Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Lost Branch

I have been interested in my family history as far back as I can remember and am very lucky to have many historical resources at my disposal. Incredible scholarship has been done on the de Büren family by various ancestors over time. A fact was made clear to me as a teenager by the head of the Burgerbibliothek in Bern, when I told him that one day I would pen a new genealogy on the family, he scoffed, "It's all been done already." I was undeterred.

While it is true that a great many facts and wonderful stories about my family have already been discovered, one hole in the research always bothered me. In a previous post, I told the story of Louis Amedé de Büren and his emigration to Indiana from Bern in 1830. Within the most recent de Büren family genealogy done by Louis Fontanellaz in 1920 there is information about who Louis married and some information about his children, but nothing else. It occurred to me that while I might not be able to unearth any new medieval information about the family, I knew I could tackle this mystery of the lost Indiana branch.

I started doing some research on Southern Indiana in 1998 while living in Washington D.C., and found that there was an influx of Swiss emigrants in the 1830s to Indiana and was immediately interested. My research previously had always been Euro centric, so it was fascinating to start doing research on a U.S. locale. I knew Louis had settled in Madison, Jefferson County, Indiana in 1830 and took a wife. I contacted the Jefferson historical society and told them the information I had, no de Buren or de Büren listed in Madison. I was undeterred (Is this a trend?).

I joined Ancestry.com and started posting on Rootsweb. I was eventually contacted by a woman in Louisville, who knew she descended from Jennie van Buren Foreman of Madison, grand daughter of Lewis van Buren. Could the name be van Buren? Once I tried van Buren, the information flooded in. After spending many hours swapping information with my new distant cousin in Louisville, and even more hours on Ancestry.com, I had re-constructed the Indiana branch up until the 1930s or so.

Back row: Louis, Edgar and Eugene
Front row: Stella, parents John & Armenta, and Mary


While still living in D.C. I decided to see if I could contact one of the living relatives I found. I did so, and was able to share with him the news of his Swiss heritage. He remarked jovially, "I had heard stories about one of the family members being in the Swiss Guards, and that never make sense to me if we were supposed to be Dutch."

In 2000 upon returning to California, I stopped in Southern Indiana, and saw where the van Buren ranch had been. I later lost touch with my new van Buren cousin, and 10 years after our initial conversation I tried to contact him again. Sadly, I learned of his passing, but thankfully for me, his surviving children were listed in the obituary.

I am now in contact with all of my van Buren cousins and feel blessed that I am able to share with them the richness of our collective heritage. Be thankful for holes in your research, you never know where they will take you.


Interesting Note:

A van Buren cousin from Arkansas writes a blog on her rural life in the Ozarks called Living on the Little Mulberry, check it out.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Called to the Ecclesiastical Life

Nicolas de Büren son of Jean de Büren and Elisabeth Gräfli Hofmeister was in 1391 a member of the grand council of Bern, had a nice home in Bern and was financially well off. He had made various donations to the local Dominican order and seemed to be a pious man. For reasons that are unclear, Nicolas felt called to take his religious devotion to the next level and became part of the church. At the end of 14th century, Nicolas would become a Benedictine monk at the Abbey of St. Jean (founded in 1103 and secularized in 1528) in Erlach (Cerlier) a small town on the lake of Biel. He would later be elevated to the level of Priest at St. Jean as indicated in documents from 1405, 1407 and 1428.

St. Jean and Erlach on the lake of Biel

His two daughters Anna and Agnès were also called to a religious life and would themselves enter the convent of Gnadenthal (Val-de-Grace) in Aarau (founded in 1270 and secularized in 1802). Agnès would become its abbess and in recognition for her saintly life would be beatified in 1405.

A good friend who pens the blog Three Hundred Words raised an interesting question, "Which Pope beatified her?" During the Western Schism in the Catholic Church (1378-1417), there was a Pope in Rome and an Antipope in Avignon. Agnès could have therefore been beatified by either Pope Innocent VII of Rome, or Antipope Benedict XIII of Avignon. If she were beatified by the Antipope her blessedness is probably not recognized by the church.

Church of Gnadenthal

Abbey of Gnadenthal

Interior of the church of Gnadenthal

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

La Elisa

In 1891 Philippe Frédéric de Büren left the life he knew for a new one in Argentina. He most certainly heard tales of prosperous Europeans in South America, but it is unclear if he was persuaded by his father to go, or left of his own accord. I tend to believe it was a bit of both. His father only three years before had sold the Château of Vaumarcus with its vast lands, and has moved the family to the manor home of La Châtelaine near Geneva. Philippe who probably thought he would take over the castle for his father now had to come up with another plan.

Thanks to researcher Juan Delius of Konstanz, Germany and his site (www.pampas-cordobesa.de), I now know that in 1892 Philippe purchased 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres) in Santa Victoria, Córdoba, near Chazon. He bought this land from Philippe Budin, a Swiss businessman living in Buenos Aires whose family was also from Geneva. Budin had purchased all 10,824 hectares (26,746 acres) of parcel I 76, one of the 100 parcels that was divided from the old Monte Molino ranch land area in Córdoba.

