Family History


The following discussion is not a scholarly work based on careful genealogical research. For the most part it was written from the oral history that was passed down to me from my mother, grandfather and other family members, and from my limited reading about the history of the area. I also had access to some research done in the late 1950’s by family members in Switzerland that provided some evidence of direct patrilineage back to the fifteenth century. A more rigorous investigation would be challenging, and hopefully this reunion will be the catalyst to that end. Many historical records do exist, and with the help of 21st century information technology that endeavor is quite realizable if one is so inclined. It is my hope that other interested family members will work with me collaboratively to further explore this interesting topic.


Family Origin

The Jaques were Huguenots who probably left France some time during the 16th or 17th centuries. After Luther’s proclamation in 1517, the Protestant Reformation spread rapidly to France. Initially French Protestants were Lutherans, but after John Calvin established the French Reform Church in Geneva in 1555, Calvinism quickly spread to France and replaced Lutheranism. The new “Reformed Religion” in which salvation was a personal matter, and did not involve intercession by the Catholic hierarchy was perceived to be a threat to the Catholic Church and to the monarchy. Most Protestants, ‘Huguenots”, were artisans or part of the aristocracy. Therefore they wielded considerable economic and political power, and realistically could have demanded social and political reform. The Catholic monarchy responded to this perceived threat with a General Edict in 1536, urging the extermination of the Huguenots. In spite of persecution, Calvinism spread rapidly in France, and ignited the thirty-five year French Wars of Religion. The conflict lasted until 1598. Henry IV signed the Edict of Nantes, which gave the Huguenots limited religious and civil freedom, and allowed them to freely practice their religion in twenty specified towns in France. Unfortunately the Edict of Nantes was revoked in 1685, and Huguenots again were persecuted. Hundreds of thousands of Huguenots fled to other countries over the next century. In 1789 the Edict of Toleration was signed, and Huguenots were allowed to live in France with some degree of religious and civil freedom.*

Whether the Jaques resided in one of the twenty towns in France where some religious freedom was permitted, or had already resided in the area around Ste-Croix is not clear. Vaud was part of the Savoie area of France until 1537, but thereafter became a part of the Bernese Republic. Therefore Vaud was a safe haven for Huguenots. What is clear is that the surname, Jaques, is a Huguenot name. Huguenots with that surname are not only found in French Switzerland, but also emigrated from France to England, North America, and other countries during the 16th and 17th centuries.


Occupations and Social Status

Farming played a large role in the local economy, and was traditionally the most important source of income for the Jaques. According to my grandfather, the family had had substantial land and property during the time of his grandfather and great grandfather, Isaac and Jeremie. Jules Felix was forced, however, during the latter part of the 19th century, to sell many family holdings to pay debt. The extent and the method by which family property was distributed to each generation would have to be researched to understand the family’s position in the community.

The Music Box Industry also played an important role in L’Auberson. Apparently each family, including the Jaques, worked on pieces at home. Because there were strong family ties with many owners of the companies, the industry did, for a time serve as an economic buffer when farming no longer was profitable. It also provided skills for local youth. This especially proved of value when later, they immigrated to the United States and other countries. It is no accident that the machine tool industry in Boston ultimately provided employment to a number of Jules Felix’s sons. Paul, George, Ben and my grandfather worked as precision tool makers at General Electric, Westinghouse and other companies in the Boston and Camden, New Jersey areas.

Another area that that attracted the Jaques was the ministry. Siblings of Jules Felix as well as the previous two generations were very involved in the Reform Church. These included Samuel Jaques, a brother of Jules Felix, a missionary in South Africa and the former Rhodesia. Jules Felix’s grandson, George, followed in this tradition in the United States.

Based on what was told to me by my Grandfather and mother, it would seem that the Jaques family of Jules Felix, in particular, was severely reduced in wealth and status during the last half of the 19th century. It was in this rather impoverished setting that our grandparents and great grandparents spent their childhoods.



