married on 13 September 1858 in the Church of St. Leodegar. Joseph was a porter for the railroad, and Aña was a seamstress. Lake Lucerne was a favorite destination for people who could afford to travel for pleasure. Joseph assisted passengers at the railway station and handled the loading, unloading, and distribution of luggage and packages.
What a joyful day it was when Aña gave birth to their son, Julius, on 31 January 1859. As one life began, the other ended when Aña died the next day on the 1st of February. Aña and Joseph had only been married four-and-a-half months. Aña was twenty-seven years old.
Widowers didn’t stay single for very long in those days. With a small infant to raise and a job to put food on the table, Josef needed a wife and soon married Anna Brun on 22 October 1860. Their first son Franz Anton was born on 17 January 1862. Josef must have been very anxious during his son’s birth because of the memories of losing his first wife three years earlier. Franz was baptized the same day at the Church of St. Leodegar.
Anna Maria Elisabetha Brun was born in Schachen to Nicolas Brun and Josepha (Schúrman) Brun on 20 September 1839. Schachen is a town located between Wolhusen and Lucerne. She was twenty-two when Franz was born.
Sometime in the spring of 1863, Joseph and Anna decided to leave Switzerland. They left with their two children Julius and Franz and Joseph’s older brother Petrus (Peter). One would think that they would have taken a boat down the Ruess River, that runs through Lucerne, to the Rhine and eventually landing in Rotterdam. However, because Joseph was a porter for the railroad, the family traveled by rail to Bremen. The family was one of the forty-one percent of German and East European emigrants who left via the port of Bremen between 1850 and 1891.3 Traveling in steerage, the family left Bremen for Southampton, England, where they boarded the S. S. Hansa to New York. Four-hundred and eighty passengers shared the steerage area with the Schweglers.
There was little privacy in steerage and less room. “The ceiling height of the between-decks was usually 6 to 8 feet. The bunks, made of rough boards, were set up along both sides of the ship. Each bunk was intended to hold from three to six persons, and these were often called family bunks. The bunks had straw mattresses or mattresses stuffed with straw. Emigrants had to bring their own pillows, blankets, and other necessary bedclothes. Lice and flees thrived in this environment.” The average length of time to travel was forty-four days. The Schweglers arrived in New York on 20 July 1863.
So why did Joseph and Anna leave the country of Switzerland and emigrate to the country that was in the midst of a Civil War? Most likely because masses of people in Switzerland were reduced to pauperism between 1840 and 1860. A push for tourism in Switzerland began in 1863, but the economic impact of the increased tourism didn’t reach Lucerne soon enough to improve Joseph’s wages as a porter.
Joseph, Anna, Julius, Franz, and Petrus arrived in New York City on 20 July 1863. According to family lore, they went immediately to Centralia, Illinois. No deeds for land ownership have been found so it is possible that Joseph rented land to farm. While in Illinois, Anna gave birth to Joseph who was born on 17 May 1864. Anna died sometime thereafter. Once again, the family was without a mother.
In the fall of 1866, Joseph purchased land in Gasconade County, Missouri. It is here that he met his third wife, Anna (Fehner) Kalteweihr, a wealthy widow. They married 22 March 1867. Two sons, Hann and Benjamin were born to this union. Hann was born in 1867 and died in infancy. Benjamin was born in 1868.
Joseph died 28 February 1870. Julius did not get along with his step-mother Anna and moved out of her home as soon as he was able. It took until February of 1887 for Joseph’s estate to be finalized. Julius was twenty-seven years of age.
Sometimes there is truth in the stories that our elders tell. Julius always said that Joseph’s second wife Anna was not his mother. He was correct. What we didn’t know was that Joseph was married to three women, all named Anna.
Note: On the names…it’s amazing how names morph over time. Josef becomes Joseph, Aña becomes Anna, Petrus becomes Peter, and Franz becomes Francis and becomes Frank. Is it Schwagler or Schwegler? Is it Meyer, Mejer, or Meier? All of these names have appeared in records but are for the same people.
*Dave and I took a Viking River cruise down the Rhine River to celebrate our fiftieth wedding anniversary. We added a few days to Lucerne, Switzerland to the trip. Unfortunately, I didn’t know enough about researching genealogical records in Switzerland and really didn’t have the time to pursue family records while there. It wasn’t until we got home that I began to do some research. With the help of an archivist in the Lucerne Archives, who sent me the birth and marriage record for Joseph, I was able to piece together the family in Switzerland. Little did I know that the church that I took a picture of, from our boat trip on Lake Lucerne, was the church where Joseph married Anna Brun, and where Joseph and Francis were baptized. I wish I had known that before I went.
Petrus Josephus Antonius Schwegler (1796-?) m. Barbara Mejer (?)
Barbara Gertrude Schwegler (1816-?)
Ana M. Catherina Elisabetha Schwegler (1818-?)
Petrus Paulus Schwegler (1820-?)
Maria Josepha Schwegler (1822-1824)
Maria Josepha Schwegler (1825-?)
Casparus Schwegler (1827-?)
Josef Antonius Aloisius Schwegler (1829-1870)
¹1Switzerland in the 19th Century, https://www.eda.admin.ch/dam/PRS-Web/en/dokumente/der-bundesstaat-im-19-jahrhundert_EN.pdf