The definition of serendipity is the occurrence of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. I’ve experienced serendipity three times since I embarked on my search for ancestors…lucky me.
Recently, my husband Dave and I took a Viking River Cruise to celebrate our fiftieth wedding anniversary. It started in Amsterdam and ended in Lucerne, Switzerland. I had always wanted to know from where my grandfather’s Schwegler family had come. The cruise down the Rhine River was everything we thought it would be. Life aboard the longship was relaxing if we had stayed on board. Instead, every day we stopped at an interesting city. We visited windmills, cathedrals, castles, German pubs, the Black Forest, and more. Our sore feet were a testament to all of the historical sites we saw.
I would love to tell you about these wonderful sites and fantastic food we tasted but that is not part of this story. Rather, I will tell you about the beautiful city of Lucerne and the serendipity I experienced.
We arrived mid-morning to a lovely day and immediately went on a walking tour of Old Town Lucerne. There we saw the Chapel Bridge that straddles the Ruess River. Regrettably, much of the bridge was destroyed by fire in the 1990s. It was rebuilt in the original style with the water tower remaining from the initial construction. It’s a magnificent bridge and if viewed from the area of the train station, one can see Mount Pilatus behind it. As we strolled over the bridge, I wondered if my great-great-grandfather had ever walked over the original bridge. He was born in Wolhusen, not too far from Lucerne.
The following day we awoke to overcast skies with the threat of rain. That was disappointing as our trip included a cruise on Lake Lucerne, a ride on the steepest cogwheel railroad in the world to the top of Mount Pilatus and a ride down the mountain in a gondola. We gathered at the pier not too far from the train station and waited for our guide. As I looked around, I wondered again if my grandfather had stood at the edge of the lake or walked the streets of Lucerne. I wondered if he and his children had traveled down the Ruess River as they emigrated from Switzerland. Of course, the city has changed, but many of the old buildings were there in the mid-1800s when he lived in the area.
It was a raw day to be taking a tour. We headed inside the boat and settled in seats to watch the shoreline go by. Our tour guide sat next to me at our table. Occasionally we would venture outside to take a picture or two. The tremendous thing about all the tours we took with Viking was we had headsets, and our guides were able to explain the history of the place and point out items of interest. We didn’t have to huddle around them hoping to hear what they had to say. I was intent on what our tour guide was describing to us when I happened to look down at her name tag. No joke, my breath caught as I saw her name was SONJA SCHWEGLER. Oh my gosh! I had never encountered anyone, other than my cousins, who possessed the last name of Schwegler. I can’t tell you how excited I was as I informed Sonja that my mother’s maiden name was Schwegler.
Of course, Sonja had a job to do, but she was so kind to spend some time with me at the top of Mount Pilatus after lunch. We shared some of our family information. I found out that Sonja was married to Martin. She was from Austria, and Martin’s family was from Willisau, the community next to Wolhusen where my Schwegler’s lived. Even though it was cloudy and snowy on top of Mount Pilatus, the clouds cleared enough for Sonja to point out the area where the Schwegler’s came from and where they live today. She related how poor the area was in the 1800s. The first-born sons inherited the land, there were few jobs, and many people were forced to leave Switzerland. I wondered if that was what happened to my great-great-grandfather Joseph.
As we descended the mountain in the gondola, we could hear the tinkle of the bells on the cows below. The bells, an iconic symbol of Switzerland, caused me to wonder if Joseph farmed and put bells on his cows.
After we had left the mountain, we toured through the beautiful country-side of Switzerland. Rolling hills, with villages perched on their edge, were picturesque. At different points, we could view the tops of the Swiss Alps peaking over the hills and smaller mountains. We visited a dairy where the farmer explained the workings of his farm. Switzerland has done a great job of preserving their family dairy farms.
We ended the day with a tour of a company that produces cheese and we even helped make cheese. Afterward, we enjoyed a fondue dinner. It was a great, tiring day. The next morning, we left for home.
Sonja and I exchanged email addresses and promised to stay in touch. We have no idea how Martin and I are related but I know there is a connection. My serendipitous meeting with Sonja and what she shared with me, have inspired in me the confidence to begin my search for ancestors in Switzerland.
And there is a rest of the story. To read Joseph’s story click here and you will discover what I learned about the Schwegler’s in Switzerland.