Yvonne K. Kimmel

It has been over thirty years since my uncle Benjamin F. Fox gave me the original diary written by my great-great-grandfather. The German script diary of Samuel Fox (written (1841-1881) listed over 200 residents of Berks County, Pennsylvania and the surrounding area. Not long after receiving the diary, I started my database of persons named in the diary. The qualifications for additional entries in the database was being a connection to someone already listed in the database.

The diary was translated by John W. Heisey and Amos B. Hoover. The entries included relationship information, death dates, Bible texts, hymns, burial locations, etc. By confirming the identities of persons named in the diary, I was able to determine key relationship links among the group. This indexed volume, including the diary and translation along with my research and over 200 images of cemetery and church photos, family documents, maps and charts, was published by Masthof Press in 2016.

My maternal Lancaster County ancestors were housed in a separate database, until the day arrived, when they started to connect with my paternal Berks County ancestors, and one by one they could be added to the diary database. The Lancaster County research was easy to collect. Most of it was on file at the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, having been meticulously prepared and published in genealogies written by others; but I wanted to complete my ancestral fan chart showing ten generations and my first 1,023 ancestors. I was able to publish eight generations in Pennsylvania Mennonite Heritage 33 no. 1 (July 2010): 32-38, with the help of archivist Carolyn C. Wenger, who provided much needed mentoring. 

The first major breakthrough was realizing that each of my four grandparents (members of the Church of the Brethren) had a line which originated with the Landis family, from Hans Landis or his brother Rudolph Landis (a debate which continues, but has little impact on this story). It is through the Landis family members that moved from Switzerland to France with Jacob Amman and over 100 other members of what would become known as the Amish, that I saw a connection to Zwingli. One of the Landis family members had married a Schnebli family member. The Schnebli and Naf families were well documented as having participated in the Battle of Kappel along with Zwingli.

A persistent young friend of the family, who shared a common Zug (Zook) line, also Amish, would on occasion ask me about my research. He wanted to know if I had traced the line to the time period before the Reformation. At first the answer was “no,” but eventually I was able to confirm what he had gleaned in school; that his ancestral lines could be traced to the time and location in Switzerland where Zwingli’s presence was well documented. The Battle of Kappel had been fought near the border of Canton Zug and Canton Zurich in Kappel am Albis.

Another member of the Zook family informed me his ancestors had Native American origins, due to an attack on the family during the French and Indian War. Eventually, I found his ancestors living on property adjoining that of Jacob Hochstettler (Amish preacher and friend of Jacob Amman of Switzerland), who later settled in Northkill, Berks, Pennsylvania. Members of the Hochstettler family were killed and others taken captive in an attack in 1757. Both of these examples show how important family tradition can be.

The pattern had begun to emerge. Each of my four grandparents showed numerous lines that would eventually lead to Switzerland and connect to Zwingli. The Landis lines were presented in Zwingli, The Key to Finding Your Amish/Mennonite and Church of the Brethren Ancestors. This volume has approximately 12,000 indexed surnames and was published by Masthof Press in 2018. Additional lines of my four grandparents (Sheaffer, Nolt, Fryberger, and Fox) will be available in the near future. Among those closest to Zwingli were persons who never married outside of the group. They provide a thread, which if followed, has the potential to lead thousands directly to their ancestors, not to mention the potential for advancements in DNA research.

Currently I am researching over 1,000 of my uncle’s third to fifth cousins. There are numerous listings from his mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers lines, which confirm the validity of the Family Finder DNA test. The lines which repeatedly show the same names, but are unknown to our family as ancestors, would be those of his great-great-grandmother, and previous generations. By tracing these unknown lines, and paper trail connections to the Fox line, I can determine the surnames of his female ancestors, and hope to establish another route of immigration. Thanks to Samuel Fox’s diary, I am already familiar with the names and simply need to connect the dots in the proper order.