Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback “Big Ben” Roethlisberger tackled his family history in May, when the newly launched Web site Swiss Roots <swissroots.org> sent him to his family homeland as part of its publicity game plan.
It was something of an ancestral victory tour: Roethlisberger’s great-great-grandfather Karl Roethlisberger was a poor man who worked in the town of Lauperswil, Switzerland, and left for America in 1873 at age 32. His famous descendant’s visit drew a standing-room-only crowd as schools closed, local officials gave speeches and villagers came from miles away.
His family in tow, Big Ben saw church records showing his ancestor’s emigration and immersed himself in the local culture — playing the golf like sport hornussen, tasting the region’s celebrated cheese and meeting the Bern Grizzlies American-style football team. Back in the States, he took a break from practice to answer our questions.
During his ancestral homecoming, Ben Roethlisberger (top center, with his family) visited his great-great-grandfather’s village and tried his hand at “farmer’s golf (above).
Family Tree Magazine (FTM):You blogged on Swiss Roots that you’d started looking into your family tree. What have you found?
Ben Roethlisberger (BR): I learned my great-great-grandfather was a servant or slave. He worked hard to make enough money to go to America.
FTM:Did you meet many family members in Switzerland?
BR: Yes, I met a few people who told me that they were my distant relatives. It was neat to meet more Roethlisbergers!
FTM:What was the most memorable part of the trip?
BR: The whole trip was amazing, really. But the most memorable part was to visit the farm and village where my great-great-grandfather lived.
FTM:So do you think you have more fans in Switzerland or the United States now?
BR: I would hope that I have inspired one or two people to become football fans — or to visit their homelands. It was an amazing experience.
From the October 2006 issue of Family Tree Magazine.