The village of Ziefen, Switzerland, is the ancestral home of most with the name Repass (and variant spellings of the name) in the United States today. Rippas is the European spelling of the name. Rippas families live in Ziefen today but in 1996 the last male in the village to carry the surname, Willy Rippas, died. His widow, the former Berta Rudin, and the family of a daughter, Trudi, still live in the village.
The earliest evidence of the Repass family was recorded in Ziefen when a shepherd named Gladi Rippas applied for naturalization in 1608. Church registers indicate that Gladi, and possibly even his father and grandfather, lived there much earlier than this date, at least part time. It is believed they probably lived in the area of Burgundy, France, prior to the 1570s when the persecution of Protestants in France made it impossible to remain there. A conspiracy by ruling Catholics to destroy the political power of Protestants in France resulted in the wholesale slaughter of Protestants all over the country. Thousands fled over the borders to safety in neighboring countries such as Holland, Switzerland, the principalities of what are today called Germany, and even England.
Ziefen is located in the wider part of the Reigoldswil Valley on Frenke Creek roughly between the two larger villages of Reigoldswil and Bubendorf. Historically the village of Ziefen was inhabited mostly by peasants who farmed the open areas encircling the village or grazed livestock there. The weaving industry came to the area probably in the 16th century, bringing an important source of income to Ziefen and the region. Most inhabitants were involved in the industry in some way. The village church of Saint Blasius dates from the 14th century.
Though life was not as difficult for them as it was for their neighbors to the north in what is today called Germany, families of Ziefen had few rights and limited choices which might lead to a better life. Opportunities abroad enticed many to leave Switzerland to begin a new life, particularly in the British colony in the New World. The first known member of the Rippas family to leave Ziefen and immigrate to America was John Jacob Rippas and his family who left Ziefen in 1768. It is believed that most Repass families—if not all—in the United States descend from John Jacob Repass and his wife, Anna Gerber, and their five sons.
Some surnames found in Ziefen during the 18th century and earlier were: Bürgin, Büser, Dietrich, Furler, Gerber, Graber, Gysi, Hemmig, Hug, Lliechtli, Madöri, Meyer, Müller, Recher, Rippas, Rudi, Rudin, Schäublin, Schaffner, Schürch, Schweizer, Senn, Spiess, Spitteler, Straüman/Strohman, Stohler, Thommen, Tschopp, Tschudi, Vogt, Waldner, and Zeller. Some members of these families immigrated to America leaving relatives behind. Thus surnames of families of Swiss origin in the United States---though spellings may have changed because of Anglicization and other influences---are still in evidence in the village of Ziefen today.