Amsler in Indiana

Being contacted via my website is very much appreciated, especially if the person reaching out to me is a namesake. Recently I received an inquiry from Florida about a great-great-grandfather from Switzerland. It is about a certain John Amsler, born 1806 and his wife Anna Brock. John Amsler is not a common name in Switzerland. Probably it is simply an anglicized version of the name Hans Amsler.

Traces in Switzerland

Although there were numerous married couples named Hans and Anna Amsler in Switzerland at that time, I soon found them in the family register of Bözen, Canton Aargau. Fortunately, the exact dates of birth were known, and the following data points to the couple I was looking for.

Birth Register entry for Hans (John) Heinrich Amsler
Family Register Bözen, Volume 1, Page 169 (Source: Bözen Town Archive)

Hans Heinrich Amsler, Rudolfs, born 8. July 1806
(see Pag 30.)
cop, d. 8ten October 1830 with
Anna Brack, from Bötzen (see Pag 51), born 4. December 1802
Hs Jakob, born 19. January 1831

The baptismal name of the father of the family is in fact Hans Heinrich, this was anglicized as “John”. Anna Brack became Anna Brock, this spelling deviation is also easy to understand. The couple baptized only one son, Hans Jacob, born January 19, 1831.

On Page 30 in the family register we find the parents entry, Rudolf Amsler (1760-1825) and Maria Brack (1771-1832). The father of the family was also known as “Schwarzen Rudi”, a family nickname of unknown origin. We learn that the two youngest children had emigrated to America in April 1832. Very likely Hans Heinrich had joined his brothers, with 26 years he was the oldest of the three. The other siblings were already married and had started their own families.

Their mother Maria had been a widow since 7 years, her husband Rudolf had died in 1825. Now she found herself abandoned by three of her sons, the youngest of whom was only 16 years old. This devastating blow left her with a broken heart. Alone and desperate, she took her own life a few weeks after their departure.

Birth Register entry for Rudolf Amsler, born 1760
Family Register Bözen, Volume 1, Page 30 (Source: Bözen Town Archive)

Rudolf Amsler, Schwarzen Rudi, born 8. March 1760
died d. 9ten July 1825
cop: 14 Jul. 1795 with
Maria Brack, born 26 Oct. 1771
died hung herself d. 18 June 1832
Hs Jakob (see pag 153), born 10 April 1798
Johannes (see pag 167), born 25 Dec. 1801
Hs Heinrich died, born 15 Jun. 1804
Hans Heinrich (see pag 168), born 8 July. 1806
Anna Maria (see pag 170), born 15 Jan. 1810
Rudolf, born 10 Febr. 1813
Heinrich, born 30 Jan. 1816
Note for Rudolf and Heinrich: moved d 26. Aprill 1832 to America

Traces in the United States

That we can clearly identify the young immigrant couple, we owe to another source, namely the „Standard History of Jasper and Newton Counties Indiana“ (The Lewis Publishing Company – Chicago and New York – 1916).

In the Jasper County Biographies of 1916 we find a description of the life of Henry Amsler. He had settled with his family in Rensselear, Indiana in 1893. This excerpt contains information about Henry’s parents:

Henry Amsler is a native of Woodford County, Illinois. He was born there December 5, 1838, a son of John and Anna (Brock) Amsler. Both his parents were born in the little Republic of Switzerland… For about four years they lived in Pennsylvania, then moved west and for one year farmed in what is now a part of the City of Peoria, Illinois. From there they went to Woodford County and later to Tazewell County, where they spent the remaining days of their lives. They were the parents of nine children, one of whom was born in Switzerland, and four of them are still living…

These are clear references to Hans and Anna Amsler-Brack and their first child, which was born before they left Switzerland.

Henry and Emma Amsler in 1860 Census

In the American census of 1860 we find the adjacent mentioned six members of the family.

The oldest son who was born in Switzerland is said to have moved to Oregon in 1851 and nothing has been heard from him since 1870. There is evidence that he remained single and died in Eureka at the age of 82.

There is no trace of the other children, they probably died at an early age.

The descendants of Henry and his wife Emma Jane Clark are well documented. Several generations remained in Indiana.

The first 8 children of these Swiss immigrants are listed here, together with their partners.

descendants of John Amsler and Anna Brack
descendants of John Amsler and Anna Brack

Civil War

The same biography contains a description of Henry Amsler (1838-1923) and his experiences in the American civil war:

When the Civil War threatened the disruption of the Union he enlisted at one of the critical times in the struggle on August 27, 1862, in Company F of the Eighty-fifth Illinois Infantry. He went to the front at Louisville, Kentucky, and a few days later was first under fire in the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky. His regiment participated in a number of minor engagements and also in the great battle of Stone River, though owing to illness Mr. Amsler was not present at that engagement. Later he fought at Missionary Ridge and was also on the expedition sent to relieve Knoxville. He rejoined Sherman’s command in time to participate in the campaign through Northern Georgia, and was in much of the hundred days’ fighting between Chattanooga and Atlanta, and participated in the siege and fall of Atlanta, one of the chief strategic centers of the Confederacy. After the capture of Atlanta he continued with Sherman’s armies in their march to the sea, cutting a swath across the Empire State of Georgia sixty miles wide, thence went up through the Carolinas, and ended his military career in the Grand Review at Washington. He was discharged with the rank of sergeant in July, 1865, after nearly three years of continuous service.

