The VarnBuhler family history
(the process of discovering a branch of the family tree)
by Ray VarnBuhler
The search for my ancestors began simply enough. I'd wanted to research my family history for a long time, and with my retirement from my job as professor at the University of the Pacific in May of 1998, I finally felt I had enough free time to do it. I began in August of that year, doing it as an occasional, part-time, fill-in activity as opposed to it being my main or all-consuming preoccupation. It wasn't long before it became more and more involving, requiring a lot of time-consuming and sometimes difficult research that took on the character of a quest, one that was fun and satisfying, yet at times very frustrating. It involved challenging detective work, a mystery (actually several mysteries) to be solved. Little by little the pieces of the puzzle came together, missing links in the chain were found, and a more complete picture emerged.
One of the things that was instrumental in initiating my interest in genealogy and therefore beginning this search was a woodcut by artist Albrecht Dčrer that I'd discovered in a book of his works many years before. It was a portrait of someone named Ulrich Varnbčler. It was the first time I'd ever seen my surname anywhere else, and it made me think about the whole idea of being linked to a chain of ancestors from the distant past and another part of the world. I wondered whether I might even be linked to the man in that portrait. I later learned he was an important government official in his time, and a good personal friend of Albrecht Dčrer, something indicated in the inscription on the woodcut.
The search process actually started much earlier, with research done by my son, Jan VarnBuhler, when he was a teenager. I don't recall what got him started on this project, but he contacted relatives, asked questions, and developed a pedigree chart. And thank goodness he did, because much of what he learned then, while there were relatives alive with memories and records, was invaluable information when I began my own search almost exactly 20 years later.
When I started, about all I "knew" was: my great grandfather was named Jacob, was from Germany, and someone long ago said he was a baron. With that rather scant information, I began with the goal of tracing only the paternal line of the family (the VarnBuhler name) back as far as possible. I wasn't even sure if the name I should be searching was VarnBuhler or VanBuhler, since all of the other relatives in the United States today are VanBuhlers.
I began by gathering a lot of information from the Internet that taught the basics of genealogy searches. Based on what I learned there, I started my search with census records. These were available at the regional branch of the National Archives and Records Administration in San Bruno (south of San Francisco), so I drove there (a 3 hour drive) on several occasions to patiently scroll through rolls of microfilm. I turned a crank on the microfilm machine for hours, looking in some cases at the names of virtually every single person living in the city of Detroit at the time. On my first visit I located Jacob in the 1900 census, in Ward 9 of the city of Detroit. It showed he had immigrated in 1854. It also showed his birth date which was just a year or two before that, so he had apparently come to America when an infant. That suggested he had come with his parents, so on my next visit I looked at the 1870 census, which had no index, trying to find his immigrant father. I looked first at Ward 9. Not there. Then Ward 10. Then 7 and 8. Then 1, 2, 3, 4,and 5. At the end of a long day, tired and about ready to give up, I gave Ward 6 a try (I'd been avoiding it because it was a very large Ward); and that's where I finally found his father Jacob. Or rather John, as that was what was given as his first name. The census record showed his wife Friederika, son Jacob, and daughter Catherina. It gave their ages and other information that would prove very useful. His occupation was listed as either "Tailor" or "Sailor" -- I couldn't tell whether the first (capital) letter was a "T" or an "S." I guessed Tailor, which later proved correct.
Most exciting, however, was that the census record showed where they had come from in Germany (except for Catherina, who was born in Michigan). The place was Wčrttemberg. I thought that was the name of a town or city, but looking at a map later that day I discovered it was not a town at all but a large region of southern Germany. It was a first step in learning a lot about history, and especially about Germany. Looking back, it is amazing how little I knew at the time.
Persistence had paid off. It's hard to explain the feeling that one gets when, after hours of patient and fruitless search, the name you have been looking for and had just about given up on finding is suddenly there on the page in front of you, along with new and/or useful information. It makes all the boring, eye-straining, back-tiring, brain-numbing work worthwhile.
I then began contacting, by phone, letter, or E-mail, repositories of vital records (birth and death, immigration and naturalization, etc.) such as the various divisions of the Michigan State Archives, the Great Lakes regional office of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA, in Chicago, which had federal government records for the Detroit area), the Wayne County Clerk, the Wayne County Probate Court, the Burton Historical Collection of the Detroit Public Library, and others. I paid for some searches to be made; all failed to find any record I requested.
I also sent a form letter to relatives, about 20 VanBuhlers, none of whom I knew and whose addresses I found on the Internet, asking if they could supply any information, or might be interested in helping to search in Detroit. I also asked them if they would let me know where they fit into the whole picture -- who their parents, grandparents, and children were, what branch of the family tree they were on. I received no reply; a few were returned as undeliverable.
At some point, after learning a little more about Jacob, I put in a second request (by phone) for his naturalization records to the Michigan State Archives -- which had already searched and found nothing. Persistence paid off again. This time they found Jacob's Declaration of Intent. It was very satisfying to have found something, and especially interesting to see my great great grandfather's own handwritten signature, something that made him seem more real than anything I'd discovered previously in my search. However, the information I'd hoped I might find -- his birthplace, or where he lived in Wčrttemberg, or even his birthdate, was not there. So while it was very satisfying to see it, to have a copy of it, it had little practical value for my search at the time.
I was getting nowhere fast (or, rather, slow). I decided to try the LDS (Latter Day Saints), knowing that they were known for having extensive genealogical records and several Family History Centers. I checked the Internet and was very surprised to find that there was a Family History Center (FHC) close to us (in Sutter Creek/Sutter Hill). I went, and began to learn how to use their computer programs to search for information. By using the International Genealogical Index program that can search for similar sounding surnames, and typing in VarnBuhler, I located over 70 VarnBuhlers (with different spellings) most of them in the town of Hemmingen in Wčerttemberg. I was surprised at how many there were, considering the distinctiveness of our name, but none listed were the specific people I was looking for. Still, as I continued to find many Varnbuhlers (or some spelling variation thereof), but no Vanbuhlers, I became more and more convinced that Varnbuhler was indeed the original name of the family in Germany, something I didn't know at the start of my search, but was essential to any long term search.
I figured I had located all the Varnbuhlers in the LDS database. Later, in some now forgotten source, I found the name spelled Varenbuehler, and I returned to the LDS computers and tried a search using that spelling. The result was quite unexpected, and one of those nice moments of shock and surprise that occasionally occur during a genealogy search. The program produced a long list of Varenbuehlers (and Vahrenbuehlers, and others) -- over 140 of them! All were from the 1600's and 1700's, and most were also in Wčerttemberg. Had I never tried that alternate spelling, I might have missed all of those VarnBuhlers entirely. Adding them to the others I had obtained earlier, and others found since, I ended up with a very long list of names to aid in my search, many of which were to prove useful and relevant later. The many different spellings of our name played an important role in the search in several ways as will become apparent.
One outcome of my visit to the LDS FHC was that I began to use a Research Log (on a form supplied by the LDS) to keep track of what records I had searched, what the microfilm numbers or book call-numbers were, what I had found or not found, etc. This became essential and invaluable as the search progressed and I searched more and more records. I also obtained from the LDS, for a very small fee, some of their Research Outlines, which are basically booklets that suggest how to successfully conduct a search relating to a specific area (e.g., Michigan, Germany), or how to conduct a search in general. These proved very helpful.
One of the women at the LDS FHC suggested I look at a several volume set of books available at the Sacramento Public Library called "Germans to America." Knowing what year my relatives came from Germany (which I did know from census records) I could look for them in the Index of the 1854 volume. If I found them there, it would show crucial information like what ship they came on, who was with them, what port they came from, where and when the arrived in America, their ages, and even possibly where they were from in Germany. So I visited the Sacramento Library, but I found no Varnbuhlers at all. I checked all possible spellings, even looked in the B's for the name without Varn or Van or even Von. There were many Buehlers, Buhlers, etc., but none were the people I was looking for.
I spotted another book on the shelf nearby: The Wčrttemberg Index (Vol. 3). It was a record of immigrants from Wčrttemberg, but again I was unable to find anything resembling our name.
I was not finding anything, so in late September I returned to the NARA in San Bruno to check the 1860 census. It was another unindexed census, meaning I had to look at many pages of names. I looked at Detroit's Wards 6 through 10, then 1 through 3, and finally found him in Ward 4. There he was listed as Jacob, not John as in the 1870 census. Even more interesting, and curious at the time, the surname was spelled FarnBuhler. It was lucky I even saw it as I scanned the list of names looking for V's. Despite those differences, it was obviously the same person, as his wife and children were the same. I reasoned that the F was a phonetic interpretation of the name by the census taker.
On one or another of my trips to the archives in the bay area I also visited the Sutro Library, which has an extensive collection of genealogical materials that were once at the central San Francisco library. I found nothing useful there either. On another trip I visited the LDS FHC in Oakland. It was a large genealogy research facility, and there I found all of the other volumes of the Wčrttemberg Index. However, in all of the 6 volumes and the thousands of names they contained, I once again could not find one resembling ours. Nor did I find anything else pertinent to my search.
I returned to the local LDS FHC, discussed my research-thus-far with the people there, did more hunting in their computer programs. I found listings for many records that I might pursue, records that held promise of furthering my search; they were available in Salt Lake City at the main Family History Library. Since I'd pursued many other leads with only limited success, and Salt Lake City was just a day's drive away (albeit a long days drive, 11 hours), I decided to go.
It was 6 day trip, in October, 1998. Four full days were spent at the library, from early in the morning (about 8 a.m. usually) until late evening, with only short meal breaks. The library is a vast, multi-storied, well-equipped genealogy research library, with the largest collection of family history records in the world. I was able to follow many leads, and search many many rolls of microfilm. I "failed-to-find" more than I "found," and I didn't find the main thing I was after (Jacob's place of origin), but what I did find made it well worth the trip.
Early on I located a series of Detroit City Directories (on microfilm); one was published for each year beginning in the mid 1860's and continuing through the mid 1930's. Each directory listed heads of households, their addresses, and their occupations. There was even a city map and a nearest-intersection guide so address locations could be pinpointed. Using these Directories (about 30 of them) I was able to follow the progress of the family as they moved, had children, changed occupations, etc. The Directories also contained facts about churches, cemeteries and similar potentially useful information.
