A Family Secret

What do we know about the lives of our grandparents or great-grandparents, about their background, about their joys and sorrows? Maybe they are still among us and we can ask them about anything. Unfortunately, in my case it is too late. My grandparents were all born towards the end of the 19th century and have passed away a long time ago. I would really love to talk to them about their youth, their circumstances and experiences.

With each new generation, the memories of our ancestors – good and bad – become weaker and eventually fade, unless written records of their lives are available. Occasionally, things that do or did not fit into the common picture of a happy and harmonious family are or were deliberately concealed. This then remains a secret.

This also applies to a distant cousin whom I met by chance. With hit surname Amsler and the common hometown Bözen it is obvious that we are relatives. Since he was interested in the family history, I jumped at the opportunity to scan my records in search of interesting clues about his branch of the family. In the first family register of the municipality of Bözen I found what I was looking for.

Kaspar Amsler emigrates to the USA in 1864

His great-grandfather was Kaspar Friedrich Amsler, born on April 27, 1863, died on December 10, 1914.

Birth Register entry for Kaspar Amsler

The entry in the first family register of Bözen contains the names of Kaspar Friedrich Amsler’s parents (Kaspar Amsler and Maria Peter) as well as other revealing information.

The marriage of Kaspar Amsler and Maria Peter took place on February 10th, 1863, only 10 weeks before the birth of the first child Kaspar Friedrich.

The subsequent remarks in the family register tell us that the marriage of Kaspar and Maria was short-lived. On April 16th, 1864, the young father emigrated to America, one year after the wedding took place. In 1867, legal divorce was granted with the note: Waiting period to remarry – for the man 1 ½ years, for the woman 1 year.

The abandoned Maria Peter

Maria Peter and little Kaspar Friedrich stayed behind in Switzerland. The abandoned wife asked the local authorities for help. In the minutes of the district court of Brugg dated June 30th, 1865 the municipality of Bözen was authorized to issue an edict. This was a missing person’s report for Kaspar Amsler, which was published in the official gazette. It is not known whether this appeal reached as far as America.

Soon afterwards Maria filed for divorce. At the wife’s request, the district court decided on January 18th, 1867, that “the marriage bond was dissolved”. Custody of Friedrich Kaspar was awarded to his mother. The husband was ordered to pay the court costs, surrender the woman’s estate, and was required to pay an annual alimony of Fr. 75.

The divorced Maria returned to her home town of Othmarsingen. At first she probably stayed with her parents, Heinrich Peter, a master craftsman, and Susanne Frey. Fortunately she soon found a new partner. On January 21st, 1868 one year after the expiration of the legal waiting period, Maria married the widower Hans Jakob Suter from Aesch near Birmenstorf. At the wedding, the bride was well advanced in pregnancy. Only three weeks after the weeding, Johann Jakob was born, followed by his little sister Anna one year later.

Friedrich Kaspar Amsler grew up with his stepbrother and stepsister in Othmarsingen and married Albertini Rüegger in 1895 at the age of 32.

Kaspar Amsler and his Swiss family
Kaspar Amsler’s family tree – descendants in Switzerland

They founded a family and baptized 4 children. If they were still alive today, they would be surrounded by a large number of grand- and great-grandchildren.

However, today the Swiss descendants of Kaspar Amsler have no memory of their ancestor who had emigrated to America so soon after the birth of his first son.

Presumably there was no mail 1) from the emigrant, nor were there any payments made for alimony or for the legal costs of the divorce. Maria Peter, who had been left behind by her husband, did not have an easy fate. The pain and shame of the failed first marriage was probably not to be shared with the following generations and was therefore kept secret.

Therefore nobody in Switzerland knows anything about the “second” family Kaspar had founded and his descendants in the new world…

Kaspar Amsler, Sausage Maker in Albany

The emigrant Kaspar Amsler left his family in Canton Aargau and settled in the New World. Thanks to the extensive databases that are available online nowadays, we can discover numerous traces of immigrants in the USA. Among other things, I use ancestry.com, a platform that offers a wide variety of different data sources for genealogists. Ancestry.com also contains a large number of private family trees. However, access to this information is only available for a fee. Using this platform I found the emigrant Kaspar in the US arrival records and census records.

1864 Ellis Island arrival record for Caspar Amsler

The arrival records of immigrants in America are stored on microfilm and have been digitized and fully indexed. This allows for very specific online searches.

The arrival date of Kaspar (Caspar) Amsler as well as his age of 24 years corresponds to the records on page 319 in the family register in Bözen. He emigrated on April 16th, 1864 and arrived at Ellis Island on June 23rd of the same year.

Caspar was one of 178 passengers on the “Amalie” leaving Antwerp. Although some of the passengers were listed as Swiss, Caspar Amsler was mistakenly registered as a German citizen upon arrival.

In the United States of America, a census has been conducted every ten years since 1790. The next trace of Caspar can be found in the census data of 1880. Caspar Amsler is now 40 years old and listed as “sausage maker”. He is married to Wilhelmina, born around 1851, and has 6 children aged one to eight years.

Caspar Amsler - census data 1880
partial census data 1880

We even know his address at that time: Elk Street 144, Albany, New York. Some of his descendants live in this area to this day.

The same Caspar Amsler is registered in a family tree on ancestry.com. This tree was published by a distant cousin of mine in the USA. Thanks to her research this part of the family history is well documented. I contacted her through ancestry.com and she has kindly provided me with the data from her research:

Kaspar Amslers family in the USA
Kaspar Amsler’s family tree – descendants in the United States

She was surprised to learn that her great-grandfather, who had immigrated from Switzerland, had left behind a divorced wife and a baby boy. Also in the USA this part of the family history was not handed down to the next generation and remained a secret.

Today, however, the joy about the newly discovered relatives in Switzerland prevails. We both hope that we will soon be able to meet in Switzerland or the USA. Our family is bigger than we think.

1) featured image is a postcard from Bözen dated 1905 – courtesy of Peter Brack

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