Hidden Away in a Tiny Nook of Canton Zürich, Switzerland

Dr. Peter Ziegler (Zürich, Switzerland) and Dr. Wayne Haston (Pennsylvania, USA), Co-Authors

(Including significant research data from Kent Douglas Hiestand)

"Early Swiss Hiestands" Series

German Language Version of this Article

We know that the first documented reference to the Hiestand family name was on a 1401 tax list, but there would have been a family of pre-Hiestand-named people living on the Richterswil-Wädenswil mountainside prior to 1401.  As was illustrated in a previous article in this series, by the end of the 15th Century branches of the Swiss Hiestand family were prolific in that region.   Kent D. Hiestand, the foremost Hiestand family researcher, has divided early Swiss Hiestands into lines according to parishes and villages in or around which they lived between 1600 – 1700.  That is a somewhat arbitrary categorization because some of them occasionally moved from place to place, but these designations are still very helpful.  

In Canton Zürich:
  • Richterswil Parish
    • Weberrüti line
    • Dürsenen line
    • Haslen line (The earliest Hiestands in the German Rhineland village of Ibersheim was from this line, as per Kent Hiestand.)
  • Schönenberg Parish
  • Hütten Parish
    • Knäwis/Chneus line
    • Schafrain line
  • Schönau line
Schonau and Haslen Big Overview

Unless further breakthroughs in DNA research make it possible, we will probably never know which specific family of Swiss Hiestands our immigrant ancestor, Henrich [for some reason, he consistently spelled it “Henrich,” instead of Heinrich] Hiestand, came from, but the family was probably most-directly from the Haslen line, but all of the Hiestands lines were related of course. 

Some of the earlier known Anabaptist Hiestands were from the Schönau line.  So in this article, I want to focus on a tiny nook on the southeastern edge of Canton Zürich that became a nest of Anabaptists–the Schönau estate.

Schönau - Flugaufnahme

May 15, 1453 - First Known Mention of the Schönau and Hiestands Living There

During the 15th Century, the forested area at the base of the Höhronen Mountain east of the Sihl River (opposite the village of Hütten) began to be deforested by controlled burnings.  The fires cleared land for pastures and farmsteads.  When the settlement of Schönau was first mentioned in documents that exist today, there was a Hiestand estate there on the backside (west side) of the Schönau.  Due to their early ownership of Schönau land, we might suppose they were involved in the clearing of the forest that resulted in the Schönau estate.

“This estate borders on the Gripbach, the Schönau, which belongs to Hiestand, and the Brandbach.”

Things to Know Before you Read the 1453 Document:

  • This line of Hiestands was living in the Schönau as early as May 15, 1453, the first known mention of the Schönau.  Hiestands may have cleared this land, or a part of it.
  • The Gritbach (Gripbach) is a stream on the west side of the Schönau that flows in a northwest direction and into the Sihl River.
  •  The Brandbach is a stream on the east side of the Schönau that also flows into the Sihl River.
  • “Brand” is German for “fire.”  This was a fireline, up to which the forest in that area had been cleared by burning.  In this area, arable land was created by burning the forest.
  • Heini Klein was an adjacent neighbor to these Hiestands.
  • Apparently Klein’s farm bordered on the Gripbach stream on the west and the Brandbach stream on the east and the Hiestand farm, probably on the north-northwest side.

Heini Klein lives in Hütten in the jurisdiction of the Lordship of Wädenswil. On May 15, 1453 he confirms (in court) that he gave the young Hans Ochsner in Bennau (located between Biberbrugg and Einsiedeln) 100 pounds Haller in Zurich currency given Hans. Hans Ochsner needs this to give his wife – Grete Klein, Heini’s daughter – a home tax (= dowry). This amount is liable as a valid deposit at Gut [farm] Schönau and has to bear interest of 5 pounds (=5%). This estate borders on the Gripbach, the Schönau, which belongs to Hiestand, and the Brandbach.


In addition, Heini Klein gives Hans Ochsner another 20 pounds, liable on the Kilchberg farm, which borders on the Gritbach and the Langenegg. The amount is subject to interest of £1 on martini or 8 days before or after. In addition, Ochsner has to send ½ pound of wax (for the eternal light) to the church in Baar (Canton Zug).


The total is 100 + 20 pounds, equal to 120 pounds. This amount must be repaid in three installments of £40 each with £2 interest.     


Hans and Gret Ochsner-Klein have two boys named Hans. The judge Ulrich Klein von Zwygern (Zweierhof) was asked to seal and certify this. The following were present as witnesses to this legal act: Ruedi Schmid, Ueli Klein von Hütten, Ruedi Blattmann and enough other respectable people.


Zürich State Archives – Ref. code: HI 4 (fol. 392 rv)

December 1557 - Hinter Schönau

The entire Schönau is a relatively small area, only covering approximately 90 acres.  Instead of measuring land by acres or square kilometers, in the 16th Century land was measured by the number of cows a farm would support in the summer and in the winter.  The Vorder (front) Schönau was described as feeding 14 cows and two cows in the winter.  The Hinter (rear) Schönau fed 17 cows in the summer and eight in the winter.  

1571 - Hinter Schönau

Hans Hiestand, purchased the mortgage on the farm in the Hintere Schönau.

17th Century Anabaptist Hiestands in Schönau

The Anabaptists everywhere retreated deliberately to remote areas. They were able to live their faith without being immediately discovered by Reformed or Catholic teaching. However, the Zürich state did everything possible to track down the Anabaptists. Betrayal often led to the tracks.