During the late 1880's and early 1900's the two main spellings of our name, VanBuhler and Varnbuhler, were used in what appears to be an almost random manner. Listings of those names in the yearly Detroit City Directories were intermixed, with some of the family being in one part of the list as VanBuhlers, and others listed as Varnbuhlers. Eventually the spelling VanBuhler became, for reasons I'll probably never know, the one adopted by most of the family, the spelling all other relatives living in the United States carry today. My branch of the family tree is the only VarnBuhler branch in the USA, and that is because my father, Raymond Robert VarnBuhler, was the only one who decided to retain the "r" in Varn, allegedly because he was told by his father that it was the original name of the emigrants and of the ancestral family in Germany, something research has confirmed to be true. Actually, over 30 spellings of the name were found in various records and documents discovered during the family history research.
Another find, in a German name dictionary, was our name, spelled exactly like we spell it, Varnbčhler, with reference to its origins as a place name (Vahrenbčhl or Fahrenbčhl).
But none of those finds were the most useful or important. In my original searches in census records in California I had found (in the 1860 census) Jacob's surname spelled Farnbuhler. With that "F" in mind, and wanting to leave no stone unturned in my searches, I decided to look again at the 1854 volume of Germans to America, this time under the "F"s. To my surprise, I saw a Jacob Farhnbuller. The spelling wasn't much like Varnbuhler, to say the least, but this Jacob's age was correct, the year of immigration was correct, and he was from Wčrttemberg. I was quickly convinced that it was probably "our" Jacob. As it turned out it was. But -- he was alone. Friederika and infant Jacob were not with him.
The book gave the name of the ship, the arrival date in New York, etc.. The ship was the "Union," had departed from Havre, France, and had arrived at the port of New York July 3, 1854. I was then able to look up the actual passenger arrival record submitted by the captain upon arrival in New York. There was Jacob, and his surname was spelled with a V, not an F, so it was definitely the right person. But again, he was alone, without Freiderika or infant son Jacob.
Where were Freiderika and son Jacob? I hunted for all possible spellings in Germans to America and other multi-volume indexes of passenger lists and immigrants from Germany, but couldn't find them. Based on other information I had, I knew they must have come at, or at least near, the same time Jacob (senior) did. Why I couldn't find them remained a mystery that had me frustrated and baffled.
By then I knew quite a bit about Jacob, Friederika, their children, and even their grandchildren. But the thing I was really after the most -- and needed most to pursue the family in Germany prior to their emigration -- was the place, the specific town or city, that they had come from. And that still eluded me. I couldn't find any of the records that might show the place of origin (such as a death notice for Jacob, a birth or baptism record for Catharina, a death notice or marriage record for son Jacob, etc.). I found some of those records later, but none of them revealed the place of origin in Germany.
I'd checked just about everything I could find to check. With little else left, I turned to church records, which I knew would be difficult because I didn't even know what religion they belonged to or what church, and the ones most likely to yield results were written in German. I randomly picked a church, one that appeared to be well-established in Detroit and had records that covered the correct time period. That's when I got lucky. In the records (the Kirchenbuch, or Church Book) of St John's Evangelical Reformed Church, I found a one paragraph death record for Friederika, handwritten in undecipherable German script. I soon obtained a translation and happily learned that it contained both her birthplace (interpreted as "Beihingen") and maiden name (interpreted as "Rang"). Because the handwritten script was very difficult to read, I felt that I should later get another translation in order to confirm the first, especially of the important maiden name and the name of the town. Still, I at last had some very good information that could possibly help locate the family in Germany, and it was a very satisfying moment. Other parts of the entry contained helpful information too, but unfortunately it didn't reveal if Jacob came from the same place.
I followed up on that find by locating Freiderika's death record in the records of Wayne County. They confirmed the church record but contained no new information. Much later, back in California, I found a one line entry in another of the St. John's Kirchenbuch microfilms showing Catharina's confirmation.
But nowhere was there any record relating to Jacob.
I left Salt Lake City and returned to California to review, sort, synthesize, regroup, and decide what to do next. I brought with me copies of all the important "finds." I'd discovered a lot, but I still hadn't achieved the major goal of finding the specific place in Wčrttemberg that Jacob came from.
Once home I showed my wife Gay the various things I'd found, one of which was the page from Germans to America that had Jacob Farnbuller listed, along with all the other passengers on that ship (but no Friederika or son Jacob). Gay noticed something. There was a Frederik Benz (male) listed just below Jacob. Below that Frederick Benz, indented, therefore of the same family, was an 11 month old boy named Jacob. Recognition was immediate. There they were, Friederika and son Jacob, right where they should be, but I had missed them because I had been looking for a female named Varnbuhler, not Farhnbuller, and definitely not a "male" named Benz. It quickly was obvious that the passenger was not Frederick but Freiderika, and that Benz was her maiden name. Mystery solved!
But not quite. Remember the translation of Friederika's maiden name from her death record? Rang. Not even close to Benz, except that it also had 4 letters. So it was obvious that I needed to get another translation of Freiderika's death record. To that end, I ended up contacting someone in the Sacramento German Genealogy Society. A friendly woman, Betty Matyas, answered my phone call and suggested I send her a copy of the death notice, which I did.
A few days later I received a simple brochure about the Sacramento German Genealogy Society, which, for $15.00 a year I decided to join. I also received the translation, along with other useful information. Her translation confirmed the original one. That is, Beihingen was confirmed as the town, and Rang as the maiden name. However, I still didn't think Rang was correct. I was keeping in mind the name "Benz" on the passenger list. Knowing both names, Rang and Benz, had been attributed to the same person, it seemed reasonable to search for a solution to the discrepancy between those names. I studied the script carefully and concluded that the name was probably Renz, despite its translation as Rang by the 2 experts.
Just to complicate matters, there were two Beihingen's in Wuerttemberg, one near Ludwigsburg, and another near Nagold. So I would have to search records for both. Checking the LDS catalog, I found that there were records that specifically dealt with emigrants from both of the Beihingens. One of them was a monograph about the Beihingen near Ludwigsburg that had been translated into English and was available at the FHC in Sacramento. I found the surname index for it on the Internet, and in the index I found the name Renz (but no Rangs or Varnbuhlers). That seemed promising, so I went to Sacramento, and to my pleasant surprise the Renz in the record was indeed Friederika. The brief entry showed that she was born in 1821, had emigrated with her "two year old" son Johann Jakob in 1854, and that her middle name was Dorothea. So I had confirmed her date of birth, town, and maiden name from local German records -- but I learned nothing about Jacob, who wasn't mentioned.
There were just a few places (very few!) left to search in American records for Jacob's place of origin, such as other churchbooks (even though I still didn't know which church they had joined after their arrival in Detroit), cemetery records, etc. I called and wrote cemetaries, and got a little information, but nothing about either Jacob or Friederika. I was running out of places to look, and skeptical that I'd find Jacobs place-of-origin in whatever American records I might search, so I began to think more about searching in German records. I had accumulated a list of several microfilms and other items that I wanted to search. It was time for another trip to Salt Lake City, where I could look at both American and German records. Shortly before Christmas I decided to go. I left on December 8.
The trip turned out to be a great success. I found much more than I had hoped to find. I started by discovering, to my surprise, that Jacob hadn't died until 1910, at age 86 (28 years after Friederika!). Elmwood Cemetary (Detroit) burial records showed that both Jacob and Friederika were buried there, in the same grave. In a Trinity Lutheran Church Register I found Catherina's christening record. But those were just the start. In the churchbook of Beihingen, where I knew Friederika was from, I found her christening record, then Jacob (Jr.)'s christening/birth record, showing he was an illegitimate child. Part of that record contained, finally, the prize I'd long been after, and sometimes wondered if I'd ever find, the town his father Jacob was from: MÜglingen.
I was surprised by my ability to read enough of the German script handwriting in the churchbooks to at least locate the names I was looking for and understand in principle what the records were about. I would then get a translation from the assistants at the desk of the Family History Center, who were very helpful.
The churchbook for MÜglingen also contained Jacob (Sr.)'s baptism record, which gave his parents names -- and their parents names -- and theirs. I went from one good find to another, extending the Varnbuhler paternal line back several generations. From MÜglingen I was led to the town of Hemmingen, where I was able to trace back still farther. By the time I was done I was back to the early 1700's. Just as exciting was the discovery of the Varnbuhler family-register pages in the Hemmingen churchbook. There were many many pages, and they included large pedigree/family tree charts (which were to prove especially useful later), pages completely full of the script handwriting, hand drawings of what I assumed were homes, and much more. I felt like I had struck the motherlode.
It was at this point, I believe, that I learned from the records that the family rumor I'd heard about a VarnBuhler being a baron had at least some truth. While my great great grandfather, a tailor, was hardly a baron himself, as the rumor would have it, it turned out that he was descended (albeit illegitimately) from a line of VarnBuhler (Varnbčler) barons in the town of Hemmingen. The drawing of the "home" in the churchbook in fact turned out to be the castle of the Varnbčler nobility.
After 3 intense days of successful searching I headed back home to California with all of my copies, ready to organize and absorb all I'd found.
Once home, I spent several hours trying to translate, as best I could, the copies of the records I'd made from the Beihingen, MÜglingen, and Hemmingen churchbooks using an LDS German genealogical word list and examples of the script handwriting. I was able to figure out quite a bit, but there were still a few parts I couldn't read or that hadn't already been translated by the desk assistants at the Family History Center. I copied those and sent them on to Betty Matyas in Sacramento.
Before going to Salt Lake City I had ordered the Hemmingen churchbook film through the local FHC, so I was able to continue searching it there after I returned from Salt Lake. As a result, in January of 1999, I located still more records specific to my own branch of the family tree.
I had decided to take another look at the pedigree chart pages I'd copied from one of the Hemmingen churchbooks. Even though the pedigree chart circles containing names and dates were very small and virtually impossible to read, I could pick out and read many of the dates, so I began to search the listings of Varnbuhlers from the LDS database, which I had painstakingly organized into family group lists (parents and their children) for corresponding dates. Using the dates and names on those lists, and some of the readable names in the small circles on the pedigree chart as well, I began to make connections and understand the pedigree chart. As a result, I was able to extend the family line back even farther, and to other locations (such as Stuttgart, Tčbingen, Lindau, and St. Gallen in Switzerland). It was exciting as I figured out one after another, and before long I was back to the mid 1400's (!), and there were other entries (on the first page of the Varnbčler family pages) that I still couldn't read that had dates in the 1300's. Although I knew I still needed to do a lot of work to locate actual records and confirm my findings and projections, I was quite confident that I had successfully traced my direct lineage back several generations and centuries. That is, I knew the name of every male Varnbčhler and his spouse who I had blood/gene ties to. It was very satisfying to have achieved that much of my initial goal.
One especially nice result of making all those connections was that I was able to make the link to the Ulrich Varnbčler in Albrecht Dčrer's woodcut. I located him on the pedigree chart, and as it turns out he is not one of my great grandfathers, but he is, it appears, a great uncle. Since that woodcut is what really got me interested in beginning all of this, it was a great feeling to suddenly find him on the chart, and realize I'd actually made a connection.
