The History of the Glarus Families, especially of the Sernf Valley

by Gottfried Heer : The Bäblers

The History of the Glarus Families, especially Those of the Sernf Valley.
A Medley of Pictures from Past Days.
Zur Geschichte glarnerischer Geschlechter, derjenigen des Sernftales insbesondere.
Allerlei Bilder aus vergangenen Tagen.

By Gottfried Heer, 1920
Translated by Sue Wolf, 2000
[All lettered footnotes and information in brackets were added by the translator]


On the 2nd of May 1595 Pastor Hans Ulrich Engeler of Zurich began the first Elm baptismal book. Among the 58 children whom he had recorded during the 4 years of his service as pastor in Elm (1595-99) no fewer than 161 are found from the Bäbler family, which thereby shows them to be the most numerous Elmer family at that time. The Elmers follow with 8, the Zentners with 5, the Solmans and the Gigers with 4, the Dysches with 3, and the Ryners, who today greatly outnumber the Bäblers in Elm, the Fläms and the Josses, who have since become extinct, as well as the pastor's family, the Engelers, with 2. Only one baptized infant each descended from the Hausers and the Schniders, as well as from the families of the Baschlis, Buchlis, Eglis, Küntzlis, Mäulis (from Freiburg in the Uechtland [Canton Fribourg]), Rächensteiners, Rytzes and Schmids, who have since died out in Elm.

In the Matt church, during the same time period of 1595-99, 6 were baptized from the Hösli family, 5 each from the Bäblers and the Speichs, 4 from the Buchmüllers, 3 each from the Bussers, Kublis and Zopfis, 2 each from the Baumgartners, Gigers, Solmanns, and Ulriches (children of Pastor J. Jakob Ulrich of Zurich), and one each from the Altmanns, Lagers, Luchsingers, Pfiffeners, Schärers, Stauffachers, Thomanns, Wälis and Wolwends. In Matt too, therefore, the Bäblers stand almost in the front row among the citizen families which are in Matt today, with the old Matter family of the Speichs in first place. Nonetheless, Elm appears to be the real ancestral home of the Bäblers. If, since 15992, the ratio of the Bäblers from Matt and Elm has shifted, so that today the Bäblers are a great deal more numerous in Matt than in Elm, then the inference from it was, to some extent, that the Bäblers from Elm had made a move downhill3 a, that is, more Elmer-Bäblers moved to Matt and bought citizenship there4. It seems that the descent happens to occur especially in the case of Bäbler family members who are in the somewhat better-class positions. While the Bäblers from Matt in 1834 proved their identity as Glarner cantonal citizens without exception, 14 males (11 over 1 year old and 3 under) and 9 females were found among the Elmer-Bäblers who first obtained Glarner cantonal rights by decree of the 1834 Landsgemeindeb (see the chapter on the Bräms). So, up to then, they, like their forefathers, lived only as "patient ones" or small farmers in Elm, and their descendants today are likewise not "enjoying wealth". Who the ancestor of these new 1834 citizens had been, and where in the Sernf valley he had come from, the communal authorities of Elm, when asked, were not able to say even in 1833, and he will, therefore, probably have been hardly more identified today5. And even less will be investigated who the ancestor was of the Bäblers who were citizens of Elm and Matt, who were already numerous in 1595, and where he had come from. The allegation which was passed on to me, that in 1594 or 1595 Mathäus Bäbler from Gams [Canton St. Gallen], with his 4 sons, Andreas, Mathäus, Ulrich and Jakob, had bought into the Glarner cantonal rights, at any rate does not agree with reality. To be sure, the Landsgemeinde of the year 15946 had accepted an unusually large number of new cantonal citizens, but among the newly-named cantonal citizens no Bäblers were found; and only G. Schrepfer and Hans Baumgartner followed in 1595. Undoubtedly, Andreas, Mathäus, Ulrich and Jakob Bäbler from Elm, who were just mentioned, like Fridolin, Michel and Jakob Bäbler from Matt, who were previously mentioned, were not only already Tagwen citizens of Matt and Elm, but also Glarner cantonal citizens, by 1595. But where in the Sernf valley had their ancestor come from? It's possible that the recollection that he might have come here from Gams, like H. Baumgartner (see the chapter on the Baumgartners), was justified. Others name Tegerfelden [duchy of Baden] as the original homeland of the Bäblers. Perhaps "both of them are right"; perhaps -.

