The Furr Name and its Link to Furrer


Edited correspondence with Markus Furrer (Kegelgässchen 7, 8200 Schaffhausen).  Mr. Furrer requested I edited this correspondence to “correct my poor English.”


January 24, 2003

Dear Mr. Furr,


Actually I was looking for Furrer when searching the Web, but then I dropped on your great page.  Probably, I can give you some more Information.


Furrer comes from the word furre, meaning a cut in the landscape or a very, very little valley.  At least this was the meaning - in a broader sense - given to the word in past centuries here in Switzerland, but the origin is even older.


In the Canton of Wallis, Switzerland, (where, in the end, most probably, all Furrers come from!), with its steep, stony slopes, high mountains, but - great mercy - lots of water, it was (and still is) always necessary to terrace the land to get some food out of the poor soil.  (You can compare it with the famous rice terraces of North Luzon, Philippines, just a lot smaller). The last of these terraces (seen downhill), which gathered most of the soil coming with the water from upper terraces, was called furre.


Thus, Furrer means "the one, who is in possession of, taking benefit of the last terrace."  So it is actually a name deriving from the name of a point in the landscape (like many other names as well) and not from a profession (like "Fuhrer," Canton of Zürich originated, meaning carrier, waggoner).  “Leader of scouts” is totally wrong.  “Leader of scouts” could have something to do with Führer (used as a family name also, and of Adolf Hitler, not a very nice connotation and having the same word source as Fuhrer = Fuhrmann = "leader of a wagon").


Unfortunately, we are most probably not related, because it is likely that different people in different places in the Canton of Wallis at the same time have been called Furrer.  Just imagine that almost every mountain village has such terraces of which one has been called furre.


But it is not totally impossible that the American Furrs derive themselves from my ancestor as well.  Töni (=Anthony) Furrer, who was the first Furrer to come from Canton of Wallis (the village Visperterminen to be exact) to the Canton of Uri (village Silenen to be precise) and became a citizen of Silenen in 1495 and Eidgenosse (= companion of the oat) by that.  Wallis, where he came from, has been a part of Switzerland since the nineteenth century.  In 1495 he was considered a foreigner.  He died 1515 in the famous battle of Marignano together with all his comrades.  After this battle, the Swiss decided not to interact with "foreign dealing and wheeling" anymore, a point of view, which later has been called neutrality, but that’s another story.


But the origin of your Heinrich (Zell or Wetzikon, both Canton of Zürich) would impose that this is not the case because the descendants of Töni stayed quite long in the Canton of Uri, before they started to spread all over Switzerland (even my father was born there).


But something you can take for granted is that if Furr comes from Furrer then


1.  The ancestors of Heinrich Furrer came originally from Wallis because it is the only region in Switzerland where you can find these terraces.  A slight, thin possibility remains, that a Furrer, living in the Canton of Zürich, actually had a great grandfather, who called himself Fuhrer, and that there was a change in name, but this is not very likely.  As a matter of fact, this hypothesis has been already discussed among the different Furrer Families in Switzerland and the Zurich Region, but personally, like most others, I do not find this very likely.


2.  The origin is definitively Swiss and not German.  Rev. W. Thomas might not have had knowledge about the fact, that there are German speaking peoples outside of Germany and all German Furrer emigrated from Switzerland as well.


3.  Furrer does not mean leader of scouts.


Anyway, my family tree (there is a book about it) up to Töni Furrer is more or less without any big gaps, except those where it is mentioned gone for America.  I will have a look for a Heinrich Furrer, who has probably moved to the Zurich Region and let you know.  It would be a lucky punch, but who knows.


I hope I have been of service to you and all other Furr's in the States and remain,

Markus Furrer



January 27, 2003

Hello Bill


Of course you can share all my information with your friends and publish it on the Internet.  But if you do so, please correct my poor English.  Here is an addition to my explanation of the word furre.  I was not able to give you a precise explanation about its meaning because English is not my mother tongue.  The ancient word furre had the same word source as the modern German word Furche, which does not necessarily mean that both words mean exactly the same!  But, as you will see immediately, it means something similar.  Furche (ger.) translates into furrow (primarily) or wrinkle (secondarily).


And, to stay scientifically the meaning of the word Furre, as an old form of the modern word Furche is etymologically fully explored.


But an even older meaning of the word Furre as "the last terrace in a artificially terraced landscape" is a explanation which comes from the fact that in some mountain villages (for example in Visperterminen) of the German speaking part of the Canton of Wallis, you still can find names for places called for example "In der Furre," "Ob der Furren" and so on, and that these places are located in a way that you can guess that these places are the ones where the last terrace was located in old times.  But the older meaning of the word Furre does not stand in such bright sunlight, as the newer one.

