Before Norder and his family left for Engi - his family had left in 1840 - he contacted the local historical society.
Before we left, I had e-mailed an Engi official to ask if someone might meet with us to talk about the village. The historical society president arranged for the two young English-speaking members to spend a day answering our questions.
Rolf is the village's computer tech and the historical society's archivist. Anita is a genealogy buff whose family has been in Engi for centuries.
Within minutes, they had solved the mystery of why the Norders left. "They left because otherwise they would have died. They would have starved," Rolf said.
Industrialization and crop failures devastated the valley in the 1840s. For decades, men, women and children had done cloth work by hand, weaving flax or wool to help scratch out a living. But industrial production eliminated the market for hand-woven textiles. "They could no longer sell this product," Rolf said. "It broke the system."
At the same time, potato blight devastated Engi. "It became so bad in the valley that this area was called Little Ireland," Rolf said. Of about 300 families, about half had no income.
Life in Engi had always been a series of hardships.
While Engi still has its cows, mountain scenery and fresh air, the Norder family history also includes 16th century neck irons, the rise and fall of family fortunes, the plague, avalanches, famine, slate mining, textile weaving and a lost branch in Brazil.
Although Norder, following the genealogist's time-honored trek to the ancestral cemetery, didn't find any family gravestones, he did learn why:
To our disappointment, Anita and Rolf had told us we would find no Norders in its cemetery. Land is so scarce, they said, that people are buried for only 20 years. After that, the remains are dug up and given to the family. The oldest date my wife saw on a tombstone was 1986.
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