Southeastern corner of Córdoba Province, Argentina

Parcel divisions around the old Monte Molino ranch (shaded parcel 29)

Parcel I 76 purchased by Philippe Budin

Sections of Parcel I 76 purchased by Philippe Frédéric de Büren in 1892 (in red). A very important feature of the property is access to the Villa Maria rail line (at left). Thanks to Juan Delius for the image.


Philippe would take a wife and raise a family on the ranch that would be named “La Elisa” after his first daughter Elisa, born in 1898. Philippe and Louisa Fabrini, his wife, would have 7 children in Argentina and one more when they moved back to Geneva in 1911, presumably for their children’s schooling. In a new bit of information furnished by Mr. Delius, it also appears that Philippe’s brother, Henri Paul lived in Argentina for a while at La Elisa. He would later return to Switzerland as well.

The de Büren children (Philippe, Jeanne, Olga, Elisa, Carlos, Henri and Natalie) with their mother Louisa

Henri Charles Paul de Büren (1867-1943), brother of Philippe Frédéric assisted him at La Elisa for a number or years.


When the children were old enough, it was time to return to Argentina. It seems however, that most of the children were very happy to stay in Geneva. It was up to the first born son, Henri, to return to the ranch. He was sent in 1922 to a Swiss farmer in Fresno, California, to learn how to run a large agricultural operation. The problem was, Henri moved to San Francisco, and never went back to Córdoba in defiance of his father’s will. The task of returning to the ranch fell to the youngest son Carlos, who in 1923 at the age of 17 left Geneva for Argentina. Philippe and Louisa would only return to Argentina in 1928.

Philippe Frédéric de Büren

Carlos (standing at left) working at La Elisa

Philippe Frédéric and his son Carlos


Carlos would stay and raise a large family in Argentina. He would run La Elisa for many years until in the late 1960s when he was pursuaded/threatened/forced by his siblings to partition the ranch and sell the parts belonging to the brothers and sisters. The stack of papers that highlight the back-and-forth between the Argentine lawyers, my grandfather and his siblings over the fate of La Elisa span some ten years and regrettably read like scripts from the 80s TV show “Dallas”.

I hope soon to travel to Argentina and see where my grandfather was born and meet my cousins with whom I have become increasingly close over email. If I my grandfather had returned to Argentina the way his father had intended, who knows, I might have been the one raised in Córdoba.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

My little botantist

In the debate that still rages about Nature vs. Nurture and what makes us who we are, it seems clear that it is a mixture of both. What my 6 year-old daughter presented me with the other day however, seems to be an example of Nature all the way. Of her own accord she started to make an Herbarium (a collection of preserved plants specimens), something my ancestors Albert de Büren and Henri de Büren did when they were botanists in the 19th century. I think Albert and Henri would be very proud.

My daughter's herbarium page, taped samples complete with phonetic spelling.

A 19th century herbarium page from the Bern Botanical Institute.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Quand l'histoire se répète

It is said that history repeats itself. We hear of this repetition most often when we highlight man's ignorance, intolerance or greed. However, as the earth renews itself in Springtime, there also exists virtue in cyclical repetition.

de Büren Genealogy Cover

Note from Rodolphe to Albert


This notion of historical cycles made an impression on me today for some reason. I often consult a de Büren genealogy written in 1839 by Rodolphe de Büren of Bern. Rodolphe translated the genealogy into French for his cousin Albert de Büren, the Baron of Vaumarcus. On the inside cover is a note to Albert. It reads:

"My dearest Cousin! Please accept this abridged genealogy of our family. I would ask you to indulge its casual style and grammatical errors. Please keep it as a gift from me and use it to document the new births, marriages and deaths to come. This is the only way for the information to endure. Your most devoted cousin and friend, Rodolphe de Büren. Schosshalde near Bern, June 29, 1839."

In times past this small note did not mean that much to me, but recently my perception has changed. Rodolphe was the family genealogist of his time and I feel I am engaged in the same noble pursuit today. The sharing of family history and family stories with my present-day cousins not only gives me great satisfaction, but also gives new relevance and value to the de Büren family narrative as a whole. One that I hope will endure for generations to come.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

La Châtelaine

When Henri de Büren sold the castle of Vaumarcus he moved with his family to the manor home of "La Châtelaine" in Aïre, near Geneva. The property was once the home of Dr. Théodore Maunoir, co-founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross as well as the International Thudichum School.

In some family papers I found a watercolor landscape layout of the property from 1903. The structures are in orange. I have also included a satellite image of roughly the same area today.

Towards the end of Henri's life he already started to sell part of the property to the local gas works. In honor of his generosity, a local street was named for him. The "Chemin Henri de Buren" cuts through what once was the de Büren estate in Geneva.

The large structure is the main house, the circular structure is the farm house.

The full property in 1903.

How the former de Büren estate looks today.

Germaine, Henri and Gustave at La Châtelaine in the 1890s.

Amelie, Jeanne and Alice de Büren at La Châtelaine in the 1890s.

