The starting point of our own Huguenin line is Vuillemin Huguenin,
one of two brothers born before 1423 who lived in the region of Le
Locle, and were probably sons or grandsons of one of the serfs freed in 1372 to clear and settle the region. Vuillemin's son Outhenyn (or Othenin) is described as "old and invalid" in 1507, when his four adult sons swear fealty in his place.
By 1533, three of these sons had inherited Outhenyn's land at Le Cachot, and the share of one of them, Otthenin, had passed to his own son Jaques
by 1553, when he swore fealty for it to his overlord, Symon de
Neufchastel. Jaques had a wooden house on his property, and had
the right to his own bread oven, which at the time was a privilege and
not a right. The land had been purchased from a man called
Janthot Virchaulx, and the previous owner's name seems to have provided
this branch of the Huguenin family with the distinctive suffix
"Virchaux" in subsequent generations.
In 1592, the sons of the "late" Jaques jointly bought more land at Le Cachot, while one of them, Blayset (or Blaise), had already bought a field and separate house for himself in 1584. Blayset's son David married a distant cousin, Anne-Marie Jeanhuguenin,
and in a baptismal record of 1655 he is referred to as "David, son of
the late Blaise Huguenin dit Virchaud", which shows that the Virchaux
suffix was gradually being accepted at part of the family surname.
David and Anne-Marie had two sons, Jehan (Jean) and
Daniel, born before 1659. Jean and Daniel married sisters Susanne
and Marie Jeanneret around 1675 and 1680 respectively. Daniel and Marie had three children, including Jonathan,
who was christened at Les Ponts-de-Martel on 17 February 1689.
Jonathan was an unusual forename at this time, in spite of the
popularity of many other Biblical names.
Jonathan married Madelaine Brand in Le Locle on
17 August 1715, the same day that his cousin Sara Huguenin married
Madelaine's brother Daniel. They had five children, all
christened at Le Locle, but Madelaine died in January 1730, when the
youngest child was just eighteen months old, and Jonathan married Susanne Maire,
a widow, in Le Locle on 15 July 1730. There were no children from
this marriage, and after Susanne's death, Jonathan married Marie-Madelaine Besançon-Perret in Le Locle on 7 August 1756. Marie-Madelaine died in Les Planchettes in 1764, and Jonathan a year later.
Jonathan and Madelaine's third child Daniel was christened at Le Locle on 9 November 1721, and married Madelaine Dubois
there on 25 November 1752. They had eight children, whose
surnames are given indiscriminately on different occasions as Huguenin,
Huguenin-Virchaux, Huguenin-dit-Virchaux, Huguenin-Jonathan and
Huguenin-Virchaux-dit-Jonathan. Daniel died in Le Locle in 1796,
and Madelaine married Henri-Louis Matthey-Henri at La Chaux-du-Milieu in 1799. She died in La Sagne in 1804.
Daniel-Henri Huguenin, Daniel and Madelaine's second child, was christened in Le Locle on 5 October 1755, and married Marie-Marguerite Montandon
there on 4 July 1781. She was christened in La Chaux-de-Fonds on
17 January 1762, and her maternal grandfather was a French "refugee"
from Nïmes, Jean Nissole. Daniel-Henri and
Marie-Marguerite had eleven children, although four died in
infancy. Daniel-Henri died in Cornaux in about 1813, and
Marie-Marguerite died in Le Locle in 1819.
Their youngest child, Philippe-Henri Huguenin-Virchaux, was born in Le Locle on 7 December 1802, and married Justine Vuille
there on 27 April 1833. Justine was born in La Sagne on 1
November 1805, and was the descendant of a Neuchâtel family which had
spent several generations in the neighbouring valley of St-Imier in the
canton of Bern. Philippe-Henri and Justine settled in La Sagne,
where their seven children were born.
Gustave Henri Huguenin-Virchaux
, the second child of Phlippe-Henri and Justine, was born in La Sagne
on 24 September 1835. He was a watchmaker, and married Elise Augustine Perrenoud
in La Sagne on 28 October 1857. Elise was born in La Sagne on 9
March 1836, daughter of Gustave Perrenoud and his wife Julie
Vuille. Gustave and Elise had no less than 15 children between
1859 and 1878, and when Gustave died in 1883, Elise was left with the
sole responsibility of raising and supporting the 13 who survived
infancy. She demanded strict discipline, and expected the older
children to help with their younger brothers and sisters. A
nephew of Elise who lived in Neuchâtel was nicknamed
Perrenoud-la-Vipère, because he hunted adders and brought them to the
council offices, where he received 1 franc per head - a significant sum
in those days. Finding this addition to his income more than
welcome, he went so far as to install a clandestine adder farm behind
Gustave and Elise's eleventh child, Gustave Albert Huguenin-Virchaux (known
as Albert), was born in Le Locle on 1 August 1871. He was
apprenticed to an enameller at Fleurier, and found his apprenticeship
very hard. Not only did he have a trade to learn, but in addition
he was expected to help care for his employer's children and clean the
workshop after everyone else had left. He received no pay, and
the food was barely sufficient for a hungry adolescent. One
morning, he decided that he had had enough, and would run away back to
his widowed mother, who lived at Le Locle. However, when he arrived
home after walking about 10 miles and climbing 2,000 feet, all he
received was a lecture from his mother, who promptly sent him back to
Fleurier to complete his apprenticeship. Gustave Albert married Maria Emma Rüfenacht
(known as Emma) in Le Locle on 29 November 1890. She was born in
Bern on 6 March 1872, and came to the canton of Neuchâtel with her
family as a child.
