Chalk this one up to the wonderful combination of TypePad and Google.
As some of you will recall, my mother died about three months ago. Looking for a will, I found a typewritten sheet of paper, showing one root of her family tree going all the way back to the 1500s in Switzerland, which I copied into the on-line obituary I wrote. Her great9-grandfather, according to that paper, was "Rudolf Schiesz Landis (1547–?), Hetzel, Switzerland (brother of Hans, born 1553, beheaded 1614)." The family has since been intrigued: Who was Hans Landis? And what did he do to get beheaded? My wife, Suzanne, guessed that he must have professed the wrong religion in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It turns out that Suzanne's guess was on target. It seems old Hans was an Anabaptist—the last one executed in Zurich. Here is his story, as reported by John E. Sharp, Director of the Mennonite Church USA Historical Committee:
But there remains another visible expression for future generations: a simple granite tablet on a low wall on the west side of the Limmat River, which divides Zurich. Inscribed on this tablet is the Anabaptist story, no longer suppressed by the Reformed but claimed as part of their own revised history:
"From a fishing platform here in the middle of the Limmat, Felix Manz and five other Anabaptists were drowned between 1527 and 1532 during the Reformation. The last Anabaptist to be executed in Zurich was Hans Landis in 1614."
Hans Landis was the elderly farmer pastor of a congregation across Lake Zurich in Hirzel. When the authorities threatened to banish him and confiscate his property, Landis challenged their right to do either. After all, the "earth is the Lord's" he quoted stubbornly. After his arrest, the 70-year-old man was rowed ashore from the stone Wellenberg prison tower in the middle of the Limmat River. Like a lamb led to the slaughter, Landis was taken to the place of execution a few blocks down river and beheaded.
Now what do TypePad and Google have to do with this? A little while ago, I was scanning my TypePad stats to see where the hits are coming from. Someone's Google search hit my mom's obituary. So I checked it out, and it turned out to be someone's Google search for Hans Landis. So I poked around to see what else the searcher had found, and found the story of my great11-grand uncle, who (it turns out) is a somewhat famous 16th-century Anabaptist martyr. (It hadn't occurred to me to Google someone who's been dead for nearly four centuries.)
(Another famous ancestor is my maternal grandfather, Carney Landis, a psychologist, prolific writer, and sex researcher, whose collection is housed at the Kinsey Institute. Who knows what the 16th-century Reformed types in Switzerland would have thought of him?)
I guess all writing is self-discovery; it seems blogging can add another dimension to that self-discovery.