The Neuchâtel-Vaumarcus Branch

I found a very nice print of the descendents of the House of Neuchâtel done by Jean Grellaz in 1889. It chronicles the dynasties of Neuchâtel, Fribourg, Bade-Hochberg & Orleans-Longueville as well as the illegitimate branches of Vaumarcus and Arberg des Pontins.


The lordship of Vaumarcus by the house of Neuchâtel started with Girard, the bastard son of the Jean-le-Bel (John the Handsome) in 1376. The lordship of Vaumarcus passed to the de Büren family in 1669 by virtue of the marriage between David de Büren and Marguerite de Bonstetten and ended with Albert de Büren in 1831.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Henri de Büren (1900-1986)

My grandfather was born in 1900 on the family ranch in Santa Victoria, Argentina. He was the first son of Philippe Frédéric de Büren (1865-1953) and Louisa Fabrini (1882-1974). He would spend his first 11 years in Argentina, before the family moved back to Geneva, ostensibly for the schooling of Henri and his siblings.

Henri was very handsome, athletic, and stubborn. In his early 20s while still living with the family in Geneva, his father got him a job at a local factory. Henri would leave every morning with his lunchbox and overalls, and return in the evening, very tired. After a number of weeks, Henri’s father contacted the owned of the factory where he was supposedly working, and the owner said, “your son never showed up”. Being quite the playboy and bon vivant, Henri had thrown his lunchbox and overalls in the bushes a couple of blocks from the family home, and had been spending his days with his friends in town.

Henri de Büren (1900-1986)

His father was none too pleased, and in effort to teach his son a lesson and at the same give him the practical skills to run a large farm. His father always assumed that he would return one day to Argentina and take over the ranch. Henri’s father sent him in 1923 to Tranquility, California, near Fresno to work on the farm of Lawrence Schorsch, a fellow Swiss. Why he was sent to this particular farm, is a mystery.

Henri worked for a while on the Schorsch farm and then moved to Fresno where he got a job with the power local utility, among other things killing rattlesnakes in advance of other workers installing power lines. He would later move to San Francisco and marry Emilie Lasserre, a teacher of French Basque origin, who interestingly had taught Joe DiMaggio as a boy.

At that point Henri had decided to make his life in San Francisco, and would return to Switzerland and Argentina later in life only on vacation. He would not take over the ranch as his father had intended. The job would fall to his youngest brother Carlos, whose children make up the current Argentine branch of the family.

Henri with his sister Jeanne on San Francisco Bay in 1946.

Henri with his brother Philippe in Geneva, 1954

A 1960 trip to Argentina to see his family.


While in San Francisco Henri did many different jobs. Among them was draftsman for the famous architect Julia Morgan, and working the night shift at a local brewery.

My most enduring memories of him were his great love of nature and his incredible culinary talents. He was able to prepare seven course French meals in a very small kitchen and when he was younger would give French country pâté "fait maison" as a Christmas gift. I used to call him “Grand”, short for the French grand-père, and he and my grandmother would often pick me up after elementary school and take me the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.

Henri with his wife Emilie Lasserre


Henri died in 1986, followed only two weeks after by Emilie, his wife of some 50 years.

Henri was a study in contrasts. He was a very serious and reserved man, who could at times be incredibly gregarious. He valued his physical strength but at the same time was highly creative, and probably much more sensitive than he would ever acknowledge. And like many immigrants he walked a sometimes difficult line of being a patriotic American without forgetting his rich European heritage and Argentine roots.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Genetic Genealogy

A number of years ago National Geographic aired a program on the migration of the human race out of Africa, and it caught my imagination. It was the first time I had ever considered genetic ancestral testing.

As a result of that program my father was nice enough to provide a cheek swab and send it to a lab for processing. While my father tested for both paternal and maternal genetic origins, it is the paternal line that is of interest to me and to the rest of the family as we share common paternal ancestry.

Drumroll please. Any the Haplogroup is.... no big surprise.

The de Büren Family Hapolgroup on the male side in R1b, the most frequently occuring Y-chromosone haplogroup in Western Europe.

Percentage of the R1b occurrence within Western Europe

Migration route of R1b

Within haplogroups are subclades or more precise genetic markers and the subclade for the de Büren family is R1b1b2a1a1 (R-U106). It represents over 25% of R1b in Europe. It is highlighted below in yellow.


In Europe, the subclade (including its own subclades) has a distribution running north west to east and is found in higher concentrations in England (21.4%) and Scandinavia (Denmark 17.7%), reaches a maximum in the Netherlands (37.2%) and slopes down to the east through Germany (20.5%) and the Alps (Switzerland 13.3%, Austria 22.7%) towards the Czech Republic (13.9%) and Ukraine (9.4%). Towards North-Eastern Europe the concentration goes down to 8.2% in Poland and 7.2% in Russia. The subclade appears to be omnipresent in Europe, although it becomes less pronounced in Ireland (5.9%) and France (7.1%) and, further towards the Mediterranean, low values are measured in, Italy (3.5%), and Turkey (0.4%). The frequency of this subclade remains unknown in certain parts of Europe such as Iberia and the Balkans.

The age of U106 is around 3,100-3,900 years old.
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