Likewise, as with the origin of the Bäblers, the meaning of the name Bäbler is also probably unknown. It is remarkable that, side by side with the name Bäbler (and sometimes Bebler), the name Bäbi is also found several times in the Elm baptismal book. Thus writes Pastor Wolfgang Bedrosius: "On the 30th day of July (1618) I have baptized a daughter to Hans Bäby and Barbara Huserin, who was named Cathrina"; and: "On the 27th day of August (1620) I have baptized a little son to Hans Bäbj and Barbara Huserin7 and named him Hans." And Pastor Conrad Buol from Davos [Canton Graubünden] wrote in the death register: "In the month of February (1623) Hans Bäbi, who was killed in the Schovfärf in an avalanche of snow." However, whether Bäbi and Bäbler are the same family name, and Bäbler is only an "embellishment" of the original Bäbi8, perhaps as Bebie also may have originated from Bäbi, I would not venture to assert. W. Tobler-Meyer is said to have traced the name Bäbler back to bâb (= mother); Professor U. Socin, on the other hand, traced it back to a former place of residence (Beblenheim?). So the friendly reader has a choice and must decide which of the three explanations seems to him to be the most plausible. 

In the cantonal tax rolls of 1763 a single Bäbler is found outside the Sernf valley (reported on in Mollis with a property of 800 Fl.). In 1876 14 Bäblers were found in Elm (with 27,000 Fr. of taxable property), 26 in Matt (49,000 Fr.), 1 in Engi (5,000 Fr.), 8 in the capital city of Glarus, 2 each in Ennenda and Niederurnen and one each in Haslen, Nidfurn, Mitlödi and Mollis, for a total of 57 taxpayers (81,000 Fr. of property). In the higher cantonal positions (gentlemen of the bar, cantonal officials, etc.) I encountered no Bäblers, and just as few among the clergymen of the canton. They devoted their energies, so far as occupation and family permitted it, to their home commune. So, according to teacher D. Bäbler's information, the Bäblers from Matt9 (1595-1920) contributed 7 church commune presidents, 2 Tagwen officials, 3 sergeants, 5 sacristans, 2 federal councillors, 2 presidents and 2 choir leaders. In the last hundred years a preference for the teaching profession seems to have made itself felt with the Bäblers, above all. So today no fewer than 5 Bäblers from Matt serve as teachers: 2 as teachers10 in their home commune (Emil, who was born in 1854, and a teacher since 1873, and Dietrich, who was born in 1875, and a teacher since 1895); and 2 as teachers in the Glarner intermediate schools (Christof in Niederurnen and Heinrich in Hätzingen); the fifth one serves in the Zürich cantonal school: Dr. Emil Bäbler.

Intermediate schoolteacher Joh. Jakob Bäbler, who was born in 1806 and died in 1874, exercised prominent influence on our Glarner educational system. At the age of 24 (in 1830) he took charge of the Schwanden intermediate school, which was elevated at the time to a communal institution (having been a private academy up to then). In 1843 he came to the Glarus intermediate school, and he served as teacher a full quarter of a century (1843-68) at that place. Through word and writing, in newspaper articles and in separate pamphlets, he sought to contribute to the promotion of the educational system. Already in the 1840's he championed the evening school, though, for the time being - the time was not yet ripe - without noticeable success11. In 1860 from his pen appeared: "Seven Chapters about the Most Important Concerns of our Canton". In 1864 followed: "Conference Pages of the Glarner Teachers" (they were supposed to be the official publication and forum of the Glarner teachers' association; however, they remained without sequel). In 1871, after his resignation, which was caused by increasing deafness, he further published: " Twelve Chapters about the Most Important Concerns of our Canton: Story of the Glarner Educational System" (p. 47-101 "The Response of the Glarner Schoolmaster to Swiss Minister Stapfer") and "Prospects and Suggestions for the Future". In the 12th chapter he presented the 181-paragraph complete outline for a new education statute. Likewise, he willingly intervened in the public discussion on other political questions; in addition, he could, on occasion, handle a very sharp sword as well. Also he published his works about various events of the fatherland's history12. Thus in 1836 appeared: "The History and Meaning of the Old Agreements between the Calvinists and Catholics in Canton Glarus"; in 1848, "The Old Swiss Confederation, the Confederation Pact, and the Confederation Revision"; and in 1852, "The Admission of Canton Glarus to the Swiss Confederation, Memorial to the Jubileec". - A few of his patriotic melodies also still live on today. Of the older songs, on occasion, in particular are readily sung: "Do you know the land where mountains proud and bold?" and "Free mind and free heart become the Swiss man well".

