Monday, December 10, 2012

Story@Home Conference

Unlike many who search their family past only to discover precious little, I am uniquely blessed with a rich narrative tapestry covering more than eight centuries. One that starts in the 12th century on the blood-drenched battlefields of Europe and weaves its way through the steaming jungles of the Amazon, the fertile pampas of Argentina and finally to California's Central Valley. My family tale reads like a great novel, evoking the grand sweep of history, bursting with complex intrigue, compelling family drama, and fascinating personal stories.

Captivating as the history was, as I delved deeper into my research, year after year, I started to feel oddly empty. I thought I knew what this ancestral gift meant to me, but I hadn’t gone deep enough. For years I had only focused on facts and figures and not on the emotional component of my ancestor’s lives. Once I did, my research took on a more profound dimension and I was able to understand their lives and myself in a whole new way. Ultimately, my journey to share my family’s story has been an effort to tell my own.

I will be presenting Finding My Family, Finding Myself on March 23rd in Salt Lake City at the Story@Home Conference, a storytelling conference held in partnership with RootsTech. I feel it is a unique opportunity to tell my story and am deeply honored to be presenting among such amazing company.

To register for the Story@Home conference which runs from March 21st through the 23rd click here.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Family Bank

When I was a boy I heard stories of our family bank. Family bank, you say? A Swiss bank account I can believe, but who has a bank? Much to my dismay the bank was closed before I was born and the family trust which it was founded to hold is long since extinct.

The von Büren bank was founded by Albert Eugène von Büren (1817-1896) of Bern in 1838 and later became a private bank in 1860. In addition to holding the von Büren family trust, the bank was also very active in private banking for many of the other bourgeois families of Bern.

Eugène Charles (1845-1923), the son of Albert would later take over the bank and rename it E. Büren & Cie in 1884. Eugène Charles and his wife Catherine Marie de Salis-Soglio would not have any children so the bank would pass to another Eugène (1889-1966), his nephew, who would run it until its sale in 1963 to the Swiss National Bank.

Eugène would not have any children, and rumor has it, he tried in vain to persuade other members of the family from Geneva and Vaud to enter the banking profession and take over for him. Alas, no one was interested. He would sell the bank three years before his death, and would tragically be the last von Büren in Bern.

From 1860 until 1909 the bank was located at the Effingerhaus on Münstergasse in the old town of Bern close to the beautiful Cathedral.

From 1909 until it's sale it was located on the Bundesplatz, the most important square in Bern, in the same building where the Valiant Bank now sits.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Drawing of Lots

My father has told me on more than one occasion that two de Büren sisters did not speak for years because of a chair. It appears that one coveted heirloom was promised to one sister and then became the property of her sibling. I took it as merely embellished family storytelling, but I found a document that may give some credence to the tale.

My grandfather, Henri de Büren, was one of eight children, and it appears that in February of 1944 at Châtelaine, near Geneva, there was a Tirage au Sort or a Drawing of Lots to divide up de Büren patrimony of Philippe Frederic de Büren amongst his children. Philippe Frédéric did not pass away until 1953, but as he was living on the Ranch in Argentina and most of the family furniture, silver, et al was still in Geneva, perhaps he felt it was time to divide the family heirlooms so his children – many of whom were living in Europe – could enjoy them.

As the lots were drawn, someone illustrated them, first quickly in pencil and then again in ink. While these objects were partitioned, my understanding is that most of them stayed in storage until after WWII. While I recognize certain objects from my trips to relatives as a boy, most are a mystery to me.

If the enmity between two sisters over a chair really did exist, it may have simply resulted from the luck of the draw.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

La Nuit de L'Escalade

On December 11th 1602, the forces of the Duke of Savoy launched an attack on the wealthy city-state of Geneva, one he had coveted for years. The troops marched along the Arve River at night and assembled at Plainpalais, just outside the city walls. At 2 o'clock in the morning they started their attack. The original plan was to send in a group of commandos to open the gate door, but the night guard Isaac Mercier raised the alarm, church bells were rung, and the Genevois awoke to save their city. The largest part of the Savoyard fighting force tried to scale the city walls with their black ladders but were repelled. The populace fought alongside the town militia and the Duke's 2000-plus mercenaries were repelled. After the defeat, the Duke of Savoy was obliged to accept a lasting peace, sealed by the Treaty of St. Julien, signed July 12, 1603.

Most of the books in our library have specific family significance, but some are important because of the region of Switzerland they come from. La Nuit de L'Escalade is just such a book. The book was published by ATAR (Ateliers Artistiques) in Geneva and penned by Alex Guillot. It has letterpress pages and beautifully reproduced color illustrations done by E. Elzingre. During my almost three years in Geneva I remember celebrating the Fête de L'Escalade a number of times and feel lucky to have such a beautiful family heirloom that celebrates its significance.

I have included below a representative page and illustrations from the 1915 ATAR edition. Enjoy.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Voyages en zigzag

In looking through some family books I found a large tome bound in green leather, its spine replete with ornate gold filigree. Inside its yellowing pages are beautiful engravings of the Alps in addition to many that document everyday 19th century life.

Voyages en zigzag : ou, Excursions d'un pensionnat en vacances dans les cantons suisses et sur le revers italien des Alpes, chronicles the voyages of a school teacher and his boarding school students on a number of 19th century voyages through Switzerland and Northern Italy. It is the first in a series written by Rodolphe Töpffer, a Swiss teacher, author, painter, cartoonist, and caricature artist. He is also considered to be the first modern comic creator.

Of its many beautiful examples I have scanned a small set of the engravings I found most interesting.

La Tour du Lépreux, Près d'Aoste

Le Simplon, entre Isella et Gondo


Rive de Meillerie


Le Roc perché

Voyages en zigzag was originally in the library of my great-great-great-grandfather, Edmond Alexandre de Freudenreich at the Château of Monnaz (VD) in Western Switzerland and was owned most recently by my great-aunt, Natalie de Büren.

On an interesting historical note, it appears that Töpffer's two travel volumes were the inspiration for American author and poet Hezekiah Butterworth's twelve volume Zig-Zag Journeys published in the 1870s.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Family Crest Through Time

As a graphic designer who specializes in developing corporate identity and brand systems, a consistent application of a visual identity is key for recognition and longevity. The same can be said for heraldry.

Brand success is determined in a couple of years. What about a family brand with over four centuries of visual examples?

I thought it would be interesting to gather a sample set showcasing the de Büren family crest in myriad heraldric applications over the centuries. The examples include metal castings, stonework, woodwork, ink, oils, engravings, ceramics, stained glass, textiles and a wax seal impression.

While every example shows creative license, there is no doubt that the key elements that make the de Büren family crest unique have been handled with care over time. Enjoy.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day

Today I want to acknowledge all the de Büren men who came before me.

Their lives show me the importance of family, responsibility and living with a sense of purpose. They also have given me a broad epicurean palette and deep love of art. I want to thank them for giving me a strong foundation by which I have been able to guide my own destiny.

Happy Father’s Day.


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