The Schürch Family Association of North America

Attached for your information is the article on the Schürch Family written by Cyril Beck and published in the August 9, 2014 edition of the Berner Zeitung daily newspaper in Switzerland. Cyril Beck asked some questions in preparation for writing the article. Joe Sherk, the association’s past president, answered them with input from others. A copy of the questions and answers are below.

A link to the article written in German can be seen by clicking
here. Joe commissioned an English translation and it is available here.

Question 1: Why do the Schürch descendants in North America associate at all?
I believe that Schürch descendants in North America associate, for the most part, for three reasons. The first reason is that they are interested in learning about their Swiss Mennonite Schürch heritage and preserving it for future generations. The second reason is that they are interested in meeting and maintaining a relationship with their North American Swiss cousins. The third reason is that they enjoy the company of their North American Swiss cousins.

Tom Sherk, one of the founders, past-president and historian of our Association provided the following response: “A family is one of the oldest and most important social units that mankind participates in. The family unit pre-dates the formation of nations, tribes and cultures. A family is the crucible where basic values are taught and instilled, most of which have been passed down to us from prior generations. Hence, the study of one’s family history and culture is a subject that is of inherent interest to a broad range of people at both an intellectual and emotional level. It reveals our connections to the past, and it informs us who we are as a people. Furthermore, it is felt to be important to document what has been learned about our family history and culture so that it is not lost to future generations. One’s heritage cannot be taken away from you, but it can be lost by failing to save it for future generations.”

Tom Shirk, secretary of our Association, provided the following: “Fifteen years ago, I traveled to Berne Switzerland on a business trip. My company had a customer located in Berne and I visited him about once a year. My associate and I drove south from Germany to Schaffhausen stopping to see the Rheinfall before motoring into Zurich and then onto Berne. I vaguely knew about the Shirk/Schürch heritage so we stopped and had lunch at a restaurant in Sumiswald. A jolt of electricity shot through me when I picked up a phone book and saw a list of Schürch names that lived in the region. It was like a time warp and space warp; 300 years and 4000 miles connected me back to Sumiswald and the Emmental. Very likely there was shared blood between me and the names in the phonebook.

I cannot imagine the mindset and belief system that caused my direct ancestors, Ulrich and Barbara Schürch and their children to leave Sumiswald 300 years ago. Religious persecution compelled them to embark upon a fantastic journey leaving behind all that they knew; their family, their friends, their possessions, their homeland. Ulrich and Barbara Grundbacher Schürch were exported from Berne in 1711 with their small children. Ulrich would have been about 47 years old. The previous year he was in prison not because he committed a crime of injury or theft but because he had the audacity to frustrate the state and declare non-allegiance to the religious edicts. Ulrich and Barbara finally landed in Philadelphia and settled in Schoeneck 17 years later. How did they survive during those years, what kind of support system did they have? I can imagine that it was terrifying but they had the faith that their Anabaptist beliefs provided them.

There must have been a sense of homesickness even after all that time because they named their new home, Schoeneck, after their old home, Schonegg. There is a real physical connection between Schoeneck, Pa. and Schonegg, Switzerland. Such was their faith in God and themselves that they willingly traveled through Europe before embarking on an ocean voyage ending in Schoeneck, Pennsylvania after 17 years of wandering. From there their progeny spread to other parts of USA and Canada but my direct lineage back to Ulrich and Barbara stayed in the Schoeneck area where I was born 8 generations later.

Nowadays, personal freedoms and religious freedoms are taken for granted in both Switzerland and America, which makes the story of the Ulrich and Barbara’s migration so difficult to comprehend. But there it is; the tie, the relationship, the connection of the American and Canadian Schürchs back to the Swiss Schürchs. To me, it is a fascinating story, one that has deep religious and historical connotations. All Americans come from someplace else and the Schürchs in America and Canada know exactly where they came from and their reason for being here.”

Tom Sherk added the following thought to those of Tom Shirk: “While there is a strong correlation of shared Schürch ancestry between these two communities, there also exists strong shared ancestry links to families of other surnames that are to found today in both communities, such as Eberly, Marti/Martin, Steiner, Reist & Brand. This is perhaps not surprising, since the community of Schoeneck, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania was named after the small hilly region named Schonegg in the community of Sumiswald. So the ancestral links between these two communities extends far beyond just the Schürch family alone.”


