The Mennonite Heritage Archives has many resources to help genealogists and family historians. Within our holdings, consider the following resources:

  • Published family histories are jointly held with the CMU Library.
  • Unpublished family histories are found in many personal papers collections, but a big collection can be found in the MGI collection.
  • Obituaries found in various community newspapers. For copies of many of these obits, contact us at
  • Consult community sources such as community newspapers (Red River Valley Echo, or the Carillon News). Check what we have in our periodical holdings. Consult national newspapers (Der Bote or Die Mennonitische Rundschau) with community reports. Search community history books detailing the people who lived in a particular village, town, municipality or district via the CMU library.

Mennonite Genealogy Inc.

MGI Collection at the Mennonite Heritage Archives can be found here.

History of MGI

Abram A. Vogt

Mennonite Genealogy Inc. was founded in Steinbach, Manitoba in 1958 as the “Mennonitsche Familienforschung” by Abram Andreas Vogt (1887-1968). Vogt was born in Schoenwiese, Chortitza, South Russia and trained as a teacher. He immigrated to Canada in 1923 where he established a retail business that functioned under the name “Vogt Brothers”. With his sister Maria, they established the first hospital in Steinbach in 1928. In 1938 they also established the Mennonite Invalid Home in Steinbach. In 1945 he was on the founding board of Bethania in Winnipeg; and in 1957 he was on the founding board of Westgate Mennonite Collegiate in Winnipeg. He viewed the founding of the research centre for Mennonite Genealogy as his most important life’s activity. In 1967 he constructed a separate building in Steinbach specifically for this work.

After the death of Abram A. Vogt, the activities of the organization were continued by his daughter Mrs. Margaret Kroeker and Mrs. Hanna Rempel. In 1978 the collection was moved to the newly constructed Mennonite Heritage Centre in Winnipeg where it was housed until it was moved a few years later to an office environment in the lower level of Autumn House at 790 Wellington Avenue in Winnipeg. During the early 1980s, the organization incorporated as a registered charity in order to broaden its financial support. The work continued to be done by volunteers and the office expenses were paid from the interest of an investment funds that was established. The organization had a small membership and an annual meeting reviewed the activity and set the budget.

At the annual meeting on April 18, 2005, MGI agreed to develop a plan for closing the operation and disposing of the assets. The final decision of the organization was made on October 5, 2007, having transferred all remaining assets to Mennonite Church Canada – Mennonite Heritage Centre, that “steps be taken to end the status of MGI as a Registered Charity.”

Low-German Mennonite Obituaries Indexes

List of links compiled by Glenn Penner

Last checked: 17 October 2021

The emphasis is on Mennonite periodicals or newspapers from areas with high Mennonite populations.

I take no responsibility for the websites linked. If you find errors or omissions in an index contact the person responsible, not me. If a link does not work please email me. If you know of any periodical indices which should be added please contact me.

Genealogy Guides

Last updated June 2023

B.H. Unruh’s Research on Mennonite Migration to Russia 1787 – 1895

B.H. Unruh’s Research on Mennonite Migration to Russia 1787-1895

A Translation from Part 2 of Benjamin Heinrich Unruh’s Die niederländisch-niederdeutschen Hintergründe der mennonitischen Ostwanderungen im 16., 18. und 19. Jahrhundert (Selbstverlag: Karlruhe, 1955)
Translation by Edward Enns, Bert Friesen, Marianne Janzen and Alf Redekopp.

Read part one in the MHA Publications section of our website: click here.

A Guide to the Genealogy of Prussian Mennonites

Prussian Mennonite Genealogy Guide

This guide covers mostly the region that was once known as the province of West Prussia but is also applicable to the early Mennonite settlements in East Prussia (Königsberg and Lithuania) and Brandenburg (another province of Prussia, which contained a small Mennonite community). The material covered here applies to the time period before about 1820. That is, before the last big migration of Mennonites from these regions to Russia.

Hutterite Files in Russian & Ukrainian Archives

Hutterite Files in Russian & Ukrainian Archives

This document has a listing of files found in various Russian and Ukrainian archives which pertain to the Hutterites during their time in Russia. This listing is certainly not complete as it refers only to Mennonite related collections which have been copied and are available at some Mennonite archives in North America. This listing relies completely on the file descriptions produced by others and available to me. Many Hutterite related materials are likely buried in general files which pertain to Mennonites or German colonists in Russia. It should be noted that, during most of their time in Russia, Hutterites were classified as Mennonites. Therefore, searching for “Hutterite” would have yielded less than a quarter of the documents listed here.

Index to Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization Registration Forms

Index to Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization Registration Forms (1923-1930)

Index to Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization Registration Forms (1947-1964)

The Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization (CMBoC) oversaw the migration of over 20,000 Mennonites from Ukraine to western Canada and Ontario between 1923 and 1930.  As part of its record keeping the Board produced registrations forms.  Each record identifies the given and surnames of all household members (maiden name of the mother is occasionally identified), their birthdates, and generally their birthplaces. It also contains a single word indicating how the trip costs were paid, and the cross-reference numbers to the financial ledgers books (lower right).  The back of each record tells the story of the journey from Russia to Canada in the following detail: place of last residence, place and date when the journey began, all dates of arrival/departure at ports, including ship names. It identifies the intended first place of residence in Canada and may list a name of a relative who had previously immigrated to Canada or the United States. The back of each record may also record information about persons who were medically detained in any of the ports.

Manitoba Mennonite Genealogical Sources

Manitoba Mennonite Genealogical Sources 1874-1921

This guide is intended for those who want to go beyond simply collecting names and dates and would like to obtain detailed information on their ancestors, including images of relevant records. Emphasis is on digital records available online which provide access to images or describe how to order the images and records which are available in local archives and offices (church or municipal). This is not a guide on how to determine which records are relevant to your ancestor of interest. Once you have determined who your early Manitoba ancestors were using family sources, the GRANDMA (GM) database, etc., you can use this guide to help you find the original records or images of those records.

Molotschna Statistics

Molotschna Mennonite Colony Statistics for 1841

Odessa State Archive Fond 6 Opis 1 File 5702
Translated from Russian to German by Wilhelm Friesen, Detmold, Germany
Translated from German to English and edited by Glenn H Penner, Winnipeg, Canada

This document has a listing of the number of families plus males and females who, after the 8th Revision on 1 January 1841, belonged to the Mennonite district of Molotschna.

Researching Family History: Getting Started

Power Point to help you get started with family history research

Glenn Penner’s Y-DNA Wish List

Last updated December 2023

Y-DNA Wish List

Note that Y-DNA is passed down from father to son, just like traditional family names. In all cases below we are interested in men with the specific surname mentioned.

Note also that the Y-DNA part of the Mennonite DNA Project is interested in having any man who can trace their paternal ancestry back to the 200 or so traditional Low-German Mennonite surnames join the project. In the download above there is simply a list of personal interest to me in terms of sorting out the different branches of Mennonite family names or solving particular genealogical puzzles. If you have a question just email me at

Compilation of Mennonite Historian Genealogy Articles by Glenn Penner

Glenn Penner

Mennonite Historian December 2021, p. 3

Unehelich: Mennonite Genealogy and Illegitimate Births: Part 3 of 3

by Glenn H. Penner,

In Part 3, Glenn gives more examples of his genealogical research involving illegitimate (unehelich) births. For Parts 1 and 2, see June and September 2021 issues.

Things get very murky when assessing Mennonite genealogical records from Russia. The main reason is that so few church or civil records from the early Mennonite years in Russia have survived. This is complicated by the many unreliable family legends of ancestors who were born illegitimately. The Mennonite situation in Russia was much different from that in West Prussia in that the Russian Mennonites lived in separate colonies from those of the neighbouring Germans. During this early time, few non-Mennonites lived within a Russian Mennonite colony and few Mennonites lived outside the colony.


In West Prussia, Mennonites lived in the same villages as Germans and Poles. Mennonites who got in trouble with the church could simply join the nearby Lutheran church—and many did. In Russia, the situation was much more stringent. It was not legal, until 1905, to change religions within Russia without government permission.1 In such a relatively closed and restricted society, it was much more difficult for premarital or extramarital relationships that might result in the birth of an illegitimate child. This is illustrated by a statement found in the document “Description of the Mennonite Colonies in Russia,” written in 1842.2 The author states that of a total of 570 Mennonite births reported in 1838, only 2 were illegitimate.

One of the few Russian civil records that has survived is the 1835 Molotschna colony census.3 This was part of the series of Revision Lists carried out by the Imperial Russian government every 5 to 15 years. These revision lists relate every member of the family to the male head. This includes noting if the child is from the 1st, 2nd, etc. wife of the head, and it also notes if a child was born illegitimately. An example of an illegitimate child in this census can be found in the family of Johann Jacob Hildebrand, who was head of family #10 in Lichtfeld, Molotschna. The family includes son Jacob Johann (age 30) together with wife Agnetha (age 29) and her illegitimate son Bernhard Bernhard Friesen, age 4 (see image below).

The diary of Chortitza colony minister David Epp, covering the years 1837 to 1843,3 gives a rare and fascinating insight into the disciplinary actions of the church. His diary includes several examples of individuals or couples appearing before the church ministry on “Donnerstag” for sexual indiscretions. Some of these involved an illegitimate birth. Of genealogical interest are the following cases:

1) 23 Apr 1839. “Wallman, who had an affair with the daughter of Jacob Dyck of Rosengart (she gave birth to a child), was excommunicated from the congregation.”

2) 7 Jul 1840. “The widow of P. Dyck in Chortitza gave birth to a baby boy. She named the father as David Doerksen of Chortitza. He denied it, affirmed his innocence before the brethren and called on God as his witness.”

3) 2 Jul 1841. “At the end of the month elder Jacob Braun from Bergthal stopped by to see elder Jacob Dyck. He wanted advice. The daughter of Cornelius Friesen had an affair with the young man Siemens and gave birth to a child.” This child died under mysterious circumstances.

4) 17 Aug 1841. “In Neuendorf Johann Dyck and the widow Tilitzky were excommunicated on August 10 for adultery. Mrs. Tilitzky gave birth to a child.”

5) 15 Nov 1841. “At the request of the Kirchenkonvent, I [and] G[ebiets] Schreiber G. Penner went to Tomakovka to talk with the daughter of Class Krahn in Schoenthal. She had served at Julius Janzs in Einlage, carried on with a Russian, got pregnant and gave birth to a son.”

An excerpt from the 1835 census of the Molotschna Mennonite settlement for the family of Jacob Johann Hildebrand. The last two lines refer to his wife Agneta’s illegitimate son, Bernhard Bernhard Friesen, who was 4 years old in 1835. Photo credit: Glenn Penner.

At this point I can only guess as to the exact identities of the children mentioned above.

The GRANDMA database treats illegitimate births in several ways. If the mother is known but the father is not, the child is usually given the surname of the mother, and that’s what appears in the database. The child is given an unknown father and an explanation is included in the notes. If the father is known, he appears as a “spouse” of the mother, but with no marriage date. This is usually also accompanied by explanatory notes.

For many generations, Mennonites followed a set of inheritance rules adopted in Prussia. These rules made no provisions for illegitimate children. To date, I have not found any mention of illegitimacies in the West Prussian property and inheritance records obtained from Polish archives.4 In Russia, a common practice was to produce a Theilungs Kontrakt that outlined the division of property and named guardians for underage heirs. A few of these from the Chortitza and Bergthal colonies have survived,5, 6 and they include the occasional case of an illegitimate heir. If a man acknowledged paternity of an illegitimate child, it was expected (possibly required) by the church that he provide financially for that child. This financial support was negotiated between the father and the guardians of the child.

It is unknown if this church-mediated practice goes back to the days in Prussia. The author would be interested in knowing about any documented arrangements known to have taken place in Prussia or Russia, beyond what is known from the existing Theilungs Kontrakten. Once an agreement was made, the illegitimate child no longer figured in the inheritance of the biological father—where typically, his assets were divided in such a way that the widow received one-half, and the surviving biological children received the other half.

But what happened when the biological mother of an illegitimate child died? A biological child, illegitimate or not, should have received a share of the maternal inheritance. I have yet to find an example of what actually happened in such cases. Consider the following theoretical example—an unmarried woman has an illegitimate son with a man who agrees to provide financial support for the child. At that point the biological father is out of the picture in terms of paternal inheritance. She then marries another, previously unmarried, man and has 4 children with him, who all survive her. When her husband dies, his legitimate children each receive one-eighth of his assets, while she receives one-half. When she dies, does her illegitimate son also receive (one-fifth of) the maternal inheritance, together with her four legitimate children?

Although relatively rare, illegitimate birth among the early Mennonites in Prussia and Russia did happen. In some cases, it is possible to find documentation enabling one to investigate these “non-paternity events.” In some cases, Y-DNA analysis is very helpful in sorting things out.

1. See my continuing series of articles on “Joining and Leaving the Mennonite Community: A Genealogical Perspective,” in Roots and Branches, the periodical of the Mennonite Historical Society of British Columbia (Part 1 Feb 2020 and Part 2 Sep 2020). These will eventually appear on the Society Website at:
2. Opisanie Menonistskikh kolonii v Rossii. Zhurnal Ministerstva gosudarstvennykh imushchestv, 4 (1842), 1–42. Translator John P. Dyck, Springstein, Manitoba. Transcriber Selenna Wolfe, Mennonite Heritage Archives.
3. The Diaries of David Epp 1837–1843. Translator and editor, John B. Toews, Regent College, Vancouver.
4. The collection of West Prussia inheritance documents can be found at:
5. Mennonite Heritage Archives, Volume 6311.
6. There are a few examples of the Chortitza colony Theilungs Kontrakten that came to Manitoba. They can be found at the Mennonite Heritage Archives, Volume 4180, file 1. I thank Bruce Wiebe for providing this information.


