Grandma Had Mennonite Ancestors?! Yes.

For an update to this blog post, please see this newer post: The Anabaptist Rubeli of Aeschlen bei Oberdiessbach, Switzerland.

Grandma had Swiss Anabaptist/Mennonite ancestors from the Emmenthal Valley of Bern, Switzerland. Grandma’s and Uncle John’s German Palatinate ancestry trails back to peoples from another area of Europe – the Swiss Mennonites. Or Anabaptists. They were persecuted and exiled from the Bern Stadt by the government.  The Rubeli or Rubly line that married into the Leies line in 1751 were part of the large number of ethnic Swiss Anabaptist refugees that fled their homes in the late 1600s and early 1700s and settled in the German Palatinate. Notably, Anna Margaretha Rubly, 5 x great grandmother, was the daughter and granddaughter of the Swiss Anabaptist Rubeli/Rubly that were exiled from the Swiss State of Bern because of their faith. Balthasar Jakob Rubly, her father, was an important man in his village and an important piece of the Anabaptist ties.  Anna Margaretha married Johann Leyes in 1751. Johann Leyes’s mother, Anna Ottilia Schwartz, may have also been the daughter and granddaughter of Swiss Mennonite refugees from the Emmenthal Valley of the Bern Stadt.  More on the the Anabaptists below.

You can see the changes in the Leies name in this capture.  Simply click for a larger image. I would not be surprised if the Stuppi were Anabaptist too.

 The Swiss Anabaptists

The Anabaptist Brethren were a radical offshoot of the Swiss Reformation.  It grew in Zurich in the year 1525. They flourished in response to what the earliest Anabaptist leaders, Catholic priests, felt was a corrupt Church. Its early preachers and teachers, Catholic priests, renounced riches, renounced praying to the Saints and Mary, ate meat during Lent, and married. The largest difference between that and other reformed faiths in the Swiss States was that they didn’t believe in infant baptism. They believed in the baptism of older children and adults. Hence the name Anabaptists or Re-Baptists. The other threatening parts of their creed were pacifism, including the avoidance of military service, and the refusal to take oaths, were what probably scared the Swiss States. But, pacifism in Switzerland would make sense because Switzerland was neutral, yes? Yes. However, the Swiss States stressed equal participation of all during times of war and their noble lords required those on their lands to be used as mercenaries for a fee to feed the armies of Europe. This hurt the noble lords’ pockets. Anabaptism was born when Switzerland was not yet a country. Each Swiss State, or the later geographic divisions in present-day Switzerland called Cantons, had their own “state religion” as a result of the split during the Reformation. A growing religious movement that avoided military service and would not take oaths was a threat to these sovereign states.


 Anabaptist Persecution

The first Anabaptists were burned at the stake, imprisoned and starved to death, exiled, or drowned. Some had powerful friends that gained their release from imprisonment. When they were released, a few Anabaptists would continue to preach against the state’s church. Having been expelled from Zurich Stadt, they went about other Swiss States and German speaking areas of Central Europe converting new believers. Bern Stadt enlisted hunters to go fetch Anabaptists for a bounty. Yes, they had Anabaptist hunters. Bern would capture and torture the Brethren into recanting. If they recanted they could stay in Bern Stadt. After 10 days if they didn’t renounce Anabaptism they were exiled from Bern Stadt  and escorted to the borders. If the men returned to the Bern Stadt they were beheaded and if the women returned they were drowned. This only caused the populace of the secluded, remote, and independent- minded Emmenthal Valley in the Bern Stadt (where Grandma’s ancestors had to leave) more sympathetic to their cause. The killing of Anabaptists actually just swelled their numbers. The people of the Emmenthal Valley would continue to aid and hide Anabaptists.   Because of the region’s sympathies, many non-Bernese came to the Emmenthal and etablished an Anabaptist settlement near Lake Thun. Since their methods at eradicating the Anabaptists weren’t working, Bern Stadt then tried a new form of punishment after imprisonment and exile. If the Anabaptist was exiled and returned the women were put in the pillory and the men sold to the Italian City-States as galley slaves. This helped empty the over-crowded prisons and fill the State’s pocket.

An artist’s Rendition of Swiss Anabaptists being taken as slaves to be sold to Italy

 Our Rubeli of the Emmenthal Valley

When the galley slave sentence began to be enforced the Rubeli family appeared in the list of names of Anabaptists living in the Emmenthal Valley near Oberdiessbach in 1670, according to the History of the Bernese Anabaptists and Their American Descendants by Delbert L. Gratz. I think they may have been part of the Anabaptists from outside the Valley because the surname is not native to the area. Bern Stadt forbade Anabaptists from owning land. The Schwartz were living in a nearby village according to this same publication in my possession. The persecution and the fear of slavery had become too much for the Anabaptists and they began to trickle out of the Bern Stadt to other German-speaking areas of Europe. *

The Rubeli family lived in Aeschlen bei Oberdiessbach, of the Emmenthal Valley, Bern Stadt (present-day Canton Bern) before the exile. They made their way to the German Palatinate to escape from their homeland where they were no longer permitted to own property. Obviously it is impossible to know their route but many Swiss “faith refugees” skirted through France’s southernmost border with Switzerland into Alsace and then to Palatinate because Alsace began to kick some of them out. What is known right now is that the oldest in the Leies ancestral line to emigrate with his children and their families to a farm outside Otterberg, Rheinpfalz was a Christian Rubeli, our 8 x great grandfather. The emigration included his children, and most importantly, his son Hans Theobald Rubeli – our ancestors.

