Long long ago in a faraway land (that I’ve visited and love) lived a minor knight in the service of the Habsburgs who lived not far away. The Habsburgs were not yet that jaw-jutting mega-ruling family they became, but a little conclave of Austrian immigrants who had a castle (see photo above) on a hill looking over the Reuss river valley in what is now the Canton of Aare. In a few hundred years, they’d be chased out of Switzerland, but for now they were busy protecting their interests.

The castle-fortress belonging to the (very minor) knight, Heinrich von Lunkhofen, was on a hillside, somewhat south and east from the Habsburg’s headquarters. It was a tower with a few attached buildings and a courtyard. Its main jobs were to house the minor knight’s family, provide protection to anyone who needed it in times of attack, and protect the Habsburg’s interests. Heinrich’s brother, Hugo, had a similar castle between the Habsburg’s fortress and Heinrich’s. Near the town named for the family, Unter-Lunkhofen, are ruins of Hugo’s castle-fortress, but nothing remains of Heinrich’s.

Of course, the minor knight’s family had a flag which was carried into the crusades (presumably) and whenever there was a battle locally (it was the feudal period, key word, FEUD), and a kind of address marker for mail delivery (You made that up, Martha). Years and years later, a tiny bit of Heinrich’s DNA made it’s way to Monte Vista, Colorado.

So, without further ado (what’s ado?) here’s my family’s flag (crest). It is also the “wappen” for the village of Zwillikon in the area of Affoltern am Albis.

Lunkhofen Wappen


My family has another crest, too, for the other side, the Schneebelis. Their name started out as “Schnew” (snow) and then “Snewli” and then (no one knows why) Schneebeli (little snowballs). German evolved just like English so spellings changed and stuff like that, but “beli”? It’s a red background with three snowballs on it. There’s a lot of dispute (well a “lot” is relative…) over why the Lunkhofen name vanished and the family became Schneebeli. My theory is that it got very inconvenient at a certain point to be connected to the Habsburgs.

My other theory is that there is a genetic predisposition to love snow.


Retroactive DNA Specificity (What?)

A few years ago I wanted to know my pedigree. When Groupon offered a discount on a fly-by-night-marginally-accurate DNA test, I jumped at the chance.

I learned from it that I am 18% Native American. Because I’m a research kind of person, I had to figure that out. It seemed that the similarity between Northern, Northern, Northern Scandinavian DNA and Native American DNA sometimes yielded this result. Reindeer or Wapiti? I’m good with chasing ungulates across ANY region of the frozen north.

Left with more questions than answers about my pedigree, I forked out MORE money, this time to Ancestry, to get a clearer picture. Why? Because, at the time, it seemed to matter. Now?

Well there are just those times in life you want that $100 back.

Having invested the money in order to get pretty maps and charts explaining what I already knew, it has been kind of fun watching the whole DNA/ancestry thing evolve. Since I went into this looking for Swiss ancestry in particular (because of my novels) I was a little disappointed when, originally, all I got was a vague gesture toward Southern Europe. Ancestry keeps updating its ancestry stuff as they learn more. Today (in my relentless search for a compelling featured photo) I saw the latest changes and they pleased me. Switzerland is now on the map as is the migration of the Schneebelis which is, ultimately, all that matters. 😉

Hip Replacement Update: Doc ordered muscle relaxer for spasms, but the pharmacy didn’t get the prescription yesterday. Still, last night went much better thanks to Percocet. There is a lot of swelling with this surgery, mostly on the operated leg, but all over. It has been slowing diminishing. The best thing is that every single day, something is better than the day before. I think I might actually be able to drive to my staple-removing doc appt. next week.



I think my Aunt Martha always knew where the arrowhead was going, but she never let on. Then, toward the end, when all the aunts had read the will, they knew. One afternoon my Aunt Jo said, “Come here, Martha Ann. I have something for you. Martha left you the arrowhead.”

The will says my Aunt Martha left it to me because my name is Martha, too. I’m not sure that was all, though. I think it was more.

I was only five when my grandfather died, but we’d had one experience together, anyway. When I was one or two, my parents took me to Montana to meet him. He liked me a lot and bundled me up and took me out in the cold to visit all his friends up and down Foster Lane.  Of course, I got pneumonia and ended up in the hospital in Billings, St. V’s, just like Hemingway in the “Gambler, the Nun and the Radio.”