According to research done in the 1950’s by family members, the family can be traced back to a Robert Jaques, born in the early 1400’s. There is some knowledge of successive generations, although there are many unknowns. From the late 18th century, however, there is very reliable information about our forbearers. An old family Bible clearly recorded births, deaths and marriages from that time until the 1940’s. Thus the family patriarch is Isaac Jaques (1771-1838). Isaac married Delle Margot, and their son Jeremie David Jaques (1802-1883) married Marianne Margot. Jeremie and Marianne were the parents of Jules Felix (1836-1927). Jules Felix and his wife, Marie Joseph, had thirteen children, of whom we are all descended. The thirteen children and their spouses include:

Leontine, 1862-1953

Paul , 1864-1947 m. Julie Mercanton

Elisa, 1866-1868

George, 1867-1927 m. Leontine Bornard

Amelie, 1870-1931 m. Joseph Fredey

John, 1874-1910

Benjamin, 1976-1922, m. Rose Nicklous

Fritz, 1872-1839, m. Augusta Benz

Elisabeth, 1878-1924

Louise, 1880-1966, m Maurice Cuendet

William, 1883-1953, m. Louise Steiner/Margarite Guillemin

Frida, 1884-1981, m. Harry Tucker

Albert, 1886-1959, m. Helene Nater

For the most part, the children of Jules Felix and Marie Joseph married individuals of similar Swiss French heritage. The exceptions were, Frida, who married Harry Tucker, an Englishman, and Amelie, whose husband Joseph Fredey, was French.



Our cousin, Philippe Chopard, has written about the conditions that led to emigration from Vaud especially, during the last part of the 19th century.


Le canton de Vaud au XIXe siècle

Canton de la Confédération suisse depuis 1803, Vaud va connaître un grand essor économique entre 1850 et 1875, période suivie d'une crise économique sévère qui n'a pas été étrangère à la forte émigration de ses ressortissants. Profitant de la création de la Suisse moderne en 1848, le Parti radical vaudois a régné sans partage sur la politique cantonale jusqu'à la fin de la première guerre mondiale. Période d'industrialisation du pays et d'urbanisation de la société. Les zones de campagne, celle de Sainte-Croix et de L'Auberson en particulier, se sont pendant cette période dépeuplées et sa population est devenue petit à petit plus pauvre.

La création d'une classe ouvrière, générale en Suisse, a amené de nouvelles forces politiques à prendre part au débat démocratique. Ainsi les socialistes ont-ils pu défendre les ouvriers au bénéficie de conditions de vie très médiocres. De plus, dans les montagnes jurassiennes, le mouvement anarchiste et les communistes ont trouvé un excellent terreau pour se développer. Du reste, les Montagnes neuchâteloises toutes proches allaient abriter, entre la fin du XIXe et le début du XXe siècle, toute une série de militants de gauche, très proche des mouvements qui ont fait la révolution russe. Jules Humbert-Droz, de La Chaux-de-Fonds, devenant même le président de l'Internationale socialiste et grand compagnon de Lénine.

La région de L'Auberson était fortement rurale. Dès 1875, comme les autres zones agricoles, elle est frappée de plein fouet par la chute du prix des céréales, soumises à la concurrence du blé étranger, américain et russe. Les paysans ont donc été tentés de quitter leur exploitation pour chercher fortune ailleurs, dans d'autres professions. Pour les Jaques, cela a été certainement le cas. x


A combination of the Franco-Prussian war and other political and economic factors led to an extensive emigration of the younger generation of rural inhabitants from the Canton Vaud. In the Jaques family it is probable that other factors played a role as well. As stated, Jules Felix had sold many family holdings to pay debts. The combination of an unfavorable economic and political climate, combined with shrinking family security and a large number of children certainly led to a set of conditions that made emigration desirable.

For the most part, the family immigrated to Boston, Massachusetts, although there was a family cluster in Camden, New Jersey. Leontine, Paul, George, Amelie, John, Ben, Elizabeth, Louise, William, Frida and Albert made their way to North America over a fifteen year period .Leontine, Louise and William returned to Switzerland after working in the United States for a number of years. The rest remained. Like most immigrants, they initially rented apartments, mainly in the “triple deckers,” three family homes with one walk-up unit at each level. Some of them bought homes. Amelie and Joseph Fredey, and Ben and Rose bought houses in the Savin Hill section of Dorchester. At the time, this was a somewhat upscale area, and their property must have represented considerable achievement. Thus Savin Hill became, at this time in family history, a place where the family met and thereby remained closely connected. Paul bought a small farm in Randolph, Massachusetts, a town south of Boston which, at the time, was quite rural. Randolph was another focus of family activity.

