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Genealogy in Switzerland – A Longenecker Family Search
I recently visited Langnau, Bern, Switzerland and spent two days immersed in all things Langenegger. My wife and I arrived at the Langnau train station on June 25, 2004, exhausted from a long flight from San Francisco. Leaving the train station we were immediately struck by the unique character of this area.
Outside the train station are the remains of a cobbled street, now covered by asphalt. Everywhere we looked there were beautiful Swiss houses and buildings – many of them centuries old – and all colorfully decorated with pink and red begonias placed in flower boxes under each window. As we later discovered, Emmental is also a wonderful country of covered bridges, friendly people, church spiers with Swiss clocks and bells, jingling cow bells, everything you expect Switzerland to be.
As we walked to our hotel in Bareau, we noticed how friendly and courteous the locals are, stopping to let us cross the street and smiling as we passed with a friendly “Hola” or “Guten Morgen”. The city is dotted with long stone reservoirs with well water that gushes up at one end and drains at the other. It looks a bit like a stone horse tank. These are available to anyone who wants a fresh drink of well water.
After settling into our room at the Landgasthof Hotel Adler, the owner kindly invited us to take a short walk through the countryside where we saw more beautiful houses and pastures. After we got back we asked a few locals in the hotel restaurant about the Langenegger farm and they had a good laugh. Turns out there are a lot of Langeneggers there and we didn’t know the names of the people who lived in the original house we came to see.
The hills are about 1200 feet above the valley floor and are incredibly green with grass and wooded areas visible from anywhere in the city. Langnau is small, maybe three or four blocks long, and the hills seem very close. Black and white cows tear through the vegetation and make a wonderful noise as they graze, ringing the bells around their necks. The higher pitched bells worn by sheep and goats mingle with the bong-bong of cowbells creating a delightful backdrop to the landscape. This is the last sound we heard as we went to sleep under a down comforter on our first night in Langnau.
The birds woke us up to the wonderfully green world that is Langnau in summer. We enjoyed a wonderful breakfast of homemade bread and jelly provided by our host, Stephen. We had hoped to attend church but found our information was incorrect and arrived too early. Instead, we started our Langnau walking tour early. Langnau is a small town and we walked all the main streets around midday when we took a lunch break to share a small cheesecake and apple pastry from a small shop near the town centre. At that time, the local museum had opened. It is located in one of the oldest houses in Langnau and is a great opportunity to look around inside one of these magnificent buildings and see all the fancy woodwork done by the builders. It is also a large museum with a series of permanent and rotating exhibitions depicting the history of Langnau and its inhabitants.
The museum docent has been living in Langnau for 70 years and knows the name Langenegger very well. He quickly found a book containing the blues of the Langenegger family: one for those in the valley (Langenegg Ey) and one for the highest in the hills (Langenegg Unter). He also analyzed the name Lange (Long in English – pronounced ‘Long’ also in German) and negg (hill in English – pronounced ‘neck’ in German). I couldn’t confirm the word “negg” anywhere, but that’s what he said. The book also included a statement, “Ulrich, von Langnau, wanderte 1748 nach Pennsylvanien [USA] Aus (Faust 61)” which roughly translates to Ulrich Langenegger immigrated to Pennsylvania in the United States in 1748. This is our ancestor Ulrich Langenegger Sr. The book gives no other source for this information. On the map, the Langenegg Unter is about a 30 minute hike up the hill from the museum and Langenegg Ey is about a mile downstream from Langnau.Since Unter had been owned by someone who wasn’t a Langenegger for many years, we decided take a closer look at the There is property in the valley to see if we could at least get a picture of the house and maybe, if we were very lucky, meet a distant relative.
Margaret and I walked along the river where many of the locals were taking a break from normal life to cool off. We were pleasantly surprised by the number of covered bridges in and around Langnau, all still in use. We even passed through one on the outskirts of Langnau.
Just as we approached the long driveway to the Langenegger house, two women came up from the river and one of them spoke English. He told us we were in the right place and that the Langenegger family lived here. He offered to escort us to the appropriate house among a group of several houses and buildings located on the property. With a cheery German “Woo hoo” he called the people inside and introduced us to my ninth cousin who lives in the house where Ulrich Langenegger Senior was born in 1664 (the same one he mentions in the book that he emigrated to Pennsylvania).