Meanwhile I searched our family history and wrote you a quite long explanation (below).  And I found a weak link!  Before you read it, let's do a small mind game.


Your ancestor’s name was Heinrich.  His father’s name was not Heinrich, which would have been quite normal at that time.  For example, my grandfather's name was Julius, my father’s name was Julius as well, and my full name is Markus Julius Furrer.  In those times, it was even more the custom to call one son after his father and if not after his grandfather.


So, analyzed in a retrospective way, if Heinrich’s father’s name was not Heinrich but Leonhard/Lenhard, how big is the probability that the name of the father of Leonhard was Heinrich?  What would you guess?


The "weak link" I can contribute to your search is the one and only Heinrich in our family at that time.  He would have been 30 years old, when your Heinrich was born.  But we do not know whether he was still alive at this age and if so where.


Best personal regards

Markus Julius Furrer



January 27, 2003

Dear Mr. Furr


Meanwhile I reached home and consulted our Family History ("Das Geschlecht FURRER in Uri", author, Robert Furrer-Spahni, private publication, 1970).


At first sight, there is no match to be found.  At least, there is no Leonhard/Bernhard, from which we know, that he moved to Oberlangenhard-Zell in Canton of Zurich.  There is no Leonhard at all in our family at the given time frame!


But at second sight, there is a very weak Link, which I think is interesting for you and if a match, also interesting for the Furrer from Uri.  I will start from the beginning.


Thöny (or Töni) Furrer, who died on the battleground of Marignano, the very first battle in which the Swiss were not successful after 200 years of winning all these many battles they had with the iron men of all surrounding Kingdoms.  The only two, heavily wounded survivors made the long walk to Altdorf, capital of Uri, to make sure, that their people would hear about this "national catastrophe" from their own men.  Anyhow, this would be a separate story.


Thoeny had a son called Sebastian, who married Dorothea Stadler.  No dates known, except, that they owned "unter dem Stalden" (="below the Hay-Barn") "ein Feld und eine Waid" (=two pieces of land, one for plantation, one to raise cattle) around 1570-80.  We know that they had 4 children of which two were sons.  The first was called Sebastian, the second Peter.  Both had exceptionally illustrious careers.  Sebastian was elected as "Rath" (a member of parliament of Uri, but also something like a minister).  A big honor to someone who's grandfather was a new guy to the poor but proud tradition keeping mountaineers of Uri.  Already Thoeny must have been a man who gained great respect, and all living Furrer of Uri descend from him (me as well).  But there is definitively no possible link from his line to the Furr family in America, so we leave his story, although it would be very interesting.


More of interest for you is probably Peter.  He became (maybe with the help of his honorable brother) ambassador to Lugarus (today it is Locarno, a city in the Canton of Ticino but at those times under the control of Uri and the whole Eidgenossenschaft).  Here he made use of the following Arms (probably the first time):  A rising heraldic lion - which was the arms of  the noblemen of Silenen, the sponsors of his family since his grandfather Thöny, which protect between his paws the “house sign” or brand in the form of a special type of the letter A of the Furrers of Visperterminen, making clear to anybody: "I am the Furrer, who is under the protection of those of Silenen" and added the motto "Junger Man . nit virzag . Gluek kumt alle Tag" (very old German, meaning "Young man, don't worry (in the even stronger sense of despair or despond), Luck will come upon you every day").  You can still see this coat of arms on the walls of the atrium of the Castle of Locarno.


Later, back in Uri, he was honored by being appointed Landvogt (something like a governor) for the "freien Aemter" (an already at that time booming region under the control of the "Eidgenossenschaft" in today’s Canton of Aarau).  He changed his arms into a rising heraldic lion holding a fleur-de-lis in his hands, which looked a bit more noble than his humble house sign and skipped the slogan (maybe, because he was not a young man anymore).  We, the descendants of his brother, who never saw the necessity of having arms (as an early democrat) himself, use the first arms of Peter.  Forget about the stuff with the two bears, this is the arm of a Furrer family, who came about 50 years later to Uri than Toeny, but had the luck of having a minister out of their family, who took the opportunity in the later 20th century to declare his arms, designed as a product of pure fantasy and much later as the official arms of the "Furrer of Uri.”)


There would be a lot more to tell about Peter, but let's shorten it.  He died 1651, after having been married twice (Barbara Herger 1618, Anna Müller 1620) and having baptized 7 children, 4 of whom were boys.  The first was Sebastian, the second, third and fourth were all called Johann Heinrich, which means No. 2 and 3 died at a very young age.  Two sons in total survived!  The first, Sebastian, had 12 children, but they are of no interest (no living descendants anyway, or at least no records).