During the Christmas holidays I was waiting for a new modem to arrive, so there was a long period when I was not online. I finally got a new modem hooked up and was able to connect and to read a lot of accumulated E-mail. One was a pleasant surprise, a long letter from a cousin who I'd only known as a little boy, Robert A. VanBuhler, son of my dad's brother. I had sent one of my letters to relatives to his mother, and she passed it on to him. In his letter he said he had previously done some research on the family, that he had learned that it had been a "prominent baronial family," and that he had traced it back to the town of Hemmingen in Saxony. That immediately made me question the accuracy of his search, since I knew that he had the wrong Hemmingen (there are two in Germany). Still, I was happy to find a relative with an interest in tracing the history of our family, someone I could share my findings with. With his E-mail letter he had attached a picture of [what he said was] the Varnbčler coat-of-arms, something he had found in a book and had had an artist render. I was quite impressed with it, and was very glad to have it. At the same time I decided I would do some research myself later to see if the coat-of-arms he sent was the right one, since different branches of the same family sometimes had different coats-of-arms.
Just a short time later I decided to search the internet for information about the Varnbčlers and about Hemmingen. I discovered that Hemmingen had a web site, and on that web site I discovered all kinds of information and images. There were many exciting finds, including many that related specifically to the Varnbčlers. There was a history of the town, pictures of the buildings, a picture of a Varnbčler coat-of-arms window, and more. I also learned that there is a street in the town with the name Freiherr-von-Varnbčler-Strasse. (Freiherr = baron). Most important, I discovered a 1999 Hemmingen calendar of events, and in it found a 3 day event in July that was being presented by the Varnbčlerhaus to celebrate 350 years of the Varnbčlers in Hemmingen! I quickly decided that it would be great to attend that event. The plans we had already made for a trip to Ladakh (India), with a week stopover in Germany, were changed in order to be able to attend the Varnbčler events in Hemmingen.
I also looked for, and found, information on the internet about MÜglingen, St. Gallen, Lindau, etc. I found information (in German) about nobility archives; I was happy to see that the files of the Barons von Varnbčler were on the list of records in the archives. I also found some unimportant but intriguing or fun information such as: one category of races in the 1998 Regatta on the Bodensee had been won by a boat captained by that intrepid helmsman -- Ulrich Varnbčler!
I was having a lot of fun making all of these interesting discoveries!
I wanted to learn more, if possible, about the Varnbčlerhaus events in July, so I wrote a letter and sent it via E-mail to 3 people who had mail links on the Hemmingen web site. In the letter I mentioned that I was a VarnBuhler who had traced my lineage back to the Varnbčlers of Hemmingen. My letter was sent in English, so I didn't know if I would get a reply. Happily I did, and more than one. Mr. Rolf Michael said he would pass my request for information on to the mayor's office, and Mr. Wolfgang Stehmer said he would pass it on to the arranger of the event and also to the "family Varnbuhler." I couldn't have hoped for a better result.
But after 2 weeks I had received no reply, no further information. I then sent a second letter to both of the men who had responded initially, letting them know I had received nothing and requesting that they check into it. I added that they could reply in German if doing so in English was a problem. More weeks passed with no reply.
The first week in March, 1999, I took advantage of a spell of good weather and returned to Salt Lake City. I spent 5 days at the Family History Library, more than on my previous trips. As usual, I arrived at the library about 8 A.M. and worked continually, usually until 6 or 7 o'clock with just a short lunch break (fast food at the mall one block away). After dinner I returned to my motel room and worked until 10 or 11 organizing what I'd collected during the day, filling out the research log, and planning what to do the next day. I was usually exhausted by bedtime. Then I would almost always wake up in the middle of the night and start thinking about the next days research; I would usually lose at least an hours sleep that way, sometimes much more. It was total involvement.
The research on this trip was somewhat different than on previous trips because I had by this time connected my lineage to a noble family, the Varnbčlers of Hemmingen. That meant that I spent less time searching original church records, and more time looking for biographies of important Varnbčlers, examples of the Varnbčler coats of arms, printed histories, etc. I turned up quite a bit; it looked relevant, important and interesting, but it was of course in German, so I was very frustrated by my inability to read it. At that point I decided I needed a translator, both for the newly discovered printed records and for some as yet untranslated handwritten records I'd found earlier. I inquired at the information desk and the assistant there gave me a list of approved genealogists and pointed out two who were there in the building that day. I contacted one of them, Roger Minert (Ph.D.) and began to work with him to translate what I needed. He was very knowledgeable, and his help proved immensely valuable. I learned a lot, tied up some loose ends, and at the end of my stay left several items with him to be translated and sent to me later.
Perhaps the most helpful, and for me exciting thing he did (after I told him about my E-mail correspondence with Hemmingen) was to write a letter (in German) for me that I could send to the current Varnbčler resident of the castle in Hemmingen, who he had found was Ulrich Varnbčler. He gave me the address and direct-dial telephone number of the castle. He said if there was no response to the letter, he would call Ulrich!
A couple of the more interesting finds on that trip: that a Barbara Varnbčhler (daughter of one of the Johann Jacob's) had emigrated to America in 1834 (20 years before our Johann Jacob); and that there were two illegitimate Johann Jacob Varnbčhlers, born one year apart, on exactly the same day, June 29 (and baptized on the same day, July 4). One was born in 1851, the other, "our" Johann Jacob, exactly one year later in 1852. What are the odds of that happening! (I confirmed this striking coincidence with church book records). I also found good historical information about the earliest Varnbčhlers, those of St. Gallen (Switzerland) in the 1400's, that allowed me to extend my family history back a couple more generations.
I returned home, mailed my letter to Ulrich Varnbčhler, and spent about three days organizing the records; sorting, filing, typing translations to attach to the script church records, etc. I also finalized flight reservations for our trip to Germany in July. I was feeling a tremendous satisfaction and sense of achievement at this point in time.
A few weeks later I received the translations of the documents/pages I'd left with Roger Minert. They were extremely fascinating to read (one told of a Varnbčler escape using a disguise) and full of new information. They gave locations of the earliest (Swiss) Varnbčlers, places I resolved to locate so that we could visit them as part of our trip to Germany and Switzerland.
However, on close examination of the various biographies and other translations it became apparent that there was conflicting information regarding the Switzerland Varnbčlers leading to the Ulrich who was a mayor of St. Gallen in the 1400's. It appeared that there were two distinctly differing accounts of the origins of the Varnbčler family, with different people and places, both however leading to the same Ulrich. Only one could be correct.
I had some new problems to solve.
I decided to check the Switzerland-related genealogy pages on the internet and, as usual, found several things that proved useful. One connection led me to a Swiss Collection web site of the U.C. Berkeley library. That in turn led me to the U.C. Berkeley library catalog search engine ("Pathfinder"), where I located several books, films, maps, fiche, etc. that I felt might contain information relevant to my search. Soon thereafter I went to Berkeley; I did find some useful items there, some of which I sent on to Roger Minert for translation. Using maps, I began to pin down some of the early Varnbčler locations mentioned in the translations. I also initiated e-mail communication with a genealogist in Switzerland, which provided still more information.
Another thing I decided to do about this time was to see if I might locate any members of the Renz family still living in Beihingen. My idea was that if there were Renz's still living there, I might have Roger Minert write to them to see if they had any information about my great great grandmother Friederika (old letters from America, pictures, etc.). I communicated this to Roger, and the end result was that he wrote a letter which was sent to several Renz's that he found were still living in Beihingen. I also checked, via an internet source, whether there were any Varnbčlers in MÜglingen. There were none.
Still another thing I did was to send a form to NARA requesting information about a Civil War soldier named J.S. VanBuhler that cousin Robert had told me about. His name was in some Civil War records on the internet that showed he was a sergeant with a Kansas cavalry unit who was captured and imprisoned. I had no idea who he was. NARA later responded: they were unable to locate the pension records I had requested. I later sent another request, this time for his military records, and asked that they search for the spelling VarnBuhler as well as VanBuhler. They were still unable to find any records.
In mid to late March I purchased a genealogy program for the Mac, Reunion 6.0, that according to all the reviews was easily the best one available. It was expensive ($100.00!) so I had downloaded the demo version and tried it before buying. I liked it and soon had it installed on my computer. I probably should have been using such a program much earlier, as it kept a lot of information in a logical and organized way. I began the process of inputting all of the information I had gathered about the VarnBuhler family history -- a big job.
Early in April I received what I had hoped for: a reply from Ulrich Freiherr von Varnbčler. It was a very nice letter in which he described the special Varnbčler events in Hemmingen in July and invited us to those events. He also said that "During these events you will have all of your questions about the family history answered." For any genealogist, for anyone deeply involved with their family history search for some time as I had been, those were very satisfying and promising words to hear.
Another good thing happened in early April. I had learned that the earliest documented Varnbčler was named Hans and owned a "farm estate" at "Weinstein am Rhein" in Switzerland in 1375. I tried to locate it on maps at U.C. Berkeley, and in indexes or gazetteers, but found nothing. For an internet search "Weinstein" was too common a name and would have generated too many results. Limiting the search to "Weinstein am Rhein," etc. didn't turn up anything.
For some reason completely unrelated to Weinstein I did an internet search using my surname, spelled just as we do, but without a capital B. In the list of items that the search turned up was a very intriguing surprise: a link to a "Schloss Weinstein" (Castle Weinstein) -- and, it was in Switzerland! Obviously it was related to the Varnbčhlers somehow, as the Varnbčhler name was what the search engine had searched for. I clicked on the link with high expectations that I'd found the place I'd been looking for, and I wasn't disappointed. There in front of me was a beautiful photo of the castle, and a long paragraph (in German) on the page described its 600 year (!) history, which started with Hans Varnbčhler in 1375 and continued later with Ulrich Varnbčler, the mayor of St. Gallen, who had the castle built (or expanded). I had, by chance, discovered the exact place my ancestors lived over 600 years ago; and the castle that they'd lived in was still there! It was now a restaurant, and I almost immediately decided to go there during our trip to Switzerland. It even had a "Varnbčhlstube." (Stube = room). What a great find! I was really excited about it.
Also in April I received a certified copy of the death certificate for John Jacob (Jr., my great grandfather). It confirmed his birth and death dates (he died the year before his father), and it contained one surprise, that he had had 9 children. According to the certificate, only the 6 sons (that I already knew about) were still living at the time of his death in 1909.
In late April we went camping in southern Utah. When bad weather interrupted our trip, we opted to go to Salt Lake City for 2 days on the way home in order to do more research at the Family History Library. At this point in time I was looking primarily for information about the earliest Varnbčhler ancestors from Switzerland, including the specific locations where they lived, the origin of the name, etc. I was also still trying to resolve some of the conflicting information about the Swiss Varnbčhlers prior to Ulrich. I dug up quite a bit of information and soon after returning to California sent much of it off to Roger Minert to be translated.
I found some nice surprises in the accumulated e-mail when I got back from Utah. I had communicated with a Dr. Wolf Seelentag in Switzerland about some of the places linked to the Varnbčhlers, and he had located some of them on old maps. He sent map sections as image files that showed places I'd been unable to find (such as StÜrgel, and FarnbÜhl/Farnbčhl, the place where the VarnBuhler name likely originated). He also sent an old 1907 black and white photo of Schloss Weinstein showing it in its hilly setting, plus other useful and interesting information he'd dug up. Thank you Dr. Seelentag!
In one of the e-mails I later received from Dr. Seelentag he explained the following: place names preceded surnames. When Hans from Farnbčhl went "downtown," he would be called Hans Farnbčhler, the "er" ending meaning that he was Hans from Farnbčhl, to distinguish him from all the other Hanses. These evolved into surnames. F's and V's were interchangable: thus Farnbčhler became Varnbčhler.
Next I received some of the translations that I'd sent to Roger Minert before our trip to Utah. They included more information about Weinstein, extensive biographies of Johann Conrad, Nikolaus and Ulrich Varnbčhler, and, most useful and enlightening, a translation of handwritten script from the Varnbčler pages of the Hemmingen church book that discussed at length the 2 conflicting genealogies of the Swiss Varnbčlers prior to Ulrich. From that I learned that one of them was deemed a forgery! Apparently it was not too uncommon in those times for someone to try to gain the advantages that nobility brought by essentially fabricating noble pedigree.
The day after I got Roger's translations I received another death certificate I'd sent for, that of Mary, John Jacob's wife (my great grandmother). It contained her birth date and said she was born in Canada -- but the date conflicted with other information on the certificate, and also with dates that I had located earlier. Verification with other records was still needed.
Far more important, the certificate had a piece of surprise information: that Mary's maiden name was not Cook(e) -- which was the name I'd been searching for all along, based on information my mom had sent to my son Jan long ago. No wonder I couldn't find hardly anything about her! Unfortunately, the certificate didn't completely reveal her true maiden name because the handwriting of it was so poor as to be indecipherable. I could only guess at it, and on that basis I sent another request to the State of Michigan, this time for a marriage certificate, which, if found, might contain better information.
About a week after that, in early May, I received another nice surprise in the mail. It was from Freiherr and Freifrau Ulrich von Varnbčler in Germany and was a printed formal invitation to the events in July. Along with the invitation was a letter (in German), an R.S.V.P. card, and a recommendation for a hotel in a larger town very near Hemmingen. I copied the letter into an e-mail message and sent it to Roger Minert for translation.
The day before I got that I had received an e-mail response (in English) to a letter I'd sent to Rolf Michael at the Hemmingen web site requesting hotel information. His response not only included a hotel recommendation, but also the name of an English speaking person in Hemmingen to contact for information about the Varnbčler family, something I felt might prove very useful. Good things were happening!
A short time later I asked a German-speaking friend we'd met through my son and his wife if she would make a long distance call to Germany and make a reservation for us at one of the recommended hotels near Hemmingen for the weekend of the special events there, which she did. (Thanks Kathrin!). Then, in mid May, while we were housesitting for our daughter and son-in-law in the Santa Rosa area, I used the proximity to the bay area to visit the U.C. Berkeley library. There I found very detailed early maps of Switzerland that showed several Farnbčhls, as well as Weinstein. A few days later, while sitting by the swimming pool at our Santa Rosa area home-away-from-home, I decided I should put all of the genealogy information I'd gathered on a web site. When I returned home I began the planning for it, wrote a summary history of the Varnbčhler family, wrote an introduction for the main page, etc.
I received a reply from the State of Michigan archives about my request for a copy of a marriage certificate for John Jacob and Mary. I had requested that they search for years 1871-1875. Disappointingly, no record was found. So at this point in time, I still didn't know the maiden name of my great grandmother. I decided to try another request to the Michigan archives, for the years 1867-1870. The reply was again disappointing: no record found.
As the time to leave for Germany approached, there was still no reply from anyone in the Renz family in Beihingen. None ever came.
My great grandmother's maiden name was still in doubt. I thought one way I might get it would be to obtain a copy of my grandfathers birth certificate. It should contain, my thinking went, the maiden name of his mother (my great grandmother), and possibly other useful information. I received it some time later, and found it raised more questions than it answered. My great grandmother's maiden name was listed as Mary Francis Cook (!), different from her death record; so now I had two distinctly different maiden names from two "official" records. Also, my grandfather's birth certificate was a "delayed registration" record, filed in 1942, and the information on it was based on affidavits by an "older brother and older cousin." "No documentary proof available" it said. So it proved nothing, and even raised a question about his middle name, which was listed as "Wilson." That conflicts with the statement by his daughter Margaret that it was the rather odd "Wilberforce."
I was later to learn more about the name "Wilberforce." There was a famous politician in England named William Wilberforce (1759-1833) who was a devout Christian and worked tirelessly for the abolition of slavery. He was honored by his country by being buried at Westminster Abbey and having a statue erected in his memory. One of his sons was named Robert, who also became prominent in religious and political affairs. It seems possible that great respect for the life and work of one of those men could have prompted the choice of such a middle name for my grandfather (Robert). Even more surprising, there's an additional use of the odd name Wilberforce in the family. The 1920 census shows a 3 year old boy named Wilberforce, the son of Frank VanBuhler, one of my grandfather's brothers, and his wife Beatrice. Very unusual!
Finally Gay and I were off to Germany and Switzerland on a trip the focus of which was connecting with my family history. I had high expectations, and I was not disappointed.
We began with a visit to Schloss Weinstein, a castle/villa which Hans Varnbčler owned in 1375. It now contains a fine restaurant with a sweeping view of the Rhine valley in northeastern Switzerland, and a "Varnbčlstube" (room) in which hangs the Dčrer portrait of Ulrich Varnbčler. Herr Herzog, the current owner, gave us a tour of the castle, showing us the still beautiful old rooms that our ancestors had no doubt lived in, the tiled stove, the paintings, the original coat-of-arms, a door painted with ox-blood, and more. We talked at length with him about the early Varnbčlers, then stayed to eat an excellent dinner in the restaurant. The meal was accompanied by "Schloss Weinstein" wine from their vineyard which stretches down the hill in front of the castle.
One of the things that Herr Herzog told us was that a Thomas VanBuhler from Michigan had visited about a year ago; he showed us his business card and comments in the guest book. This was the first time I'd heard of another member of the family in the U.S. who obviously had some knowledge of our roots. I resolved to contact him after we returned home.
Herr Herzog gave us some of their color brochures (containing some English), several postcards of the castle, and, as we left, 2 bottles of wine (Blauburgunder). Thank you, Herr Herzog, for your gracious hospitality!
In St. Gallen we had fun seeing the "Varnbčelstrasse" street signs, the Varnbčel name on a building that now houses students at the University, and the name of Hans Varnbčler on a Historical Society wall plaque in the old town center indicating he'd been the first owner of the building there in 1429. A hotel receptionist, upon seeing my name when I signed in, said "Oh, that's a very famous name here!"
On impulse I went into a very nice shop (Galerie + Kunsthandlung Raubach) selling old prints, and I asked the owner, who it turned out spoke good English, if she might have anything relating to the Varnbčlers. I explained that my name was the same and that the St. Gallen Varnbčlers were my distant ancestors. She did find a print of the Varnbčler house, and another of Weinstein (both were expensive so I didn't purchase). More important, as we talked, she gave us a thorough and extremely interesting explanation of the times and events surrounding Ulrich Varnbčler's conflict with the abbot and his flight to Lindau. I wished I'd had my tape recorder. It turned out she had in the past been a tour guide and was well versed in the history of St. Gallen.
Since the Varnbčler name may have originated in a place (farm) near St. Gallen named Farnbčhl, I wanted to go there. We did so, using maps I'd brought and help from locals we asked along the way. Farnbčhl is a cluster of about 3 houses/farms sitting high in the beautiful rolling green hills just outside St. Gallen. Upon arrival at a house we thought was the right place we asked if it was Farnbčhl. The friendly old woman answered affirmatively, but we couldn't communicate further. As good luck would have it, there was an English-speaking couple (Thomas and Michelle) from St. Gallen there having a Sunday picnic so we were able to explain our purpose for being there. That generated a lot of interest. A long and friendly visit ensued, and the end result was that we were invited to visit the couple that evening at their apartment back in St. Gallen because Thomas had called his father about it on his cell phone, and his father said he thought he had a picture of an early Varnbčler. It turned out he did, it was the Dčrer print of Ulrich, a good large printed version, and he graciously gave it to me at the end of the evening. Rolled and stored in a cardboard tube, it made it home safely without so much as a wrinkle. Thank you Mr. Rčdiger!
That was all good luck. The bad luck came the next day when we discovered that the St. Gallen city archive (the Vadiana) in which I had hoped to do some research was closed for the entire month of July so that they could computerize their collections. The State archive was closed also, for the same reason. I'd picked exactly the wrong time to be there. Bummer!
However, the church archive (Stiftsarchiv) was still open, so we went there and, happily, found quite a bit. One book containing the reprinted old records of the abbey had over 60 pages with mentions of Hans Varnbčler, all dating between 1410 and 1460. I made copies of all the pages. If I could read German, I could read what Hans was involved with on a specific day way back in the 1400's. Quite amazing.
Another book had even more. The Varnbčler name was part of the title because over half of the book was about the trial that developed as a result of Ulrich Varnbčler's conflict with the abbey. The book was old, published in 1914. There were too many pages to copy. Later, just to leave no stone unturned, with nothing better to do, and with a "What the hell, I'll give it a try" attitude, I stopped at an antiquarian bookstore and inquired about the book. The man checked a list, said it may be available, made a call, told me to return by 6 o'clock. I did, and a copy of the book was there waiting for me. Amazing.
Also in St. Gallen we contacted a local genealogist (Mr.Bruno Nussbaumer) who spoke some English. We met him at a central hotel restaurant and arranged for him to do some work in the archives after they re-opened.
Then it was on to Hemmingen, where we attended the special 3-day celebration marking "350 Jahre Haus Varnbčler in Hemmingen."