Mennonite Historian September 2021, p. 3

Unehelich: Mennonite Genealogy and Illegitimate Births: Part 2 of 3

by Glenn H. Penner,

In Part 2, Glenn gives more examples of how DNA testing helps with genealogical research involving illegitimate (unehelich) births. For Part 1, see June 2021 issue.

On June 11, 1794, Helena Neufeld, the unmarried daughter of Solomon Neufeld of Zeyesvorderkampen, gave birth to a son named Peter Esau.1 Helena immigrated to Russia with the rest of the Neufeld family in 1794,2, 3 so his birth location (Prussia or Russia) is uncertain. She and her son, Peter, are included in the family of Solomon Neufeld in the 1795 Chortitza colony census.4 His entry in the Schoenhorst church register gives his father’s name as Peter Esau.5


By January 1795, Ältester Gerhard Wiebe of the Neufeld’s home congregation in Elbing-Ellerwald, Prussia, was writing to Russia about Helena’s unchaste behaviour (unzuechten Wandel).6 All evidence points to the father as Peter Esau, who was baptized into the Elbing-Ellerwald congregation in 1791.7 He was from Zeyersvorderkampen (ZeierscheKamp or Kamp). Helena Neufeld, who was also from Zeyersvorderkampen, was baptized into the Rosenort congregation the previous year.8 Interestingly, no father is given for Peter, Sr., instead unehelich is written in the father’s name column of the baptismal list.

As was often the case, both Peter and Helena eventually married other people. Peter appears to have married Catharina Reimer, also from Zeyesvorderkampen, sometime between 1795 and 1798.1 Peter Esau and his family immigrated from nearby Neudorf, West Prussia, to Halbstadt, in the Molotschna colony in 1803.2, 9 The 1835 census gives his patronymic (i.e., his father’s name) as Peter.9 This is a very rare case of both father and son being born out of wedlock. Yet the Y-DNA results for male Esau descendants of Peter Esau (1794–1874) match the other Esau men in the Mennonite DNA project! It just so happened that, in both cases (father and son), the son was given the family name of his biological father, even though the parents never married. This was usually not the case.

The partitioning of Poland in 1772 put nearly all Low-German Mennonites in the new province of West Prussia. On November 1, 1772, the Mennonites of West Prussia were told by the new government to begin records of births, marriages, and deaths.10, 11 Before this time, very few Mennonite church records were kept. At that time, the Prussian Mennonites belonged to the Flemish (58%), Frisian (39%), or Old Flemish (3%) churches.12 In cases of illegitimate births, the mother and father (if his identity was known) were excommunicated from the church.

Since Mennonites were a small minority in Prussia, it was also quite possible for a relationship to occur between a Mennonite and a Lutheran or Catholic, which would result in an illegitimate child. If the woman was not a Mennonite, the birth would be recorded in the appropriate Lutheran or Catholic church register as an illegitimate birth. For example, on July 21, 1754, the Stuhm Lutheran birth register records the birth of Anna, the illegitimate daughter of Elisabeth Schott and an unnamed Mennonite man from Rudnerweide.13 Rudnerweide was a predominantly Mennonite village. This birth predates the existence of Mennonite records from the region.

The Flemish Mennonites were a somewhat more puritanical group, and illegitimate births were rarely recorded. The Frisians were more likely to record such a birth. Since infant baptism was such an important rite for the Lutherans and Catholics, infants were christened and named, legitimate or not. In 1800, the Prussian government required that the State Church, which was the Lutheran church, record the births, marriages, and deaths of all Mennonites within their jurisdictions.

As a result, many illegitimate Mennonite births, not found in Mennonite records, can be found in Lutheran records. In some cases, the father, whose name is missing from the Mennonite birth register, is named in the register of the nearby Lutheran Church. For example, the Marienwerder Lutheran records show that the unmarried Greta (Margaretha) Fries(en) of Oberfeld gave birth to a son named Peter on April 22, 1804. The father’s name is given as Peter Dyck. The Heubuden (Flemish) Mennonite register gives only the birth of Peter Dyck, with no father’s name or any indication of illegitimacy. This Peter Dyck was baptized into the Heubuden church in 1822 where the baptismal register gives his father’s name as Peter Dyck. The Heubuden register was started in 1772, but the first illegitimate birth is not recorded until 1822! Many of those born after 1800 are found in the records of the nearby Lutheran congregations.

On March 12, 1816, the birth of Maria, illegitimate daughter of Maria Martens of Reimerswald, was recorded in the Lutheran birth register of Tiegenhof.13 The father’s name was given as Peter Daniels. The Frisian Mennonite records also give the father’s name.14 Peter Daniels and Maria Martens were in their 20s and unmarried. They eventually married other people. The daughter, Maria, took the surname Martens and eventually immigrated to Russia with her mother’s family.15

A major source of information on illegitimate births to members of the Mennonite churches in West Prussia are the records of those who joined or left a particular church. These records include routine transfers between churches as well as disciplinary records. The latter include information on those who were excommunicated and those in danger of excommunication. In some cases, an illegitimate birth was involved.

According to the records of the Tiegenhagen church, Justina, daughter of David Bergmann of Hauskamp in the Danziger Niederung, was expelled from the church on July 3, 1825, for having had an illegitimate son with an unnamed Lutheran man.16 Other records show that a son, Johann, was born on May 18.17 She was accepted back into the congregation on the 28th. Justina Bergmann died on February 9, 1829, in Hauskamp, leaving little Johann in the care of her family.18 In 1840, he immigrated to the Chortitza colony with his aunt, Margaretha (Bergmann) Rempel, who was married to a Bernhard Rempel. Johann later moved to the Bergthal colony, and then to Manitoba (see a copy of his emigration document on page 9).19, 1 The Y-DNA test results of a great grandson of Johann Bergmann do not match any of the over 1,000 men of Mennonite background who have been tested so far. This is consistent with a father who was a Lutheran, not a Mennonite.

Part 3 will provide more examples of the use of DNA testing and existing records in investigating illegitimate births in Mennonite genealogy. See the December 2021 issue.

1. This information comes from the GRANDMA “GM” database. More information on the GRANDMA database can be found at:
2. Peter Rempel, Mennonite Migration to Russia: 1788–1828 (Winnipeg: Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society, 2007).
6. Diary of Aeltester Gerhard Wiebe of the Elbing-Ellerwald congregation.
7. Elbing-Ellerwald Baptisms:
8. Rosenort, Gross Werder Baptisms:
9. The 1835 Molotschna Census. For an index, see
10. See the front page of the Mennonite church register of Ladekopp, West Prussia. A scan can be found at:
11. For a transcription of the 1776 census of Mennonites in West Prussia, see
12. Evangelical Church Records of Stuhm, West Prussia.
13. Evangelical Church Records of Tiegenhof, West Prussia.
14. Mennonite Church Records of Orlofferfeld, West Prussia.
15. See
16. Mennonite Church Records of Tiegenhagen, West Prussia.
17. Karen Bergmann, The Bergmann Family History (Winnipeg 1990).
18. Evangelical Church Records of Steegen, West Prussia.
19. Their immigration documents can be found in the Odessa Archives collection (Fond 6 Opis 1 Delo 5805), available at the Mennonite Heritage Archives.


Mennonite Historian June 2021, p. 3

Unehelich: Mennonite Genealogy and Illegitimate Births: Part 1 of 3

by Glenn H. Penner,

Illegitimate (Unehelich) births usually involve a host of social issues that are complex and can be a challenge for the genealogist. If the event happened within living memory, or involved a fairly close relative, such as the parent or grandparent of a living person, the situation could be delicate. Also, over the last few generations, illegitimate births frequently also involved adoptions and/or name changes. For these reasons, I will consider only the situation as it existed about 150 to 350 years ago in the Mennonite communities within Prussia and Russia. Looking back more than 350 years puts us well into the time frame where we have almost no records and when surnames were not necessarily permanent in the Low-German Mennonite population.


All names given in the discussion below are for individuals who died more than 100 years ago. Except for information from DNA analysis, all information provided below is taken from publicly accessible records. Indeed, that is one of the points of this article—to provide information from original documented sources, not unreliable family stories and old-wives tales. Note also that not every Mennonite illegitimate birth scenario can be mentioned in this article.

Before going further, one must mention the different scenarios that could commonly occur: 1) both the man and woman were single and did marry each other after the birth of the child, 2) both the man and woman were single and did not marry each other, 3) the man was married but the woman was not, 4) the woman was married but the man was not, and 5) both were married to different people. The first case was most common. The couple always intended on marrying and often saw this as justification for pre-marital sex. The second case often happened when one of unmarried people was a non-Mennonite. Cases 4 and 5 were often unreported since the woman was already married and having children within that marriage (see the Jacob Hiebert case below). A variation of 4, and rarer situation, is when a widow gives birth more than nine months after the death of her husband.

Illegitimate births have come to the forefront of genealogical research due to the popularity of DNA testing. Autosomal DNA testing, which is provided by several companies,1 has shown genetic siblings, half siblings, cousins, etc., that do not fit in the family tree. This test does not provide any kind of definitive information beyond 1st cousins. Extrapolating these DNA results to show that a great-grandparent, or more distant relative, was illegitimate is very difficult and is also not covered here for these reasons. On the other hand, the Y-DNA test, which looks at DNA passed down from father to son, will show clearly if there is a break in the male line of ancestry or relatedness.

There are three common reasons for not having a Y-DNA match between two men with the same surname. The first is adoption. This is often the “fall back” excuse for two such men not having a Y-DNA match. This, however, is an unlikely scenario during the time frame I am considering for two reasons. 1) Mennonites adopted only orphaned Mennonite children. Exceptions to this were exceedingly rare. Only one confirmed example exists.2 Those stories your relatives told you about some distant ancestor who was a Jewish, Gypsy, Russian, etc., baby adopted by a Mennonite family are nothing more than entertaining stories and should not be taken seriously. 2) When an orphan child was adopted, it kept its original family name.3 I have yet to find an original document to show otherwise.

The second reason for a non-match is that people with the same surname could be descended from two or more genetically unrelated men who took on the same family name. For example, hundreds of years ago, the families of two unrelated men named Jan could have taken the surname Janzen (or one of its many variations). In such a case, two men from within the same Janzen family will match but two men from different Janzen families (i.e., descended from the two unrelated Jans) will not. This is also true for occupation-derived names such as Schroeder, where there are two distinct unrelated Mennonite Schroeder families, one of Flemish/Dutch origin and one of Frisian/German origin. Unfortunately, these are not always cut-and-dry situations.

The third reason for a non-match in Y-DNA testing is that the male ancestor was simply illegitimate. There are two ways that one can investigate this situation. 1) There may be documentation to back this up. 2) Y-DNA testing of several supposedly related men might confirm this.

Several years ago, a Penner man did a Y-DNA test. His results did not match the other Penner men. His earliest known Penner ancestor was an Abraham Penner, who died in 1907 at the age of 83 years. A considerable amount of research eventually led to an Abraham Penner, born on May 22, 1824, illegitimate son of the unmarried Anna Penner of Klein Mausdorferweide, West Prussia.4 He is now #1072395 in the GRANDMA database.5

In some cases, strategic testing can be used to further investigate when two supposedly related men with the same surname do not match. The Y-DNA results of a male Hiebert descendant of Jacob (1833–1906; GM#185479) did not match the results for the other Hiebert men, including those for a descendant of his own brother, Abraham Hiebert (1823–1902; GM#184697). The latter did, however, match the other Hiebert men. All it took was a test of another descendent of Jacob, through a different son, to show that Jacob Hiebert was not the biological son of Abraham Hiebert (1799–1877; GM #186873). Interestingly, the two descendants of Jacob were Y-DNA matches to the Penner men. This means that Jacob was the biological son of a Penner.

Part 2 will provide more examples of the use of DNA testing and existing records in investigating illegitimate births in Mennonite genealogy. See the September 2021 issue.

1. For more on the Mennonite DNA project, see and my articles in the following issues of the Mennonite Historian: September 2018, December 2018, and June 2019, viewable at
2. This is Johann Peters (1863–1946), who was known to be an abandoned child taken in by a Bergthal colony Mennonite. See William Schroeder, The Bergthal Colony (Winnipeg: CMBC, 1974), 33–34. His Y-DNA does not match any men of Mennonite background.
3. See my article on Mennonite genealogy and adoptions in the March 2020 Mennonite Historian,
4. Church records of the Evangelical Lutheran congregation of Jungfer, Prussia. LDS microfilms 208168 & 208171.
5. This information comes from the GRANDMA “GM” database,


Mennonite Historian March 2021, p. 3

Genealogy and Memory

by Glenn H. Penner,

One of the first activities of a novice genealogist is to tap into the knowledge of older relatives. Soon, however, the genealogist finds out that there are relatives who have never bothered to think about their ancestry beyond their own parents. For example, my own grandmother, who came to Canada in 1907 as a girl, had no memory of her grandparents, had no idea what their names were, and was unconcerned by this lack of knowledge.