Johann Heinrich (the last) married Elisabeth Bueglin in 1656 and is more of interest.  He had 8 children in total, but similar game with names as seen above, most died at the age of less than two or three years.  Two of them where called Heinrich (=the first died for sure), the second was born in 1667.  But as with the 12 children of his brother Sebastian, the story ends here.  No records in Uri anymore.  What is the reason?


1.  All sons died young or at least did not take the opportunity of getting married.  Maybe they went in well paid foreign military service and died on one of Europe’s countless battlegrounds.  Many Swiss men in economic despair have been doing exactly this at that time, and their professional service was highly appreciated by many European Kings and the pope, who still has an army of exclusively Swiss soldiers


2.  They moved out of the region (and records) of Uri into another part of the "Eidgenossenschaft."


Let's shortly come back to Peter Furrer, Landvogt.  We know, that he loved to live a better life than he probably could afford.  He even had to answer a few times the interrogations of the parliament regarding the possible "waste of trust money," but was always capable to take his "head out of the sling."  Anyhow, although he was a man of many faculties and was entrusted with many tasks by the parliament of Uri (and, as I guess, not only through the patronage of his brother) most probably did not leave any funds for his sons Sebastian and Johann Heinrich.  Both lived, that’s almost for sure, in bitter poverty.  And so did their families and descendants.  This also gives us an explanation for the high mortality among the children in both families.  We do not know what happened with the daughters because genealogy does not care about the daughters.  The boys, if they survived, had to do something to earn their living.  Whatever it was most probably they moved out of Uri, a region where it is (even in our days) not easy to earn your living (except in winter tourism).


What I can't stop thinking about is the name Heinrich.  Johann Heinrich and his sons Heinrich (of which at least one died very early) are the only Heinrichs in our family at that time frame.  And none is called Leonhard (maybe a rare name at that time?) And this is the only but very weak link!


Let's do some speculation.  Let's presume that Heinrich the second did not die as a 2 or 3 year old boy.  With nothing more in his pocket, than a noble family history, he moved out of poor Uri into another nation belonging to the "Eidgenossenschft" with old and prosperous relationships to Uri, namely Zürich.  Not that far away, no high mountains in between, only three or four days walking.  From all cantons where the name Furrer occurs, the Canton of Uri is closest to Zurich.  With his family background, he would probably not have to wait one or two generations, or at least not his son Leonhard.  He would have been offered to take the oath of "the men of Oberlangenhard" right away.  Buying some cheap land and earning his life.  Getting married and founding a family.  Having a son (Leonhard) who would call his son after the grandfather (as it was the custom) Heinrich, who then went to America.


Possible, but once again a weak link!


That’s all of importance I can report to you at this stage.  Now, if you think you need to know more, you have to search at "your end.”  Where did the father of Leonhard come from?  Uri?  And if the answer is even more precise, Altdorf is the name of the town where my Heinrich was born.  If yes, it will still not be a 100% prove, but the weak link will become quite a strong link.


All the best to you and all the other Furr's

Markus Furrer



January 27, 2003

Hello Bill


A question, is it now Oberlangenhard/Zell in Canton Zurich or Zell in Canton Luzern?


Because if it is Luzern then is notable that Heinrich was a Protestant and even more notable, that he was Lutheran, but I come back to this later.  If he comes from Luzern, then his ancestors most probably immigrated from Bern or from Uri.  And for sure from Wallis (French: Valais) before that to Bern or Uri.  The faint uncertainty that the Zürich Furrers go back to Fuhrer would in this case not be of any further importance.


What would be strange would be his confession.  Wallis, Uri, and Luzern are and have been Catholic!  Bern and Zurich are Protestant.  Well, Zell/Luzern is very close to the boarder to Bern!  And there are definitively no Lutherans in Switzerland at that time.  As you certainly know, there have been three Reformers in central Europe:  Luther (Germany), Zwingli (Zurich/Switzerland) and Calvin (Geneva/Switzerland).  The people from Zurich have been and are Zwingli's people, the people of Bern Calvinists, maybe mixed also with Zwinglians, but definitively not Lutherans.  Finding a Lutheran at that time among genuine Swiss would be as astonishing as finding a naturalized Chinese of black skin in Peking. Guess, you know, what I mean.


If he was really of Lutheran belief (maybe, your records are not that precise and he was a Zwinglian, which is in it's believe not far away of Luther, who was described as a Lutheran or he himself introduced himself as a Lutheran to the German's for easier welcome) or, and I would believe this to be most probably if he originates from Zell/Luzern then he was a Catholic who became a Protestant in America.


If he originates from the small settlement "Oberlangenhard" which belongs to the parish of Zell/Zurich then he could already have been (or forced to be) a Zwinglian before he put his feet onboard the ship to America.