We first saw the church, then explored the castle (now the Rathaus/city hall) and the residence where the Baron and his family stay when in Hemmingen. There were several Varnbčler coats-of-arms above the doors, and one sculpted in metal on the main gate to the grounds. Inside the Rathaus we met Mayor Nafz, and he graciously gave us a brief tour of the castle interior. Later we walked to "Freiherr von Varnbčlerstrasse" to photograph the street sign.
At the Friday night reception at the castle/Rathaus we met Baron Ulrich and his wife Amalie, plus several other members of the Varnbčler family. Food and drink were served, and we were given copies of a well-produced book about the Varnbčler family that had been printed for the occasion. I was very happy to have it, as it was a detailed history of the family, with many color and black-and-white photographs accompanying the extensive text.
After the reception we were all bussed to the town meeting hall, where a large crowd had already gathered. On a stage set with banners showing the Varnbčler and Hemmingen coats-of-arms, the program began with excellent songs by a large men's choir. They were followed by speeches by the baron, the mayor, and a high Wčrttemberg state official. The last part of the program was a slide presentation by the local historian, Mr. Walter Treiber, about the Varnbčler family history and its connection to the history of Hemmingen and Wčrttemberg. (Mr. Treiber had written the book about the Varnbčler's that we'd received). The speeches and slide presentation were all in German of course, so we understood nothing, but we were still glad to be there witnessing the event and participating in it along with other members of the family. We talked with many people at the end of the evening as drinks and snacks were served.
The next morning, sunny and beautiful, we were bussed to Ludwigsburg and given a tour of the huge baroque castle there, the 452 room "Residenzschloss." After that we were all taken to another castle and were treated to a wonderful and elegant multi-course meal. That afternoon we returned to Hemmingen where a large tent had been set up in the park behind the Rathaus. In it were many long tables crowded with the townspeople of Hemmingen and others socializing, drinking beer, eating bratwurst or chicken, etc. A brass band in bright red uniforms marched in grandly and took up position on the stage. They played through the afternoon, and were followed by another band that continued on into the evening.
On Sunday morning we attended the special church service, which included a band and small choir as well as the sermon and communion. After mass coffee/tea and rolls were served outside the church. Baroness Amalie then showed us the interior of the residence, which was the oldest building in the complex, rich with history: it contained several stained glass coats-of-arms windows, old paintings, carved wood, etc. We later visited the small Varnbčler "Barons cemetary" also. We will always be extremely grateful to Baron Ulrich and Amalie for the opportunity to share in the 3 day celebration events, and for the wonderful hospitality they and other members of their extended family showed us.
On Monday we met (by pre-arranged appointment) with Walter Treiber, the historian, at his home. He graciously answered the many questions I asked about the family. He is very knowledgeable about the history of the Varnbčler family and speaks very good English, so I was able to learn a lot. I tape-recorded our conversation. He gave me a very recent book that he had authored about the church and castle. Earlier I had purchased another book by him entitled "Schloss Hemmingen," about the castle and its history. (Thank you Mr. Treiber!)
Later the same day we kept an appointment with the pastor of the church in MÜglingen, the town John Jacob, my great great grandfather came from. The pastor, Mr. Christof FrÜschle, gave us a tour of the church, then allowed us to look at the original church books containing the records of my ancestors. It was exciting to see the originals of pages I'd copied from microfilm at the LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City. I also located a couple of new and important pages I hadn't seen before that showed Johann Gerlach Varnbčler as the father of Johann Friderich, and I learned a little more about the Barbara Varenbčhler who came to America in 1834. I was able to take photographs of the books as well.
From there we went to Lindau, an island in the Bodensee (Lake Constance). The Altes Rathaus (old city hall) was completed in 1436. With its ornately painted facade, it is one of Lindau's major tourist attractions. On the painted wall next to the large clock there are ten names and their family crests dating from the 1500's. One is the name Varnbčler, and directly below it is the family crest of the time showing two crossed clover leaves. It is there because one of Ulrich's sons (Johann) was mayor of Lindau in the early 1500's.
Later we visited the picturesque town of Tčbingen, where another Varnbčler, Nikolaus, had been a famous law professor at the university there in the mid 1500's. Later still, in Stuttgart, we made a brief stop at the Wčrttemberg State Library and located a couple of early Varnbčler coats-of-arms. We also noted still another street named "Varnbčlerstrasse" on a map of Stuttgart.
I returned from the trip with a lot of new and interesting information, and a whole new sense of the history of my direct ancestors and of the Varnbčler family heritage. Everything I'd learned about the family was made more real by having visited so many of the places they'd lived. I brought back photographs, photocopies, several books, tapes, Weinstein wine, Dčrers portrait of Ulrich, a MÜglingen beer stein, postcards, and much more. From the standpoint of connecting with my ancestors and their history, it was a great trip.
However, I didn't feel I knew everything or had "finished" my search. There were still many unanswered questions, or "gaps," and so after I got back I wrote several letters (to archives, to Walter Treiber, to the MÜglingen pastor, to Lindau, to a Swiss museum, etc.) requesting information. I also called Thomas VanBuhler, who I had learned had pursued a similar genealogy quest over a period of many years. It appeared that Thomas knew pretty much all I knew, maybe more, so I was anxious to talk to him. He was one of the VanBuhler's that I'd long ago sent my initial letter to, but he hadn't responded to it. Had he, it might have saved me a lot of work! On the other hand, because he didn't, I had the pleasures and satisfactions of discovery, of finding the information myself, and of knowing it was completely accurate.
I followed my call to Thomas with a letter that I hoped would be the start of ongoing communication between us. With my letter I enclosed my complete pedigree chart for him to peruse, and I asked him some questions that I hoped he might have answers to. Some e-mail exchanges followed, and later we sent copies to each other relating mostly to the Swiss Varnbčlers and the conflicting versions of their early ancestry. We also compared notes about the Barbara Varnbčler who came to America in 1834. Most questions remained unanswered.
I soon received mail in response to the letters I'd sent abroad. One was a packet from the Stadtbibliothek (Vadiana) archive in St. Gallen. It contained copies of an early handwritten manuscript about the Varnbčler family (which, translated by Roger Minert, proved very interesting and informative), and recommendations about other useful sources of information. Another packet was from the archive in Lindau. It contained about 60 pages of copies pertaining to the Varnbčlers (primarily about the Johann who had been the mayor of Lindau). Another letter was from Walter Treiber in which he answered several questions I'd asked.
In the meantime I continued to work on a web site about the family. I borrowed a scanner from my daughter Rhona and was able to add several images to the web pages, which helped add visual interest and supplement the text. I added new pages, revised old ones, and in general made several changes and improvements.
By now I had accumulated hundreds of pages and many documents about the Varnbčlers that were in German. I badly wanted to read them or know what they said, but (frustratingly!) couldn't, and it would cost a small fortune to get them all translated. I reasoned that a solution might be for me to learn German! Then I might be able to read them myself, or, at the very least, communicate better if I returned to Germany and Switzerland. I would also be able to understand more if searching in the archives. I had seen a Beginning German course mentioned in the publication of the Sacramento German Genealogical Society; I decided to take it. It was a ten-week course and met once a week in Sacramento. I started it in September (1999). I learned a little, but not enough to help much in my search, and eventually forgot most of what I had learned.
In late October, after trading a few more e-mail messages with Tom VanBuhler, I called him and we talked on the phone for well over an hour. Tom knew a great deal about the history of the times and places pertinant to our family's own history, and had postulated some theories about the evolution of the Varnbčlers based on what was happening historically at the time. I found it all very intriguing. However, with no reliable documentation or sources to back up the theories, they remain conjecture until some proofs can be found. Tom's comments and ideas did make me want to know more about the early historical background and milieus in which the Varnbčler's lived and moved, which I knew very little about, so I began to use the internet to get some basic information.
Much of what I had gathered about the evolution of the earliest Varnbčlers was conflicting or incomplete. I realized that the only way it might be possible to learn more, to sort it all out, or to prove what Tom VanBuhler had postulated, would be to do extensive research in many archives in Switzerland, Germany, and Austria. I knew I couldn't do that myself, so for the time being I would have to be content with what information I had. However, I didn't rule out the idea of a trip to the archives abroad at some later date.
In early November I finally posted the web pages about the family on the internet. I felt a great sense of satisfaction at having completed such a project. My next step was to send a brief letter to all the VanBuhlers to let them know about the web site.
In January of 2000 I had a document about the VB family that I'd received from Tom VanBuhler translated. It was written by Johann Ernst Varnbčler. It provided some new and interesting information, but it was difficult to separate fact and conjecture. At about the same time I received an e-mail from a Mr. Uli Steinlin in Switzerland who had an Anna VB in his line and was inquiring about some early members of the VB family and their spouses. (Mr. Steinlin had been directed to me by Dr. Seelentag who I had corresponded with months earlier). We corresponded a few times and as a result I learned a little more about the VB family. Mr. Steinlin also informed me of a project he was involved with to publish all of the old documents of the St. Gallen town archives, which have not previously been published. The documents are contained in several volumes, 6 of which have been published as of this writing. They deal with the time period of about 1000 to 1372. As this project continues, new information about the VB's may be found.
After that very little happened for many months. I had hoped that my web site would generate some response from some of the VanBuhlers, and new information about other American branches of the family, but I only received a couple of responses and they contained very little new or useful information.
In July 2000 I added the translation of the Johann Ernst document to the web site. Later I made some minor changes to the web site pages (such as adding a picture of the old room at Weinstein castle).
In October, Tom VanBuhler sent me a copy of the entire book "Geschichte und Akten des Varnbčler-Prozesses." I had requested he send a copy of something he'd mentioned in an e-mail that contained actual words spoken by Ulrich VB in the 1400's. I expected it would involve a page or a few pages, so I was shocked and surprised to get a whole book, about 140 pages, in the mail. Thank you, Tom! (I couldn't bear to tell him that I already had the book).
I selected a few pages from the book that looked like they had letters written by Ulrich and sent them to Roger Minert for translation. A couple of the letters did indeed contain the actual words of Ulrich, and they added some insight into what was happening to him and to the city of St. Gallen at the time. (I remain amazed that I can know the words my ancestor was saying so long ago -- about the same time Columbus was discovering America!).
In December I finally decided I would like to have the booklet written by Mr. Treiber, "350 Jahr Haus Varnbčler in Hemmingen" translated. I had written Mr. Treiber about that, asking if he knew of a translator who might do it at a reasonable cost. He wrote me a letter suggesting I contact a Mr. Rennert, a retired English teacher in Hemmingen. I then wrote Mr. Rennert a letter about the project, after which he called me from Germany, and the end result of our conversations and letters is that he agreed to translate the book for a price of $1,000 dollars. I debated quite a bit about whether I should spend that much money on it, whether I should do it or not do it, etc. I decided it was a good chance to have it done well, that it was an important piece of our family history, and was therefore worth the expense involved.
