Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Our Swiss Ritchhart Heritage

My Ritchhart family line originates with Christian Ritschhard/Ritschard who came to America from the Swiss villages of Oberhofen/Hilterfingen in 1750 with his wife, Magdalena, five children and Magdalena's eighty year old mother.  They first settled in Reading, Pennsylvania where a couple other Ritschhard families already resided. 

I first got interested in my family history when I received a letter in the mail in 1993 with the salutation "Dear Cousin".  It was an offer to sell me a book for $50 written by Bette Richhart which traced the history of the Richhart, Ritchhart, Ritschard families.  After confirming such a book existed in the Library of Congress database, I purchased the book and was forever hooked on family history research. 

Joanne and I had the pleasure in 1999 of meeting Bette and her husband, Jim, and spending the night with them in their home outside Fort Worth.  Bette and Jim had made two trips to Switzerland in the process of researching the book.  She gave me the name of Alfred Ritschard as a point of contact in Oberhofen.  When Joanne and I were planning a European trip, including Switzerland, in 2003; I wrote Alfred in anticipation of meeting with him and other Ritschards during our visit to the Oberhofen area. 

Map showing Oberhofen and Hilterfingen near Interlaken
The reply letter was from Beatrice Frey, Alfred's granddaughter.  Alfred had passed away and his wife, who didn't speak English, passed the letter to Beatrice, who worked in a University in nearby Bern and spoke English.  Beatrice agreed to meet us at the pier in Oberhofen when we took the passenger ferry from Interlaken, where we were staying, to Oberhofen.


In the background and below is the beautiful Oberhofen Castle, where Ritschharts were the Bailiffs for three generations in the early 1600s. 

One of the sights I was most interested in seeing during our visit was the Church at Hilterfingen.  I had learned from Bette's book that there was a large plaque inside the church that had been donated to the church in 1731 by distinguished families in the area.  

The colorful plaque depicts Moses holding the two tablets with the Ten Commandments.  Bordering the plaque are twenty-eight crests, similar to a coat of arms.  Eight of the crests bear the names of Ritschhart families who were donars of the plaque. 
 One of the Eight Ritschhart Crests
Ironically, when we asked Beatrice to take us inside the Church to see the plaque, she didn't know the plaque existed; despite the fact her grandfather was buried in the church cemetery!

The following day I went by train and bus to visit the Church at Amsoldingen, where Christian and Magdalena were married in 1733.  I knew of the church because of reading about it in Bette's book.

It struck me as I was standing in a pasture taking a photo of the church that, in some ways, little had changed in the immediate vicinity of the church in the 270 years since Christian and Magdalena were married.  The streets were paved now; but probably no wider; there were still goats, sheep and cows in the pastures, and many of the homes were about the same age as the beautiful church. 

Church at Amsoldingen
The church interior was very basic with minimal change.  Plain benches had been replaced with chairs and the choir loft and organ had been added; but few other changes were evident.
It was a wonderful trip, thanks in large part to the research and work of Bette Richhart.  Unfortunately,  Bette passed away a couple years back.  I am so thankful we had the opportunity to meet her.  Her work will carry on and enrich the lives of many others like myself. 



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