On the other hand, there are older relatives who take a keen interest in who their ancestors were and how they are related to the people around them. These people can often tell you about their grandparents, aunts and uncles, or their multitude of cousins. Many names and dates appear to be stored in their memories. In addition, they can relate stories told to them by their own parents and grandparents. The question is: just how accurate is this information? Before addressing this question, I think it is important for genealogists to admit that information their parents or grandparents have told them may simply be wrong.

One of the most frustrating aspects of memory and genealogy is dealing with people who refuse to admit that information provided by their grandmother (or some other, long-gone relative) could possibly be wrong. Some people will not budge, even when presented with rock-solid documentation to the contrary, or when told that something their ancestor supposedly did was simply not physiologically, geographically, or historically possible.

The GRANDMA database contains a large amount of information based only on distant memory. Unfortunately, this is rarely stated in the database and is passed off as “fact.”

Every one of us has false memories of past events or information told to us in the past. People have been studying false memories long before psychology was a profession. These false memories are embedded in our minds, and we are often certain that they are true. Of course, the number of such false memories increase as we become older, experience more, and add more memories. Also, as we get older, our memories fade; we begin to connect the dots or fill in the missing information with “facts” that are simply not true. With time this becomes part of what we perceive as our true memory. This is called confabulation. What got me thinking seriously about genealogy and false memory was a CBC documentary that appeared last summer on The Nature of Things.1

Faulty or false memory not only enters genealogical (or historical) sources through oral recounting, but also through documentary evidence. What we consider as reliable documentation may contain errors due to short-term lapses in memory. For example, a church Ältester baptizes 14 candidates and then writes their names down in the church register. Due to a lapse in memory, he may record an Agatha as an Anna. I have come across many examples of names and dates incorrectly written down, which are likely due to lapses in short-term memory.

Long-term memory is an even bigger problem. A good set of documented examples of people incorrectly recalling an event in their own lives can be found in the Canadian and U.S. censuses where immigration years are provided. There are many examples of the same individual giving different immigration years in different census years. In one census, the person reports that they came to Canada in 1876 and, 10 years later, in the next census, the same person reports immigrating in 1878. Ship passenger lists are real-time records of immigration, and census immigration years, which rely on memory, may not agree.

Another commonly used genealogical source that is subject to faulty memory is the obituary. These rely on the memories of a surviving family member who writes the obituary. Birth locations found in obituaries should always be suspect. Another important genealogical record where information is supplied by a surviving family member is the civil death record. A good example is the death certificate of my own great-great grandmother. In this case, the informant, her eldest son, who never knew his own grandparents, provided an incorrect birth location as well as the wrong name for her father. A surviving child often struggles to recall where their parent was born, the year of birth, and names of their parents’ own parents.

A fourth example of this is the set of so-called EWZ records.2 When the German army retreated from Ukraine in 1943, they were accompanied by thousands of Mennonites seeking to escape the advancing Russian army. Once in German territory, these refugees filled in forms and ancestry charts (Ahnentafeln). These Ahnentafeln were constructed from memory and whatever documentation the refugees were able to bring along. As a result, the information on the earlier generations found in an Ahnentafel is questionable, and occasionally does not agree with other, more reliable, sources. Sometimes two Ahnentafeln from related people do not agree.

So, just how reliable is orally transmitted, memory-based information Unfortunately, something like this is impossible to quantify. We all must make our own judgement calls. Asking an experienced genealogist may help. Just remember, that the genealogist is also making their own judgement calls, and every genealogist has different criteria. However, an experienced genealogist may be able to spot things that you might never have noticed.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when evaluating genealogical information provided orally: 1) How reliable is the memory of the person? 2) If the information was recorded, when? 3) How consistent is this information with other sources, in particular, with reliable sources? 4) How internally consistent is the information?

Question 4 regarding internal consistency can be broken down further. For example, be aware of suspicious (4a) historical claims—an immigration into Russia during the years 1798–1802 or 1809–1815 is rather rare, and no Mennonites arrived in Russia before 1787. Then there are (4b) questionable geographical assertions—remember Low-German Mennonites lived in a rather small geographical region before the 1790s. Finally, does any feature of the story sound physically (4c) impossible (such as an ancestor who single-handedly held back a team of horses) or (4d) unlikely (when average life expectancy was below 60 years, it is highly unlikely that a man would live to be 102!) or (4e) simply hard to believe (such as meeting the Czar while immigrating into Russia).

Related to this, a few years ago I did a quick evaluation of the story of the naming of Alexanderwohl in the Molotschna colony for a friend and decided, based on 4e (internal consistency, physical aspects, hard to believe), that it was probably untrue. A much more detailed analysis by Bob Buller3 indicates that the event could have happened but does not provide definitive proof that it did happen.



Mennonite Historian September 2020, p. 3

An Old Document Sheds Light on the Origin of Mennonite Surnames

by Glenn H. Penner

In 1586, trouble was brewing in the Prussian Mennonite community. Some 20 years earlier, their Dutch brethren had undergone a painful, major split over how strictly the ban should be applied to wayward members. This controversy had separated the Flemish and Frisian Mennonites in the Netherlands and the churches in Prussia would soon be choosing sides.


At this time, Quiryn van der Meulen (Cryn Vermeulen) was the Ältester (elder or bishop) of the Danzig Mennonites. In 1586, a letter of complaint against van der Meulen was signed by 32 members from 5 of the Prussian congregations (see Horst Quiring, “Aus den ersten Jahrzehnten der Mennoniten in Westpreussen,” Mennonitische Geschichtsblaetter Volume 2 [1937]: 32–35). The details of thecomplaint are not relevant to this article, but the names of the signatories are!

From the Montau congregation, the signatories were: Hilken Smet, Antony Kerber, Hendrich Roosenfeld, Jelis Deckmaeker, Eyvert Pieters, Jelis Fransen, Hans Leenert, and Hendrech Leenerts. From the Klein Werder (later Thiensdorf) congregation: Koen Henderichs, Hans van Mechelen, Jacob Smet, Willem Smet, and Langen Dirk. From the Elbing congregation: Lavis Schoemaeker, Hans van Cuelen, Cornelis van Uttert, Aert den Boor, Abraham de Wever, Joost Kempener, and Pieter Janzsen. From the Danzig congregation: Hans van Amersfoort, Arent Lodszemaeker, Evert Janszen, Hans van Brüssel, Marten van Nonnekan, Hans de Stopper, Jan van Deventer, Olof den Schnyder, Jan Paen, Cornelis Bulaert, and Pieter de Waele. From the Torn congregation: Pieter de Groote.

The first thing that should be pointed out here is that many of these surnames disappeared from the Mennonite community within the next 200 years—names such as Deckmaeker, Leenert, Mechelen, Schoemaeker, van Cuelen, Uttert, de Wever, Kempener, Lodeszemaeker, Brüssel, van Nonnekan, de Stopper, van Deventer, den Schyder, Paen and de Groote.

However, the names of several of the signatories should be of significant interest to Low-German Mennonite genealogists.

Quirin van der Meullen: note that Quirin is used as a first name. Derived from Quirinius, this became the well-known surname Quiring.

Anthony Kerver: he may have been the common ancestor of the Mennonite Kerbers and Karbers.

Hendrich Roosenfeld: likely the common ancestor of those with the rare
Mennonite surname Rosenfeld.

Eywert Pieters and Evert Janszen: during this time period Ewert was a well-known first name among the Germanic people. It is also a well-known Low-German Mennonite surname.

Jelis (Julius) Fransen: likely the common ancestor of those with the less well-known Mennonite surname Franz(en).

Koen Henderichs: this first name hints that the rare Mennonite surname Koehn, found mostly in the United States, may have been derived from a first name, as are most Low-German Mennonite surnames.

Langen Dirck: translated this means tall Dirk. By the late 1500s nearly all of the Mennonites living in Prussia had taken on permanent family names. Here is an example of a Mennonite who had not yet done so. Note that the surnames Dirks, Doerksen, etc., are derived from the first name Dirk. Perhaps he was the ancestor of one of the Dirks or Doerksen family lines.

Olof den Schnyder: or Olof the Tailor. Another example of a Mennonite who may not yet have taken a permanent family name. Schneider is a very common German surname, which is unknown among Low-German Mennonites.

Lavis Schoemaeker: those who know Mennonite Plautdietsch will recognize this as possibly being related to the surname Loewen, pronounced “Laevis” in Plautdietsch. Note that the surname Loewen is derived from a first name and has nothing to do with the German word Loewen (Lion).

Cornelis Bulaert: a member of the early Buhler family and possibly the common ancestor. Surnames ending in -er, such as Penner, Wieler, Kroeker, Buhler, etc., were occasionally spelled with an -ert ending. The reason for this spelling variation, which was very rarely done by Mennonites themselves, is unknown.

The Kroeger clock factory in Rosenthal, Chortitza, Ukraine, ca. 1920s. Many Mennonite families had wall clocks in their homes made here or at the Mandtler factory in Lindenau, Molotschna, Ukraine. See Harold Neufeld’s article starting on page 5. Photo credit: MAID MHA PP-4-044-258.0.

Pieter de Waele: could he have been an early member, or possibly the ancestor, of the Mennonite Wall family? In early records, the name is occasionally written as de Wael or de Wahl and later as Wahl, Walde, and Wall

A further letter of 1592 contains many of the same signatures. A new one that stands out is that of Philips van den Dyck. Although Philip was a relatively rare name among Low-German Mennonites, it was common in the early Dyck family. I suspect that most of these men named Philip Dyck were descendants of this Philips van den Dyck. It is also likely that many of the early Low-German Mennonites named Philip were his descendants.


Mennonite Historian June 2020, p. 3

The Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1874-circa 1900

by Glenn H. Penner

Mennonite immigrants coming to North America in the 19th century had to do so via ship. Therefore, the so called ship lists, which list passengers on these ships, should be an important source of genealogical information. The vast majority of Mennonites coming into Canada between 1874 and about 1900 came through the port of Quebec City. The ships that brought immigrants to Quebec City also deposited their passenger lists. These lists have survived to the present day and are available to the public.1


The ships bound for Canada brought European immigrants via ports in the United Kingdom. Those who were not British immigrants had to find their way to England. Most of the Mennonites that immigrated to Canada between 1874 and about 1900 did so via Hamburg. These people sailed from the port of Hamburg to the port of Hull in the UK, took a train across England, and then finally boarded a ship from Liverpool to Quebec City or Halifax. The ships sailing from Hamburg to British ports also had their own ship lists.2

This means that the majority of those Mennonites who immigrated from Russia to Canada during this time period are found on two passenger lists. Most Mennonite genealogists are familiar with the Quebec City ship lists, which have been transcribed and corrected, starting already in the 1970s. It is the name of the ship arriving at Quebec City that is usually listed in the “immigration” part of the GRANDMA database.3 Many are unaware of the Hamburg ship lists or have not been able to access the Hamburg lists in the past.

One important difference between the Quebec City and Hamburg lists is that the Quebec lists were written by English speakers, often resulting in badly misspelled names of the German-speaking Mennonite passengers. The Hamburg lists were constructed by Germans and usually give a more accurate rendering of the passenger’s name. In addition to this, the handwriting in the Hamburg lists is much easier to read and contains fewer errors in ages. The biggest, and most genealogically important, difference is that, for most of the 1880s and 1890s, the Hamburg lists provide the village of origin for each family! The Quebec City lists simply give “Russia” as the place of origin.

Figure 1 shows the Quebec and Hamburg lists for my great-greatgrandfather, Bernhard Penner (1820–1896; GM#183027). The Hamburg list is accurate. The Quebec City list gives the family name as Benner and incorrectly calls son Daniel, David. It also shows less accurate ages.

Figure 1: The Quebec City (upper) and Hamburg (lower) ship lists for the family of Bernhard
Penner (1820–1896; GM#183027) who emigrated from Russia to Canada in 1875.

Figure 2 shows the Hamburg list for an Abram Redekop (1855–1911; GM#176953). This list shows that the family came from Neuosterwick (usually called Osterwick), which was in the Chortitza Colony in Russia. This new information is not found in the GRANDMA database.

Figure 2: The Hamburg ship list for the family of Abraham Redekop (1855–1911; GM#176953)
who emigrated from Russia to Canada in 1892. Note that the village of origin is given.

At this time, the only complete online collection of Hamburg ship lists is found on the website. This is a pay site that requires an annual membership, although trial memberships are usually available.4 I have taken an earlier list, made before came onto the scene, and expanded it in order to include the village of origin for some 1,123 Mennonites who immigrated from Russia to Prussia to North America, through the Port of Hamburg from 1890 through 1899. This list is now available online.5

1. See:
2. There are also passenger lists for those passing through England for the years after 1890, which are also available at
3. For more information on the GRANDMA database, see:,_Russia).
4. See:
5. See:


Mennonite Historian March 2020, p. 3

Mennonite Genealogy and Adoptions in Russia and Prussia

by Glenn H. Penner

This article is concerned with adoptions among the early Low-German
Mennonites in Russia before the big emigration to North America in the 1870s and in Prussia during the period before the last big emigration to Russia around 1820.


The idea of adoption in those days was very different than it is now. Adoption, in the modern sense of the word, simply did not happen. According to the old Flemish inheritance rules followed by the Low-German Mennonites during this time period, all children were assigned two Vormünder (sing. Vormund) or guardians early on in their lives. These men were usually related to the child in some way (most often an uncle) or trusted neighbour.