My Father, a born Catholic from Uri, changed his confession into Zwinglian when he moved to the Canton of Schaffhausen (Zwinglian) and got married with a Protestant.  He never had a problem with that, although he very rarely accompanied my mother to church.  When I asked him about it, he used to say, "Where I come from (=> the high mountains), people are closer to the Lord, than other people.”


Best personal regards




January 27, 2003

Hello Bill


The bad news in advance.  We are most probably not related.


The good news.


1.  I read again the Letter of the Government Office in Zürich to your friend in Las Vegas.  There must be a misunderstanding, because it is to me very clear that Zell in Canton of Zürich is meant and not Zell in Canton Luzern. The office in Zürich would not be in the position of giving you any information about a citizen of a place outside of the Canton of Zurich.


2.  Are you sure that these two groups of immigrants (one from Oberlangenhard/Zell and one from Wetzikon) have any relation with each other?  To my newest knowledge, there must have been many families already living in the Zürich-Region at that time, with the name Furrer.  Please see below.  The two mentioned travel groups have probably nothing to do with each other, except the same family name.


3.  I found a book, published Zürich 1994 from the "Zürcher Kantonalbank" (in order to be distributed to their valued customers as a give away): "Zürcher Familiennamen; Entstehung, Verbreitung und Bedeutung", authors: Viktor Schobinger, Alfred Egli, Hans Kläui, Zürich 1994.  Reading it, I was very much astonished.  The place spent for the name "Furrer" is quite big, to big, to type everything, but I will give you the most important facts.


Furrer spoken <Furer> Furrer as a Family Name/Citizenship has been recorded before 1800 in the following places (all Canton of Zurich):  Bäretswil, Fischental, Gossau (sic), Hettlingen, Hinwil, Hittnau, Höri, Illnau, Kloten (moved in from Winterthur), Pfäffikon, Rümlang, Russikon, Schlatt, Stadel, Sternenberg, Turbenthal, Wald, Wetzikon (first written record: 1690, moved in from Bäretswil) (sic), Wila, Wildberg (moved in from Turbenthal), Winterthur (first written record:1489; moved in from Blitterswil and from Bauma), Zell (moved in from Schlatt), Zumikon, Zürich (first record: 1795)".......than there is mentioned a list of individuals, baring the name Furrer. (Please note: You do not necessarily have to be related with anyone of these persons...) The first is....."'der furer' (before 1311) in Rafz", ............,"Jorg Furrer 1560 Langenhart (Zell)", ........,"Hans Rudolf Furrer von Oberlangenhard (Zell) |sign for marriage| (in?) 1729 Zumikon  (with?) Anna Peter von Hedingen", ........, "Jonas Furrer (1805-1861), President, chairman of the Swiss Parliament"  (I note him, because he is the most famous of the Furrer of Zürich).


Conclusion:  At the given time frame, there were already plenty of Furrers living in the Zurich Region.  Even if you take into account that they have risen their population between the leaving of Heinrich Furrer and the year 1800, bad for us, the Furrers of Uri, I would not dare to think, that he is the missing link to Peter Furrer, Landvogt, the "dead branch" of our family tree.


Of further interest for you is the "explanation of the name" given in this source:


"Nach dem Wohnort in, an oder auf der Furren 'Tiefe mit Höhen zu beiden Seiten', auch Abhang, Erdwall"


I try to give you a translation as correct as ever possible:


"Called so after the place of living, in, near or on the Furren Deep with Heights on both sides, also Slope, wall formed of soil" (sic, what we have here is the explanation in its "broader sense," which I already have communicated to you).


Obviously the records are very dense.  I would recommend you, to direct yourself to the office of registration, we call it "Einwohnerkontrolle," first in written form in order to give them the chance to prepare the requested information in advance for you, later in person) of Zell/Zürich.  They should have the possibility (and if you honor them by traveling to Switzerland yourself, also the motivation, please bare in mind it is not their obligation, but I am quite sure that they would be so kind!) to give you further information about all recorded ancestors of Heinrich, his motivation for immigration, and so on.


I feel very sorry that I can't help you further and it is a pity that "The Furrer of Uri" now fails the chance of discovering that the descendants of Peter (Landvogt) are still alive in America.  It would have been a pleasant sensation to many in our family.  Please contact me as soon as you plan to travel to Switzerland.


Warmest regards




January 27, 2003

Hi Bill




Fischethal, Männedorf, Zell (sic)


nach der Herkuft vom Hof Zuppingen (St. Gallenkappel SG)"


Transl. "Called so after having lived in the Farm Zuppingen (near St. Gallenkappel, Canton of St. Gallen).


Now you now exactly, were the wife of Leonhard came from.


Warmest regards