Pittsburgh Steeler Ben Roethlisberger shows off his position — and his heritage. Swiss Roots webmasters sent him overseas to explore his ancestral hometown.
Swiss-American genealogy-and-culture Web site Swiss Roots <www.swissroots.org> added a pop-culture twist to the promotional hoopla surrounding its spring launch: In May, organizers sent “Big Ben” Roethlisberger, quarterback of the Super Bowl XL champion Pittsburgh Steelers, to his ancestral homeland in Switzerland’s Emmental region. It was an event some fans had been waiting for: “I get e-mails thanking me for making Swiss people proud and asking if I’ll ever get over to Switzerland for a visit,” Roethlisberger says. (The football/genealogy crossover crowd can read about his trip on Swiss Roots.)
The PR tactic fits with the image Swiss Roots webmasters are cultivating as a cool, hip cyberspot for “Swissophiles” to congregate. If you join the online community, post photos and write stories, you can earn points redeemable for cute T-shirts and tanks. But even if those go straight to the grandkids, you could find a prize in the site’s heritage section. Among its smattering of free genealogy databases is an Ellis Island passenger list index to Swiss immigrants that’s revised to correct misspellings and “mishearings,” and enhanced with links to Web sites of passengers’ hometowns. Swiss Roots also offers historical timelines and articles, recipes, an events calendar and profiles of famous Swiss-Americans, such as chocolatier Milton Hershey and actress Renee Zellweger.
Look for more promotional events this summer, including the tail end of a vintage Swiss Postal Bus road show (stopping in New York in July and Wisconsin in September) and a Swiss exhibit opening July 29 at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum.
From the August 2006 issue of Family Tree Magazine.