Our new found cousins were friendly and greeted us warmly even though we just turned up at their door after over 250 years without a Christmas card! We had a brief conversation about the family and saw some of the information they had there. Coincidentally, the sister-in-law of the couple next door was in Pennsylvania to attend a Longenecker meeting while we were in Langnau. We have exchanged contact information so that we can follow up with you with information that we believe may be of use to you. They kindly offered us a cool drink from their well before we took a short walk around the farm to take some photos. The cows were in the barn because it was unusually hot that day. The milk from their cows is sold to a cooperative of local farmers who turn it into cheese. If you’re looking for a real Langenegger cheese, look for the Emmentaler kind, as that’s what they make there. It is sold in the US simply as Swiss cheese, the kind with holes. I must admit that it tasted much better in Langnau than in California.
The house is an easy walk along the river from Langnau and consists of the original house plus some additional houses and outbuildings. I found the house a challenge to photograph alone. It is a typical Swiss farmhouse arranged with houses and barn under one roof. To one side is a dirt ramp that goes directly into the attic above the barn which is used to move hay into this area for storage and use over the winter.
The roof is steep by American standards, but not as steep as I expected in an area that gets a lot of snow. Most roofs in the area are tiled and include a series of brackets about six inches high that hold the snow in the winter so it doesn’t all fall at once. Some buildings had a simpler system with just one set of brackets near the bottom of the roof supporting a four-inch pipe running the length of the house, apparently for the same purpose as the brackets on other buildings. Also, this system probably uses snow to insulate the roof from the cold. Another interesting thing about some roofs and houses: builders sometimes put their initials and the date of construction on the roof using different colored tiles. Others painted this information under the eaves or on the face of the building under the eaves.
The Langenegger House is not as elegant as some in the city, but it is large and features some fancy woodwork that we saw repeated inside the museum, on the covered bridges, and elsewhere in the area. The main structure appears to be large beams carefully joined at the right angles so that they become stronger as more weight is put on them, and are held together with wooden pegs. On a bridge near town we saw metal girders that appear to have been added later.
The business of the farm is centered around dairy cows. There was a large cornfield planted near the house along with a well kept garden that seems to adorn every house we saw in Switzerland. Along the driveway to the farm are some cherry trees with mostly green fruit just starting to turn pink in places. The rest of the farm seemed to be in the grass. My friend John Garland from Oklahoma would call fencing “psychological fencing”, it’s not a barrier to an animal wanting to get out. We noticed that many fences appeared to be temporary and electrified so that the cows could easily be moved to fresh grass as needed. We even saw an electric fence connected to a solar panel in the mountains a long train ride away from Langnau. Out of respect for the time and space of the current occupants, we only stayed briefly.
We returned to our hotel along a path that skirts the river and stopped to rest in the shade of an old covered bridge. We were exhausted again and happy to meet our distant relatives and see the old home.
Research: If you are researching this area, there is no genealogy information available for Langnau. The Record Office has records from 1886 but does not publish them without the permission of the people named in the records and the charges for doing so are very high. You’ll have much better luck in Bern, where most of the Swiss records are held. There is almost always someone around who speaks English, and registry offices are no exception. The records are not computerized or indexed, but are highly organized by location and time period. You will need to tell them exactly who, where and when you want to look to get the right microfilm. Then it’s an ancient search that browses records written long ago in unfamiliar styles and letters. The lockers are located outside the office in the corridor and you will need to leave your backpack, bag, etc. there. It’s free and safe.
The Bern State Archives is located at Falkenplatz 4, CH-3012 Bern, near the main railway station. It was easy to find the third time I tried. The train station is large and busy and on several levels. Locate the elevators at one end of the station and take them to the top. If you are having trouble, please follow the students and college directions to find the elevators. Once you’re at the top, head towards the campus – the only way you can really go – and pass between two large university-looking buildings. Falkenplatz 4 is the first building on the right after passing through the campus area. There is a small stand on the street just across the small park where students gather for a cheap and good sandwich; get there early as they run out of sandwiches quickly after noon. The office is open from 8:00am to 12:00pm and 1:00am to 5:00am every weekday except Friday when it closes at 4:30am. If you want to confirm before you go, their phone numbers are 031/633 51 01, fax 031/633 51 02. Copies are CHF 1 per page so bring plenty of cash so you can get all you want You can easily spend 50 francs in one afternoon, depending on the records you want. I haven’t had time, but you might also want to check out these sources from the Langnau museum. . .
From Cantons Bern
031/633 47 85
Fax: 031/633 47 39
3753 Oberhofen am Thunersee
033/243 24 52
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