One of the duties of a Vormund was to ensure that when a child reached the age of majority, they would receive any inheritance due to them. Another duty was to take responsibility when a child under their guardianship was orphaned. This meant finding foster parents. In such cases, the child was usually referred to as a Pflegekind. The foster parents (Pflegeeltern) would be known as Pflegevater and Pflegemutter. The proceeds of the sale of the deceased parents’ property were entrusted with the Waisenamt (the institution in charge of orphan affairs). The Waisenamt existed in Russia from the early days of settlement, but there is no evidence that such an institution existed among the earlier Prussian Mennonites.

It was rather rare for both parents to die while their children were young. On the other hand, it was not uncommon for one parent to die. When a widow and widower married, the resulting family could be quite large. In such cases, it was common for “excess” children to be “farmed out.” In some cases, this also happened to children in rather large, poor families. In either case, the children were usually sent to live with various relatives or taken in by childless couples. These children were not adoptees. One or both parents were still alive but were economically unable to support or physically unable to care for all their children (and stepchildren).

The most important point of this article is that children who were taken in did not change their surnames. Birth names were kept. I have yet to see a documented example of a child who took on their foster parents’ surname and would be interested to know if anyone can find such an example.

During this time, Mennonites strictly followed the Flemish inheritance tradition whereby inheritance was through blood (biological) relationship only. In the hundreds of Prussian and Russian Mennonite inheritance documents I have viewed, I have not seen a single example of a person receiving inheritance other than from blood relations.

In the past, one potential example has been used to counter the argument that Mennonites followed a biological inheritance tradition. Prussian Mennonite genealogist Anna Andres interpreted the inheritance records of Cornelius Andres and Anna Stoesz as saying that the couple was childless, that they adopted the children Cornelius and Anna (yes, the same first names!), and that these children were Cornelius Andres’s heirs upon his death in the early 1760s.1 It has been assumed by some that these children changed their names to Andres upon being taken in by Cornelius Andres. If that were the case, the Y-DNA of all male direct-line descendants of Cornelius should not match those of the descendants of Cornelius Andres’s brothers. This is not the case. The Y-DNA of the male Andres descendants of ‘adoptive’ son Cornelius do match those of the male Andres descendants of Martin Andres, the brother to Cornelius Andres. This means that Cornelius and Anna were the children of Cornelius Andres and Anna Stoesz or of a male Andres relative of Cornelius Andres. If Cornelius Andres was indeed childless, the inheritance rules clearly state that his surviving siblings and surviving children of deceased siblings would have been his heirs. The fact that the children, Cornelius and Anna, were the only heirs mentioned implies that they were his legitimate biological children. In addition, if the children were indeed orphans, they would have received as inheritance the proceeds of the sale of their biological parents’ property, not from Cornelius and Anna (Stoesz) Andres.

There are also stories of non-Mennonite children being taken in by Mennonites, with the child taking the surname of the family. These are, in general, family legends which are either unverifiable or easily disproved. Unfortunately, some descendants cling to these old wives’ tales as if they were fact, even when there is no supporting evidence whatsoever, or there is solid contrary evidence. DNA testing of descendants could help clarify these situations.

During the entire time period of interest here, I know of only one verifiable case of a non-Mennonite being adopted by Mennonites: namely, Johann Peters (1863–1946; Grandma database #177802).2 Johann was abandoned as a newborn by his mother, who was likely a local Ukrainian, and taken in by a Mennonite family in the Bergthal Colony in Russia. DNA evidence strongly supports this adoption. I would be interested in knowing about other examples from the time period of interest here.

The topic of adoption in Mennonite genealogy has come to the forefront as a result of the popularity of genealogical DNA testing, especially in situations where Y-DNA tests show that a male does not match the other males of the same surname. Adoption is often used to explain away such a mismatch. However, as mentioned above, name changes did not accompany adoption in traditional Mennonite society, at least as far back as we have written records. In such cases, the mismatch is more likely due to the illegitimate birth of a paternal ancestor (this will be the topic of a future article).3

Genealogist Glenn Penner has an office at MHA on the CMU campus. If you have a Mennonite genealogical question, he is open to corresponding with you. He can be reached by email at the address above.

1. Correspondence in the possession of the author. Unfortunately, these inheritance records did not survive WW2.
2. More information on the GRANDMA database can be found at
3. For more on the Mennonite DNA project, see my articles in the following issues of the Mennonite Historian: September 2018; December 2018 http://www.mennonitehistorian. ca/44.4.MHDec18.pdf; and June 2019; as well as


Mennonite Historian December 2019, p. 3

The Spelling of Mennonite Surnames: The GRANDMA Database

by Glenn H. Penner

Many readers of the Mennonite Historian are familiar with the GRANDMA database. This database (abbreviated GM) contains genealogical information on well over one million people of Low-German Mennonite ancestry (see and screenshot of the website below). The GM database treats the spelling of first and family names in a rather haphazard way in that a person can be added to the database using any recognized variation of that person’s first or last name, irrespective of how that person spelled their own name.


The way GM works is that each traditional name is given a combined first and last name code. For example, Johan Doerksen has the code 051jo. The surnames Doerksen, Derksen, Dirks, Duerks, etc., are all under code “051” and everyone named Johann, Hans, Jan, John, Sean, etc., has the code “jo” assigned.

Screenshot of Grandma's Window

This means that someone who submits the name of a person to be added to GM gets to decide how the name will be spelled and the GM algorithm handles the diversity. However, this practice has occasionally led to bitter disputes between distant relatives as to how the name of a common ancestor should appear in GM. These disputes may be misguided, since people often do not know how their common ancestor spelled his or her own name (see my earlier column on Mennonite Surnames in the September 2019 Mennonite Historian). Sometimes people try to impose on a distant ancestor the spelling they and their close relatives use. Such assumptions may not be correct. However, in terms of searching the GM database, these spelling variations are not an issue, since the ancestor is assigned a name code (e.g., 051jo) irrespective of how the descendent submits the name for entry into the database.

So, how should the name of a person who lived 200 or more years ago appear in such a database? Consider the following hypothetical example: A census gives a man’s name as Claes von Riesen, a church register gives the same man’s name as Klaas Friesen, and an immigration list has his name as Nicolas Riesen. None of these lists contain a signature and each of them was written by government or church officials who, in general, were unconcerned about the spelling of the names they recorded. How should this man’s name appear in the GM database? And why? It should be noted that all of the above variations are covered by the name code 075ni.

I propose that persons in the database who have traditional first and last names, and were born before about 1820, be given standard versions of their name, unless there is concrete evidence that the person used a different spelling. In such a case, the person above would appear in GM as Nicolaus Friesen. This procedure has several advantages:

1) It brings some uniformity to how names are displayed;
2) It eliminates all disputes as to how a name appears in the database;
3) It solves the problem of what to do when an individual’s name appears differently in different documents;
4) It eliminates inclusion of obscure spellings, which can be rather confusing; and
5) It improves searching when not done through the use of a name code.

There are, however, serious challenges in implementing such a standardization.

1) Who decides on the standardized name? How is it decided?
2) What about unrelated surnames that currently have the same code, such as Voth and Vogt, Kroeker and Kroeger, or Petkau and Poetker?
3) Who will undertake the lengthy task of making these changes? It is unlikely that this is a simple matter of a database administrator changing to a standardized name the names of all people with a given code, born before a given year.

Do you have an opinion on this topic? If you do, I would appreciate hearing from you. Please contact me at <>.

The Mennonite DNA project is looking for men with the following rare surnames who are willing to participate by doing a Y-DNA test (this is the DNA which is passed down from father to son):

Albrecht, Allert, Arends, Bartsch, Beier, Bench, Brucks, Busenitz, Daniels, Dau, Delesky/Solesky, Doell, Eckert, Fehderau, Goetke, Heier, Horn, Lammert, Langman, Lehrman, Lemke, Meckelburger, Momber, Neustaedter, Plett, Richert, Rose, Schoenke, Schwartz, Siebrand, Sommerfeld, Sprunk, Steffen, Striemer, Suckau, Tesman, Tesmer, Tetzlaff, Thimm, Thun, Wedler, Weiss, Weier, Werner, Westerwick, Wichert, Worms, Zimmermann.

The Mennonite DNA project is willing to pay the costs of the test. If you are interested in participating, please contact Glenn Penner at <>.


Mennonites Historian September 2019, p. 3

The Spelling of Mennonite Surnames: The Importance of Signatures

by Glenn H. Penner

One of the most contentious issues in Mennonite genealogy is that of the spelling of family names. Sometimes people assume that the spelling of their surname has remained the same over many generations. This is then followed by another assumption: that a family with a differently spelled variation of their surname simply cannot be related. In both cases, the evidence does not backup these assumptions. So, the question is: how does one determine, with reasonable certainty, how one’s surname was spelled in the past?


Several important points that a Mennonite genealogist must realize are that a) consistent spelling of surnames simply did not exist until the late 1800s, b) most of the resources used by genealogists such as census lists, church registers, and immigration lists were not written by their ancestors, but by people who were uninterested in how a person’s surname was spelled, and c) the only way to really see how your ancestor spelled their name is to find a signature, or exact copy of a signature.

We live in a society where the spelling of a person’s name is fixed and is supposed to be recorded exactly in official documentation. We also live in a society where there are those who are incredibly fussy about how their name is recorded, even in routine and unimportant situations. If we go back about 150 years or earlier, neither of these situations existed among our ancestors in Russia.

Photo 1: Georg Vogt (1775-1825) signed his name differently in three separate documents: a) 1817, b) 1822, and c) 1823.2
Photo 1: Georg Vogt (1775-1825) signed his name differently in three separate documents: a) 1817, b) 1822, and c) 1823.2

Prior to the 1870s, births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths were recorded in German by the Mennonite church. The Guardianship Committee for Foreign Settlers in South Russia also kept German and Russian language lists of births, marriages, and deaths.1 These, and most other records from this time period, are not reliable sources for determining the spelling of a surname.

One can often see that an individual’s name is spelled differently in these different “official” documents—mainly because the office clerk recording the name was not primarily concerned about the spelling of the name. Many individuals themselves did not seem to care how their name appeared on documents. Indeed, even when looking at the actual signatures, one can see that individuals signed their own names differently on different documents.

So, where does one go in order to find signatures from more than 150 years ago? Going back to Prussia during the time period before the 1820s (the last big emigration to Russia) there is one major source—land and property records. These records, known as Grundakten and Grundbücher, were started by the Prussian government in 1783. Although less than 50% of these records have survived, they take up well over a linear kilometer of shelf space in the various Polish archives.

Photo 2: The 1783 signature of Isaac Schroeder (1738-1789) in the property records of Klein Lubin, West Prussia.4
Photo 2: The 1783 signature of Isaac Schroeder (1738-1789) in the property records of Klein Lubin, West Prussia.4

Between 2012 and 2015, I was able to copy over 20,000 images of Mennonite property records.3 See photo #2. One must keep a few things in mind while looking for signatures in these documents. First, they cover only landowners, and during this time about one-quarter of Mennonite families did not own land.5 Second, many of the documents are copies of older documents, or of documents that were sent elsewhere. Compare the signature with the handwriting in the rest of the document. If the handwriting is the same as the signature, it is likely a copy. This means that you do not have an original signature, but you do have the spelling of the signer’s name. Third, many Mennonite ancestors apparently could not sign their own name. These last two points apply to each of the documents I have mentioned here, not just Prussian property records.

With respect to emigration and immigration records, there is only one source—the Prussian Mennonite emigration requests for 1803–1805. These are in the Berlin archives and are the copies sent to Berlin from the various administrative centers in West Prussia.6 Even though the originals are lost, these handwritten copies include the copied (not original) signatures of the heads of the households who wished to emigrate.

Photo 3: My ancestor, Heinrich Penner (1778-1870) of Kronsthal, Chortitza colony, signed a village agreement (Gemeinde Spruch) in 1870.7
Photo 3: My ancestor, Heinrich Penner (1778-1870) of Kronsthal, Chortitza colony, signed a village agreement (Gemeinde Spruch) in 1870.7

The Guardianship committee mentioned above was started around 1800 and was dissolved around 1870. There are hundreds of thousands of pages of Guardianship committee records still in Ukrainian archives (Odessa and Dnipro). Most of the Mennonite records from Odessa have been microfilmed or digitally copied. These documents contain thousands of signatures. The images can be viewed at many North American Mennonite archives (they are not online). See photo #3.

To Summarize:

1) Spelling variations of the same surname should not be confused with surnames which are very similar.

 2) Spellings of both first names and surnames were “fluid” in that they not only could change from one generation to the next, but individuals could change the spelling of their names during their lives.

3) If one really wants to know how one’s ancestor spelled his or her surname, one needs to see an original signature or exact copy.

4) These signatures are available on many hundreds of documents going back to the late 1700s.

5) Document signatures need to be verified to determine if the “signature” is not just a copy made by the person who copied the original document.

 6) The possibility that one’s ancestor Signatures may not have even been able to sign his or her name must be considered. This appears to have been the case for a significant number of people.

7) Since the head of the household was usually the husband/father, it is unlikely that one will find signatures of females in the above-mentioned documents.