By, or before, the turn of the 17th Century, the Schönau was becoming known as a haven for Anabaptists.  As early as 1615, the Anabaptist Heini Hofmann had been expelled from the country. His house on Schönau – probably Hinter Schönau – was described as a “right guard and underschlaufhuss [under cover] of the Wiedertäufer [Anabaptists].” The population register of 1634 mentions the family of Hans Theiler-Bachmann with four children.  They were Anabaptists, which the Reformed pastor expressly noted.   The Landis, Theiler, and Hiestands living there were ALL Anabaptists.  

The location of the Schönau was an ideal spot for Anabaptists.  It was in a remote nook of Canton Zürich, a place where it was difficult for government and state church officials to monitor Anabaptist activities and arrest them.  And the southeastern edge of Schönau was the border between Canton Zürich and Canton Zug, making it easily possible to escape from Canton Zürich to Canton Zug if the Zürich officials pressed in on the Anabaptists in Schönau.   
We don’t how many of the Hiestands who lived in Schönau were Anabaptists.  Some were avowed members of the “Swiss Brethren” (the title Anabaptists used to identify themselves), but others who were not Anabaptists per se were sympathizers who often aided and abetted their more-committed relatives, neighbors, and friends.  They were known as Half-Baptists (Halbtaufers) or “True Hearted,” such as
Uli Hiestand, nephew of Elsbeth Hiestand, in 1674.  
Here’s one story of a Schönau Hiestand Anabaptist who suffered for her faith:

In 1637, Hans Asper (from the village Horgen) and his wife Elsbeth Hiestand (from Hinter Schönau) were arrested and thrown into Oethenback (Monastery) Prison in Zurich for being Anabaptists, but they managed to escape.  All their property was destroyed and their house and farm were confiscated and sold garnering 400 Guilders for the government.  One report says Elsbeth Hiestand from Hinter Schönau (wife of Hans Asper) joined the Anabaptists in 1657, but that commitment apparently had been made at least 20 years earlier.  In 1662/3 Hans Asper and his wife Elsbeth Hiestand were reported (by the parish pastor of Richterswil) as being at Jebsheim in the Alsace (of eastern France), with their four children.  

Elsbeth died sometime before the fall of 1674 and Hans Asper was remarried to Regula Müller.  On October 18, 1674, Zürich constable Pfister attempted to arrest Anabaptist Hans Asper, Elsbeth’s son-in-law Jacob Strickler (Anabaptist preacher), and Jacob’s wife Cathrin Asper at the home of Uli Hiestand on Uli’s farm in Hinter Schönau.  But Uli’s dogs, at Uli’s command, prevented the constable from making the arrest.

On November 14, 1674, Hans Asper was still found staying in the Schönau home of Uli Hiestand, his nephew.  By this time Hans was old, feeble, and almost blind.  The Hiestands said the old man was a good friend, who was just visiting them.  He had lost all of his possessions during a recent war in Alsace and he was asking them for money to help him out.  The constable asked of Jacob Strickler’s whereabouts.  Asper said that his son-in-law had returned to Alsace to see if the war was over and if so they planned to go back there.  Uli Hiestand was able to convince the constable that he was not an Anabaptist and the constable didn’t arrest Hans Asper because of his age and fragile condition. 
Sources: State Archives of Zürich, E I 7.8, No.131-E I 7.8, No.145 and writings of Kent Hiestand.

The Hans Asper and Elsbeth Hiestand Imprisonment & Escape Story

From Martyrs Mirror (Page 1112-1113, 1938 edition; published by Herald Press, Harrisonburg, VA)

About this time, 1639, there was also apprehended a young man from Horgerberg, named Hans Aster [sic, Asper].  He was also taken to Zürich into Othenbach, fed on bread and water for a time, stripped in his bonds, etc., but subsequently helped out through the assistance of some of his fellow believers. 

When this occurred, he was so miserably crippled through the severe imprisonment, that he had to be carried a long distance in the night. 

In the meantime, also his wife [Elsbeth Hiestand] with her infant child was apprehended and confined to Othenbach for a time, but subsequently, through divine providence, escaped the enemies’ hands.  The authorities expelled the children into poverty, and sold their house and homestead (realizing from it about four thousand guilders), without restoring anything. 

The parents had therefore to work hard for a living, having lost everything; but in this they trusted in God’s promises.

Hinter Schönau - An Anabaptist Hideout

In 1893, a centuries-old house in Hinter Schönau was destroyed by fire, according to the fire register in the State Archives.  Although the destruction of the wood in the core of the house made it impossible for us to know when it was constructed, it is possible that the house was one of the oldest–if not the oldest–house on the original Schönau farm.  It was probably built at least as early as the first half of the 16th Century and could possibly have been built by an early Hiestand family.

This old house, located only a few hundred feet from the border that separated Cantons Zug and Zürich, may have been the home of Anabaptist Heini Hofmann and the shelter for protecting Hofmann’s Swiss Brethren.  Later, the house may have been the home of Uli Hiestand, nephew of Hans Asper and Elsbeth Hiestand and cousin of Jacob Strickler, an Anabaptist preacher.

According to the fire register in the State Archives, the house in the Hinter Schönau burned on September 27, 1893.  A barn was built in that area in 1895.  The barn was probably constructed on the site of the house that burned a couple of years earlier.  The barn associated with the burned house was demolished in 1904.  The 1895 barn still exists at the location indicated in the topo map above.  It’s the barn in the (left) photo below.

Photos by Dr. Peter Ziegler

I cannot prove that the Hiestands lived in the Hintere Schönau house that burned down in 1893. But it is possible.

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