In late January, 2001, I went to Salt Lake City again, as I had gathered a large number of references/sources that I wanted to check, some concerning the earliest Varnbulers in Switzerland, and some concerning my great grandmother (Mary). I hoped to learn more about Mary and resolve conflicting information about her that I had from different sources.
It was a worthwhile trip; I did find new information of various kinds -- but failed to find conclusive information regarding Mary. What I did find was still another of her alleged maiden names: Metty (possibly Melty). I now had 3 maiden names, 2 birth places, and 2 birth dates for Mary. I also found a collection of microfilmed documents (in German) about the Varnbčlers that I hadn't found before and that was extensive and varied. There were over 400 pages (!) of pedigrees, histories, letters, notes, etc.
Returning from the trip I found an e-mail message from Mr. Rennert saying he had finished the translation of "350 Jahr Haus Varnbčler in Hemmingen." Shortly after, I received it in the mail, on paper (75 pages) and on disk. He had done a good and careful translation as far as I could tell. The English was excellent, the spelling was correct except in just a very few cases, and the text flowed smoothly and was easy to read. I used a PC to Mac conversion program to put the translation into a Word file, and then spent hours making corrections because the conversion program changed a lot of the formatting (e.g., all letters with umlauts had changed to some meaningless symbol). I asked Mr. Rennert about a few things that were unclear and made revisions based on his suggestions and clarifications. I also corrected spelling errors, omitted unnecessary commas, etc.. When it was all done I had spiral bound copies made for myself and my children, Jan, and Rhona. Finally, I sent Mr. Rennert an International Bank Draft for payment, which concluded what had been a very friendly and mutually satisfying business transaction.
In February of 2001 I took a document that I'd located in Salt Lake City to the translator (Marlis Tryon) in Sacramento. It was a long (7 page) letter from the St. Gallen archive about the Varnbčler family, and it looked like it might contain some new and interesting information. It did.
About the same time, in response to some communication with my aunt Margaret, I received from her some great old photographs of my grandparents, my dad, and his brother (Robert) and sister (Margaret) when they were all children. They were a bit scratched up, so I scanned them and touched them up in Photoshop.
In March I went to the local LDS FHC and ordered the two microfilms with the 400+ pages about the VB's so that I could take the time to look at them more carefully than I'd been able to do in Salt Lake City. I did find several items worth copying from the films.
I'd had the idea of taking another trip to Germany and Switzerland, and about this time started to consider it seriously. There were several things I still wanted to learn about the Varnbčler family history, and besides being able to do some limited research in archives I wanted to visit with Baron Ulrich because I felt he could probably answer many of my remaining questions. He was now the ultimate authority on the family, but he was getting older and I wondered how long he might be around to answer such questions.
During the summer I began to get e-mail messages from people who had been to my web site. Some of the messages were from relatives, which led to e-mail and telephone correspondence with them and with other family members here in the U.S.A. That proved to be very worthwhile. I greatly enjoyed several of the telephone conversations, and was able to learn much more about the American branches of the family, which I discovered are now quite extensive. At about the same time I began making preparations for the trip to Germany and Switzerland by writing letters to Baron Ulrich, Herr Herzog at Weinstein, a Judith Ertmann in MÜglingen (whose name I'd been given by Tom VanBuhler), and others.
Some of the more enjoyable and interesting phone conversations I had were with 80 year old George E. VanBuhler, who had known many of the older generation family members (my parents and grandparents included), and had a lot of information to convey -- both good facts and interesting anecdotes. Better yet, George gathered together a bunch of information, including photographs, and sent all of it to me. The packet included a beautiful large original photograph of the 6 brothers, good copies of a photo and a drawing of Mary Cook, a copy of a business card of Mary Cook showing she was a "professional hypnotist" (!), photos that included my grandfather at a younger age, John Jacob's tailor diploma from 1840 in Germany, a photo of John Jacob, and much more. The photographs were the first I'd ever seen of most of those people, so it was particularly exciting. (Thank you George!)
In late October we went on our trip to Germany and Switzerland. Our first genealogy-related stop was at the Hauptstadtsarchiv in Stuttgart where the archives of the Freiherren Varnbčler are located. I hadn't been there on our last trip, so this visit was mainly to see what such an archive consisted of, how it was organized, etc., and if possible, dig up some interesting information. There was English-speaking help available. (Thank you Herr Merk). I was first given a hardbound book that was the inventory of everything contained in the Freiherren Varnbčler archive, which was extensive. From that I could pick out what I was interested in seeing and fill out a form to have someone get it from the stacks. What I got were packets of old hand-written original documents -- everything from letters to genealogy charts to coat-of-arms drawings. They were all very interesting, but I couldn't read anything, and they couldn't be copied, so I left without getting any new or useful information, with minor exceptions.
The next day we went to MÜglingen and, as pre-arranged, met Judith Ertmann. She had helped Tom years earlier; her grandfather (Herr Seybold) was the town historian. After some conversation about the family and my search objectives, she showed us materials she had already gathered, and presented us with a copy of the new book about the history of MÜglingen. Then she took us to the city hall (Rathaus). With her help and the help of some kind people there (thank you Frau Beck and Frau Lunow) we ended up with some copies of useful and relevant pages from the town records, which were in essence clearer re-written copies of the old churchbook records.
After lunch we returned to Judith's home and, again by pre-arranged appointment, met with Herr Gčhring, a historian, and the man who had written the recent book about the history of MÜglingen. He spoke English, was very knowledgeable, and we discussed many aspects of our quest for information about the Varenbčhler family in MÜglingen. That resulted in a trip back to the Rathaus (it was closed for the day, but he had a key), and a visit to the basement where shelves of old volumes of records were kept. Mr. Gčhring, who was very familiar with the archive of documents there, went to the shelves containing the oldest records they had, and began digging out document after document relating to the Varenbčhler family. He proceeded to tell us what each one was about, reading segments of each as he went. It was a highlight of the trip, as it painted a picture of the family that could not have been achieved any other way. For example, some documents listed everything they possessed -- and it wasn't much. Other documents revealed whether they knew John Jacob was in Detroit, who inheritances went to, etc. Mr. Gčhring took some of the documents with him and promised he would make copies and send them to us. (Thank you Judith and Mr. Gčhring!)
On Saturday we met with Mr. Treiber, the Hemmingen town historian, (and the Varnbčler historian), for about an hour at his home. We had a nice visit during which he gave me a special envelope (like a "first day cover" here) that had been issued by a philatelic society for the 350-year celebration; it contained the image of Johann Conrad Varnbčler, and a special stamp. Mr. Treiber also looked at a few items I'd brought that were written in the old German script and was able to tell me what they were about, which was very helpful.
Following our visit with Mr. Treiber we went to a local store and purchased two more copies of the "350 Jahre Haus Varnbčler in Hemmingen" booklet. Then we went to a nearby condominium apartment and met Mr. Rennert and his wife. (Mr. Rennert was the one who translated the "350 Jahre..." booklet for me.) We had a very nice visit during which they gave us an extremely good gourmet lunch, followed by extremely interesting tales of their experiences living in, and then escaping, East Germany before the wall came down. I then prevailed upon Mr. Rennert to translate a letter involving Friederich v. Varnbčler and Elizabetha SchrÜtzmaier, who are part of my direct line of ancestry. I taped his reading of it, and it proved to be extremely interesting, a tale of a Baron (Friederich) going against all customs, protocol, and family wishes by marrying a woman of a much lower class, marrying a non-noble, a servant girl or chambermaid, an act that in those times would have caused an uproar and havoc in a residing noble family.
Before heading on to Munich on Sunday we took the S-Bahn to Stuttgart's Varnbčlerstrasse and photographed the signs, which were on the sides of buildings. We visited Stuttgart's art museum also, then went on to Munich where we stayed with friends, Christiane and Kathrin Itin. They picked us up, fed us, washed clothes, made calls, let us stay an extra night, helped us in many other ways. Thanks Kathrin and Christiane!
The next day we made the short trip by train to Prien am Cheimsee to visit with Freiherr Ulrich and Freifrau Amalie Varnbčler. Ulrich picked us up at the train station and drove us to their spacious home on a beautifully landscaped estate in the countryside outside of town. It was a clear sunny day with fall colors, green rolling hills, and mountains in the distance. After a brief walk outside, we went in and looked at photographs of our families, talked about the growth of the VarnBuhler/VanBuhler family here in the states (I showed him a chart of the male lines of the family and the photo of the 6 brothers that started it all), saw Ulrich's large genealogical chart, etc. They served us a very good traditional Bavarian lunch, then drove us on a short tour of the surrounding area, with a stop at a church with 8th century frescoes. Ulrich gave me a small booklet about Johann Conrad. It was a really enjoyable visit.
Then it was back to stay the night with Kathrin and Christiane, and take the train the next day to St. Gallen. There we visited the antiquarian book shop (Ribaux) and gave them the name of books I was looking for. I left my business card so they could contact me if they found them. (I checked back later but they had been unable to locate the out-of-print books).
The following day we rented a car and drove to Weinstein castle. The weather was again perfect. Owner Herr Herzog gave us free rein of the place, and I was able to take many photographs, both inside and out, and to spend time in the wonderful old room that my ancestors had lived in. Thank you Herr Herzog!
Then we drove on to see Gutenberg castle for the first time. It is said by some that the Varnbčlers lived there for a while (which has yet to be proven). It is a dramatic castle, on a hill with a backdrop of spectacular mountains. We walked up to the gate, went inside the courtyard. Above the closed castle entrance door there was a faded painting of a partial coat-of-arms, one which showed crossed maces and colors identical to those seen today on the Varnbčler coat-of-arms. Very interesting! Then we went outside and just sat a while on the hill in the warm sunshine enjoying the beautiful views all around.
We drove on to Chur, where we visited the Bibliothek and Archive. A very helpful English-speaking woman at the main desk got us started. However, I only found one Varnbčeler reference, in the oldest Chur tax book (1481). The archivist wasn't sure, but he thought it indicated that a Varnbčeler owned property there, property tended by someone else. Made copies.
The next day started by asking the hotel manager if I could have the picture on the calendar in the room where we ate breakfast. It was a beautiful picture of Weinstein castle, and the month of October, the page it was on, had conveniently just expired. He was quite happy to give it to me. (It is now framed and hanging in our home). After breakfast we visited the St. Katharine women's abbey, where Angela Varnbčler was once Prioress. Took photos of the courtyard, which was the only thing open. Then went to the Kantonsbibliothek (Vadiana) where we met English-speaking Dr. Ziegler; I briefly explained my objectives, told him what types of materials I was looking for, showed him a list of books I hoped to look at, etc.. He gave me some books that he thought would be helpful, then gave us a brief introduction to the library and how to request books. We ended up spending the day there, with a break for lunch. Found many good things, made lots of copies.
