Amish Origins

Religion in Family History

When talking to people about my family history, I often tell them that I am 1/4 Amish. Some are quick to point out that Amish is a religious group.

How can I be 1/4 Amish?

The majority of the Amish come from the same area of Europe and very few people from the outside world join the Amish as they do not actively seek new members. In essence due to their separatism, they have become an ethnic group with religion as their unifying factor.

My Grandfather’s parents were Amish and they left the church shortly before he was born. That makes 1/4 of my ancestry Amish.

So, where did the Amish come from? The primary intent of this post is not to look at the religious beginnings of the Amish church, but rather where they came from geographically.

We will start with Erlenbach im Simmental:

Erlenbach im Simmental Amish Jakob Ammann's Home Town

Erlenbach im Simmental – Google Maps

Erlenbach im Simmental was the birthplace  in 1644 of Jakob Ammann who became an Anabaptist leader. Later, near the end of the 17th century there was a schism in the Swiss Brethren church. The followers of Jakob Ammann became known as Amish and the followers of Hans Reist took the name of Mennonites. The name Ammann is no longer seen among the Amish today, but another family from Erlenback im Simmental has many descendants among the Amish. The Stutzman family came from this same small town in the Canton of Bern.

Next we have the small town of Steffisburg:

Steffisburg Bern Switzerland Home of Yoder and Kauffman Amish ancestors

Steffisburg – Google Maps

Steffisburg is not far from Erlenbach im Simmental and is the ancestral home of my Yoder (Joder) and Kauffman families. Many of you will recognize the name Yoder. It is probably one of the most distinctive Amish names. Some of the other Amish surnames from the Steffisburg area are Beiler, Blank, Brenneman, Eash, Eby, Eymann, Gingerich, Graybill, Lehmann, Lorentz, Plank, Raber, Ropp, Schlabach, Stahli, Schantz, Schweitzer, Stouffer, Stuckey, Troyer, Wenger, Zook and Zug.

Finally, we have the town of Schwarzenburg:

Schwarzenburg, Bern, Switzerland - Hochstetler Amish

Schwarzenburg – Google Maps

Schwarzenburg is the ancestral home of my Hochstetler family. There are several spelling variations for this family name, the most common probably being Hostetler. So if you see a name that sounds similar it is probably part of the family :-). Other Amish surnames from this area include Bricker, Bucher, Mishler and Staehli/Staley.

Lake Thun - Amish Homeland shown on Map of Switzerland

Switzerland – Google Maps

Here is a map of modern Switzerland. The marker is pointing to Lake Thun which is the lake shown in the first three maps. The three towns are all within about 15-20 miles of each other, so there was a lot of communication between the different families before they were later forced to migrate north to the Alsace, Lorraine and Palatinate areas in the Rhine Valley. From there they continued their migration on through the Netherlands to Pennsylvania and other areas of America in the mid 1700’s.

A later wave of Amish immigrants in the 1800’s came from areas further north in Germany. This later migration may be covered in a future post, but most of my Amish ancestors were in the earlier wave of migration.

I hope that you now have a better understanding of where the Amish originally came from in Europe. Although they migrated through Germany and spoke German, most of the early Amish immigrants were from the Canton of Bern which eventually became part of modern day Switzerland. Perhaps in a future post I will also explain the Pennsylvania Dutch misnomer :-).

If you would like information on a specific Amish surname, I can try and help you find more information. I have a few resources at hand and also have access to additional sources to search for information.


This post is part of a series on Religion in Family History. See also:

Religion in Family History

Amish in California?

The Light in the Forest

Stephen Jenks – Singing Master

Amish in Oregon

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38 Responses to Amish Origins

  1. Sheryl says:

    I learned a lot about the history of Amish from this post. Thanks!

  2. Boomdeeadda says:

    Europe is an interesting place when you’re talking countries and changing boarders. My family is Ukrainian but left Bokovinia in 1899 which was them the Austrian Empire, so really my roots are Austrian I guess.

