A trip through my Swiss roots

According to my DNA, I have a small portion of ancestry that is from Switzerland. I like the idea of having some Swiss blood coursing through my veins. When I think of Switzerland, I see beautiful mountain vistas, tables laden with cheeses and chocolate, Swiss misses walking belled dairy cows through the rolling hills and clocks that run with timely precision. Although this seems a simple stereotype, I found this to be the case when I visited Switzerland in 1993 whilst backpacking around Europe after I graduated.

Certainly when I began looking into my ancestry, I was excited to see some ties to this beautiful and peaceful country. My third great grandfather, Charles Louis VonGunten was born in Switzerland and emigrated with his family to Canada in about 1851. Carl Ludwig VonGunten was baptized on the 9th of June, 1833 by parents Johan and his wife Maria Elizabetha (Nee Bettschen) in Lake Thun, Canton Bern, Switzerland. There is a small town on the shores of Lake Thun called Gunten – it is after this place that the family is named.

Gunten Switzerland

Map showing Gunten, Lake Thun, Canton Bern, Switzerland

In May of 1850, Charles would arrive in the Port of New York, with his father and three of his siblings. They sailed from Le Havre in France on the ship Lebanon.

passenger list

Passenger List from the Lebanon that arrived in New York on May 13, 1850

They would not stay long in the United States, moving North into Waterloo County in Ontario. They can be found listed on the 1852 census in the area of Preston (currently an area within Cambridge). It is on this census that we see Charles’ father Johan (John) is a watchmaker.

1851 census

1852 Census for the Village of Preston, Waterloo County, Canada West

By 1861, Charles has been married and has struck out on his own and is found living in Belleville, Ontario. He is now listed as a watchmaker himself and aside from his wife Mary, he has two young sons in the home as well as a woman named Margaret VonGunten, aged 18 years, who was also born in Switzerland. Perhaps she is a sister or maybe a cousin. No marriage record was found for Charles and Mary and while a baptismal record was found for their second son, Charles, May’s maiden name is not identified.

1861 Census Belleville

1861 Census for Belleville, Hastings County, Canada West

By 1871, the family has moved again and are residing in the town of St. Mary’s, Perth County. Charles is listed now as a Jeweller. He and Mary now have three sons: James John, Charles Louis and Henry Alexander. A couple of newspaper ads were found for the C.L. VonGunten jewelry store located on Queen Street.

1871 census St Marys

1871 Census for St. Mary’s, Perth County, Ontario

VonGunten advertise Nov 26 1869 PG 2 #2 A

Advertisement printed in the St. Mary’s newspaper in November 1869

The family would move again by 1875, where the Hamilton City Directory lists Charles VonGunten’s jewelry store on James Street North.  In both the 1881 and 1891 census’, we find CL VonGunten listed as a Jeweller in the Town of Chatham, Kent County. Using the directories to track the timing of his move, I believe he moved to Chatham in 1880. His second son and namesake, Charles, was married in 1883. It is on this marriage document that we find that Mary’s maiden name was Garrick.


Photo of the CL VonGunten Jewelry shop in Chatham

Charles and Mary did not move again, choosing to stay in Chatham for the remainder of their days. With their Jewelry shop in town, they became immersed in their community. Charles would serve in public office and both would be known for their involvement and charity. I have read both of their obituaries but did not keep records. The “family” business was passed down from Johan to his sons and grandsons, each taking their knowledge of Swiss watchmaking and opening their own shops around Ontario and into the United States. They were intelligent, well educated and kind people, just as you would imagine from the Swiss stereotypes.

Charles passed away on June 14th, 1894 from complications after an operation. His wife Mary Stuart Garrick passed away five years later in May of 1899. The couple is buried in the Maple Leaf Cemetery in Chatham.

Death 1894

Ontario Death Registration for CL VonGunten in 1894

A few years ago, one of my cousins led me to a book entitled “Bettschen Genealogy” which she had found online through the University of Toronto at archive.org. In it, I found a wealth of information not only on the VonGunten family but also on Charles Louis’ mother Maria Elisabetha Bettschen. Maria’s father was named David Bettschen and he was a Mountaineer. In 1850, Johan VonGunten wished to emigrate but his wife Maria refused to leave Switzerland. So Johan went with a few of their children, leaving several of the younger daughters behind with their mother. After their mother’s passing, they also emigrated to Canada ending up in Hamilton, Ontario. The book also talk about Charles Louis’ proficiency with languages and music – he could speak four languages (French, German, Italian and English) and secured a highly sought after position as a soloist in the Galt Band. In 1856, Charles was playing with the band at the Rockton World’s Fair when he met Mary Stuart Garrick, the daughter of a prominent local farmer. They would marry soon after they met. It is written also that several members of the Bettschen family also emigrated to Ontario – David Bettschen is buried in the Rosebank Cemetery in Wilmost Township, Waterloo County close to one of Charles’ sisters – Rosina VonGunten.



Pages taken from the Bettschen Genealogy book – found on http://www.archive.org

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