Source: Jasper County Biographies of 1916

His sword from that time is said to be still in the family possession.

Henry and Emma move to Rensselaer

At the age of 55, Henry Amsler and his wife moved from neighboring Illinois to Jasper County, Indiana. There they were able to purchase 700 acres of land, about 6 miles north of Rensselaer. His sons James and Bert soon followed with their families. The farm remained in the family for over a hundred years. Some of Henry’s descendants still live in Jasper County and the surrounding area.

These are the descendants of Henry and Emma, some partners are listed in brackets.

descendants of Henry and Emma Amsler
descendants of Henry and Emma Amsler

Thanks to the energetic assistance of my distant cousins Julie and Kevin, we were able to document three more generations with many family members still living. If you are interested in this data, please contact me:

Life in the new world

A small and arbitrary selection from the many fates gives us a picture of the descendants of the immigrants. Like their ancestors in Switzerland, the Amslers remained faithful to farming for several generations.

Floyd Chase Amsler (1888-1956) was the youngest son of Henry and Emma. He married Opal Seibert (1889-1989). She left a short memoir, written at the age of 92. Opal was the youngest of nine children. Her family was from Breman, Ohio. Her parents moved to Michigan City, then a thriving city. They lived in a spacious and modern house, complete with organ and piano.

Opal met her future husband in high school; he also attended Michigan City’s excellent schools. After her college education at what is now Butler University, Opal worked as a teacher and bookkeeper for several years. Her marriage to Floyd was in April 1909. Opal described herself as “a green city girl who knew nothing about farming”.

But soon she learned to handle horses and raise chickens and turkeys. They bought their first tractor and automobile and she was the first woman in the county to drive a car. Then came the opportunity to purchase the adjoining land, they now farmed over 1000 acres. Opal tells of the modern achievements and innovations in the house, such as heating, water pump, electric lights, refrigerator, as well as the building of a “very large barn.”

Regarding the crisis of 1929, Opal writes succinctly, “Then came the depression and the banks failed”

Her husband and three sons became active in the 4-H Club. Opal organized and ran the first 4-H Girls Club in the area. Thanks to this support program, the three sons were able to attend Purdue University. This included military training, and the three were drafted and served in the Second World War

Towards the end of the war and with her husband’s declining health, they were forced to rent out the farm and moved to the city. Only after the youngest son left Purdue University was he able to take over the farm again. Of the two other sons, one became a teacher and the other took over the Iroquois Mill until it burned down in 1977.

Opal was active and involved in a variety of positions throughout her life, whether in the church, the Masons, as an Indiana safety officer and in community support programs. Her report concludes with the words: “The lord has been good to me. My health has been pretty good, so I was able to go and work and do many things. For this I will always be very grateful”.

The 4-H Program

This program, also known as the 4-H Club, was designed to promote and support the education of young people. The 4-H program began in 1902 with the goal of bringing public schools closer to agricultural life. It provided hands-on learning experiences and promoted improved techniques in agriculture. It is similar to the Swiss vocational programs or apprenticeships. The initial letter H stands for head, heart, hands, and health.

Opal’s son’s Floyd, Henry und Roger all successfully participated in the 4-H Program and won numerous prices with the breeding of thoroughbred pigs and sheep.

Floyd Amsler and his first price lambs at the Indiana State Fair 1930
Floyd Amsler and his lambs at the Indiana State Fair 1930 (Source: Indiana Historical Society)

Holding his lambs with a firm grip, 15-year old Floyd Seibert Amsler (1915-1993) of Rensselaer in Jasper County, Indiana won first prize for this pen of Shropshire lambs in the 4-H Club Class. In the background we see the equally proud parents. He also had a first prize ewe lamb that year at the Indiana State Fair in September 1930.

Women play a very important role in Indiana, such as Susan M. Amsler-Smith (1936-2020). Susan was the daughter of Bert Amsler, a cousin of Floyd. She was the owner of Smith Oil Company and served in the Rensselaer city government for 14 years as Clerk Treasurer. She then became Rensselaer’s first female mayor from 1996-2000 and remained a member of the City Council until 2004, the year Governor Joe Kernen awarded her the highest distinction in the state of Indiana, the “Sagamore of the Wabash.”

One of my best friends was from Indiana. During the 40 years of our friendship, we visited each other often, either in Switzerland, Japan or America. My last visit to Indiana was in the summer of 2016, on the occasion of his burial in Lowell Memorial Cemetery, Lowell, Indiana.

Now I have another reason to return to the Midwest, namely to meet some of my recently discovered relatives.

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