Friday, April 25, 2008

Family history

For many years I’ve been aware that I’m descended from a Swiss soldier (or “mercenary,” as family tradition has it) who arrived in the American colonies before the revolution. I knew, too, that I had an ancestor named Henry Wisner who was a member of the First and Second Continental Congresses, and who missed signing the Declaration of Independence for reasons not entirely clear. On a trip to Washington when I was in high school, I went into the lobby of the National Archives and was thrilled to look inside a glass case and see his signature on a document called the Articles of Association. My father recently gave me a book called The Wisners in America: A Family of Patriots and Pioneers, by G. Franklin Wisner. Published in 1918, it has a heavy green binding, softened with age, and an ornamentally embossed title in faded gilt. There are many fold-out pages of genealogical charts in the back, on smooth brittle paper that has to be handled carefully. One of them traces the line from Johannes Weesner (the original Swiss soldier) to my paternal grandfather. I had seen the book many times but had never felt the impulse to delve into it. I hadn’t gotten much farther than the Wisner coat of arms, which also appears at, the website of a manufacturer of antique-looking view cameras. The motto is Amore nonvi, which my father used to say meant “Nobody loves Violet.” (It’s just possible that this is incorrect.)


Anonymous said...

Amore non vi = Love, not war.

Anonymous said...

Amore non vi = Love not war. Does the book include a line of Wisners going to Pennsylvania then Indiana?


Geoff Wisner said...

Chapter XXXII, "Other Families of Wisners," begins, "From the first census of the United States taken in 1790 it will be noted that there were many heads of families living in Pennsylvania who spelled their names similar to the Wisners in the early generations. For instance, we find Wissner, Wisener, Whisner, Westner, Wessner and Wesner. Many descendants of these families have long since anglicized the name to Wisner.

"The progenitors of most of these families came to America in 1709-10 following a religious upheaval in Europe. During the wars of Louis XIV, the Palatinate, one of the richest and most fertile lands of Germany, was devastated by the French armies in 1674 and in 1689.... This led to the emigration, in 1709-10 of a large number of Protestant inhabitants, estimated at 13,000 to England. Thence a large body crossed over to Ireland, while others came to North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia."