Lehman, Layman, Lemon 
DNA Enhanced

Lehman Families in the Emmental Area of Canton Bern, Switzerland,1550-1725

The deeper one delves into research of the early Lehman immigrants, roughly those who arrived in the New World in the first half of the 18th Century, the more evident it becomes that those folks primarily had their roots in the area of the valley of the Emme River in Switzerland’s Canton Bern, from whence they fled to escape religious persecution. The underlying reasons are beyond the scope of this article. An excellent in-depth analysis of this persecution in all of its aspects is contained in Delbert Gratz’s Bernese Anabaptists and their American Descendants, 1953, Harold Press, Scottdale, PA. A comprehensive compilation of Lehman families in the Emmental area between the years 1550-1725 forms the nucleus of the book, Lehman Ancestors in the Swiss Emmental before Emigration. See a description at the heels of this web-page.

The Emmental is situated just east of the city of Bern. It is gently rolling and very fertile terrain, through which the Gross Emme River flows on its northwardly course 80 kilometers to join the Aare east of Solothurn. The Aare flows into the Rhine, thus providing the "river highway" along which our forefathers fled to the Palatinate region of Germany and eventually to the New World. It was, during the time period with which we are concerned as it is today, devoted to agriculture. Then and now, many farms have been in the same families for centuries. The area is most known today for its cheese.

In Switzerland during the time frame in question, everyone was required to be a member of the government-sponsored Protestant Reformed Church. Other denominations were illegal. All marriages were required to be preformed there and all infants were required, within a very few days after birth, to be baptized there. In the latter half of the 16th Century, the churches began to record these events in a parish register. or Kirchebuch (church book). Recording of deaths did not begin until later, generally too late to help us. It is the baptism and not the birth date that appears in the parish record. For purposes of this article, we will assume the license to engage in the fiction that they were the same day.

The original Kirchenbucher may be found in the Bern Archives. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has copied those records on microfilm, and they can be obtained at family history libraries throughout the country for a nominal rental charge. At first blush, one would conclude that such records would make tracing our Lehman ancestors relatively easy.

Sadly, this is not the case. The records are written in old German script, also known as Fraktur, and many of the words are obsolete and unfamiliar to the modern German language. The handwriting is often undecipherable, even if it had been written in English. The centuries have taken their toll on the books and there is deterioration of the paper, smudging and ink-bleed. The primary problem is, however, none of the above.

 Most of our ancestors who came to the New World in the first half of the 18th century came to escape religious persecution. Many good and God-fearing people in the Canton of Bern and elsewhere were unhappy with the state controlled Reformed Church. These folks saw it as corrupt and infested by sinners. They were, in a sense, rebels against the religious monopoly personified by the government directed Reformed Church. Their belief that forbade them from taking an oath, especially one of allegiance, was not popular with those in high places. When they attempted to withdraw, they crossed swords with the church establishment, which looked on such notions and teachings as heretical and those who practiced them as heretics. They were pacifistic. They would not hold public office nor bear arms. 

These are some of the reason that they were persecuted. Treated as criminals, it is not surprising that they did not always report to the Reformed Church to marry or to baptize their children. Thus they were considered adulterers and their children bastards and could not inherit from their parents. Bottom line is that records of marriages and baptisms of our ancestors often never reached the Kirchebuch. That may well explain why we have never found with certainty baptism records of some of our early 18th Century Lehman immigrants. There was sometimes no baptism and, accordingly, no record. The Anabaptists themselves did not baptize infants and, for obvious reasons, kept no records. Additionally, many of our ancestors spent the decades from the 1660s to the time of their voyage to the New World in the first half of the 18th Century in the Palatinate, Alsace, etc where there is a dearth of records.

Notwithstanding the above, your compiler and others have devoted a great deal of effort over a number of years to researching Lehman Emmental families during the period from the beginning of Kirchebuch records in the latter half of the 16th century till the second quarter of the 18th Century. By that time, most of our early 18th Century Lehman immigrants had bid auf wiedersehen to their Emmental homes and, additionally, religious persecution had, to a significant extent, abated.

While the mechanical researching of these records is not easy, connecting generations is often even more challenging. Of some 1800 names analyzed, more than 87% consisted of ten male and nine female Christian names. Take, for example, the situation where two Hans (or Benedict or Ulrich or Christian, etc,) Lehmans are baptized within a few years of each other in the same parish. A quarter-century or so later, a Hans Lehman has married and is baptizing children in the same parish. There is no clue as to the whereabouts of the other. Perhaps he has died in childhood, as infant and child mortality was high. On the other hand, he may have moved away. The decision as to which Hans is baptizing children and which Hans has vaporized is often not easy. On the other hand, both of the "baptism record" Hans may have died or moved away and the current Hans may have moved in from another parish. A marriage may be a second or third marriage of an older Hans. There may be no clue that this same Hans baptized children earlier with a previous wife, now deceased. This scenario may assume any of many variations.

The spelling of the surname in parish records was highly inconsistent. Lehman and Leeman probably were most common but there were others including Lehmann, Leman and Laman. With given names the situation is worse, it sufficing to say that 21 different spellings of the female name, “Elizabeth” and 17 of "Catherine" had been noted before we stopped counting. We will primarily use “Lehman” as a uniform spelling of the surname and a consistent recognized modern spelling of Christian names. Names of persons with a surname other than Lehman are spelled as they were transcribed.  

