My ancestry is entirely Amish and, so far as I can tell, 100% Swiss. The Swiss spelling of my paternal family name is Röschli. It carries the diminutive ending in the Swiss dialect, so I figure someone in my family tree was short. In any case, my family history is part of the reason I became interested in Amish history. It explains a lot about my hometown–Wayland, Iowa.
Elements of the Röschli/Roeschley clan got thrown out of Switzerland as Anabaptists–or they left on their own; either story is likely–and then migrated about one generation at a time to Alsace, Lorraine, Ontario, and Southeast Iowa. Other typically Amish family names appear in the family tree, including Conrad, Christner, Egli, Klopfenstein, Liechty, Nebel, Schweitzer, Stuckey, and quite a few others.
My home community became Amish-Mennonite in the late 19th century and then Mennonite in the 1920s. It was never Old Order. My research is not situated in my home community, but in the next Amish group north, in Johnson, Washington, and Iowa counties near Iowa City. An interesting figure in this community, and in my book, is Noah Troyer, the Sleeping Preacher. He preached frequently in a trance state from 1878 to 1886 and probably functioned as a catalyst for the separation between Amish-Mennonites, the more change-minded Amish people, and what became the Old Order Amish, the more tradition-minded group.
Another interesting figure is Emmanuel Hochstetler, who joined the 22nd Iowa Infantry during the American Civil War. He was fatally wounded at Vicksburg in 1863 during an unsuccessful assault on Confederate positions ordered by General Grant. I also enjoyed thinking through several dreams recorded on scraps of paper by the first Amish bishop in this community, Jacob Swartzendruber. His dreams of a peaceful community did not always come true, but he shaped the Amish in Iowa and beyond for decades.
It seems ironic that we now associate the Amish with out-of-date technology and unfashionable clothing. Quaint and all that. The technological and sartorial distinctions were not so visible before 1900. The Amish often stood in the vanguard of progressive farming. However, the Old Order chose to opt out of the technological changes that altered the scale of rural life in the early 20th century–the telephone, the automobile, and the tractor. I am not so convinced that the Amish way of life represents the future of agriculture, as well as its past, as some argue. More certain is that they have been able to continue a certain quality of rural life when much of the rest of rural America is, shall we say, stressed out.
In addition to my books, I teach a university course entitled Amish History and Culture. The students seem to enjoy eating heartily in an Amish home! There is much good research about the Amish, and some bad; their appearances in popular culture range from the adequate to the ridiculous. Here are some useful websites for more information, and a few less serious sites. You are on your own for quilts, recipes, and furniture. I discuss my research and publications on my research page.
Best Websites about the Amish
Mennolink – a good clearing house for all kinds of info and links
Pennsylvania Dutch Tourism – the tourist industry in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, has to be seen to be believed
National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom – defended the Amish in the landmark Wisconsin v. Yoder Supreme Court case (1972)
Kalona Chamber of Commerce – Amish in Iowa
Wild Websites (requires a sense of humor)
Electric Amish – satirical music