Question 2: What motivates you personally to invest time and energy for the Schürch family association?
I have been the president of the Association for the past six years and the secretary for the prior two years. This is small commitment compared to that of many others.

I have been and continue to be motivated to invest my time and energy for the Schürch Family Association of North America for the reasons stated in response to the first question. Also, as a member of the Executive Committee for the past eight years, I have found that that I enjoy being around the motivated, hard working, enjoyable and caring people that have been and are currently guiding our Association.

Question 3: How do you and the other members benefit from being part of the large Schürch family?
Like myself, I believe that others have benefited from being part of our family by learning about our heritage, helping to preserve it, meeting other Schürchs and sharing experiences.

Question 4: What activities do you do usually?
Our Association sponsors many activities including a biennial Reunion, a biannual Newsletter, family research assistance, heritage tours to the Emmental, a Y-DNA study, an online family tree (in progress), an online old photograph project, research to determine the locations of our ancestors after fleeing Switzerland and before arriving in America and communications through social media. Our website address is http://www.schurchfamilyassociation.net/ and our Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/Schurch.Family.Association.

Personally, I spend a large amount of my time researching my family history and supporting our Association. In addition, I enjoy mountain biking, kayaking, golf, travel and time with our children and grandchildren.

Question 5: How many members are in the association?
Currently, we have over 3400 Schürch descendants in our mailing list. However, our philosophy is that membership in our Association is open to all persons who have an interest in the family. In North America over time, the Schürch name as been Anglicized and is found in over 70 variations, the most common include the names Shirk, Sherk and Sherrick.

Question 6: How was the association founded?
Tom Sherk, Ron Sherk, Hal Shirk, Jerry Sherk and Jim Sherrick founded our Association in 1982.The founders saw a need and an interest among North American Schürchs to have a vehicle to discover, preserve, compile, disseminate and promote information pertaining to the history and heritage of our family in North America, as well as to actively foster communication and friendship between members through the sponsoring of family reunions and other activities. Subsequently, many other Schürch descendants have played significant roles in sustaining the Association.


Question 7: Have you already been in the Emmental  (Sumiswald e.g.)?
My wife, Ruth, and I visited the Emmental in 2007 along with approximately 35 other Schürch’s from North America, We were hosted by Walter & Elli Schürch, René & Liselott Schürch, Ueli & Marie-Louise Schürch and Kurt and Judy Schürch. These Swiss Schürch cousins treated us as family and made our time in the Emmental memorable. We visited many former Schürch homesteads and sites of interest in the Emmental, particularly around Sumiswald. The current owners of these former Schürch homesteads welcomed us into their homes and were wonderfully hospitable. It was a profound experience to be in the homes of our ancestors.

Our Association has sponsored three other visits to the Emmental, beginning in 1995 and most recently in 2013. In addition, members of our Association have made small family visits to the Emmental.

Margaret Sherk, past president of our Association provided the following: “I would also like to emphasize that there are other descendants of Anabaptists (who fled Europe) who have strong ties to the Emmental, including family associations, like the Reesors and the Ebys. There are other tour groups made up of mainly Anabaptist descendants who visit the Emmental to learn of their heritage.
 I agree that along with learning of my ancestors lives and faith, making friends and acquaintances through the association in North America, Switzerland and the Alsace, has greatly enriched my life. Meeting the farmers who work the original Schürch farms has been a particularly enjoyable part of our trips to the Emmental, along with hiking in the hills there.”


Question 8: Why is the Emmental important to the Schürchs?
Historically, the Emmental is important to Schürchs in North America because this is where we came from and where our ancestors endured and survived to allow us to be. In modern times, the Emmental is important to North American Schürchs because many cousins and friends live there. It is interesting to note that at about the same time that the Schürch Family Association of North America was being founded our Swiss cousins were founding the Schweizerische Gesellschaft der Namensträger Schürch (SGNS). Neither group was aware at the time of the formation of the other group. As a result of this providential happening, the North American Schürchs and the Swiss Schürchs have become very close after almost 300 years of separation. We are indebted to our Swiss cousins for their friendship, particularly René Schürch for his sharing of his research of the Schürch family that has allowed us to better understand our Swiss heritage.

Question 9: What do the other members know about the Emmental, apart from the cheese?
While we have learned that cheese is an important industry in the Emmental, the members of our Association know the Emmental, first and foremost, as our family’s early home and the home to many of our cousins and friends. Also, we know that the Emmental is a beautiful, hilly region that has museums, castles, potters, farms and friendly people.

 
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