  3. Glenda McDougal says:

    Thanks Steven, I’ve read several books about the Amish, but had never followed up map locations. Very interesting!!! My cousin married into a Mennonite family and moved from Arkansas to Delaware. They farm, provide their own vegetables, fruit, meat, dairy products, etc. Also home school their 5 children.

  4. Candy says:

    Great research. Thanks for the hard work.

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  8. Arick Tealey says:

    Thanks for the article……my mother’s birth certificate has her name as Schlabach and her father got out of the Amish around 1920, in Holmes County Ohio. I have a family tree of sorts for the Christian Schlabach branch dating from around 1819, but not much earlier. I am curious if you could give me some direction on where I might find some pre-1819 family information I am now motivated to go see what I can of Steffisburg and vicinity.

    • vanbraman says:

      Arick, here is a page that will provide you some information on the Schlabach family.

      I assume that since you mention Christian Schlabach and 1819 that you are referring to the Christian who immigrated, along with his brother John, to Pennsylvania in 1819. This Christian was born in Hesse, Germany in 1793 and died in Holmes County, Ohio in 1871 and was married to Barbara Gnaegi. The father of John and Christian was also Christian Schlabach who was born in Germany in 1751. He immigrated a year after his sons in 1820 and also eventually went to Holmes County, Ohio where her died in 1840. He was married to Magdalena Schwartzendruber.

      I have seen genealogies that give Johann Georg (b. ~1726) as the father of Christian (b. 1751) and then the father of Johann Georg as Christian (b.~1701) who married a Guengerich. However, I have not seen any definite sources for this information.

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  18. Jaylene Balzer says:

    My maiden name is Stutzman, my ancestry beginnings are from the 1700’s from Uebeschi Switzerland. My forefathers came to America and settled in the Township of Bern, Lancaster County PA in 1739. I am planning a trip this coming fall to Uebeschi, Thun Switzerland and want to find anything that will connect me to my ancestry. Any suggestions where to start on my search?

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  22. Doris Russ says:

    Do you by any chance know anything about the location(s) of the Frey family?

  23. vanbraman says:

    Doris, according to Amish and Amish Mennonite Genealogies Daniel Frey came from Germany in the early 1800’s along with 2 sons and three daughters.

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  25. Pearl Yule says:

    My father’s family name is through Edwin Bingeman. Originated in Bern Switzerland – to Montgomery Co., PA – to Ontario, Canada,- then to Alberta, Canada. His mother’s family were Stauffers and Scheifele. Came the same route. Eventually Mennonites. Can you trace them and/or give me the resources to check?

  26. Larry Reed says:

    Thanks Steven for the post. I also am a decendent of Jacob from his daughter Barbara who married a Stutzman. I can share this with other family members. My grandmother was a Hershberger. Where might I find more information on that side of the family? Thanks again, Larry

  27. Jim Braman says:

    Mr. Braman, I would love to contact you personally, if only once, as my last name is also Braman.

  28. A Stutzman Descendant says:

    How wonderful! Thank you for more insight into some of my ancestry.

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  31. J.K. Loucks says:

    Thank you for this article. My maiden name is Stutesman (changed over the years from the original Stutzman) and I am a descendent of Jacob Stutzman, an early Anabaptist minister in Indiana territory. I have done a fair amount of ancestry research, but after my recent DNA testing, I have become more interested in the geographical roots aspect of my ancestry. And the DNA puts me squarely in Switzerland, without a doubt.

    • A Stutzman Descendant says:

      My maiden name is Stutchman and it was changed from Stutzman>Stutsman> Stutchman…I’ve even found your spelling as well as others on documents and such. 🙂 I am descended this way Joseph>Daniel>George>Zedoc….. My line came from Switzerland>ship departing from Germany>Pennsylvania>North Carolina>Indiana>Arkansas. Hi cousin!

      • Jackie Loucks says:

        Yes, I am sure we are related with our Stutzman roots! My direct ancestors are Jacob>Samuel>Adam>AdamFrancis>JohnAdam>Eugene(my grandfather). The first three generations were in Indiana and then Adam Francis moved to Missouri. My grandfather Eugene moved his family to the Pacific Northwest during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

        Other Amish names in my line include Yoder and Berkey.

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