1. See for examples.
2. From the civil registers of Kazun Polski, which include the Mennonites of the nearby Deutsch Kazun congregation.
3. See
4. Property records of Klein Lubin, B l a t t 4 . Bydgoszcz Archives, Poland. Fond 1880 File 316:
5. This is based on the 1776 census of Mennonites in West Prussia. See
6. Mennonite Historian, March 2016, 3.
7. Odessa State Archives Fond 6, Inventory 1, File 5730


Mennonites Historian June 2019, p. 3

A Simple Explanation of Genealogical DNA Results Part 3: mt-DNA and Conclusion

by Glenn H. Penner

Mitochondrial DNA, commonly called mtDNA, is the DNA we all inherit from our mothers, which they, in turn, inherit from their mothers. Anyone can do an mtDNA test. However, this test has limited genealogical use. There are three reasons for this: 1) the surname usually changes with every generation as one goes up one’s maternal line, which complicates the situation; 2) many early genealogical records do not provide the surnames of married females, so tracing a female line may be very difficult; and 3) the mutation rate for mtDNA is so slow that if you have a match it could be through a common female ancestor 500 or over 5,000 years back. As a result, many mtDNA matches are not genealogically useful.


 If you are going to investigate a maternal line genealogical connection using mtDNA, you must order the Full Sequence to get any useful results. The company FTDNA is the recommended place to do mtDNA testing. Although not as genealogically useful, a few interesting relationships have come out of analyses of mtDNA matches.

To summarize: 1) Autosomal DNA is inherited from both parents, who inherit theirs from their own parents. Anyone can do an autosomal DNA test. It can be used to find relatives who are closer than 3rd cousins. 2) Y-DNA is inherited by men from their fathers. Because of this, it follows traditional surnames and is very genealogically useful. Only men can do a Y-DNA test. 3) mtDNA is inherited from one’s mother, which she inherits from her mother, etc. It follows the maternal line but is of limited genealogical use. Anyone can do a mitochondrial DNA test.

Some comments: One should always be aware that DNA testing might yield surprising results. Mismatches in Y-DNA results for men with the same surname may be the result of an illegitimate birth in the past. We now have several cases where this is also well documented in old Prussian church registers. Autosomal DNA testing could lead to unexpected half-siblings, nephews, nieces or 1st cousins. Although such situations are relatively rare, they do happen.

I should also make it clear that the Mennonite DNA project has nothing to do with inherited medical conditions. Anyone with an interest in this should be talking to their doctor, not doing genealogical DNA testing.

In part 1 of this series, it was mentioned that one should always be a bit skeptical of the “ethnicity” breakdowns of autosomal DNA results provided by the various companies. A recent look at how the DNA derived ethnicity of one set of twins compares, shows that these companies still have a long way to go in terms of classifying autosomal DNA results according to ethnic or regional origin.1 This situation is also true with respect to the matching of DNA results with relatives beyond 2nd cousins. Unless one has some sort of independent corroborating information, these more distant matches should not be taken seriously. As more people are tested and the computer software developed by the DNA companies improves, these relationships will become more clearly defined.

The situation with respect to Jewish ancestry of Mennonites has not changed since part 1 of this series. Only descendants of Joseph Nowitsky are showing any reliably determined Jewish ancestry. No meaningful (greater than 1%) Gypsy, Nogai, Tartar, or other exotic ancestry has been detected in anyone of 100% Mennonite background. Anyone who has found such ancestry in their DNA reports are encouraged to contact me.

DNA testing has now become a standard part of doing genealogical research. Entire conferences and conventions, attended by thousands, are now dedicated to “genetic genealogy.” DNA testing companies now sell millions of test kits every year. It is now also possible to transfer one’s test results between some companies, thus increasing the number of people with whom a person might find a DNA match.

DNA testing will not tell you your ancestor’s name, nor will it tell you where your ancestor lived. However, we now have numerous examples where DNA testing has provided critically important information and pointed people in the right direction with respect to who their ancestors were (or were not!). DNA testing can provide answers to questions we never dreamt of answering 10 or 20 years ago— questions that will never be answered by any documentation because that documentation has either been destroyed or never existed.

The success of the Mennonite DNA Project depends on participation. From a genealogical point of view, a person’s DNA results are totally useless unless they can be compared with those of others. In order for the project to achieve its goals, many thousands of people with Low-German Mennonite ancestry will need to do DNA testing. The results for these people are, of course, useless in themselves, unless these people also join the Mennonite DNA Project and provide their results together with reliable genealogical information. This allows the administrators of the project to compare the DNA and genealogical data of the participants. If you have done a DNA test and are not part of the Mennonite DNA Project but would like to join, please contact me.

One interesting aspect of genetic genealogy is the possibility of making connections between surnames that are considered traditional Low-German and the same surname found among people who are of known Dutch, German, or other descent. These relationships cannot be determined through autosomal DNA testing with companies such as 23andMe, Ancestry, or the FTDNA Family Finder test, despite unrealistic claims I have heard from several people. Such connections can only be substantiated through careful Y-DNA testing of men with the same (or very similar) surname. For example, Y-DNA testing shows that the “Mennonite” Fehrs are the same family as the Dutch De Veers. The case of the Koops and the English Kobbs has been mentioned in part 2. These are tangible examples, unlike the entirely speculative claims that one frequently hears at Mennonite genealogy events.

For parts 1 and 2 of this 3-part series, see the Mennonite Historian vol. 44 (2018) numbers 3 and 4.



Mennonites Historian March 2019, p. 3

Russian Mennonite Church Records: What Has Survived and Where They Are Now

by Glenn H. Penner

Over the last seven decades there has been much speculation on the whereabouts of the many Mennonite church registers that once existed in Russia. During the century or so that Mennonites in Russia kept church registers, I estimate that the total number of registers must have numbered in the hundreds. My crude guesstimate is that during this time period at least a half a million Mennonites would have lived in Russia. All of these people, even those who may have just lived long enough to be given a name, were recorded in one or more of these church registers. In this article, I attempt to account for all known surviving Mennonite church registers1 and answer the following questions: 1) where are the originals, 2) where can scans and/or transcriptions be found, and 3) has the information from these registers been integrated into the GRANDMA2 database? I do not include here Russian civil records, which some may consider church records but were, in fact, not. I am also aware of many extracts of Russian Mennonite church records, ranging from a page or two to small sections of a register. I have not included these here since they are not church registers.


  1. The Chortitza colony

Over its nearly 150-year history, the “Old Colony” must have kept dozens of registers. Only two are known to have survived. These are family registers started around 1890 and continuing to the 1920s. The originals are found in the Zaporozhye state archives in Ukraine. Copies of these registers, written in Russian, and translations can be viewed at the Mennonite Heritage Archive (MHA) in Winnipeg. The data in these records has been incorporated into the GRANDMA database.

2. The Bergthal colony

The Bergthal colony started around 1836 as a daughter colony of Chortitza. A family register (volume A) was started in 1843. Volumes A, B, and C were taken to Manitoba when the colony left for North America in the 1870s. The originals are in the office of the Christian Mennonite Conference (formerly Chortitzer Mennonite Church). Copies are available at the MHA (vol. 2222). The three volumes have been published by the Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society as the Bergthal Gemeinde Buch in 1993. These records have been incorporated into the GRANDMA database.

3. Schönhorst, Chortitza colony

There is a family register for the congregation centered at the village of Schönhorst in the Chortitza colony. This register was started in the late 1870s and continues until the 1920s. It was taken to British Columbia in the late 1940s by Peter J. Letkemann. The original is in private hands in the Vancouver area. Copies are available at the MHA (vol. 2238 and microfiche #8) and the information from this register has been integrated into the GRANDMA database.

4. Fürstenland colony baptismal register

The Fürstenland colony started in 1864 as a daughter colony of Chortitza. A baptismal register for the years 1885 to 1926 has survived. It was taken to Canada in 1926. The original is privately owned and its whereabouts are currently unknown. Anyone with information on the original should contact the author. Photocopies (vol. 2275, file #5) and a microfilm (#197) are available at the MHA. The information from this register has been added to the GRANDMA database.

5. Alexanderwohl, Molotschna colony

During the years 1819 to 1824, almost the entire Przechowka Old Flemish congregation in West Prussia immigrated to the Molotschna colony in Russia, establishing the village and congregation of Alexanderwohl. In the 1870s, most of this congregation immigrated to Kansas, taking all of their church records with them. The Alexanderwohl records are a mish-mash of births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths recorded between the 1820s and 1870s. The originals are at the Mennonite Library and Archives (MLA) in North Newton, Kansas, and available online.3 Copies are available at the MHA and the information from this register has been added to the GRANDMA database.

6. Busau, Crimea

The originals of the family register for the Mennonite Brethren church centered at Busau are in the Simferopol archives in Crimea. These records were started in the 1880s and were microfilmed by the Mormons (LSD film number 2084337). These records were transcribed by Hermann Schirmacher and posted online.4 The data from this register has been added to the GRANDMA database.

7. Orenburg colony

Orenburg was founded in 1892–1893 as a daughter colony of the Chortiza colony. Family registers are available for various village congregations in the Orenburg colony. The original registers are in the Orenburg archives. Scans and transcriptions are available online.5 The information from these registers has been incorporated into the GRANDMA database.

8. Memrik colony birth registers

Memrik was a daughter colony of the Molotschna colony and was founded in 1885. I recently obtained two birth registers for the Memrik (Kalinovo) Mennonite church. There is a German register for the years 1902–1920 and a Russian register for the years 1910–1923 (1921–1923 are incomplete). The originals are in the Donetsk archives in Ukraine. The contents of these registers have been extracted and are now available on the website.6 Images of the originals are available at the MHA. Most of the data found in these registers are not in the GRANDMA database.

9. Michalin, Volhynia

The Michalin settlement was originally founded by families from the Przechowka Old Flemish congregation in West Prussia in the late 1780s. Around 1803–1804, these people were displaced by a Frisian group coming from the Montau congregation. The congregation was founded by this group in 1811 and a family register was started. The original is at the MLA. Digital scans are available online7 and these records have been incorporated into the GRANDMA database.

10. Heinrichsdorf, Volhynia

Heinrichsdorf was founded by a group of Old Flemish Mennonites in 1848. Thisgroup, originally from the Karolswald/Ostrog area founded the village of Waldheim in the Molotschna colony around 1836. Most of this group was dissatisfied with their situation in South Russia and moved back to Volhynia in 1848. Originals are held at the MLA and digital copies are available online.8 The data from these records has been added to the GRANDMA database.

11. Karolswald, Volhynia baptism register

There were several settlements in the Ostrog region of Volhynia started by Old Flemish Mennonites around 1801 to 1804. The only church record to survive from this group is a register of baptisms performed by the Ältester Tobias Unruh. It is often referred to as the Tobias Unruh baptism register. It covers the years 1854 to their immigration to the United States in the 1870s. The originals are at the Heritage Hall Museum and Archives in Freeman, South Dakota. Digital scans9 and a translation10 are available. The information from this register has not been integrated into the GRANDMA database.

Note: I will continue my DNA series in the next issue.

1. For information on the fate of the Chortitza colony church registers, see Mennonite Historian 31, no. 1 (March 2005): 1–2, 5, 11
2. More information on the GRANDMA database can be found at:
3. Scans of the Alexanderwohl register can be found at:
4. Scans of the Busau records can be found at:
5. and
7. Scans of the Michalin register can be found at:
8. Scans of the Heinrichsdorf records can be found at:
9. Scans of the Karolswald baptism register can be found at:


Mennonites Historian December 2018, p. 3

A simple explanation of genealogical DNA results, Part 2: Y-DNA

by Glenn H. Penner

Y-DNA is passed on from father to son, just like traditional European family names. Only men have Y-DNA and can do a Y-DNA test. Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) is the main company doing Y-DNA testing and the only one I recommend. Since Y-DNA follows surnames, it is very important from a genealogical perspective. Unlike autosomal DNA discussed in Part 1, Y-DNA is not scrambled. Each son inherits his father’s Y-DNA intact.


The genealogical usefulness of Y-DNA comes from the fact that there is a small probability that a mutation can occur from one generation to the next. If this were not the case all men would have identical Y-DNA and Y-DNA testing would be pointless from a genealogical perspective. The double helix of DNA is held together by so-called base pairs. The Y-DNA strand is very large (about 59 million base pairs) and testing companies look at a few dozen locations on that rather long molecule.

The Y-DNA base pairs form a pattern. That pattern repeats itself, usually from 6 to 40 times. On either side of that pattern will be two other patterns, each of which repeats a certain number of times. There are many thousands of these repeating patters on the Y-DNA strand. A standard Y-DNA test might look at 37 locations and report the number of times a pattern repeats at each of these 37 locations.

A minor mutation will change the number of times the pattern repeats. DNA mutation is random. This means that analyzing Y-DNA results is not a cut-and-dry process. One must always think in terms of probabilities. Some Y-DNA locations have a high probability of mutation, some have very low probabilities. A DNA company like FTDNA choses locations on the Y-DNA that mutate at different rates. By doing this the company can estimate the probability that two men have a common male-line ancestor for a given number of generations back. Unfortunately, this is, in my opinion, more of a guesstimate and one should take these probabilities with a grain of salt. As more men are tested this process will be refined, and the ability to predict how many generations back two men are related will improve.