I grew up loving books and thinkers. One of those I loved when I was an undergraduate was Thomas Carlyle. Time passed, my interests grew and diverged, and then I “met” Goethe. I read everything I found, and thought about all of it. I had not “met” a mind like his (was there ever a mind like his?) and felt I’d met a “friend.” One day in the university library I happened on the correspondence between Goethe and Carlyle. Of course I checked it out. I read it from cover to cover that night, very moved. Carlyle was young; Goethe was old. Carlyle had promise, intelligence, talent — but a darkness running through his character. Goethe recognized all of this and wrote the letters Carlyle really needed as a young human being, as a thinker and as a writer. I saw in their friendship a reflection of my “friendship” with Goethe. These were letters he might have written to me. I did not know of my grandfather’s love for Carlyle at that point. I learned of it that Christmas when my cousin Greg handed me a well thumbed, well-loved book of Carlyle’s essays that had belonged to my grandfather.

Perhaps my grandfather and I would have been friends. Maybe we would have had many things in common. Maybe we would have walked the fields north of Hardin and talked about ideas. Genealogy says we all resemble our grandparents more than we do our parents. I see my mother’s mother in my appearance. But what of this unknown man? All I know is this arrowhead and that my beloved Aunt Martha treasured it above everything else she owned.

There Is No Time

I cannot imagine anything more “Twilight Zone” than writing a novel set 800+ years ago and discovering you had written accurately about your own family of whom you had known nothing.

After I wrote Martin of Gfenn, I wanted to write a “prequel” about one of the characters in the novel. I did write it. In the second novel he was going to be the oldest son of a minor noble, a simple knight, who bred horses and lived on the, on the, on the? I decided he would live in Aargau. I put his castle on a hill (small castle, more fort than castle) and using some cool information about a ruined castle near Solothurn, I built my character’s childhood home.

I gave him a brother named Hugo, a father named Ulrich, a mother named Beatrice, but I changed it to Anna and a fiancee named many different things I can’t now remember, but her name became Gretchen. The protagonist was named Rudolf, but he changed his name after certain important events, to Johannes.

He and his brother happily went to the Crusades — Rudolf to save his soul and Hugo to have an adventure. At a certain point in my writing, their father’s name, Ulrich, no longer seemed “right” so I changed it to Heinrich (bear with me; I know you feel like you’re in the Twilight Zone with this half-assed plot summary and a Tolstoyan list of changing names coming at you). The family became: Father — Heinrich. Mother — Anna. Sons — Rudolf and Hugo. Fiancee — Gretchen.

Meanwhile, Martin of Gfenn came out and I got a fan-email from a man in Switzerland asking if I had Swiss ancestry. I believed I did, but I had no proof. I gave it another shot and I found…

The earliest known of my grandmother’s progenitors came from the Albis region between Zurich and Aargau. Some of them lived in what is now Aargau; some in Zürich. They were a large family of knights in the service of the rising Hapsburg family. My grandmother’s — and my — progenitors names were….

Heinrich, married to Anna, with children Rudolf and Conrad. Heinrich’s BROTHER was named Hugo. Rudolf married a girl named Margaretha which is normally shortened to Gretchen. They lived in a castle on a hill looking over the Reuss and the village of Affoltern am Albis. There were visible ruins of the castle until the early 20th century; now there is just this wall (see photo). It was a197a3727-01f3-42aa-a472-131462fe9125 small castle, mostly a fort, and, apparently, judging from the supports and old records, it had had a large tower. Of Heinrich and  Anna’s two sons, one, Rudolf, lived a very long life (well into his 80s) and the other, Conrad, was lost to time. In my novel, Rudolf survives and his brother is killed. I changed the name of  my character, Hugo to Conrad. That was one change I made to adapt my “creations” to historical fact. The other?

The original ending of the novel really didn’t work, but it seemed to me to fit and to be effective and sufficiently mysterious. It seemed to leave the door open to possibilities. A big fan of French film, I prefer equivocal endings to those that are neat and tidy, but having learned that the REAL Rudolf lived into old age, I felt a responsibility to him to extend his story, to give him one more chance to fight and win over his demons. He had also had children, the “real” Rudolf. I loved “my” Rudolf and I didn’t want to shortchange him of his future. He would have to do the same. As I thought about it, it seemed more and more that equivocal or even sad endings can be as big a cop out as happy ones.

My ancestor was pushing me as a writer to do something new. I will not say what, as you might want to read the book someday! There are three chapters here.

I also remembered how, in 1994, on my first trip to Europe, I had been taken into some old hall in Zürich and told to look at all the coats of arms up around the wall. I remember not caring one bit. The Twilight Zone aspect is that the coat of arms of my own family was on that wall. You can see it at the top of this blog. Heinrich’s older brothers (Heinrich was the youngest of three) became very powerful and their sons even more powerful in Zürich and in Bremgarten. In Aargau there is are towns that bear their name.