At a flea market I spotted a very small book about St. Gallen, with nice drawings of the streets and buildings. I saw the name Varnbčeler in the person index, so bought it for a couple bucks. Visited the Historical Museum and the Art Museum. The painting I'd hoped to see in the art museum (of Ulrich VB returning from battle) was unfortunately not on display.
Took a Sunday train ride to Konstanz to meet Ulrich v. Varnbčler. (Tom VB had suggested we meet). Ulrich and his wife, who turned out to be very nice people, met us at the train station, gave us a brief walking tour of the area nearby, showing us a now-famous statue we'd read about in our guide book of a scantily clad prostitute. The weather was somewhat chilly, so we soon retired to a comfy and elegant hotel dining room for coffee/tea and some interesting conversation. Later we toured more of the town, stopped for another drink, then it was on to the train for the return trip to St. Gallen.
Monday we rented a car and drove to Vaduz, the capital of the Principality of Liechtenstein. For starters we went to the tourist office, got our passports stamped to prove we'd visited that small country. Also got information, such as where the archive was. Being Monday, the Bibliothek was closed, but the archive was open and there was enough there to keep us busy all day, with a break for lunch. We were helped by Mr. Paul Vogt, who spoke English. Got information about Gutenberg castle and related matters, but found nothing specific about the VB's.
Tuesday started with a visit to the St. Gallen Stadtsarchive and a brief talk with Herr Marcus Kaiser, who had a good grasp of the history and times of Burgermeister Ulrich, which he conveyed. He also told us that the Stadtsarchiv only had items from dates later than the time period I was interested in. So it was off to the Stiftsarchiv in the same building, where we looked at huge old books (Lehenbucher) but only found one Varnbčeler reference, regarding some property. Then it was back to the Kantonsbibliothek, where we once again found some items worth copying. However, the most interesting things I found could not be copied. One was a packet full of 36 pages of handwritten notes, in tiny German script, all about the earliest Varnbčelers. The others were small paintings of the Varnbčeler coat-of-arms, including one which was the most beautifully done and magnificent of any I'd seen anywhere, an elaborate and detailed work of art. (I was able to take a photo of it).
Wednesday it was back to Munich to catch our flight home.
I came back from the trip with a load of VB-related books, copies, and other items, as follows: A stack of copies over a half inch thick containing (1) an 8 page 1984 article about Ulrich VB (Mayor of St. Gallen) with several illustrations; (2) many many pages with mentions of VB's from books about Swiss history or the history of the linen/canvas business and trade in early St. Gallen; (3) an article about the Haus zum Tiger that the VB's lived in in St. Gallen in the 1400's; (4) many pages about Gutenberg castle near Balzers and the history of that area in those times; (5) text and pictures of the Varnbčler coat-of-arms and related coats-of-arms; (6) information about the word Varn or Varen; (7) several pages of original records about the VB's and related families from the city hall in MÜglingen; (8) a few pages from a booklet about Erasmus mentioning Ulrich VB (of Dčrers portrait); and more. In addition I brought back a 612 page hardbound book about the history of the town of MÜglingen (the town Johann Jakob Varenbčhler and Friederika emigrated from); a small book about the town of St. Gallen; two copies of the "350 Jahre Haus Varnbčler in Hemmingen" book; postcards (of Weinstein); a booklet about Johann Conrad VB; a philatelic society booklet and envelope issued for the Hemmingen 350 year celebration featuring Johann Conrad's portrait; a tape recording of Mr. Rennert's translation of a revealing document about one of my direct-line ancestors; a large calendar photo of Weinstein; 4 rolls of slides (of the MÜglingen Rathaus archive, Weinstein castle, Gutenberg castle, Varnbčlerstrasse signs, etc.); and more.
A short while after our trip I made some changes to my web site, changes meant to address the concerns of some family members about the privacy of their personal information and the possible misuse of it in this age of "identity theft" crimes. I eliminated everything except names for living persons, revised charts, etc.
As a follow-up to our trip to MÜglingen I communicated with Mr. Gčhring and expressed my wish to have copies of the documents relating to the Varenbčhler family. Shortly thereafter he sent several to me. They were of course in the old script, so I wrote to him about translating them, and we made a tentative arrangement for him to do so (at a very good rate of pay). Later however, he wrote saying other projects, time constraints and health problems were making it difficult for him to do it. I followed up with a letter to Judith Ertmann, asking for suggestions about getting the documents translated. She replied that she had attended some seminars to learn how to read the old script, and that she would be happy to read and translate the documents, with help from the Mr. Raiser (who we'd met in MÜglingen, and who knew how to read the old script very well), and from Mr. Gčhring, to check the work for accuracy. I thought it was a great proposal, and e-mailed her to tell her so.
About that same time I decided that I wanted to have a good example of the family coat-of-arms, in color. The best way to get one meeting my specifications was to draw it myself on the computer, which I did. I scanned a B&W copy of the coat-of-arms from a book, and then essentially used it as an "underlay" on which to do my drawing. I have since printed the finished color version on 8.5 x 11 paper, but it can be printed at virtually any size.
At some point in time following our trip I noticed a curious coincidence that I found especially interesting. Somewhere I saw the current Swiss postal code for Weinstein castle, where our family lived over 600 years ago. It is 9437. 9/4/37 is my birthday. (What are the odds of that happening!)
In early 2002 I asked Mr. Rennert in Hemmingen to translate the 8 page article about Ulrich VB that I'd copied at the archive in St. Gallen. He did, and it gave very detailed, interesting, and informative account of the history and events of the late 1400's in northeastern Switzerland, events in which Ulrich was a key figure. (The translation cost $350.00).
In late May I made several changes to the VB web site. I added several images on a new "Image Gallery" page, and also added several new images to the existing Gallery pages. Many of the images were from my slides, taken on our trips to Germany and Switzerland, which I was able to scan with a newly acquired slide scanner. The whole project involved a lot of work. I had to develop several new HTML pages, alter photographs, etc. In the end, I uploaded 36 new or revised files to the web site server.
Later in 2002 I occasionally corresponded with people who had e-mailed me after finding the VB web page. I also went once to the U.C. Berkeley library and located some references to Ulrich VB in letters to/from Erasmus.
Sometime in early 2003 I became interested in trying to learn more about the earliest Swiss Varnbčlers/Farnbčelers, especially their connection, if any, to the Gutenberg castle in Balzers. I also hoped to straighten out the confusion about the many Hans's and others that preceded St. Gallen mayor Ulrich.
Because United Airlines, on which we had accumulated many "frequent flyer" miles, appeared headed for bankruptcy, I became concerned that we might never be able to "cash in" those accumulated miles. I decided we'd better use them, and soon. From that, a spring trip starting in Prague, then going to Vienna, Innsbruck, and finally Liechtenstein and Switzerland, with stops at many archives along the way, emerged as a plan.
In late May and early June (2003) we went to Europe for 3 1/2 weeks, with the main focus of the trip being to search for more information about the earliest VB's in Switzerland. I carefully planned a trip involving stops at the archives/bibliotheks in Vienna, Innsbruck, Vaduz, Chur, and St. Gallen. I contacted most of them by e-mail before the trip, made appointments, etc., all of which proved very useful.
In Vienna I was able to see, by special arrangement, the original preparatory drawing Albrecht Dčrer did for his woodcut of Ulrich VB. (I paid to have a photographic copy made and sent to me). I was also shown 2 of the original prints made from the woodcut.
Also in Vienna, I obtained copies of 2 hand-written documents from the 1600's, both several pages long, that are the applications for nobility status by Johann Conrad VB and Johann Ernst VB. A 3rd document I obtained is a copy of a "diploma" by Emperor Maximilian I concerning a treaty between Ulrich VB and St. Gallen. I was alerted to all of these documents before the trip as a result of e-mail inquiries I made.
In Innsbruck, at the Tirol Landesarchiv, I found (and obtained copies of) some original documents of Emperor Maximilian I, dated in the 1400's, concerning the VB's. Handling the old papers, with their worn edges and flowing script handwriting in browned ink, and recognizing the Varnbčler name in the document, made my sense of history and distant ancestors more real and concrete.
We were helped in our searches in Innsbruck by a very knowledgeable Dr. Martin Schennach. Without his help we would not have found much.
In Vaduz (at the Liechtensteinisches Landesarchiv) we again were fortunate to have excellent help, this time from Herr Rupert Tiefenthaler. The focus of our search there was to prove (or perhaps disprove) any connection between the VB's and the Gutenberg castle in Balzers, the von Frauenbergs, Greiffenberg castle, or any other connection to castles or nobles that are found in questionable histories of the VB's that have been passed on as fact. We found and copied a lot of articles about the Gutenberg castle and others, but found nothing to suggest a connection to the VB's, or that the VB's were active or prominent in that area at the time. To find nothing was in itself a kind of success, as it tends to negate some of the speculations about the early VB's that have been expounded. However, further research might still show that there was a connection.
In Chur (at the Kantonbibliothek and Archiv) the most interesting find was a small book, about 5 inches by 6.5 inches, 224 pages, dated 1896 that was entitled: "Ulrich Varnbčler"! (Sub-title: "Der Klosterbruch zu Rorschach"). Despite the number of pages, I decided it was important enough and unique enough to warrant copying all of it, which we did. (Or I should say, Gay did, for which much credit is due; it was a big and difficult job, which took a long time). The book turned out to be a play, in 5 acts. Perhaps some day we will learn more about it, and how it portrays Ulrich, members of his family, Schwendiner, Abt. Ulrich RÜsch, and others, who are all characters in the play. (It cost a small fortune to copy).
Another interesting find in Chur was information about the Beeli von Belfort family. An Amalie Beeli von Belfort is found in some documents as a very early VB spouse, and an Agnes Beeli von Belfort was allegedly the wife of St. Gallen mayor Ulrich VB. Agnes was also allegedly the daughter of Ulrich Beeli von Belfort and Elizabetha Castelmur, prominent families of their time. As a distantly-related family member I was allowed to look at a large box full of private Beeli family records, which included extensive and well-documented genealogy records, a large bound book, an early handwritten family tree (including spouses), a separate person index, and much more. There was no Amalie at all, and, to my surprise, no Agnes of that period. Nor could I find any mention of Ulrich VB as a spouse. It also showed that Ulrich Beeli and Elizabetha von Castelmur had only 2 children, Martin II and Euphrosenia. (If all that is true, why do all the VB histories say Agnes Beeli von Belfort was Ulrich's wife?)