One aspect of Y-DNA testing that many find confusing is the matches reported by companies like FTDNA. One sees not just matches with other men with the same or similar surnames (most of whom have known Mennonite ancestry), but also matches with men of ancestry from other parts of Europe. Many Mennonite men match men of English ancestry (who have no known Mennonite, Dutch or German ancestry). This does not necessarily mean that your ancestor was English. Remember, the British have their origins in northern continental Europe just like the majority of Low-German Mennonites. Also note that there has been a lot of movement into and within Europe over the last 2000 years. Your match with an Englishman, Frenchman or Russian is likely because you have a common male ancestor as far back as thousands of years.

So, when should one take a match seriously? 1) If you and that person have the same or similar surnames. One example of this is the match between Koop men of Mennonite ancestry and an English family named Cobb. The Cobb family can reliably trace their ancestry back to the 1300s. On the other hand, the Mennonite Koops can only go back to the early 1700s. 2) If your matches are dominated by men of a particular background. For example, Penner men have many matches with men of Hispanic descent and men from North Africa. With respect to this situation, it is worth noting that the Netherlands were under Spanish occupation (and the Spanish inquisition) during the time many Mennonites fled to the Danzig region (1500s). And Spain was occupied by the Moors of North Africa for nearly 700 years (from the 700s to the 1400s).

In some cases, such as Braun, Dyck, Friesen, Kroeker, Loewen, Neufeld, Penner and Wiebe, the vast majority of men match each other fairly well. In other cases—such as Schroeder, Peters, Janz/Janzen, and Goertz/Goertzen—their groups of matching men are within each family name. The men within each group match each other, but they do not match the men with the same surname outside the group. In the case of Schroeder, this can be explained. The Schroeder men can be split into two groups. One has ancestors who belonged to the Frisian Mennonite church in Prussia and were likely of German origin, while the other group have ancestors who belonged to the Flemish church and were likely of Dutch origin. Hence, we have two totally unrelated sets of Schroeder families of Mennonite background.

For surnames that were derived from what were fairly common Dutch first names (Janz/Janzen from Jan, Goertz/Goertzen from Gert, Peters from Peter, etc.), the explanation of the results is also simple. For example, the non-matching groups of Goertz, Gertz/etc. men are simply descended from unrelated men named Gert! Even within a matching group, not all men have exactly the same Y-DNA results. For example, all 24 Loewen men who have been tested so far belong to one related group. Within this group is a subgroup of three men whose pattern of base pairs at a location designated as DYS390 repeats 24 times, rather than the 23 times observed for the other Loewens. These men are part of the “Kleine Gemeinde” Loewens and have a common ancestor in Isaac Loewen (1787–1873). Similarly, all the male Braun descendants of Gerhard Braun (1755–1801) have a repeat of 13 rather than 14 at location DSY393 observed for the other Braun men.

One area of confusion that Y-DNA testing is clearing up is the connection between families with surnames that are similar and not simply spelling variations. For example, Y-DNA analysis shows that the following traditional Mennonite family names are unrelated: Voth/Vogt, Buller/Buhler, Kroeker/Kroeger, Cornies/Cornelsen, Hein/Heinrichs, Heide/Heidebrecht, Gedde/Geddert and Berg/Bergen/Bergman.

Although we have well over 800 men in the Y-DNA part of the project, we are still looking for men from about 50 surnames, including Albrecht, Bartsch, Delesky, Elias, Lohrenz, Neustaedter, Schwartz, Siebert, Striemer, Werner, Weiss and Worms. Part 3 will cover mitochondrial DNA.

Note: you must first purchase a DNA test from one of the companies mentioned in this or the previous article before you can join the Mennonite DNA project. Please email me if you want to participate.


Mennonites Historian September 2018, p. 3

A Simple Explanation of Genealogical DNA Results: Autosomal DNA

by Glenn H. Penner

Autosomal DNA is the DNA tested by, 23andMe, and FTDNA (Family Finder);1 it is the test advertised on TV. It looks at the DNA that we inherit from both parents: 1/2 from each parent, therefore 1/4 from each grandparent, etc. This test can be done by men and women. We do not inherit one big chunk or string of DNA from each parent. The DNA gets mixed up and we inherit many small segments. We also share autosomal DNA with our relatives: 50% (1/2) with a sibling, 12.5 (1/8) with a 1st cousin, 3.1% (1/32) with a 2nd cousin, and 0.8% (1/128) with a 3rd cousin. The genealogical DNA companies use the length and number of these identical segments to predict the relationship between genetic relatives.


The question I most frequently get with respect to these DNA tests is why someone with “100% Mennonite” ancestry could get a DNA report telling them that they are 11% British and 20% Scandinavian (these are my results from 23andMe). One must keep in mind that the “Mennonite” DNA a person inherits comes mostly from the hundreds of distant ancestors who have lived in Europe over the last 10,000 years. Not only did the various peoples of Europe move around tremendously during that time, but entire new populations moved into Europe from the east. Mennonites are descended from this mix of populations. The bottom line here is that for someone of “100% Mennonite” ancestry, these breakdowns are more-or-less genealogically meaningless!

Contrary to commercial claims, DNA analysis will not tell you where your ancestors lived 500 or even 5,000 years ago. Nor will this type of DNA test tell you anything about your surname ancestors. I am a Penner, but my autosomal DNA results tell me nothing about my Penner ancestry. Why? Most of the people of northern continental Europe did not take permanent family names until the 1400s or later. If I assume that the first person to take the Penner name lived about 500 years ago (about 15 generations back), it means that I would theoretically inherit a tiny 1/32,000 (0.003%) of my autosomal DNA from this person. But since I may be descended from this person in multiple ways—let’s say that I inherit a generous one thousandth (1/1,000 or 0.1%) of my autosomal DNA from him—this is such a small percentage that an autosomal DNA test is highly unlikely to tell me anything about my early Penner ancestry.

This also brings up the question of Jewish or Gypsy ancestry. If I had a dollar for every person of Mennonite descent who told me about a “Jewish great-great-grandmother,” I would be a rich man. If your great-great-grandparent was Jewish, you should inherit about 6% of your autosomal DNA from him or her. However, the Mennonite DNA Project (see below) has yet to find a single person of “100% Mennonite” ancestry who has more than 3% Jewish ancestry, according to the ancestry reports of the various DNA testing companies. The people who show any detectable segments of Jewish DNA (1 to 3%) are descended from a man named Joseph Nowitsky (1776–1844), who married a Mennonite woman and lived in the Chortitza colony in Russia. It seems likely that Nowitzky was originally Jewish.

What segments of autosomal DNA you inherit from each parent is determined by a random process. There are two results of this randomness that have important consequences from a genetic genealogical point of view. First, there is the possibility that some of your relatives, including your siblings, may not inherit the same segments of autosomal DNA. This has occasionally led to some confusion. Second, very distant relatives may inherit the same segments of DNA from an early common ancestor, giving the impression that they are more closely related to you than they really are. This explains why you may have many matches with “3rd cousins,” who are really much more distantly related, and may not have any Mennonite ancestry at all! In other words, the connection between you and that person predates Mennonites as a people.

Ideally, the Mennonite DNA Project would like to be able to track these segments and figure out which distant ancestor each segment came from. There are, however, four problems to overcome. First, we need many thousands of people with Mennonite ancestry to participate in the Mennonite DNA Project. Anyone who has done this kind of test, even if they are only 1/16 “Mennonite,” should consider joining the Project. At present, we have autosomal DNA results for about 450 people. We need at least 10 times that many in the Project!

The second problem is that of intermarriage through the dozen-plus generations of Mennonite history. This is not a gene pool problem in general, as is the case with the Hutterites. The problem is that, during lengthy periods in Mennonite history, many groups of Mennonites often lived in isolated communities. This isolation was both physical (geographic) and religious. People tended to marry their neighbours and/or people from the same church group. For example, four of my great-grandfather’s siblings married four Wiens siblings (who lived nearby and were also Sommerfelder Mennonites); so, as a result, I have many double 3rd cousins. This sort of thing makes analysis of autosomal DNA extremely complicated.

The third problem is the enormous amount of data generated by these DNA results. In order to sort out the results of hundreds or thousands of people and identify which segments of DNA came from which ancestor, we need powerful and specialized computer software, which has yet to be produced for the public.

The fourth problem is that we also need reliable genealogical information going back many generations. In the December issue, I will explain Y-DNA and mtDNA.Dr. Glenn Penner is the administrator of the Mennonite DNA Project ( The autosomal part of the Mennonite DNA Project is coordinated by Dr. Tim Janzen of Portland, Oregon. If you have done, or are interested in doing, a DNA test and would like to participate in the Mennonite DNA Project, please contact the author.

1. The following companies provide autosomal DNA testing: FTDNA: (this is the “FamilyFinder” test); 23andMe:; and Ancestry:


Mennonite Historian June 2018, p. 3

Common Misconceptions and Errors in Mennonite Genealogy: Part Two

by Glenn H. Penner

Over the past 40 years, I have come across several misconceptions and errors commonly found in Mennonite genealogical research. Many of these are due to misinformation passed down over the years and now taken as fact. Many are due to speculation by genealogists without documented, or in some cases logical, bases. (For the first six misconceptions, see Part One in the December 2017 issue of the Mennonite Historian.)


7. The word von in a surname means descent from nobility. This misconception is based on the old German practice of using “von” to designate nobility. It does not apply to Mennonite surnames. The number of traditional Mennonite surnames, excluding exceptionally rare names, that have at one time used “von” is small: von Riesen, von Bergen, von Dyck, von Kampen, and von Niessen. These are cases where the Dutch word “van” has at some point been Germanized to von. Van simply means “from” in Dutch. Van Riesen and van Niessen are based on specific locations, while Dyck means dike. Bergen means mountain or hill and Kampen refers to small settlements along rivers, which were often called Kampen.

A look at the 1776 census of Mennonites in West Prussia1 shows four von Bergens, five van Bergens and six Bergens; three von Dycks (all from the same family in Danzig), and 112 Dycks; eight von Riesens, five van Riesens, two Riesens, and 52 Friesens; one von Niessen and five Niessens; and one van Kampen. By the 1800s, most of these families dropped the van or von.

In the past century, a few individuals or families have started using the prefix von. In some cases, these people are trying to reclaim some old nonexistent noble ancestry by doing so. There are families of German ancestry who have familiar surnames with a von prefix, such as von Thiessen and von Unruh, but these families were never Mennonite and there is no evidence that they are in any way relatedto the Mennonite families with a similar name (see point 10).

8. Traditionally, Mennonites always lived in their own villages. This misconception applies to Mennonites who lived in Prussia and is based on the fact that nearly all the Mennonites who lived in imperial Russia lived in their own villages, which were usually within Mennonite administered colonies. This situation continued in Canada for a few generations and continues to be the case in many Mexican and South American Mennonite communities. This, however, was not the case during the 400 years that Mennonites lived in what was known as Prussia.

After the first partition of Poland in 1772, nearly all of these Mennonites lived in the province of West Prussia. Most of the hundreds of villages in West Prussia had no Mennonites. However, the 200 villages with Mennonites can be broadly divided in two groups: those with a few Mennonite families and those (a few dozen) that were predominantly Mennonite.2

During the period for which we have reasonably complete records, it was rare for a West Prussian village to be over 90% Mennonite (unlike many of the Mennonite villages in imperial Russia and early Canada). The 1772 census of West Prussia provides a snapshot of the situation when the Prussians took over.3 After three big waves of emigration to Russia, the Mennonite populations in these villages were much lower, as shown by a census of 1820.4 For example, the “Mennonite” village of Heubuden went from having 85% of its households identified as Mennonite in 1772 to 66% in 1820.

9. Historical documents like church registers and census lists tell us the spellings of surnames. This misconception frequently leads to arguments and confusion. The arguments are the result of a person seeing their ancestor in a church register or census and then adamantly claiming the recorded name as the true spelling of the surname. The confusion comes when someone finds the same ancestor in another list with a different spelling of the surname. The bottom line is that one needs to look for original signatures in order to determine how an ancestor spelled their name. This will be the topic of a future article.

10. A Major Misconception regarding “Mennonite” Surnames. One of the most frustrating aspects of interacting with Mennonite genealogists is the propensity of some to equate a traditional Mennonite surname with the same, or similar, surname found in non-Mennonite records or found among people who have no Mennonite background whatsoever.

My first experience of this was in the sixth grade when we were told about one of the first French families to settle in Quebec in the 1600s—the Huberts. The girl who lived two doors down from our family was convinced that, as a Hiebert (Huebert), she was descended from these people. It is quite understandable that a naïve 12-year-old might have such a misconception. However, I’ve heard and read even more absurd connections made by grown, supposedly educated, adults!

One driving force behind Mennonite genealogists’ attempts to connect a non-Mennonite with a “Mennonite” surname is the need to be related in some way to a historical figure or “famous” person;5 and there is certainly no shortage of such persons with Mennonite sounding surnames. Another is the need some have to trace one’s family history as far back as possible, irrespective of the unrealistic connections that have to be made in the process.

None of the traditional “Mennonite” surnames are uniquely Mennonite. Take the Penner surname for example. The majority of Penners in North America are likely of Mennonite descent, but by no means all. There are three small but significant other groups of Penners: 1) Jewish, 2) German, and 3) English. There is no evidence that these three Penner groups are in any way related to the Mennonite Penners.

