HoleInTheDonut Helps Man Find Long Sought Swiss Family Roots

A couple of weeks ago I received an email thanking me for posting photos of the old buildings in the village of Matten, Switzerland on my blog. The message, which was from a William Diesslin, read in part:

“You didn’t know it at the time, but you photographed my great grandfather’s store front! I’ve attached the photo for your reference.”

Matten was the town I stayed in when visiting Switzerland during the summer of 2007 and I had taken scores of photos of the intriguing architecture in the village. Curious, I downloaded the photo he had attached – an historical black and white image of an old storefront. I figured it would be a simple thing to find the present day photo among those I had published on the blog and began side by side comparisons. It was not as easy as I had assumed it would be, but by comparing things like the gables, roof line, and the horizontal strip that separated the first and second stories, I was eventually able to identify the correct structure.

Today the building is home to a hostel, the Balmer’s Herberge. The building is located on the same street as my hotel and I had even eaten at the Thai restaurant that now occupies the basement. Take a look at the photos below for a glimpse into the past and an idea of how well these old buildings have withstood the test of time.

Today one of the buildings comprising a large hostel, the Diesslin store hides its age well
Today one of the buildings comprising a large hostel, the Diesslin store hides its age well
Historic Diesslin store; the man standing in the doorway is Bill's great grandfather and the child to his right is Bill's grandfather
Historic Diesslin store; the man standing in the doorway is Bill’s great grandfather and the child to his right is Bill’s grandfather
A closer look at the Diesslin Store from the opposite direction, as it looks today
A closer look at the store from the opposite direction, as it looks today

But that’s not the end of the story. When I emailed Bill to make sure I’d identified the correct building and ask permission to use his historic photo, I received the following stunning response from him:

“You are welcome to use the photo, but I would wait a few weeks. I’ve contacted the folks at Balmer’s to see if they can confirm this with deeds. The owner is out of country but will return before February.

My grandfather emigrated from Switzerland in 1920. His wife followed him two years later. The old photograph only recently came into my possession. It was sent to a distant relative many years ago. My dad (recently) went to a Swiss Society picnic and someone showed it to him. I have since obtained quite a few family records. My grandfather’s birth certificate indicates that his father (my great grandfather) had the occupation of “handlesmann” or merchant in English. That was the start of the link. (see the word ‘handlesmann‘ in the sign shown in the historic photo).

What threw me off is that I thought the sign in the old picture said J.C. Diesslin. The birth certificate indicated that he was Johann George Diesslin. Zoom in at the picture and see for yourself. It helps if you look at the “C” and “G” in tuchhandlug. The opening at the bottom of the “C” is different from the top. We are quite sure it says J.G. Diesslin, but Balmers will hopefully confirm that for me.

The story gets better, I stayed at Balmer’s in 1988! I had no idea that it was tied to my family. There is something else I want to confirm; my grandmother had a brother and he married a Balmer! This might be something big.

This will be a landmark for my family as my dad was orphaned at 14 years old, all family history was lost. Your photos may have opened up a lost link to my ancestors.”

My jaw dropped when I read it! Imagine, my blog might have been instrumental in helping Bill trace his Swiss Family Roots. I waited patiently for the next few weeks, then two days ago, I received an update:

“Hi Barbara,
The owners of Balmers have confirmed that the picture I have is the “old Diesslin house.” They purchased it in 1988. (I am the) great grandson of J.G. Diesslin in the picture; the little boy to his right is my grandfather. Your photo log helped me connect the dots of my family tree.
Kindest regards,
Bill Diesslin”

What are the chances? Think of just some of the things that had to happen in order for Bill to make this discovery:

  1. I had to go to Switzerland. I’d never had the least inclination to see this country and ended up there because it was the only direct flight I could get from Tanzania, Africa. Once there, however, I was absolutely enthralled by the scenery and architecture of Switzerland and stayed for more than two weeks.
  2. Of all the potential destinations in Switzerland, I had to go to the Interlaken/Matten area.
  3. I had to take a photo of this particular building, shot from an angle that would allow Bill to make an identification. Why this building? It was just one among hundreds of lovely old Swiss buildings.
  4. This particular photo – just one of hundreds of architectural shots I took during my stay in Matten – had to be featured on the blog.
  5. Bill had to discover my blog (I still have no idea how he found it), and examine all the photos.
  6. He had to stay at Balmer’s Herberge and I had to stay just down the street.

