A Walser family

Gressoney-La-Trinité

Gressoney-La-Trinité (Trinity) in front of the Monte Rosa massif
Gressoney-La-Trinité (Trinity) in front of the Monte Rosa massif
The Curta House in the hamlet of Orsia (1588/1789)
The Curta House in the hamlet of Orsia (1588/1789)

The family, whose name is written in German and Italian "Curta" (pronounced "kuʁta") and Savoyard patois "Curtaz" (pronounced "kyʁta", the "z" is not spoken and shows the emphasis on the second to last syllable) , is located since 1445 in Gressoney (in Walserditsch: Greschonei), a Walser village on the south side of Monte Rosa. First there is the notary Johann Jacob Curtaz (1436-1510), who lived in Orsio, a hamlet in the "Oberteil", in the now independent municipality of Gressoney-La-Trinité. The Curtaz house from 1588/1789 still exists here.

 

The family's origins are said to lead to the Valais via the Curta / Curtaz in Aigle and Yvorne (Vaud / Pays de Vaud). There is "Willelmus de Arvilar", "dite Curta", in Bramois (today a district of Sion) in 1278 the first mentioned Curta. He was married to Bruna, apparently a daughter of Girold I. de Turre, Major of Sitten and reeve of Ollon. It is believed that the Curta from the Valais goes back to the Curti, a family of notaries and merchants, who had resided in the Lombard city of Gravedona on Lake Como since the 11th century and then also in Cantù. This is borne out by the family relationships in Lombardy around Como, Cantù and Gravedona that have been maintained until the middle of the 14th century and personal attributions such as "Lumbardi" that we still find in the following three generations.


Gressoney-Saint-Jean

Postcard view (late 19th century)
Postcard view (late 19th century)
The cath. Church in Gressoney-Saint Jean
The cath. Church in Gressoney-Saint Jean
The old Curta house in Ober-Chaschtel from 1580 with the chapel built by the notary Johann Angelin Curta in 1670
The old Curta house in Ober-Chaschtel from 1580 with the chapel built by the notary Johann Angelin Curta in 1670

In the course of time, the family expanded into the "Mittelteil" and "Unterteil", which today form the independent municipality of Gressoney-Saint-Jean. Here Johann Jacobs great-grandson, the notary Angelin Curtaz, built the still existing “old Curta house” in the hamlet of “Castel” in 1580. All three branches of the Gressoney family, the “Curta Branche Castel / Chemonal”, the “Curta Branche Castel / Upper Rhine” and the “Curtaz Branche Capaluogo / Prédelys” have their origins here. Another branch established itself from Orsio in the 17th century in the neighboring upper Ayastal (Canton des Allemands) with descendants in Extrepiraz (patois: Ehtrepira), Brusson (patois: Breutson / Brétson, Walserditsch: Britse), in Verrès and Ivrea.

 

The Curta mostly worked as merchants, were notaries, secretaries or judges. But there were also over a dozen pastors in the family - and almost as many painters, especially from the “Castel / Chemonal” branch (“z’Moalersch”). Johann Joseph Anton Curta (1782-1829), for example, painted the Stations of the Cross in front of the parish church of Saint Jean. Franz Curta (1827-1861) painted the Last Judgment, a fresco in the chapel of Lignod (Ayastal). The merchant, painter, photography pioneer and philanthropist Valentin Curta (1861-1929) was also well known through the first travel guide or his chronicle about Gressoney.

Today in Gressoney only families of the "branch Capaluogo and Predilys" with descendants in Indonesia and England live. In Brusson, Verrès and Ivrea there are also descendants of the branch in the Ayas valley. The two branches from Castel died out in Gressoney, but found their continuation through emigration to Germany on the Upper Rhine (branch "Castel / Upper Rhine").

 


On the Upper Rhine

Freiburg im Breisgau with its cathedral
Freiburg im Breisgau with its cathedral
The Litschgy house in Bad Krozingen
The Litschgy house in Bad Krozingen
The church of Oberweier
The church of Oberweier
The center of Kappel / Rhine
The center of Kappel / Rhine

Since agriculture in the so-called "little ice age" from the 15th to the 19th century was no longer sufficient for food, many men of Gressoney earned money as merchants in Switzerland and on the Upper Rhine. It is not for nothing that Gressoney is listed in "Krämertal" in contemporary maps. As part of the Duchy of Savoy, it was also part of the Roman-German Empire at that time. But mainly thanks to their Alemannic mother tongue, the Gressoney people easily found access to the people of the Bernese Land, on Lake Zurich or Lake Constance, as well as in the Black Forest and on the Baden or Alsatian side of the Rhine Valley.

 

Among the Gressoney merchants, the Curta have the earliest and closest relationships to the region on the Upper Rhine, in addition to the Litschgi. A Hans Curta was a member of the merchant guild "Zum Falkenberg" in Freiburg im Breisgau before 1501. Between 1556 and 1658 at least 89 entries in the stand money books of the Freiburg fairs refer to Curta from Gressoney.

 

Some also established trading branches here. Johann Angelin's son Peter Curta from the "Castel and Chemonal" branch had been a member of the Freiburg merchants' guild "Zum Falkenberg" since 1684 and opened a cloth shop here in 1698. His sister Johanna was the wife of the businessman and large entrepreneur Johannes Litschgi from Gressoney in neighboring Krozingen, where he became known as the "Fugger" of Breisgau.

 

Peter's grandson, Johann Joseph Curtaz (1733-1796), son of the notary of the same name, Johann Joseph Curta (1698-1779), was sent to relatives in Switzerland or South Baden at the age of twelve to learn the trade of the cloth merchant. He probably came to his uncle Johannes Michael Curta, son of Peter Curta, who died in 1737 in Freiburg. He then settled as a merchant around 1764 north of Freiburg in Oberweier at the up-and-coming trade and industrial city of Lahr on the western edge of the central Black Forest. There he was married twice. However, only seven of the twelve children reached adulthood. Descendants of Johann Joseph Curtaz can still be found in three families in Oberweier and the neighboring town of Friesenheim as well as in Offenburg, Ladenburg and near Hamburg.

 

The oldest son of Johann Joseph Curtaz from Oberweier, Johann Valentin (1780-1840), was also traditionally sent into business administration. There were close ties to the merchant Johann Franz Valentin Curta (1748-1805) from z'Moalersch in Chemonal (Gressoney), who probably knew Johann Joseph Curtaz through his training in Switzerland and southern Baden, and then settled in Hüfingen on the eastern edge of the southern Black Forest in 1788 and opened an office. He was probably not only the namesake, but as the closest relative in the German lands probably also the godfather of Johann Valentin and after his father's early death in 1796 also the guardian of the then 16-year-old. Because under his presence as a best man, Johann Valentin married in 1803 not far from Oberweier in Kappel on the Rhine, and settled there as a merchant and later a master tailor. The spelling of the name of the family changed in Kappel in contrast to the Oberweirer relatives via Curta and Kurta to Korta. Today, eight families from this branch still live in and around Kappel, as well as three more in Speyer and near Karlsruhe. Some are today even in the USA.

 

(November 2, 2017 - August 30, 2020)


Coat of arms and seals

From left to right: Coat of arms of Curti (Gravedona), coat of arms of Courten (Valais), seal and merchant mark of Peter Curta (1698, 1734), coat of arms of the Curta branch Castel and Chemonal, coat of arms of the Curtaz branch Capaluogo and Prédilys