Sometimes in entering baptisms or marriages, the scriber would note the name of the village where the parties lived, thus providing the most common and reliable clue for making connections. Regrettably, this practice was not always followed. Occasionally, the occupation of the groom or father would be noted. In rare instances, the witnesses or sponsors at baptisms lend insight. In the first century and a half or so of Kirchebuch records, representing the basis for this research, the bottom line is that making the decisions described above without some sound basis is a pure crapshoot which should not be indulged in. It is your compiler’s view that unless there exists at least one other basis for making a connection other than that both Hans lived in the same parish, the connection should not be made at all. Nevertheless, there will be and undoubtedly are connection errors in the data presented. The families are numbered for identification purposes only. 

Unfortunately, until recently little work on Lehman families in the Emmental in the years before our forefathers came to the New World had been done. Notable exceptions to this statement include fine work done by Richard Warren Davis and published in Emigrants, Refugees and Prisoners. It is in three volumes and contains the results of his extensive work on many Swiss Mennonite families including our own. Unfortunately, Davis reports on only the Mennonite families.

Excellent work has been done on the Lehman families at Signau by Artur Lehmann and published in Schweizer Familien Lehmann aus den Amtsbezirk Signau 1569 bis 1850, published in German. David Habegger, an accomplished researcher and author who himself has Lehman ancestors, has done extensive work in the parish records of Langnau. 

We are indebted to Rosemarie Greenman of the Department of Foreign Languages, University of Tennessee, for help in reading the script. Words cannot express our gratitude to Susannah Pfaffli Lehmann of Eggiwil, Canton Bern, Switzerland. Susannah’s recruiting of Swiss participants for the DNA project aided in, among other accomplishments, the establishing of a link between descendants and relatives of the 1717 immigrant, Peter Leman, and the Radolfingen Family 1 in the Swiss Emmental. We are further indebted to Susanna for advising us on all matters Swiss. We are also indebted to our expert in Swiss research, Theresa Metzger of Canton Bern, Switzerland for her help in researching in the Kirchenbucher. We are grateful to Heber Hertzog of San Pedro, CA  for sharing the results of his work in the records of the parish of Arch, Switzerland. Special thanks to Roy Wendt for sharing with us work done on his behalf at Hindelbank and Langnau by a professional Swiss genealogist.

One can now trace families recorded from the commencement of Swiss Kirchenbucher records in the mid 16th Century down to living individuals. That has been accomplished in the parishes of Vechigen, Signau, Arch and Langnau. A family living at Leuzigen in the parish of Arch, Family A. 2, has been traced to three immigrant brothers thus providing the basis upon which literally hundreds and probably thousands of living Lehman's by numerous spellings in this country can trace their ancestors to the 16th Century in Switzerland. A similar result has been attained at Langnau with Family A. 3, Test 67. At Vechigen, Family A. 1, and Signau, Family D, the historical research has linked living persons in Europe to 16th Century families although the link to Lehman's in this country to date remains only as results of DNA tests. Test 93 links Family P., Howard Lehman Spessard's line, to Steffisburg and may have revealed the baptism record of the immigrant.

Lehman Ancestors in the Swiss Emmental before Emigration became available for distribution in October of 2008. It consists of 378 pages including indexes. There are 27 illustrations; some in color. Approximately 2200 people with the Lehman surname are included, all indexed and with an actual or estimated birth date, as well as about 3400 with other surnames, all indexed. Families are consolidated as far as is conservatively possible. Abstract of Lehman baptism records in the years 1550-1725 are included for the parishes of Worb, Vechigen, Steffisburg, Oberdiessbach, Hindelbank, Langnau, Signau, Eggiwil, Rothenbach, Biglen, Schlosswil, Schwarzenegg, Rueggisberg and the Taufrodel auswartige Burger (Baptism roster, nonresident citizens) at Bern. This book has been ten years in research and about 30 months in compilation. Each baptism entry abstract includes the name of the infant, father and maiden name of the mother, date, Kirchebuch #, page and witnesses. Known connections with immigrants, aided and abetted by DNA tests results, are included. Unfortunately, all copies have been donated or sold. The good news is that the book may be found in approximately 100 libraries in the U. S. and Switzerland. Your compiler will gladly provide you with the name of one near you.

Extensive information is available on this web site. Click the link below for the parish of interest to read the known and chronicled information relating to Lehman families of that parish during the time period roughly from 1550 to 1725. 

Families are shown in the parish in which the earliest ancestor has been found, although descendants may have migrated to other parishes. The surname of the infant and the father is omitted in "Abstracts of Baptism Records" inasmuch as it would always be Lehman. The infant is listed first followed by the parents, the date of baptism, Kirchebuch citation and baptism witnesses. The surname of Lehman baptism witnesses is spelled as transcribed from the Kirchebuch, 
Information was compiled and edited by Earl R. Layman, laymanearl@yahoo.com, 2525 Lakefront Ln., Knoxville, TN 37922. revised 18 Sep 2011. Dave Koester is Technical Advisor.

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