Emma and Albert
and Emma set up home in Le Locle where their six children were
born. As a supplement to his income, Albert raised black rabbits,
fed on herbs from the garden and cocoa, which apparently produced
excellent meat, while the skins were sold to make furs. Emma
belonged to the Salvation Army, and had a profound faith which
showed itself in encouragement and practical help to her friends and
neighbours in difficulty, in spite of the couple's limited means.
She was also politically conscious, and tried to persuade her neighbour
to vote socialist. When the neighbour pointed out that women in
had no right to vote, Emma replied that she had five votes: her husband
and her four sons!
Gustave Henri Huguenin-Virchaux (known as Henri), Albert and
Emma's fifth child, was born in La Chaux-de-Fonds on 19 February
1898. He burned his hand badly on a wood stove at the age of 3,
leaving three fingers of his left hand unusable, but this handicap
never prevented him from doing anything he wanted to do. When he
reached the age of his first military service, he hid his left hand
from the recruiting officer, and easily passed all the physical tests
designed to weed out those unsuitable for army service. When the
officer told him that he was fit for service, Henri showed him his
hand, and was instantly dismissed. Henri designed and built many
of his own tools to work in the watchmaking trade.
Henri spent his youth at La Chaux-de-Fonds, where with
other youngsters he constructed a ramp out of snow in order to jump
over the railway line as the steam train of the Chemins de Fer
Jurassiens passed below, using barrel staves as skis. Railway
workers regularly destroyed the ramp, but just as regularly the
children rebuilt it. The line still exists, although the trains
are now electric.
Henri married Albertine Jeanne Tüller
in Fleurier on 7 May 1920. Although she was known by her first
name as a child, Henri asked her to use her second name, Jeanne, which
he liked very much, instead of Albertine, which he hated. From
that time on, she was always known as Jeanne.
In the early days of his marriage, Henri worked at the
paper factory at St-Sulpice, where he narrowly missed being
involved in a serious accident. He worked for several days with a
saw, driven by the waters of the river, cutting up tree trunks. The saw
seemed to be in poor repair, and Henri pointed this out to his
employer, who refused to listen. Henri therefore decided to leave
this job, and only a week later his replacement was killed in a
With his wife, Jeanne, Henri left Fleurier to move to
the Val-de-Ruz, because the mists were causing their daughter, Agnès,
to suffer from bronchitis. They went first to Cernier, where the
couple ran a grocery, while Henri also worked as a postman.
Unfortunately, in this time of economic depression, Jeanne was too
kind-hearted to refuse credit to the many families who found it hard to
make ends meet, and so the grocery was abandoned, lacking sufficient
They then moved to Boudeviliers, where they were
caretakers at the agricultural college. The grain there suffered
the ravages of mice, and Henri had the idea of placing a sheet of metal
on the barn floor, and connecting it to an electrical current. A
few mice were killed, but soon it became clear that others were still
reaching the grain. Henri and one of the teachers decided to
watch to see how they did it, and were amazed to see the animals
crossing the electrified metal on their claws, rather like a man
walking on tiptoes. After that, Henri abandoned the scientific
approach in favour of a gun!
The family will long
remember an accident of Henri's during the war. At this time he
was working for a scrap metal merchant recycling old iron, as
Switzerland has no mineral resources and was cut off from outside
supplies. Henri had to use a blow-torch to dismember a large
metal wheel which had furnished hydro-electric power to a maccaroni
factory at Noiraigue. The working conditions for Henri and his
two colleagues were extremely difficult, and as Henri was working at
the foot of the wheel, a hoist weighing 35kg (77lbs) fell directly on
his head. He was knocked unconscious, and his colleagues,
believing him dead and afraid of being blamed, panicked and left in the
company lorry without telling anyone. Henri had suffered a double
fracture at the base of his skull, and when he regained consciousness,
he managed to stagger to the station and take the train home, walking
like a drunkard. When the doctor examined him, he said that the
double fracture had probably saved his life, releasing the force of the
blow and directing it outwards.
Henri's doctor had many other opportunities of seeing
one of his favourite patients. On one occasion, Henri was working
recovering metal on the bank of the river Serrière when his ladder was
swept away by the current, and Henri received a sudden dip.
Fortunately his progress was stopped by the metal grill which protects
the turbine engines of the Suchard chocolate factory at Neuchâtel.....
Henri also worked as an electrician, a telephone
engineer, and a postman. He played trombone and horn in the
temperance society brass band at Neuchâtel, being a teetotaller like
In later life he devoted himself to more peaceful
pastimes, such as gardening, and jigsaws of 1,500 to 5,000
pieces. He died in Neuchâtel in 1976.
Jeanne worked as a dressmaker for many years,
remaining young in spirit, and always fashionable. She had
clients right up to the end of her life, and made a wedding dress for
her grandson's bride at the age of 90 in spite of her failing eyesight.
Jeanne said, "It's better to die in the evening,
because you learn something new each day." She died of lung
cancer in the Hôpital Pourtalès, Neuchâtel in 1986, saying "A star goes
out; a new star starts to shine," because her great-granddaughter was
born while she was in hospital.
Henri and Jeanne are Jean-Marc's maternal grandparents.