 In his notes President Zentner unfortunately also had to mention a murder in which a Bäbler from Elm was the major offender. He reported on it: "According to tradition, a Caspar Bäbler had put poison in the food of a man who lived on the Wahlenberg near Elm, in agreement with the man's wife, and in that way had killed him, so they would be able to live with each other. However, the crime was discovered and Bäbler was taken captive13. To be sure, he managed to escape from imprisonment, but returned voluntarily, prompted by his pangs of conscience, confessed his crime, and awaited the death penalty imposed on him with remorse and resignation14. He was executed in September 1661 at the age of 29 by the sword."

[All lettered footnotes and information in brackets were added by the translator]

1 Two Peters (no Fridolins), and one each of Bläsi, Caspar, Hans, Meinrad, and an Anna, Anneli, Barbara, Cleophea, Elisabeth, Katharina, Maria, Rosina, Sophie and Wibrand (Kleophea and Wibrand are very rare in the main valley).

2 At the end of the 16th century (1595-99) 3 Bäbler families were found in Matt: Fridolin Bäbler and Anna Heer (with 5 children), Michel Bäbler and Maria Solman (4 children), and Jakob Bäbler and Magdalena Speich (4 children). D.B. [Dietrich Bäbler]

3 Of the 6 sons of Oswald Bäbler (who died in Aug. 1628) and Afra Nigg (who died in 1642), 2 of them, Paulus and Fridolin, moved from Elm to Matt and acquired Tagwena rights there. D. and E. Bäbler, both teachers, old cantonal judge Joh. Bäbler, church official J. U. Bäbler, Jakob Bäbler, driller, and others live today in Matt as descendants of Fridolin Bäbler. Two other sons of this Oswald Bäbler, Hans and Oswald, went to Mollis. Oswald returned to Elm; Hans remained in Mollis and also acquired Tagwen rights there. However, his descendants became extinct. The present Bäblers who live in Mollis stem directly from Matt. D.B.

a Tagwen – an ancient term, from at least the 6th century A.D., which is still used today in Canton Glarus to denote the commune of the citizens, i.e. those who have inherited or purchased the Tagwen rights (this may only partially coincide with the political commune). It is derived from Tage Wann, meaning the work someone could perform in one day in the commonly-held fields, pastures and forests. Over the years the number of Tagwen in the canton has varied considerably, with the present-day number being 29. Also its duties have changed – from jointly working on and enjoying the benefits of its common property, to administering all the commune’s public interests, to (today) administering and enjoying the benefits of its common property. [SW]

4 A Bäbler also settled in Engi at that time: Marx Bäbler, who married Anna Luchsinger (who died in 1624) in Jan. 1618. He died, however, in 1639 without male descendants.

b Landsgemeinde, or Popular Assembly, means the cantonal legislative body, which is comprised of the Tagwen members. [SW]

5 In 1621 Pastor Gaudenz W. Tack, reported that "on 9 December I have baptized a son to Jochem Bäbler and Elspet, of Tusis, who was named Melchior”.

6 In 1594 were also named as new cantonal citizens: M. Norder, along with two sons, R. Steiger, H. Ryss, B. Locher, along with 3 sons, P. Nick, H. Wächter, J. Müller, along with 3 sons, Tob. Hug, G. Sulzer, M. Kaufmann, along with 2 sons, U. Wälli, Chr. Elber, along with 4 sons, Joh. Itt, W. Roffenberger, and H. Freitag.

7 Oddly enough, in the year 1620, in which a daughter, Catharina, was baptized to Hans Bäbi, in the same Elm church a Hans Bäbler and Barbara Huserin also baptized twin sisters, Barbara and Catharina.

8 That women's names were also permitted as family names substantiates the family names of Anna, Anneli, Linggi, Rösli, etc. Also we have further knowledge of surnames which referred back to a determined grandmother.