From Chur we went to St. Gallen, and on the drive there we stopped to locate the properties named Farnbčhl, one near Gais, the other near Teufen. With maps I'd brought showing the Farnbčhls, and by asking locals (some of whom, luckily, knew English), we were in both cases able to drive directly to the Farnbčhl houses, both of which were at the end of a long entrance road. We were even able to "speak" to their owners. They were very friendly, seemed to understand why we were there after we used our best German to convey the idea, and let us take photos of the surrounding landscape. The properties both had beautiful views, across green rolling hills, of snow-capped Santis, the highest mountain in the area. The house near Teufen was the highest on the hill. If the early VB's did indeed own these properties and take their name from them as has been suggested, they sure knew how to pick some beautiful spots. We had previously visited the Farnbčhl near StÜrgel, which was in an equally beautiful location.
In St. Gallen we went to both the Kantonsbibliothek (Vadiana) and Stadtarchiv, and the Stiftsarchiv. At the Vadiana we were helped a great deal by Frau Guggenheimer, as well as others (such as Frau Hasler), and at the Stiftsarchiv by Herr Erhard.
St. Gallen is of course a gold mine of VB information. There is a wealth of material available -- if you know what to look for, how to look for it, and how to read Swiss-German and the old German script. Since we had few of those attributes, we needed lots of help, and, thankfully, got it. It is amazing how much material is available from such an early time period. Most of it is catalogued, indexed, well-preserved, and in most cases accessible.
We found several things in St. Gallen, and were able to either copy or photograph (without flash) most of it. Some of the highlights included the following:
- Photographing the small but beautiful and detailed gouache color painting of the VB coat-of-arms by Johann Daniel Wilhelm Hartmann.
- Finding over 20 pages in the Appenzeller Urkundenbuch with VB's in the entries.
- Finding the huge handwritten volumes of August Naef that contained several items about the VB's, Weinstein, etc. (Most were in Vol. 3, under Weinstein). This was especially useful because it may have been the source for some apparently false information passed down through the years about the VB's. Naef does not give sources for much of the information he presents.
- Seeing some of the original documents from the 1400's about the VB's (referred to in the Naef book), such as the 1423 and 1428 handwritten documents regarding land in Berneck/Bernang, some with the old wax [?] seals and strings attached.
- Finding a long article about the history of the St. Katharina Abbey in St. Gallen, with several references to Angela Varnbčler, who figured prominently as its Prioress in the late 1400's, early 1500's.
- Getting more insights and information concerning the possible landholdings of the early VB's, and where to look for more information (the Spitalarchiv for example, which I hadn't known about previously, and the Appenzell Ausserrhoden archive in Herisau for information about the Farnbčhl properties at Gais, Teufen, and StÜrgel). The Spital (which essentially means "hospital," but it had a different meaning then) apparently owned and leased lands much like the Abbey did. Hans VB was a Spital administrator and, apparently, land holder).
- Confirming the existence of a Heinrich VB in 1366. He would be the earliest VB that there is documented evidence of. Previously, the Hans of Weinstein in 1375 was considered the earliest, and to my knowledge there is no document to support that.
What was perhaps most important about the research I did on this trip were the conclusions that resulted from combining new information with past research. One major conclusion is that there is a lot of false information out there about the early VB's that has been passed on down through the generations as historical fact. It was often passed on because each succeeding author/researcher simply copied the false information of a predecessor without question, and /or without checking sources (or noting the lack of same). For example, in the Liechtensteinisches Landesarchiv I found the same Gutenberg information repeated in several succeeding aricles, and could trace them all back to the earliest one, in which the (apparently false) information came from none other than Johann Ernst Varnbčler.
Despite the fact that I found a lot of the alleged early history and genealogy of the early Swiss VB's questionable or decidedly (for me at least) unprovable, I did come to trust one source of information about the Varnbčlers of St. Gallen, and that in itself is valuable. It is a 1971 letter from a past archivist at the St. Gallen Bibliothek/archiv (Dr. H. Lienhard) who studied the Varnbčlers. He read the old documents and conveyed his findings in the letter to a Dr. Martin Kčhner, who had requested such information almost a year before he got his reply from Dr. Lienhard. (I found the letter some time ago on an LDS microfilm, and, suspecting its importance, paid to have it translated.) Dr. Lienhard lists the sources for the information he gives, and I located some of them on this trip in order to confirm their existence and authenticity. As a St. Gallen archivist, and one who was involved in an extensive project to transcribe the old handwritten documents for eventual publication (a project apparently being carried on by others today), Dr. Lienhard was in an ideal position to get accurate and unbiased information, and to understand its historical context. It's always possible that he made some mistakes, as others have done, but at this point in time I think his information is the best available, and probably quite accurate. Dr. Lienhard pointed out in his letter that his information was all he had time to locate, and that to do a thorough job it would be necessary for someone to systematically research the sources available in the archive, a very time-consuming process.
That pretty much concludes this lengthy summary of the 2003 Europe trip, except to perhaps say a little about the actual process of searching in the archives. I had taken with me a folder of materials I thought would be useful or needed, and a long list of items to look for in each archive. We went as early in the morning as possible to an archive and almost always spent the entire day there, with a long break for lunch when the archive closed. Gay was a great help in many ways, and if there were times she wasn't busy copying or digging up a book, she would find something off the shelf to read about the history of those times, which she found extremely interesting. In the evening, after a late dinner and before bed, I would sit down at a desk and review notes about the finds of the day, organize what had been found, and plan the next days work, usually by making a list of what to do or to look for. After returning from the trip I painstakingly filled out about 4 pages of research logs, listing almost everything we looked at, whether useful or not.
Another thing I did after returning home was to locate on the Internet, and purchase, 2 books by Johannes HŐne that are very relevant to the VB history, Der Klosterbruch in Rorschach und der St. Galler Krieg 1489-1490, and Der Auflauf zu St. Gallen im Jahre 1491. I learned of the Antiquarian book web site dealing with German language books from a book dealer in St. Gallen, who told me it was the best place to search for the books I wanted.
As the trip ended, I felt my long genealogy search was ending as well. I felt I'd done as much as I could do, or needed to be done. I felt satisfied with what I'd accomplished, and was ready to move on to other things. I thought at the time that I would probably add some things to my web site later (images primarily), and might from time to time do a little more research, but I thought that for the most part I wouldn't be spending much more time on the genealogy project. It turned out that I did do more, mostly additions or changes to the web site.
In early July I updated the web site by adding 22 new or revised files. Most of the revisions involved the addition of images from the Europe trip, but I changed several text files also.
In December of 2004 I updated several web site pages. The most extensive changes were made on the list of sources, which was incomplete and had not been updated since I first put it on the web site long ago. I added a large number of sources, including many important new ones, and rearranged the way they were grouped so that those related by topic were together in the list. I made minor text corrections or revisions on several other pages, and also added my biography as a link at the end of the "Contact Ray" page for anyone who might want to know more about the author of the web site.
In March of 2006 I again updated or improved several web site pages. I included, in the chart and family tree pages, new information that had been e-mailed to me by family members here in the U.S., fixed too-narrow margins on several pages, added my photo on the page containing my biography, changed some text here and there, and made other minor changes. In June of 2008 I again made a few minor changes and updated charts and family tree pages with additions e-mailed to me by members of the VanBuhler families.
In February of 2010 I spent several hours at the National Archives branch in San Bruno looking for a few things that I was unable to find in my previous searches (e.g., what happened to the Barbara Farenbuhler/Varenbuhler who came to America in 1834 with a man named Jakob Knoss; where did they go after arriving here? When and where were John Jacob and Mary Cook married?). I did not find "the answer" to those or some other questions I was interested in, but did find a few possibilities to explore later if/when I feel inclined to do so. However, I did find a few new things. I finally found John J. Van Buhler, with wife Mary, and sons John J. and Joseph, in the 1880 census, something I'd been unable to find previously. The reason I'd been unable to find it previously was that the name was seriously misspelled as Van Buren (which meant that the Soundex code for the name, used in previous searches, would be different than that for either VarnBuhler or VanBuhler). I also happened upon a few new items of interest such as: a passenger list showing that someone named Anton Varnbuhler came to New York in September of 1912; a World War 1 draft registration card for John Jacob VarnBuhler (containing his signature); and that several members of the Knoss family apparently came to America several years after the Jakob mentioned above.
Also in February I updated the family web site by (1) adding a long article about Ulrich in St. Gallen, and the history of his conflict with Abbot RÜsch, (2) adding 3 more misspellings of our family name on the page that lists those that I found during the course of the search, and (3) enlarging most of the photos on the 3 "Image Gallery" pages. The latter image-size changes were the most difficult and time consuming, but they made a significant difference; they were a big improvement over the old images, which were put on the web site years ago at a time when computer screens were smaller and screen resolutions weren't as fine.
In 2011 I checked the 11th volume of the Chartularium Sangallense but found no Varnbčlers in the index. In 2012 I moved the family web site to a new host/server. It had up to this point been on my local internet provider (IP) server, which allowed 10 megabytes of space, free of charge. However, I had used the maximum megabytes allowed and therefore was no longer able to add anything to the site. So I did some research about getting a "real" website, about selecting a website host, etc. I eventually figured out how to accomplish the move, and uploaded the files to the new host. That will allow me to add new items to the site, including photos. Knowing some members of the VarnBuhler/VanBuhler family may have bookmarked a link to the old site, I also added a line of html code that would automatically transfer them to the new site.
In 2012 or 2013 I added my handwritten research logs to the web site. It allows anyone who might be interested to see what I searched (which books, microfilms, documents, etc.), which ones were useful and which were not, and where they were located (which library, archive, etc.).
In 2014 I checked the 12th volume of the Chartularium Sangallense, which covered the years 1398 to 1404, but found no Varnbčlers in the index. However, I did find a volume I had not seen before and hadnŇt known about, The Regesta Sangallensia, which covered the period 1412 to 1463. It was one of those nice genealogy search surprises when I found 61 listings for Johann Varnbčler (and one for Margareta) in the index. Also in 2014 I updated a few items on the web site that I had neglected updating for too long a time, most importantly the ĎChart: The Family in America,Ë and ĎThe Family Tree: pedigree and lineage information,Ë both of which included updates or additions sent to me by VanBuhlers who had visited the site in recent years.
As a result of all IŇve done I now have several file boxes full of the documents, copies, books, pamplets, and other items IŇve collected in the course of the search. There are hundreds of pages in the German language, and therefore I havenŇt a clue what it all says. IŇm pretty sure IŇll never know what it all says. ThatŇs a little frustrating.