I think that the bottom line here is that if Mennonite genealogists want any kind of credibility, we need to steer away from making these speculative, unprovable, connections to people who were never Mennonites and never had any Mennonite ancestors, based simply on the observation that they happen to have the same surname.

I would be interested in hearing from those who have encountered similar misconceptions regarding Mennonite genealogy or history.

1. 1776_West_Prussia_Census.pdf
4. 1820danz.htm
5. One example is the bizarre claim that the surname of Gary Doer, former Premier of Manitoba, is somehow derived from the Mennonite family name Doerksen


Mennonite Historian March 2018, p. 4

Peter Siemens (1765–1847): First Oberschulze of the Chortitza Colony

by Glenn H. Penner

Peter Siemens was the first Oberschulze (district mayor) of the Chortitza Colony and the longest serving Oberschulze in the century-and-a-half history of the Chortitza Colony. His tireless work during a critical period in the Colony’s history has been largely overlooked.


Peter Siemens was born on March 16, 1765, in the village of Gross Brunau.1, 2 At that time, Gross Brunau was in Polish territory and part of the Danzig district. This region did not become part of the province of West Prussia until the 2nd partition of Poland in 1793. He was the son of Jacob Siemens.

Very little is known about Jacob Siemens. He was born sometime before 1740, presumably in the area commonly known as “Prussia.” His wife’s name is unknown, but based on the names of their grandchildren and the traditional naming pattern used at the time, it seems likely that her name was Margaretha. Jacob Siemens is known to have fathered six children between 1760 and 1774.1

I have been unable to positively locate Jacob Siemens in the 1772 Prussian census, which includes Gross Brunau.3 Sometime between the 1776 census of Mennonites in West Prussia and the baptism of his children Peter and Catharina in 1784, he moved to the village of Zeyersvorderkampen (commonly known as Zeyerskampen or Zeyerschekamp at the time). He is recorded as being deceased by 1790 (the year of Peter’s marriage). During their time in Gross Brunau, the Siemens family would have belonged to the Bärwalde Mennonite congregation; and during their time in Zeyersvorderkampen, they were known to be members of the Rosenort congregation.4

Peter Siemens, together with his siblings Jacob and Catharina, was baptized into the Gross Werder congregation in the church at Rosenort on June 20, 1784, by Ältester(elder or bishop) Dirk Thiessen.5 The family was living in Zeyersvorderkampen at the time. On Sunday, October 3, 1790, ÄltesterGerhard Wiebe of the Elbing-Ellerwald congregation married Peter Siemens and Catharina Klassen in the church at Ellerwald. Catharina (1768–1843) was the daughter of Julius and Catharina Klassen.6

There is no actual immigration record for the Peter Siemens family. He first appears at the end of the 1795 Chortitza Colony census under the 1794 list of Flemish immigrants who had not yet been assigned a homestead.7 Here he is listed as 28 years old with his 26-year-old wife Catharina, daughter Catharina (2 years old), his mother-in-law, Catharina [Klassen] (63), and [her] children: Johann (24), Cornelius (20), and Maria (20).

There seems to be a bit of a mystery regarding Johann and Cornelius. Their ages match those expected for Peter’s brothers. However, the list implies that they were sons of his mother-in-law. Also, they do not appear in any subsequent Chortitza or Molotschna Colony records either under Siemens or Klassen. In a list of homesteaders for 1797, he is still not assigned to a specific village. At this time, his family consisted of two males and three females. He owned two horses and four head of cattle.8 Sometime between 1797 and 1800, he was given the Schönhorst property of the recently deceased Martin Wiebe.9

In 1800, Jacob Hoeppner and his brother Peter were sent to jail (see below). Subsequently, Siemens took over Peter Hoeppner’s property in Chortitza,10, 11 in exchange for paying off Hoeppner’s fines and debts. He gave his Schönhorst property to Johann Loeppky.9 In 1801, he and his family were living at Chortitza village #8. Staying with the family was servant Johann Langermann (25 years old) and maid Elisabeth Penner (15). Siemens owned 4 horses, 17 cattle, 10 sheep, 3 pigs, 1 wagon, and 1 spinning wheel at the time.12 The family still lived there in 1807,13 1811,14 1814,15 and 1816.16

The front of the silver medallion presented to former Oberschulze Peter Siemens in 1839. The back of the medal is pictured next...Photo credit: We are grateful to Peter Siemens of Los Gatos, California, for permission to use these photos and to Ron Siemens of Bragg Creek, Alberta, for providing copies.
The front of the silver medallion presented to former Oberschulze Peter Siemens in 1839. The back of the medal is pictured next…Photo credit: We are grateful to Peter Siemens of Los Gatos, California, for permission to use these photos and to Ron Siemens of Bragg Creek, Alberta, for providing copies.

In the 1811 census, the 18-and-a-half-year-old colony secretary (Gebietschreiber) Gerhard Penner was living with the family. By 1814, Siemens’s economic situation had improved significantly. In May 1814, he owned 7 horses, 22 cattle, 84 sheep, 5 pigs, 2 wagons, and 3 spinning wheels. In addition to his income as a farmer, he was making money as a carpenter and receiving a salary as Oberschulze. It appears that Peter Siemens carpentry activities included building the church at Orloff in the Molotschna colony in 1809.17

Siemens started his work as Oberschulze at the end of a very rough time for the Chortitza Colony Mennonites.18 The first immigrants were held up in Dubrovno over the winter of 1788–1789. That spring they were told that their desired settlement site was not available and were ordered to go to the less desirable Chortitza region. Much of what was promised by the Russian government did not materialize—there were problems with locals stealing horses and wood, and, worst of all, the death rate was extremely high. Added to this was the fact that this group was not accompanied by any ministers. This contributed to considerable turmoil, since, according to Mennonite tradition, only an existing Ältester could conduct the election of an Ältester and ordain the elected Ältester. That Ältester could then oversee the election of the Lehrer (minsters or preachers). Only an Ältester had the authority to perform baptisms and administer communion.

There were irregularities in the Lehrdienst (ministerial) elections and it did not take long for the minority Frisian group to split off from the majority Flemish and establish their own congregation. The West Prussian Mennonite community finally took action, sending Cornelius Regier (Ältester of the Heubuden congregation) and Cornelius Warkentin (Lehrer of the Rosenort congregation) to investigate complaints against the co-Ältester David Epp and officially ordain Epp and Johann Wiebe as co-Ältester. To make matters worse, the first two Directors of the colony, both Germans appointed by the Russian government, were either incompetent or corrupt, or both. They ran the colonies in the typical dictatorial Russian fashion. Jacob Hoeppner was often used as a middleman through whom the Director would issue orders. Those who disobeyed the Directors faced corporal punishment.

It appears that much of the day-to-day running of the Colony was initially done by Hoeppner, and this eventually led to conflict with the newly established Lehrdienst. An investigation into Hoeppner’s dealings resulted in charges against Jacob Hoeppner and his brother Peter. They were fined by the Russian government. Unable to pay the fines, they were imprisoned, and their movable property was sold in order to pay these fines.

In 1797, the office of director was eliminated and the Guardianship Committee of Foreign Settlers (henceforth referred to as the Guardianship Committee) was established. Under the new system, the Colony would have an Oberschulze and two Beisitzer (administrative assistants). These were elected positions and the Oberschulze was to be elected every three years. The first election for a term starting in 1801 took place in 1800. Siemens was elected for the 1801–1803 term. His term was extended for an additional year with near unanimous support from the landholders. Klaas Krahn, also of Chortitza, was elected for the 1805–1807 term.19 After that, Siemens served for five consecutive three-year terms.

There has been some question as to when Peter Siemens became the Oberschulze. This is based on document descriptions of the Odessa archival collection, which imply that Siemens was issuing colony directives as early as 1799.20 A look at the actual documents clearly shows that these documents were not signed until 1801. In a footnote, historian Peter M. Friesen quotes a traveller through the colonies as stating that, in 1809, Siemens had already been the area administrator for 17 years. In a related footnote, he is said to have been in that position for 22 years in 1819.17 This is simply not true and is probably the result of misinformation given to that person. It should be noted that during the early years of the Colony, Siemens was referred to as Über Schulz, Oberschulze, GebietsVorsteher, and Gebiets Schulz.

A brief and well-researched biography of Peter Siemens is provided in the book The Good Stock by Mary R. Dueck.20 Unfortunately, this is written as a first-person narrative, attributing words and thoughts to Siemens that he may never have said or thought. This makes it very difficult to determine what he actually wrote or thought and what is imagined by Dueck. Fortunately, the Guardianship Committee records found in the Odessa State archives contain hundreds of documents issued by him as Oberschulze.

Siemens certainly did not have an easy job. The Mennonites themselves occasionally got into trouble.21 Indeed, the first documented action on the part of Peter Siemens was dealing with non-payment of debt by a Peter Wiebe.22 The local Russians often tried to take advantage of the Mennonites.23 One series of events that Siemens and the Lehrdiensthad to deal with, and try and keep out of the Russian court system, had to do with Johann Schroeder (1763–ca. 1827). In 1813, Katharina Kasdorf, the first wife of Schroeder, committed suicide. The circumstances were suspicious in that Schroeder didn’t wait long to marry their maid, Katharina Olfert.24 In addition to this, before the investigation was even complete, Schroeder and his neighbor Cornelius Banman nearly beat Martin Siemens to death. In 1803, Peter Siemens and his administration had to deal with the founding of two new villages (Burwalde and Nieder Chortitza), followed by the task of accommodating the huge wave of new immigrants from Prussia.25

In 1814, Peter Siemens and BeisitzerAbraham Leycke were accused of misappropriation of funds.26 This accusation seems to have been instigated by the recently dismissed colony secretary Heinrich Heese,27 Anwohner(landless resident) Isbrandt Friesen, and Neuendorf Schulz Jacob Loewen. After a brief investigation by a Mr. von Lau of the Guardianship Committee, the pair was found not guilty. Not surprisingly, upon re-election in 1816, Siemens was unwilling to accept another (1817–1819) term.28 Unfortunately, the relevant file in the Odessa archives is lost and all we have is the file description, which does not describe why he was unwilling and how he was eventually convinced to take on another term.

It is interesting that on December 28, 1816, right around the time Peter Siemens was re-elected while voicing his unwillingness to serve another term, the Guardianship Committee recommended him for a silver medal in recognition of his work.29 Unfortunately, he was not awarded the medal at this time. He may have regretted this decision to stay on, since, once again, he and his administration had to deal with another wave of new immigrants from Prussia. The number of files in the Odessa archives related to Peter Siemens drops off significantly during this time period and much less is known about his activities during his last two terms.

Very little is known about Siemens after his retirement. In 1839, he was awarded a silver medal for his activities as Oberschulze (see photo).20, 30 Chortitza Colony minister David Epp preached at the funeral for Siemens’s wife Catharina (Klassen) on February 22, 1843. In his diary, Epp mentions that the Siemenses had 10 children (3 of whom had died), 54 grandchildren, and 6 great-grandchildren, with 70 descendants attending the funeral.31 The diary of Jacob Wall of Neuendorf has the following entry for December 1, 1847: “Old Peter Siemens in Chortitz died at 12:30 in the morning.”32

1. Lutheran church records of Tiegenort, West Prussia, LDS film number 208424. Transcribed by Adalbert Goertz and Glenn Penner:
2. See GAMEO article on Gross Brunau:,_Poland)
3. West Prussian Land Census of 1772. For an index by family name, see:
4. See GAMEO articles on Bärwalde and Rosenort: http:// / php?title=B%C3%A4rwalde_(Pomeranian_Voivodeship,_Poland); and,_Pomeranian_Voivodeship,Poland)
5. Baptisms of the Gross Werder congregation in West Prussia (1782–1840). Transcribed by Adalbert Goertz and Glenn Penner:
6. Diary of Gerhard Wiebe, Ältester of the Ebling-Ellerwald Mennonite congregation. Transcribed by Adalbert Goertz:
7. Benjamin H. Unruh, Die niederländisch-niederdeutschen Hintergründe der Mennonitischen Ostwanderung im 16. 18. und 19. Jahrhundert(Karlsruhe, 1955), 244.
8. Peter Rempel, Mennonite Migrations to Russia (2007). The 1797 list can also be found here:
9. Unruh, Die niederländisch-niederdeutschen Hintergründe, 248.
10. Ibid., 247.
11. Russian State Historical Archives (RGIA), Fond 383, Opis 29, Dielo 162, file 68.
12. 1801 Census, Chortitza Colony, South Russia Odessa Archives, Fond 6, Inventory 1, File 67. Extracted by TimJanzen:
13. November 1807 Chortitza Colony census. Transcribed by Tim Janzen:
14. May 1811 Chortitza Colony census. Transcribed by Richard Thiessen:
15. May 1814 Chortitza colony census. Transcribed by Richard Thiessen:
16. Dnepropetrovsk Archives, Fond 149, File 498, which contains an October 1816 census for the Chortitza Colony. Transcription in the possession of the author.
17. Peter M. Friesen, The Mennonite Brotherhood in Russia (Fresno: Board of Christian Literature, General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, 1978, 1980), 847, 997.
18. Henry Schapansky, Mennonite Migrations and the Old Colony (2006), chapter 7. Much of my summary of this period is derived from this chapter in Schapansky’s book.
19. Odessa State Archives, Fond 6, Inventory 1, file 42. Contains much material on the elections in the Chortitza and Molotschna Colonies from 1800 to 1812. Microfilmed and scanned copies of the Odessa records are available at the Mennonite Heritage Archives in Winnipeg.
20. Mary Regehr Dueck, The Good Stock: Siemens, Peters, Regehr, Korolkov (2009).
21. See, for example, Odessa State Archives, Fond 6, Inventory 1, files 23, 97, 711, and 818.
22. Odessa State Archives, Fond 6, Inventory 1, file 6.
23. See, for example, Odessa State Archives, Fond 6, Inventory 1, files 59, 60, 91, 288, and 577.
24. Glenn Penner, “The Bergthal Colony Schroeders, Part II,” Heritage Posting (April 2005). See:
25. Russian State Historical Archives (RGIA), Fond 383, Opis 29, Dielo 183, files 78–80 and Dielo 179, files 1–3.
26. Odessa State Archives, Fond 6, Inventory 1, file 850.
27. Cornelius Krahn, “Heinrich Heese (1787–1868),” Mennonite Life (April 1969): 67.
28. Odessa State Archives, Fond 6, Inventory 1, file 1026.
29. Odessa State Archives. Fond 6, Inventory 6 file 18.
30. Odessa State Archives. Fond 6, Inventory 1, file 4385. This document dates the decision to give him the award as 1836, while the actual letter accompanying the medallion is dated 1839.
31. John B. Toews, trans. and ed., The Diaries of David Epp 1837–1843 (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2000).
32. Diary of Jacob Wall, Neuendorf, Chortitza Colony (December 1, 1847). See Mennonite Heritage Archives, volume #1086.