9 As counterpart to them, what President Zentner communicates to us from Elm in his chronicle might have value: "1706. To know superficially here by this writing that the entire commune and Tagwen of Elm had recognized charity official Hans Bäbler as their church president 3 years ago, removed him again on Martinmas [feast of St. Martin of Tours (Nov. 11th)] for 3 years, straightened it out, and so forth. However he, Bäbler, rejected everything and would not accept in any manner or way. Also the same Elm commune itself had offered to stop all taxing of him, like others stop for their old church president, and the time to serve should be only 2 years, when he wanted to serve willingly again. And meanwhile this disorder lasted a rather long time and the aforesaid Bäbler himself had not wanted to obediently surrender, so the same entire Elm commune and Tagwen had added that Hans Bäbler should be deprived of  the common land and other Tagwen benefits. And, if in the future more disobedient individuals would be produced, then they should be constrained in the same way." The authorities seemed to have repealed the decision of the Elm commune. Nevertheless, the Elmers took revenge on Bäbler, in that they decided unanimously that neither he nor one of his sons would ever be selected for an office, as church steward or Tagwen official, until he granted them satisfaction.

10 Of their predecessors, teachers Joderich Bäbler, who was born in 1824, died in 1894, and served as teacher from Matt from 1850 until a few days before his death, and Heinrich Bäbler, who was born in 1871, a teacher since 1889, and died in 1894, were mentioned.

11 In the October 1842 assembly the school board, at the suggestion of teacher Bäbler, had decided on the evening school question as the subject of discussion for the next session. However, in this next session only 4 men appeared to hear the report received from Bäbler. And likewise only 6 members besides the president jointly showed up for a second appointed session on 4 October 1843 for the same report, so that the reading of the Bäbler report was postponed a second time. However, this time "postponed" was, in fact, "cancelled". The apparent lack of interest was looked upon as rejection of the report's recommended plans. Not even Bäbler could deceive himself about that.

12 Also his son, Dr. J. J. Bäbler (who was born in 1831and died in 1900), at first district teacher in Brugg [Canton Aargau], then Prof. of the Aarau cantonal school, concerned himself with a preference for historical (Swiss historical) works (in 1862, with the "Ancient Stories of the City of Brugg"; in 1867, "Thomas von Falkenstein"; in 1879, "Samuel Henzi"; in 1884, "Heinrich Zschokke"; and in 1889, "Field Names in the Schenkenberg District".

c Glarus joined the Swiss Confederation in 1352, so it would have been celebrating its 500th anniversary in 1852. [SW]

13 Since the chronicles of J. H. Tschudi and Ch. Trümpi do not mention the deed, I assumed that the story was only a legend, or perhaps only imagination. However, the minutes of the communal council prove its authenticity. The minutes under 10 Jan. 1660 report thusly: "The arrested individuals, therefore, have themselves realized, my good lord, that treasurer Stüssi, as well as second lieutenant Jänni and shipmaster Freuler, and together with cantonal secretary Marti, will undertake the inquiry on the upcoming Saturday. Also the inquiry of the love affair and, hence, of the fatal blow shall, therefore, be carried out as well.- We shall put the man in the small writing room and secure him with an armband, together with a watchman, but we shall put the women in the Caspar Heitzen house and also guard her with a diligent guard, and we shall not let anyone converse with either person." And on 16 Jan. 1660: "On behalf of the late Jakob Rhiner, his wife, Anna Zentner, and Caspar Bäbler shall once more be held by the authorities, as a result of the inquiry, and moreover, the case shall be brought again before my good lord."

14 President Zentner had recorded a long poem which Caspar Bäbler was said to have composed in his imprisonment. We have taken out 5 of the 37 verses of his:

1. O woe the great pains
I carry in my heart
and woe the sorrow
and woe the festering time.
2. Into sin I have fallen,
Confess will I all that,
oh, alas! then fester more,
especially to you, O Lord.
3.  My conscience my soul
This so great failing of mine
accuses and nearly sinks into death,
it does crush against me.
35. The children, O you ancient ones!
Keep them in rigorous emptiness,
hold them to virtuous propriety,
I do tell this to you.
37. God bless you every hour,
O, God, take into your hands
God protect you all from harm,
my soul and happiness!

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