The United States was a magnet for Swiss immigrants – as it was for many Europeans – from the 17th up to the first half of the 20th century.
Many places in the US saw such a large influx of Swiss that they were named after the town or village the immigrants left behind in Switzerland.
In Obama’s case, the US president-elect may be able to trace part of his European roots back to a man by the name of Christian Gutknecht, who emigrated from the village of Bischwiller in what is today the French region of Alsace, but at the time was a Bavarian duchy.
A local archivist in Bischwiller claimed in September that Gutknecht’s parents probably came from canton Bern at the beginning of the 18th century.
Gutknecht, who was born in 1722, changed his name to Goodnight in America.
While it seems both Germany and Switzerland want to claim Obama as a native son – six generations removed – the story illustrates the growing interest in immigration among historians and the public.
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