Monday, March 7, 2011

Schwab Family, Siselen, Switzerland

I gave my Schwab line only brief mention in my introductory post, so I want to get back to them.  I confess that I have not given this line as much attention because it was so easy to achieve my initial goal of tracing this line back to Europe.  After all, my great-grandfather, Alexander Schwab, and his siblings were all born in Siselen, Switzerland.  Alex was born May 31, 1871.  My great-great-grandfather, John Jacob Schwab was born in Siselen in 1843 and his wife, Maria Schwab (no relation) was born there in 1838.  He emigrated in 1880 and stayed for a while with one of his brothers, John Frederick, who had come to the US in the 1870s and was living in Pennsylvania. In 1882, my great- grandfather Alex immigrated with a group from Siselen going to Germania, PA.  He and his brother, Fred, took a ship from Le Havre, France.  In 1883, the rest of John Jacob’s family came, staying in Renova, PA.  In 1888, they moved to Cameron, PA.

One generation further gets much more difficult without polishing up my German and is complicated by the fact that looking for John (or Johann) Schwab in Siselen is a little like looking for John Smith in the US.  The family kept good records, so I’m reasonably confident in the information they had stating that my great-great-great grandparents were John Benedict Schwab, born 1808, died 1875 and Elizabeth (possibly maiden name Schwab, but family records aren’t clear on this) from Siselen.  He was Der Salzmann, the government’s salt distributor, for his district and he ran a tavern. The family records offer no further details of the family prior to John Benedict.

I often wonder what drove the family’s decision to leave Switzerland.  About the time my great-great grandfather John Jacob was born, Switzerland adopted a federal constitution and the country was well on its way to becoming the prosperous country it is today.  On the other hand, what I found at pinpoints the timeframe and suggests a possible reason:           

Population growth and famine were two important factors which forced hundreds of thousands of Swiss to emigrate during the 19th century. In particular there were waves of emigration in 1816-7, 1845-55 and 1880-85.

As a result of new farming methods, fields were fenced off as private plots, where previously everyone in the community had been able to graze their animals on common land.  The arrival of the railways in the middle of the century meant that grain could be imported cheaply. As a result, farmers switched to more lucrative and less labour-intensive areas, like dairy farming. Thousands of landless labourers were forced to look for employment elsewhere, and migrated to the towns and their factories - or emigrated, often to America.

I know I’ll need to buckle down and work on Swiss sources at some point, but, uh, not today.  I have a sudden urge for some chocolate.


  1. INTERESTING.............
    My name is Bernard Schwab. I was born in 1936 in Eastern German speaking France (Alsace-Lorraine / Elsass-Lotharingen)
    I came to the States in 1963 and reside in California.
    I could trace back my ancestors to SCHWAB BENEDIKT, born in Siselen Switzerland in 1679 and died in Lorentzen, Alsace in 1745.
    The town of Siselen today has still many SCHWAB’s living there.
    We just might be related, who knows.
    My email is

    Hope you had a wonderful Christmas.


    1. Interesting, the migration to Alsace. It would have been about the time there were notable tensions between Catholics and Protestants so maybe it because of religion.

      It could be we are related. I haven't pursued my family history very deeply beyond the US (yet). Someday I'd like to get back to Siselen to look at the church records.

  2. I have also been researching the Schwab family from Siselen in the early 1800's. My 3rd great grandfather was Samuel Schwab. He was born in Siselen in 1845. He had a sister named Maria Schwab that was born in 1838. Their father was Bendicht Schwab, who was born in Siselen on May 25, 1803. There seems to be several Schwab families in Siselen for such a tiny town!

  3. My great-great-grandmother, Maria Schwab, was born Apr 17, 1838 according to family records. so it's possible we're distant cousins. Does this birth date match the recirds you have?

    When I visited Siselen in 1975, I looked in a phone book. There were too many Schwabs to count and the cemetery was filled with Schwab headstones.

  4. We could be cousins. I did not have a specific birth date for Maria Schwab other than 1838. Do you know if she had any siblings or what the names of her parents were? I would be happy to share the information I have with you.

  5. The only clue I have so far on Maria's parents is a Family Search record with a Maria Schwab (father Benedicht) marrying a Jakob Schwab (father Hans) in 1865 in Bern (near Siselen).
    My family records show Maria Schwab (father unknown) married John Jacob Schwab (father John Benedict, mother Elizabeth) in 1865. It could be a match.

  6. I would be happy to send you the history I have. It sounds like it could be the same Maria. My email address is If you would send me an email, I can respond with the notes I have. If you can add anything, it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.