Swiss Origin


  • My Thoughts on Possible Origins
  • Name Origin for the Swiss Mennonite Stauffers (this page)
  • Staufen Coats of Arms
  • Famous Stauf(en)s throughout Europe

Dance on the Stauffenalp

It is worth noting that Swiss sources like Dorothy Moll (see below) and Delbert Gratz's book on Swiss names, Was isch dini Nahme?, do not entertain competing theories on the origins of the Stauffer name. For them it's clear: Stauffers took their name from a mountain--possibly as early as the 8th century. The first time the Stauffer name appears on the written record in Switzerland (or anywhere as far as I can tell) is in an ancient Gaelic monastic document written in 827 A.D. (See Dorothy Moll's full report here.)

And the Swiss Mennonite Stauffers who found their way to North America (probably most Stauffers that you run into in the US and Canada, though they may no longer be Mennonite) are said by those Swiss sources to have gotten their name from a mountain called Stouffe just southwest of Röthenbach im Emmental.

In reviewing Swiss hiking web sites, I discovered that the locals call the mountain Stauffenalp. There is a 600+ year-old oak tree there called Stauffen-Eiche, or Stauffeneiche, that people like to visit.
(One source referred to the tree as Canton Bern's oldest resident.) The international treasure-hunting/hiking community called Geocaching has hidden one of their many treasures at the foot of the Stauffen-Eiche. The Stauffenalp serves as a venue for weddings and an (annual?) ecumenical outdoor community worship service and barbeque. It is perhaps best known (on the Internet, anyway) for its shooting range. I've seen pictures of the range, but I can't quite place it in relation to the mountain itself. (Is it Hinterstaufen?)

The Stauffenalp (aka, Stouffe)

From Richard Davis's history of the Stauffers/Stouffers (Part 1, available here), page 21:

"The Stauffer family name probably originated in the parish of Röthenbach, which lies in the midst of the beautiful slopes of the Swiss Alps in the Canton Bern. The first Stauffer probably dwelt on the mountain called Stouffen, which is just southwest of the village of Röthenbach. Within the parish of Röthenbach you will find place names such as Stouffenwald, Stouffenweidi, Norder Stouffen, Stouffenweid and Stouffenbrunnen."

The Stauffenalp, as it's known to the locals, source of the Swiss Mennonite Stauffer name. 
(Click image to enlarge.)

I am aware of at least one other mountain in the Bernese Voralpen called Stouffe, also known affectionately as "Stouffeli" (little staufen). It appears to be a popular hiking and snowboarding destination.

Hiking the Stouffeli

    Dorothy Moll's Report

    The information contained in this letter (below) was compiled by a historian/genealogist in Switzerland named Dorothy Moll in 1925 for industrialist Joseph Stauffer of Galt, Ontario, Canada. If it's not the source where Davis got his information, it certainly corroborates it. The version of the letter I cite comes from the following online file:

    Here are the portions of that letter relevant to the origin of the Stauffer name:

    "The first Stauffer probably saw the light of day in the rocky recesses of the Staufen, a mountain about 3800 feet high in the Canton Berne near Rothenbach, and took his name, as was then the custom, from the place where he was born."

    "This first Stauffer, of whom the meager details of History only says that he was brave and valorous, lived A.D. 827. His name was Klaus Stauffer. Klaus, meaning “Retreat of place of safety,” and Staufen, the mountain in whose rocky clefts he [saw] his first dawn."

    "The name Stauffer, literally translated, means 'Step” or Heights'. Hohenstaufen* means 'those who live on the heights', having of course reference to the Stauffers who lived high up in the recesses of the mountians, where they were best able to protect themselves from the inroads of the common foe. We have today, Hinterstaufen, Vorderstaufen, Staufenweidle and Staufenmoos, all with bearing upon their geographical position."

    * Note: The file has this word spelled as 'Rohenataufen,' which (to me, anyway) is an obvious typo. So I changed it to what I'm certain is the word Dorothy Moll wrote in the original letter: Hohenstaufen.

    I found what seems to be Dorothy's original (full) report in the LDS online family history library catalog. Here's a link. (It's a big file. Give it time to load.)

    Yodler Friends of Stauffenalp

    Röthenbach im Emmental is the old stomping grounds of that notorious Mennonite outlaw, Christian Stauffer (more specifically, Luchsmatt farm, Eggiwil, just a couple of miles up the road; Stauffers also occupied Frütesei and Glashütte farms across the road). Most Stauffers in North America, it seems, are descended from him. He and much of his progeny were kicked out of Switzerland in the great Mennonite expulsion of 1671. 

    (Ninety-year-old Christian had 78 living descendants at the time. According to Davis, I think, a census in Germany listed 30 of them after the exile. But author Romaine Stauffer tells us that 66 of them made the journey. Click the link on her name to go to her blog. Lots of good Stauffer material there.) 

    Many of these Stauffer exiles made their way to Pennsylvania, where they continued their predilection for fruitful multiplication. (My line, for example, didn't stop producing double-digit broods until the latter half of the 20th century.)

    So it makes things enormously convenient, if not outright tidy, for one claiming the area around Röthenbach im Emmental as the birthplace of the Stauffer name for the Swiss Mennonite Stauffers. (Again, don't make the mistake of thinking that all Stauffers got their name from that particular staufen. There are scads of staufens in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. The German version of Wikipedia lists 11 mountains called Staufenberg and 7 called Staufen, let alone all the others like Stauffeneck, Stauffenbiel, and Stauffenchnubel, etc.) 

    Also, again, note that stauf and staufen are the "standard" German spellings for these mountains. In the topographical maps I've found (see below) they spell it Stouffe. So the areas Vorderstaufen and Hinterstaufen Dorothy Moll mentions are labeled on Swiss maps Vorderstouffe and Hinderstouffe (which mean "in front of" and "behind" the stouffe). Likewise Staufenweidle (little stouffe pasture) is called Stouffeweidli. I don't see a Stouffemoos (stouffe swamp), but there is a swampy area in the Hinderstouffe at the foot of the Stouffewald (stouffe woods). There is a Stouffebrunne (stouffe spring/well?) close to the town (upper right-hand corner). On the Internet anyway, the locals seem to spell everything Stauffen or, less frequently, Stouffen.
    • Interactive topographical map of the Stauffenalp (Stouffe)
    • NOTE: I set the map to show the Stouffe initially. The label for it disappears as you zoom in, but the labels for the areas around it begin to appear. The Stouffe is the mountain in the middle of all that. It's marked with an X and shows an elevation of 1140 meters.
    • UPDATE: SwitzerlandMobility (SchweizMobil) has updated some of the topographical maps. These new maps use the more-standardized spelling "Stauffen" instead of "Stouffe."

    Atop the Stauffenalp. View of the Alps north of Lake Brienz (Brienzersee).
    Looking generally east from atop the Stauffenalp. That's Hengst/Schrattenflue in the center horizon and Hohgant to the right.

    The Same View in Google Earth (essentially, from a bit higher up).

    View from the Stauffenalp in Google Earth (looking east)
    Great for sledding. It's about a kilometer uf dr Stauffenalp down to the word "Junkholz" (young wood) with a drop of about 500 feet in altitude. Then it's another kilometer and another 500-foot drop down to the valley (i.e., you drop about 1000 feet in 1¼ miles). That's about a 15-percent slope. Sweeeet.