Oberdiessbach, Switzerland Baptismal Record of Hans Theobald Rubeli (Balthasar’s Father). It states he was born in Aeshlen bei Oberdiessbach.

 Flight to the Palatinate

The Swiss Anabaptists had been invited to the German Palatinate by the ruling prince. The Palatinate had been de-populated during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). He promised religious freedom and the pacifistic Anabaptists, with their superior farming abilities, seemed to be an attractive fit for his domain. The Rubeli appear on records around 1688, near Otterberg, Rheinpfalz. Hans Theobald and Anna Liesbeth have their son Balthasar about 1689 near Biederhausen, Rheinpfalz. Christian, a Hans and Christian’s brother Peter appear on Mennonite Census lists compiled and translated by Hermann and Gertrud Guth. These were then published by a Pennsylvania Mennonite couple and sold by a Pennsylvania company, Masthof Press in Morgantown. The Schwartz too appear in the census lists. This is another book that is proof of their origins.

Balthasar Jakob Rubly and the Palatinate

In conclusion, for now, on Grandma’s Anabaptists, they had to assimilate in the Palatinate. By the time Anna Margaretha Rubly (as they were in Germany) married Johann Leyes in 1751, her father Balthasar Rubly, grandson of Christian Rubeli and son of Hans Theobald and Anna Liesbeth, was a Gerichtsschoffe.   In “American” – that is a Justice of the Peace. An alderman. A respected village elder appointed by someone in a position of power to mete out justice as you would see in a type of small claims court. Why is that important besides he had a neat job and awesome name?  Because Balthasar probably had to TAKE AN OATH of some kind to a state or a ruler. He was now no longer considered a practicing Mennonite and would have been banned.



According to the Online Global Online Anabaptist Encyclopedia, in the early 1700s the Palatinate fell into the hands of an Anti-Mennonite ruler.  They were strong Catholics. Taxes were levied on the Mennonites because they were considered religious dissidents. They were not permitted to purchase more lands for their sons when their families grew. If their population grew too numerous they were shipped to America to keep their numbers down. Because they were superior farmers, it caused jealousy. The law looked the other way if a non-Mennonite allowed his livestock to graze on their fields. Religious meetings were restricted to twenty people and they were not permitted to try to convert the rest of the local populace. Eventually, of their own free will, Mennonites made their way to William Penn’s lands because of his promise of religious freedom. Oh and by the way, the Swiss Mennonites are credited with bringing the potato to the Palatinate, according to the Swiss Mennonite Cultural and Historical Association. Many Swiss faith refugees and their descendants lost their dialect and culture and assimilated into the Palatinate, speaking the language – Plattdeutsch. Maybe Balthasar assimilated to protect his property and family. No doubt he would have been a friend to them.

*For readers descending from Ulrich Wirth – his Swiss Anabaptist ancestors also fled the Bern Stadt but lived on the other side of the Rhine in Alsace, France. His sons, most notably the fifer/drummer, if they were still Mennonites, would have been banned from the Brethren when they fought for the good guys during the Revolutionary War.



As previously noted, there is the possibility that the mother of Johann Leyes, Anna Ottilia Schwartz, was also a Swiss Anabaptist living in the Palatinate. Johann Leyes’s cousin also married a Rubly, and still another of his cousins married a Schwartz. While researching these newly discovered Anabaptists I came across a comment in a book noting how common the use of the name Anna was in the 1600s and early 1700s in Switzerland. Not only did Wenceslaus Layies – Trauden have a daughter name Anna, so did his son Johann Jakob Leyies-Trauden that also married an Anna Ottilia. Anna Margaretha Rubly had a sister named Anna Eva.   I don’t know where Wenceslaus Layies – Trauden came from.  He too was not from the Palatinate.

If you would like to read more about Anabaptist history online the Global Online Anababaptist Encyclopedia has numerous articles on the places referenced in this posting and they have recently been expanded and updated.  Another interesting site is the Swiss Mennonite Cultural and Historical Association.

In case you hadn’t noticed the new tagline photo at the top is a panorama of a view the Emmenthal Valley in Canton Bern. 

I hope you enjoyed reading about this new discovery.  It was fun and enlightening to find.  Because the Anabaptist discovery is still so fresh, the amount of Anabaptist/Mennonite genealogical information available so ridiculous, AND the number of Rubeli/Rubly descendants researching their roots so plentiful, it is fruitless to apprise readers of the noteworthy events surrounding their origins, survival, and flight to the Palatinate in a couple of paragraphs. The unfortunate side of the abundance of information, in this age of the internet, is possible misinformation. One must work through what may be false information out there already on the Rubeli/Rubly.   However, the sharing and swapping of information and records among the descendants and distant cousins of the Swiss refugees to the Palatinate is wonderful and if it wasn’t for some of them the writer would be lost. 

Until I locate the birth of 8 x great grandfather Christian Rubeli and records pertaining to his parents, I will not prognosticate or copy what has been said on the world-wide web about his potential ancestry. As I stated above, he may not have been from the Emmenthal Valley originally, let alone from Bern Stadt. There are two fantastic tales alive out there pertaining to Christian Rubeli’s ancestry. Until someone shows me proof or, I find that proof, I don’t want to include them.  It is my opinion alone that the Anabaptist pacifism and refusal to take oaths is what caused the harsh persecution they faced in Switzerland.









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