Gustav Emil Zollinger

Gustav Emil Zollinger, Zürich, Switzerland.

Gustav's father was also called Gustav, and his generation was part of the industrial revolution in the Zürich Highlands, and he too made that transition from farming to industry. That hilly region was perfectly situated for the exploitation of water power, and with the tradition of home weaving, the area was well suited to become a textile production center. Gustav Emil's father followed this trend, and worked all his live in the newly emerging industries, first in textile, then at a foundry, and finally with a metal working factory, all in Wetzikon. In this last job father Gustav worked his way up to factory floor manager, and with this a respectable standing in the community.

The son Gustav Emil was the first born of four children, and he grew up in the old Wetzikon Highschool, where his father had a second job as the janitor of the school. With that position came the privilege of being allocated the apartment on the top floor of the schoolhouse. This could have been a very pleasant place to grow up, but not for Gustav Emil and his two sisters and a younger brother. The caretaker position was taken on for a specific reason, that was to earn extra money towards his ambition to build his own house. And it was not the father Gustav that did the care taking, but his wife and the four children. Every Saturday, each classroom was emptied of furniture, then the wood floors were scoured with steel wool and soap, and afterwards the floor of each room had to be waxed and polished by hand.

Gustav Emil was very intelligent, and he also played the harmonica quite well. But due to the harsh upbringing his goal was to get out of his parent's house as soon as possible. He enrolled in an apprenticeship as electro-mechanic, and soon after he received his trade papers he left Switzerland, and worked in France and Spain, where he followed a career as mining engineer. Very little of this time is known, except that he was an ardent collector of the minerals which he found in the mines. He later moved to a mine in the Atlas mountains in Morocco, and family lore even tells about a photo showing his local (black) African girlfriend.

It was in the remote Atlas mountains that his life changed, as he became ill with appendicitis, and as the story goes, he was brought to the nearest hospital on the back of a donkey, a trip of three days! By then the appendix had ruptured, and he almost died. His career in mining was over, and as a very sick man he returned to Switzerland. He was aware that he could never fully work again, and as the pragmatist he was, he decided to marry a teacher Sarah Trachsler, who would be the main salary earner in the marriage. Her teaching position also qualified them for subsidized housing of Zürich City, and that is where they lived all their life. They did not have any children, and so lived a quiet and modest life.

The fact that Gustav's wife was the money earner left Gustav Emil to pursue a "higher calling". He was really an academic who was prevented by circumstances to obtain a higher education, and he often described himself as an "autodiktat", meaning a self taught person. He pursued a multitude of interests, from his mineral and rock collection and an equally interesting seashell collection, to family history. His health never fully recovered, and while he was able to work part time in small equipment repair, most of his time was spent learning and researching. During a number of years he spent most of his time in archives and libraries putting together his family tree. His father Gustav was known as "Millimeter Zollinger", a reference to his being most meticulous, and Gustav Emil inherited that trait. His scientific aptitude, the time he had on hand, and his meticulous work habits made him an ideal genealogist.

Unfortunately a family dispute over inheritance caused a rift between Gustav Emil and his younger brother Fritz (Marcel's father), and as a result Marcel never really had the opportunity to get to know his uncle Gustav. Only many years after the death of Gustav Emil from Parkinson's disease was Marcel able to learn more about his family history books. Gustav Emil had produced two copies, which he deposited at the Swiss National Library in Zürich, and Marcel was able to request the return of one of these copies, which he still holds, and of which he now has made reproductions.

The branch of the Gustav Emil Zollinger family traces back to the "Schachen" farm in Oetwil, and from there to Lautikon. Gustav Emil was also especially taken with his grandfather Jakob Strickler, who was the teacher in Oetwil, and a bit of a local celebrity. Because of this a considerable part of his family history book covers the Strickler Family. The other family that received more attention than it deserved was that of his mother Bertha Weber. The Weber family originated in the castle of Wetzikon, and so he was eager to trace his "aristocratic" ancestors. But to balance the picture his book also included the story of a double murder in Lautikon carried out by a Zollinger.

Gustav Emil, under different circumstances would no doubt had an academic career, and could well have become a professor at the University of Zürich. He had the inquiring mind, the exceptional intelligence and the meticulous work habits that would have been great assets for such a calling. But for his family, leaving its farming roots and moving into the new industries of the Zürich Highlands, education and knowledge were not priorities, and just being allowed to learn a trade was a privilege. But the intellect always was there, and with it the frustration that his lack of education and his poor health did not allow him to fulfill his exceptional potential.

Written by his nephew Marcel Zollinger, Ottawa November 2004

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