Their employment varied, although the machine tool industry provided a steady income for several of the siblings. Boston and surrounding cities were a manufacturing hub during this period, and skilled workers were in demand. My grandfather, for example, apprenticed as a tool and dye maker, and worked in that area for several years. The women initially came as governesses for wealthy Bostonians. Amelie married Joseph Fredey, a well-regarded French chef in Boston. Uncle Joe provided employment for newcomers, initially at the Marliave Restaurant, a restaurant that still exists in Boston, and later at the Parker House. William and Elisabeth were exceptions. William had tremendous artistic talent, and became an engraver. While in Boston, he was employed in that capacity by Shreve, Crump and Low, the premier Boston jewelry firm. Elisabeth apparently was an actress, although details were never very clearly presented to me. She remains a mysterious presence. My grandfather, around 1919, left his trade and obtained work as an estate manager in Dover and Mattapoisett, Massachusetts.

The family remained very close, and very much involved in the Swiss French community. In the early days, the family worshiped at the French Reformed Church in the Back Bay in Boston. Their friends and social life were very much influenced by this experience. For example, my grandfather met my grandmother, Helene Nater, at the French Church. The lingua franca was, of course French. Thus friends and family did not communicate in English except at work or when absolutely necessary. The children of my grandfather’s siblings did not learn English until they went to school. My mother, for example, told me stories about how difficult the transition from French to English was, even as a small child. She apparently was ridiculed because she spoke English with a French accent! Because my grandparents lived in my home when I was a child, I had first-hand experience with how profoundly the French language and the heritage of L’Auberson had affected the first generation. French was the main language spoken at the dinner table, between my grandparents, and with my mother. I was second generation American kid, and certainly had less exposure than my mother, but I was effectively acculturated.

The first generation, nonetheless, adapted rapidly to their new country, and became solid, middle class Americans. Their jobs and professions ranged from teacher to manager to minister, from factory worker to successful businessman, from RN to regular Marine. Except for my Aunt Aimee who was born in the U.S., but married a Swiss and immigrated to Switzerland, and William’s children by his first marriage who were also born in the U.S. but returned to Switzerland before they were adults, the first generation married Americans with ethnic backgrounds that were not Swiss. The second generation therefore was fully Americanized. Through their parents and grandparents, however, the cultural memory of the Jura and L’Auberson remained strong.


The Family in Switzerland, 1900-2006

Although most of Jules Felix’s children immigrated to the United States during the final years of the 19th century, some stayed home. Fritz never left; Leontine, Louise and later William and his family returned to Switzerland.

Section to be written by a Swiss member of the family -
The Family Today

The fact that we, as a family, have roots that are so old, and so influenced by the Protestant Reformation and Calvinism is probably not unusual if one’s family comes from the Jura. As an American, however, that realization is profound and humbling. That we can trace our ancestry so easily back to the 17th century, and with a little research through the preceding two or three centuries, gives us all a clearer understanding of our origins. We were not the lords who resided in the great “chateaux” or members of the ruling class. We were artisans with an artistic flair, farmers who loved the land, and men of God.

Today our family is no longer the genetic microcosm of L’Auberson. In America especially, the cultural, racial, ethnic and religious diversity of the 21st century has broadened our outlook and blended with the good and bad traits of our ancestors to produce a whole variety of outcomes. We now inhabit the hospitals, the media, the court rooms, the classrooms, the board rooms as well as many other rooms, some very simple, and others more elaborate. In the process of this evolution there is still a cultural memory that resides in each of us, a set of values that our forbearers passed on to successive generations. The fact that we can trace our family back so many years is significant in this respect. Our roots give us a sense of continuity, the feeling that we are part of a very old family, one that initially suffered persecution because of its beliefs, but managed to survive and pass on to its children and their children those values that originally sustained our ancestors. The sharp edges of Calvinism have eroded, but hopefully we can reawaken, if necessary, our commitment to God, our family and the joy we feel when a job is well done. I suspect that it is this history that forms the bond between us and has led to our participation in this reunion at L’Auberson. This type of event does not happen very often these days. While the sons and daughters of Jules Felix, and their sons and daughters were a very close family, the subsequent generations have grown apart and pursued their own lives and ambitions. Therefore the fact that this reunion brings us together around a common bond is a tribute to our many ancestors, and the tradition they passed on to each of us. We are all thankful.