A Tale of Täufer and Thönen

In 1711, a man by the name of Hans Thönen left the small village of Frutigen in Switzerland, and traveled by boat along the Rhine river to The Netherlands, where he settled in the town of Kampen. He was not the only one though, as he was part of a large enforced migration. However, the reason this particular person is worth mentioning is that he turns out to be one of my ancestors.

The Swiss Thönen family were originally Walsers from the canton of Valais, who migrated across the mountain passes to the Bernese Oberland between the 12th and 15th centuries. They settled primarily in the towns of Reutigen and Frutigen, near lake Thun. Apparently there are records of the Thönen family in this area dating back to about 1480.

In 1711 Hans Thönen, who then lived in Frutigen, left Switzerland. He was part of a group of Swiss Mennonites, or Täufer as they were locally known, which were heavily persecuted at that time. As a consequence, Hans joined a mass exodus to The Netherlands, a country that was much more tolerant towards his religious beliefs. After all, the Mennonites were named after Menno Simons, the Dutch religious leader who had renounced the Catholic Church.

Upon arrival in The Netherlands, Hans and his family settled in Kampen, in the province of Overijssel, and his name was changed to Teunen. The Dutch pronunciation of Teunen is the same as the German Thönen, which made things easier for the local administrators. Evidence of Hans Teunen’s journey still exists in the original ship manifest.

The ship manifest listing arriving passengers.
Part of the original ship manifest that lists arriving passengers. The entry for Hans Teunen is highlighted, including the name of his wife and the mentioning of 3 sons and 6 daughters. Source: Teune.com.

Now fast forward two centuries. On 1 December 1903, a girl named Hennie Teune was born in Kampen. Even though the last ‘n’ had been dropped from the family name by then, Hennie was a direct descendant of Hans Teunen. Unfortunately though, Hennie’s mother and father were rather irresponsible parents, and soon they were not able to take care of their children anymore.

At around the age of 8, Hennie Teune and a younger brother ended up in a foster family in the tiny village of Westeremden in the province of Groningen, in the very north of The Netherlands. This foster family, by the name of Herenius, was apparently also connected to the Mennonite church, which most likely explains the choice of this otherwise quite remote location.

Hennie Teune with her younger brother Freek, when they lived in Westeremden.
Hennie Teune with her younger brother Freek when they lived in Westeremden. Source: Bep Boekestijn.

Hennie became somewhat of a protégé of the minister of the local church, Rev. Johannes Beks. Largely thanks to him, Hennie was eventually able to attend the “Onderwijzerskweekschool met den Bijbel” (Teacher training college with the bible), in the city of Groningen. During this time, she lived with her older brother Piet, who worked for the railways there.

After she obtained her degree, Hennie started working as a teacher in the small town of Borne, back in the province of Overijssel. Soon, though, she would move to Rozenburg, near Rotterdam, in the west of The Netherlands. There she taught for several more years, until she married with Jan Boekestijn, a greenhouse owner and vegetable grower from nearby De Lier.

The “kweekschool” in Groningen does not exist anymore, but the beautiful panel with the name is still present on the building in the H. W. Mesdagstraat where the college was located. Click the pic for a full-size view.

One of Hennie’s sisters, Els, was married to a man from De Lier and lived there, which is probably how Hennie Teune met Jan Boekestijn. When they got married, Hennie gave up her teaching job, moved to De Lier, and became a mother of 11 (!) children. One of those children is my mother. Indeed, Hennie Teune was my (maternal) grandmother, which makes Hans Thönen a distant ancestor.

Meanwhile back in Frutigen, Switzerland, other members of the Thönen family had continued their lives as well. In fact, today there are still several Thönens living in the area, including the local cheese shop owner Walter Thönen. I’ve had the good fortune to meet Walter several times in Frutigen, and was struck by the family resemblances that are still recognizable. If not physically, then certainly in mannerism and way of speech (and funny sense of humor too), which strongly reminded me of some of my uncles. Quite impressive, given that our common ancestry was about 10 generations ago…

In front of the cheese shop in Frutigen.
Walter Thönen and his wife Dorli (on the right) in front of their cheese shop in Frutigen. Second from the left is my aunt Bep, daughter of Hennie Teune. On the left is a friend of her. Source: Bep Boekestijn.

Well, it’s good to know that I have some heretical ancestry 😉 Much of this intriguing information comes from my aunt Bep Boekestijn (daughter of Hennie Teune) and uncle Jan Boekestijn (son of Hennie Teune), who have both done extensive research into our (grand)mother’s family history. Detailed information about Hans Thönen and his journey from Frutigen to Kampen came from the website Teune.com, which was compiled by a member of a related branch of the Teune family which eventually ended up in the USA.

This story is also accompanied by a photographic report with some more information about specific people and places.