History of the American Pfenningers
This account of the Pfenninger family was typed from a
manuscript written by Jacob J. Pfenninger. He died in
January of 1976
My grandfather, Henry Pfenninger, emigrated from Switzerland to Casey County,
Kentucky, in the year 1880. My grandmother, Barbara Pfenninger, came over a
little later with her five children:
- Jacob, my father
- Ida, who married a James Neal in Casey County
- Henry, who left Casey County and was never heard from again
- Theodore, no record
- Albert, who lived his adult life in Louisville, Kentucky and reared a family. He
died in 1945.
My father, Jacob Pfenninger, was born in Rieti Ducuten, Canton Zurich,
Switzerland, September 3, 1863. My mother, Lena Schottlin, was born in Unter
Hollan, Canton Schaffhousen, Switzerland, November 3, 1863. Her father, Henry
Schottlin, was a tailor in Hollan. Her mother’s name was Melsine Rohm.
My parents met for the first time on board the ship on which my grandmother
Pfenninger and her five children were coming to America. My father and mother
came to Louisville, Kentucky, and were married there on October 2, 1883. They
were made citizens of this country in 1890.
To them were born eleven children:
- Lena Barbara Hasken
- Ida Durban
- Jacob John
- Theodore G.
- Emil H.
- Alvin Herman
- Emma Bell Durbin
My father died August 10, 1923, and my mother died April 3, 1943. Both are buried
in Mt. Tabor Cemetery, north of New Albany, Indiana. My grandfather Pfenninger
was a locksmith by trade and my father was a grey iron molder. Both were highly
skilled mechanics in blacksmithing and woodworking. Their skills were important to
the natives of Casey County. Many of the hand tools were brought from Switzerland
and many others they made. Unfortunately, the Casey County natives were poor and
had no money to pay for their skill.
We had a blacksmith shop and my earliest recollection was helping my father
operate the forge.
About the year 1892, my grandfather, Henry Pfenninger, was murdered on a Sunday
afternoon by a band of drunken Casey County natives who wanted to kill a
Dutchman, as the Swiss emigrants were called. My grandfather Pfenninger is buried
in the German Reformed Church Cemetery on Tennessee Ridge, Casey county,
Kentucky. My brother, Henry is also buried there.
My father knew nothing about firearms. The county abounded in small game, but we
rarely had rabbit, squirrel or quail unless some native hunter gave it to us, which was
rare indeed. Shortly after the turn of the century, some thoughtful relative in
Louisville sent my brother, Alfred, who was about 14 or 15 years of age at the time,
a single barrel muzzle loading shot gun and he supplied the table with small game.
One day Alfred was cleaning his gun when I stuck my middle finger down the barrel
and it got stuck. He suggested he fire the gun, but I took a dim view of this
procedure. After some help from my mother, the finger was removed from the gun.
Another lesson was learned.
Wresting a living out of the soil, which was poor yellow clay known as “crawfish
land”, was a real problem. There was extreme poverty. As soon as my older sisters
were old enough, they were sent to Louisville where they were known as “Swiss
domestics” and lived with well-to-do families and were paid $2.00 to $3.00 per week,
plus keep. Fortunately, no one told us we were poor and belonged to the “poverty
The first school my older sisters and brother attended was a one room log house.
For me, I went to a one room school with weatherboard siding and wood shingle
roof. My first teacher was Samuel Rector, a wonderful man, who encouraged me to
read “a story of the Bible” and not to use tobacco or drink intoxicating liquor.
McGuffy readers were in use at that time and I still can recall some of the stories in
My father and mother had education equal to our high school. My mother wrote in a
beautiful hand using German as a basis. She spelled a word the way it was
pronounced. My father had considerable talent in drawing. He had much pride and
believed in putting on a good front. He was happy when he had a few dollars in his
pocket. My mother could sew and knit. She had a Singer Sewing Machine, one of
the few, and perhaps the only one, in Casey County. We had a small flock of
sheep. The wool was bartered for yarn and jeans. My mother spent the evenings
knitting stockings for the family using four needles. The jeans were made into
clothing. A warm coat with outing flannel made an excellent Christmas gift. All the
leather tops of shoes were save and father made soles from yellow poplar.
My folks attended the German Reformed Church which my father helped build. At
one time we children attended a Sunday School class where we were taught
German. This was not successful as only the immigrants wanted to keep up with
the German language. The children preferred to speak English as was taught in
school. Our parents spoke German to us but we answered in English.
When I was 15 years of age, my father sold his land in Casey County and on
September 3, 1909 had an auction sale which was advertised throughout Casey
County by sale bills (copy of which hangs in Pfenninger Insurance Agency Office,
New castle, Indiana). It was a great sale and people came from many miles. For
the land and all personal property my father got less than $3000. He was a rich
man. A neighbor took us to Mooreland, Kentucky, where we boarded a train for
Louisville, 120 miles away. Many of us had never seen a train and there was much
excitement as we made the train ride.
Aftger a month in Louisville, my father saw some small farms advertised for sale in
the county near New Albany, Indiana. He and I took the street car to the end of the
line, then walked three miles on the Charlestown Pike and there we looked at a small
acreage on which was a nice house and barn. The price was $2,500. I urged my
father to buy. That was about all the money my father had. After he discussed it
with my mother, he bought and we moved in October, 1909. My younger brothers
and sister attended the township schools; my brother Alfred was working as a
carpenter in Louisville. My unmarried sisters were working as “Swiss domestics”.
As for me, I hired out to a cattle buyer, fed live stock, and cleaned out the stables,
for which I received $3.00 per week plus board. It was a new life for the Pfenninger
When I was about twenty years of age I left the farm to make my fortune in the city.
After working in a grocery store, wallpaper store, and a five and ten cent store I was
sent to Indianapolis with a chain store where I worked for some time before coming
to New Castle.
My brother Alfred came to New Castle about 1910 and married in 1912. He was
employed at the Maxwell Motor company and built wooden bodies for their cars.
About 1916 my brother Theodore and I came to New castle and we were also
employed at the Maxwell factory. Shortly after we came to New Castle Theodore
and I enlisted in the Indiana National Guard and spent nine months on the Mexican
border. This was followed by World War I, when we both enlisted and were
discharged in 1919. I had the rank of Captain of Infantry. Theodore was a sergeant.
I was married to Freda R. Rinke on November 8, 1919. To us were born three
John Gerald October 11, 1920
Paul Frederick March 3, 1924
Jane Ann December 9, 1934
I have been engaged in the Insurance business since October 1, 1920. In 1946 Paul
became a partner.
(This account of the Pfenninger family was typed from a manuscript written by Jacob
J. Pfenninger. He died in January of 1976).
Lena Schottlin Pfenninger
(1863 - 1943)
In the 1992 book the above account is followed by a series of lists of descen-
dants. I have included scans of these pages in the DATA section and on the next page
I will post my transcriptions of some of these lists. I do this so that the information is
searchable on the internet. That is very useful for other genealogical researchers.