Swiss Family Joss from Münsingen to Chicago

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Münsingen, Switzerland
Holmes, Ohio, United States
Cook, Illinois, United States
Canton of Bern, Switzerland
Year range
1815 - 2007
Christian Joss
Christian Joss

Christian Joss was born in 1815, the second child of Christian Joss and Elsbeth Laderach. He grew up in the tiny village of Herolfingen, near Münsingen where generations of ancestors had been baptized, married, and buried, a few miles east of the great aristocratic capital city of Bern. Napoleon’s conquest had reshaped Switzerland before he was born, and tensions between Catholics and Protestants marked his growing-up years. At the age of 23 he married Catharina Staudenmann from the much more rural village of Guggisberg, about 15 miles away. We have no idea how the couple met.

Catharina was the youngest of five children of Joseph Staudenmann and Barbara Hauser. None of her five full siblings and three half siblings married out of town. But back in the early 1700s, her mother’s great-grandfather Christian Hauser had left Egnach in the far northeastern corner of Switzerland and moved to Canton Bern.

She loved gardening and traded seeds with neighbors; in later life, as the story is told in “The Swiss Connection,”

   she had a habit of putting a flower in her mouth, usually a rose, when she worked around the garden. She claimed that it kept her mouth from getting dry.

She and Christian had six children, five in Switzerland; five lived to grow up.

They were religious but perhaps not altogether orthodox, as a well-worn book with the name C. Joss written in it suggests. The title page, as translated by Sam Henderson:

   Faithful Account of the life of Jesus Christ, which Nicodemus, a Rabbi and leader of the Jews, wrote as he saw and experienced this, because he was a follower and a secret child of Jesus Christ. There are many beautiful pieces and stories to be found there which the evangelists did not write.

We don’t know just what moved them to leave everything and everyone they had known and emigrate to America in August 1849. But it clearly wasn’t done lightly. Christian’s brother Johann gave him a letter lamenting that he would

   know you from now on as in another world, who have shown me so much kindness . . . . Surely many times will my eye, wet by tears of grateful remembrance, follow you in the far off distant land and then to see you once again face to face will always be my longing.

Probably they took ship that fall (we have yet to find which one). Daughter Elizabeth, then six years old, recalled their travel by sailing ship and canal boat to join a group of Swiss emigrants who’d settled in Holmes County, Ohio, near the town of Winesburg. An earlier emigrant party to these parts had been led by Nicholas Joss (no known relation), who wrote a detailed account of their journey in the 1830s.

On March 29, 1850, Christian paid $1000 to Charles Holser for about 50 acres of rocky farmland in a creek valley in Paint Township. He built a house — his daughter Elizabeth recalled it as the first house in the county to have a second story; but their “stairway” was a ladder. The children helped Christian build a fence by carrying rocks from the “stone field.” A cold spring provided refrigeration.

Was it too much like Switzerland? Five years later the family sold the property to Christian Spycher for $1350 and headed west, first to Indiana, and then to the northwestern corner of Chicago, Illinois. There Christian built a log cabin not far from the Des Plaines River, right about where Mannheim Road and Irving Park Road intersect today.

Catharina outlived her husband by more than a quarter-century. Her granddaughter Elizabeth Schriber Thrall kept a large piece of red-and-white fabric, which she described as an

old feather bed cover of my grandmother Joss who died in 1902 or 3. Been used as part of a costume once. When she was ready for bed she would climb up on a stool & get onto one feather bed and pull another over her until only her face showed. She spoke only German . . .

Christian and Catharina are buried in St. John’s Cemetery, now a small inholding in O’Hare International Airport. If Mayor Richard Daley succeeds in expanding the airport, they will make one more move after all.


born 25 Oct 1815 Herolfingen, Canton Bern

married 1 Feb 1839 Münsingen, Canton Bern

died 19 Jul 1875 Cook County, Illinois

Ancestors: We know 14 of his 16 great-great grandparents, and a few beyond.

Siblings: At least three of his six siblings married and had children: Johann (m. Ryf), Bendicht (m. Wermuth), and David. David emigrated in 1848 and settled in Buchanan County, Missouri, near St. Joseph. There he married and had three children, who have many living descendants.


born 4 Dec 1815 Kalchstätten, Canton Bern

married 1 Feb 1839 Münsingen, Canton Bern

died 6 Jan 1902, Chicago, Illinois

Ancestors: We know all eight of Catharina’s great-grandparents and quite a few beyond that.

Siblings: Four of her five full siblings are known to have married and had children: Anna Staudenmann Nydegger, Barbara Staudenmann Pauli, Joseph Staudenmann (m. Marti), and Christina Staudenmann Zbinden.

Descendants: Of their five children who lived to adulthood, Anna married Christian Barten, Elizabeth married Charles Schreiber, Mary married Leonhard Lendy, Johann married Luisa Baruth, and Frederick married Emilie Bigler. All have descendants living today — lots of cousins!

--Hh219 21:11, 16 April 2007 (MDT)