Schwarzenburg

    The Swiss recognize the Schwarzenburg region of Canton Bern Switzerland as the "Heimat" or original home of the Hostettlers. The family name is still one of the most common in that region today. Schwarzenburgland is an area about twenty miles south of Bern, nestled among rolling hills, farms and hamlets. It's divided into the four "townships" of Ruschegg, Guggisberg, Albligen and Wahlern. Guggisberg and Wahlern each have a "hof" (or a cultivated garden with trees that is called "Hostett") and is recognized as the traditional home of the Hostettler family. About five miles southwest of Guggisberg, high on a steep elevation is a farm named "Hostetten" that has long been associated with the Hostettler family. Hostett is also the name of a small hamlet of farms in the commune of Wahlern, about two miles east of Schwarzenburg. Family names were adopted around 1400 (even though there is proof that the name Hochstetter is found to have existed as early as 1290 in Germany and Austria) so those coming from Hostett or Hostetten could have come to be called Hostettler as settlers from those areas.


(photo by Traugott Stoll, Farnacher, Riedstätt)


    A typical view in the Schwarzenburgerland area of Switzerland. Here among these hills and valleys is where the Hostettler family originated, perhaps in the13th or 14th century. Some have remained, and others have left for other counties.


(1998 photo by DLH)


    The oldest house in the farming hamlet of Winterkraut, which lies 5 km southeast of Schwarzenburg, Switzerland. The father of the immigrant Jacob Hochstetler was an Anabaptist leader also named Jacob who was born and reared in Winterkraut. He fled his lifetime home in the late 1690s for fear of his life and took his family to Alsace (France). Although there is no definite proof, it is said that the father Jacob hid his Anabaptist brethren from their persecutors in this very house in a secret room under the living area. The room still exists, although it has not been opened for centuries. Many of our current relatives have visited this house and have seen the air holes and tapped the hollowness of the floorboards above wondering what secrets this room still holds...
    The Canton Bern telephone directory in 1989 listed nearly 100 Hostettlers (Swiss spelling), but none have a known genealogical connection to the 1738 American immigrant Jacob Hochstetler. Jacob was of the Swiss Brethren/Anabaptist group, and all known Hostettlers of that group left Switzerland for Alsace and the Palatinate (from which point Jacob continued on to America).
    Werner Gilgen was the local historian assigned by the Schwarzenburg, Switzerland tourist bureau to be the personal guide for the Hochstetler Heritage Tour group which visited in that area in July 1989. Gilgen (now in his 90s) says, "Now I want to tell you something else…about the origin of the name Hostettler. My mother's maiden name was Hostettler. She came from Nydegg, about four kilometers from my present home. She told me, and this is still claimed today, in 1349 the Plague was raging and the population was greatly decimated. So in Aekenmatt (a hamlet near Nydegg near the Schwarzwasser Bridge), there was only one person left, and as a result, only one light shone. Similarly, two kilometers northwest of there, in the hamlet of Hostettlen in Canton Freibourg (seperated from Aekenmatt by the deep chasm of the Schwarzwasser stream), there was also only one person. Thereupon the two persons found each other, got married and founded a family. Because the man came from the hamlet of Hostettlen, the family was called Hostettler. 'Hostettler' is the original form of the name, and the names Hofstettler and Hochstettler are variations. Is this a legend, or is there some truth to it? I don't know, but it seems believable. The Plague has caused much harm here and that is traceable." Gilgen wrote this in a letter which was translated by Virgil Miller.


(1998 photo by DLH)


    This tiny, beautifully preserved church is located precisely where today's detailed local map of the Schwarzenburg area indicates "Hostettlen". It was built in the eighteenth century presumably upon the exact site of where there was a church within a castle that existed here until well into the sixteenth century.
    Theoretically speaking, this spiritual spot of ground could very well be one of the many potential birthplaces of the Hochstetler name. Its existence and curious connection to our family illustrates how integral we are to Swiss history. The area surrounding the Schwarzenburg/Fribourg area of the Canton Bern is saturated with reference to our forefathers and remains an area of H/H/H significance.
    Inside this marvelous chapel is an altar over which hangs a picture depicting the 14 auxiliary Saints. On one visit a Hochstetler relative was able to enter the church (it was unlocked) and found this explanation of the characters depicted in it that were translated from Swiss-German to English. The painting is rare in that it is painted on wood and is supposedly an exact reproduction of an equal painting that hung in the original chapel that was housed in the former castle.
    Local history indicates that this original painting was created and displayed in memory of the matrimony (in the castle's chapel) of Jean Gottrau to Ursula d'Englisberg in the year 1590.
According to Daniel Guggisberg , an accomplished historian on the area, the district of Schwarzenburg historically was a neglected region jointly owned and administrated by Berne and Fribourg, neither one of which wanted to invest anything lest the other would benefit from it (Berne being Protestant and Fribourg Roman Catholic). Due to a chronic and devastating level of poverty, the Hochstetlers and vast numbers of the other families of the region were compelled to move about the land as migrant laborers, peddlers and the sort that often emigrated to America.
    To this day, in the other Bernese districts, if one refers to a Schwarzenburger (meaning a person who originated from that region) it brings to mind poverty, alcoholism, incest and the same type of negative, stereotypical associations that were used to disparage the Hatfields and McCoys of American Appalachian infamy. Fortunately, the Anabaptist faith allowed our predecessors an alternative escape from the desperation and hopelessness that plagued the disenfranchised wanderers of the area…and for this they were sought out and persecuted…