I could go on about the series of seemingly insignificant events that had to occur before Bill could connect his family dots. There is no doubt that we live in amazing times and that the Internet is an amazing tool, but I have to believe there was something more going on in this instance – somebody’s higher power was working overtime and I am thrilled to have been a part of it.

Check prices for accommodations in Matten/Interlaken at Booking.com, Hotels.com, or HotelsCombined.com. Read reviews about hotels and guest houses in Matten/Interlaken, Switzerland at TripAdvisor.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links to hotel booking sites. If you click on any of the links and make a booking, I may earn a small commission, which keeps this blog free to read.


23 thoughts on “HoleInTheDonut Helps Man Find Long Sought Swiss Family Roots”

  1. Wow – what a story. So amazing to hear about the links and findings for Bill and such beautiful photography on your part Barbara.

    Switzerland was the first country of my journey. I had no thoughts of going there first, but it fell into my lap too… I fell in love and have been to this area on my last trip actually. I loved it!

    This post really makes me smile. Just another reason why I love Switzerland.

  2. What an extraordinary story. The internet making the world a tiny place. The alignment of the old and new photos are amazing and takes an eagle eye.

  3. I am often amazed at how small the world has become especially since the internet. I am an immigrant and really do not know much about my family history past my parents and a little bit about my grandparents. Even my parents really do not know much about our ancestry or where our family really originated. I marvel at your story and am very happy for you to be part of this story. Yes, there was a great deal of serendipity but you were the one who took action. Good for you.

  4. Barbara, interesting. Bill is very active in tracking down his genealogy and has connected to a lot of the extended family. I came across this thanks to the names being in the search. Interesting I may have gone right past this place and not even known it back in 1974 when were visit Europe, including Interlaken. We did search in vain for a Diesslin Strasse in the Black Forest region, but had no idea of this branch of the familie’s connection to Switzerland. Thanks for the pictures!

    • Hi Rich:
      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I was really honored to play a part in helping connect the dots and the resultant story really resonated with a much wider audience.

  5. heh this is awesome still regardless of fluke or not. awesome that what he was looking for was even on the internet

  6. An amazing story! A true example of the communication tools at our disposal today. The chances of this happening are rare today, what about 10 years ago … or more?

    Karen Haspolat’s last blog post..Christmas Cheer from Humbie Primary

  7. Richard and yup:
    What I did is quite a bit more than just using the NextGEN Image flow add-on for NextGEN Gallery. That plugin was designed to get the cover flow image into the body of a web page or a blog post, but to my knowledge, no one had successfully figured out how to get it into the header before me, because I contacted the plugin and add-on designers for info. I have since shared what I did with the designer of my WordPress template and she recently wrote a post with all the details. You can see it here:

  8. @Richard – Google “nextgen-imageflow” it’s a WP-Plugin.

    Now, the next time you need to find info like this, just look at the source code of the page for clues.

  9. Amazing story! But don’t think this is some amazing coincidence. Clearly people post photos of places they go, and William was googling for photos of that town. It isn’t a coincidence he came upon your blog. He was deliberately searching. The “higher power” is Google ;).

  10. Hi Richard:
    Would love to share with you the details of how I made the photos fly across the top of my blog, but my email to you was returned as undeliverable. Email me at: donutmaster (at) holeinthedonut (dot) com and I will enlighten you.

  11. Wonderful story. Matten (and Interlaken) are beautiful places indeed! I stayed in Beatus, above Interlaken, but visited both.

    I hate to ask, but what do you use at the top of the page to show your photos? It looks like Apple’s coverflow, but on a webpage/blog.

    Thanks for everything!

  12. I stayed in Interlaken, too! It’s possibly the most beautiful city in the world, and going there inspired me to live abroad. I partied my 18-year-old ass of at Balmers, but I stayed at the Funny Farm hostel instead. It’s a much better hostel anyway.


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