Mennonite Historian December 2017, p. 3

Common Misconceptions and Errors in Mennonite Genealogy: Part One

by Glenn H. Penner

Over the past 40 years, I have come across several misconceptions and errors commonly found in Mennonite genealogical research. Many of these are due to misinformation passed down over the years and now taken as fact. Many are due to speculation by genealogists without documented, or in some cases logical, bases.


1. Associating a traditional Mennonite surname with a European location. Suppose a novice researcher with Mennonite Wiens ancestry discovers that the German name for the Austrian city of Vienna is Wien. This researcher then assumes that the first Mennonite Wiens must have come from Vienna. To anyone with a reasonable knowledge of Mennonite history, such an assumption would seem preposterous. Unfortunately, many genealogists do not bother learning much history or geography. They are more concerned with building a family tree.

Sadly, I see this sort of thing on a regular basis. There are many European locations that coincide with traditional Mennonite surnames such as Epp, Ens, Hamm, Lepp, Klippenstein, Fehr (de Veer), Kauenhofen, etc. In some cases, connecting a surname to the location is logical, but not backed up by any real evidence (Hamm,1 Lepp,2 and Klippenstein3); in some cases, there is good evidence (Kauenhofen4 and Fehr5); in some cases, the link is wrong (Ens and Epp are derived from old first names, not locations); and in some cases, the connection is ridiculous speculation with no sound basis (my Wiens example, Wiens is also derived from an old Frisian first name). So far, I have not heard anyone claim that the Penners came from India (the river Penner [or Penna] is in India6).

 2. “We can trace our families back to the Netherlands.” Almost every person who has predominantly Low-German Mennonite ancestry can trace their ancestry back to the Netherlands. On the other hand, there are very few people of Low-German Mennonite ancestry who can reliably trace their family name, generation-by-generation, back to the Netherlands. Those few cases include: Fehr (de Veer) and Kauenhofen, plus several family names that became extinct among the Mennonites, such as Momber, von Boeningen, and Harnasveger.

Many tell me that they can trace their ancestry back to the Netherlands. Such a statement is misleading. What they can do is trace one small branch of their ancestry back to the de Veers, Kauenhofens or some long extinct family name that originated in the Netherlands. I should point out that the GRANDMA database has traced several additional surnames back to the Netherlands or other pre-Prussian Germanic regions. However, these connections are based on a lot of speculation and unsubstantiated assumptions.

There is one thing I should make clear. There are several early Mennonites who are known, through reliable documentation, to have immigrated to Prussia from the Netherlands or elsewhere in Northwestern Europe. A nearly complete list can be found in Henry Schapansky’s book.7 The problem is that we do not have the sources needed to connect us to these people. This brings up a closely connected misconception—that somewhere there are records that will allow us to trace our Mennonite ancestry back to those who immigrated to what later became known as West Prussia. Such records do not exist and never did.

3. “My ancestor emigrated from Germany to Russia.” Prior to 1871, Germany as a country did not exist. Before 1871, the geographic region known as Germany consisted of Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony, and several other independent duchies, principalities, electorates, etc. Before 1871, immigration to Russia took place from West Prussia, East Prussia, and Brandenburg—all provinces of Prussia (not Germany). In 1871, the King of Prussia became the emperor of the German Empire. However, after that, the number of Mennonites moving from Germany to Russia was very small.

4. “My ancestors emigrated from the Netherlands to Russia.” There are still people who adamantly believe this. There is no evidence whatsoever that any Mennonites emigrated from any Dutch territory to Russia.

5. People who spell their surnames differently are not related. I have often heard statements such as: “Those Duecks are not related to us Dycks, because they spell their name differently.” In this case, people are confusing the degree of relatedness. Prior to immigrating to North America, the spelling of Mennonite surnames was rather fluid. Soon after arriving in the new world, the head of the household was expected to choose a permanent spelling of their surname. Prior to that it was not unusual for one person to spell their surnames differently in different documents. I use the surnames Dueck (an Anglicization of the surname Dück) and Dyck as examples, since DNA results have shown rather clearly that all the Dyck, Dueck, Dick and Dück men of Mennonite ancestry who have been tested so far have a common ancestor within the last several hundred years.8

6. “I am one-quarter Penner, maybe we are related.” I frequently hear or read (in my emails) statements like this. Using similar logic, I would say that I am 100% Penner. However, if I go back to my great-great-grandparents, I am only 1/16 Penner and 3/16 Hiebert. Does that mean I’m more Hiebert than Penner?

What if I were able to trace my family back to the time when family names were just starting to become permanent among the people of northwestern continental Europe, which would be about the 1500s? If I had no Penner ancestors other than those of my direct paternal line and assumed 3 generations per century, I would be about 1/33,000 Penner. One might think that this is just splitting hairs, but it is extremely important when one applies autosomal DNA testing to genealogy. This is the standard test one does with 23andMe or (this test is also available with other companies such as FTDNA). I see people use these test results to make such statements about their family names and this is simply wrong!

To be continued …

7. Henry Schapansky, Mennonite Migrations and the Old Colony (2006), 79.
8. For more information on the Mennonite DNA Project, see: or contact the author


Mennonite Historian September 2017, p. 3

Mennonites and middle names

by Glenn H. Penner, Winnipeg

Those who have used the GRANDMA genealogical database may have been confused by the inconsistent use of middle names for those born in the 19th century or earlier. Some may wonder where these middle names come from and if these people really used middle names.1


Contemporary Mennonites in North America tend to give their children middle names. What middle name is given depends on many factors. One thing that can be said with a fair degree of certainty is that most middle names given in North America no longer come from any specific naming pattern or tradition.

Many of us baby boomers need only go back a generation or two along the Mennonite side(s) of our families to discover that traditionally Mennonites did not, as a rule, give their children middle names. For example, neither of my parents, nor any of my grandparents were given middle names. This should not be confused with the use of an initial or occasionally a middle name that was not actually given to the person, but taken on as an adult. For example, in rural Manitoba among the descendants of those who came to Canada in the 1870s, it was common for an adult man to use the initial from his father’s first name or his mother’s maiden name. This practice helped sort out all of the Henry Penners or the Abe Friesens in a particular area.2 Of course, we Mennonites were always able to sort out men or women of the same name by the use of nicknames. For example, in Plum Coulee, for a time, we had two David Wiebes: “Schmaunt” Wiebe and “Lehra” Wiebe.

In the 1920s and early 1930s, thousands of Mennonites fleeing communist Russia appeared on the Canadian Prairies. These people had been in the Russian system for about 50 years longer than those who came in the 1870s. As a result, many used the traditional Russian patronymic system whereby both men and women used their fathers’ first name as a middle name. The Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization records, begun in 1923, are an example of Mennonite records that use patronymics.3 However, it should be pointed out that this was not a Mennonite tradition. Mennonite parents did not give their children middle names. Mennonite church records prior to the communist period did not normally record middle names. However, many official Russian documents and all census (revision) lists from 1835 on did use patronymics in recording the names of Mennonite men. So, once again, Russian Mennonites were not given middle names by their parents, but used the Russian tradition of patronymics more frequently with every generation.

The Russian tradition of using the father’s first name as a middle name has been a tremendous boon for Mennonite genealogists. For example, the 1835 Russian revision list (census) for the Molotschna colony includes the father’s name for every male household head as a patronymic.4 These middle names provide the names of the fathers, who stayed behind (or had already died) in Prussia. Similarly, patronymics are used in the Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization records of those who emigrated from Russia to Canada in the 1920s to 1940s. These middle names provide the names of the fathers, who stayed behind (or had already died) in Russia. From 1850 on, most Russian census lists also included the patronymic for the mother of the household.

In Prussia, prior to the last big migrations to Russia of 1818–1820, middle names were rarely used. From about the 1820s on, those who remained in Prussia became more Germanized with every generation. This can be seen by the increasing use of first names that were German, but not traditionally Mennonite (such as Carl, Gustav, Amalia, and Wilhelmina) and the use of middle names. Many of our so-called “Mennonite” family names were also well known among the local German population and this difference between naming traditions of the Mennonites and their German neighbours turns out to be very genealogically useful in identifying Mennonites. Mennonites are found in many West Prussian Lutheran and Catholic Church registers. There are two reasons for this. First, most Mennonite congregations were not allowed to have their own cemeteries and were required to bury their dead in nearby Lutheran or Catholic cemeteries. These Mennonites are included in the death/burial registers of these Lutheran or Catholic Churches. Second, from 1800 on, all Mennonite births, marriages, and deaths had to be recorded by the state (Lutheran) church. As a result, one finds many post-1800 registers with Mennonites interspersed among the Germans.

There seems to be much confusion among Mennonite genealogists regarding middle names and their ancestors. The solution is simple—do not impose a middle name on your ancestor unless you have absolute proof. Just because a man was recorded as Johann Jacob in a Russian census or in a Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization record does not mean that his name was Johann Jacob. The “Jacob” was included as a patronymic only because of the naming tradition used by Russian officials recording his name. The GRANDMA database1 has many thousands of middle names incorrectly given to (mostly) men due to this misconception!

Glenn Penner relocated to Winnipeg several months ago, following retirement as a chemistry professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario. He can now devote even more time to his avocation, Mennonite genealogy. He has arranged to work out of the Mennonite Heritage Archives on the Canadian Mennonite University campus in Winnipeg. If you have a genealogical query, he’s open to corresponding with you. He can be reached at his University of Guelph email address, which he still maintains,

1. The GRANDMA database. See:
3. Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization records. Originals are at the Mennonite Heritage Archives in Winnipeg. Images of the immigration registration cards for 1923 to 1930 can be found at:
4. 1835 Molotschna Colony census. Odessa Regional State Archives (Ukraine), Fond 89, Inventory 1, files 357. English translation available at the Mennonite Heritage Archives, Winnipeg


Mennonite Historian March 2016, p. 3

Duplicate Records Prove Beneficial

by Glenn H. Penner, chemistry professor at the University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario (

There are several cases where duplicate record keeping on the part of governments or church officials has saved records of genealogical importance to Mennonites. Below are four examples.


1) Prussia-to-Russia immigration records. When Mennonites applied to the Prussian government for exit visas to immigrate to Russia, government officials in the West Prussian district offices (Tiegenhof, Marienburg, Marienwerder, etc.) recorded information on these families. These records were then copied and the copies (without the original signatures) were sent to Berlin. The original records have disappeared but the Berlin copies have survived and are now in the Berlin archives.1

2) Birth, death, and marriage records for the Mennonite congregation of Deutsch Kazun in central Poland. Whenever Napoleonic France took over a region of Europe, one of the new innovations they introduced was a detailed system of civil registration. The resulting records have been a genealogical goldmine. In 1808, the French introduced these registrations to the Duchy of Warsaw. It happened that the Mennonite communities of Deutsch Kazun and Deutsch Wymyschle were in this territory. The Mennonite churches kept these records starting in 1812 and duplicate copies were sent to Warsaw.

The following incident from 1864 is recorded by Ältester Leonhard Ewert2 and points to the significance of the duplicate records. “It happened one day in summer that many Gypsies were camped in Dt. Czastkow on the sand near the cemetery. It was harvest time, after the noon hour, the whole family of Heinrich Nickel [a minister in the Dt. Kazun church] went again to the wheat harvest on the highland behind the fortress highway. No sooner had they left the yard when several Gypsies came and wanted to tell fortunes and carry out other skills and naturally be rewarded for it. The impatient farmer Nickel told them he didn’t have the time to go back to the house and they should come in the evening, and left for work with his family. The Gypsies were disgruntled and muttered among themselves something that could be interpreted as follows: “we get nothing, you also should get nothing.” No sooner had the cutting, binding, and gathering in the wheat field resumed, when a thick black cloud of smoke arose from their house. They all ran home; however, nearly everything was lost in the fire, including all church books from 1812 to 1864.” Fortunately, the Warsaw archives still has the duplicate registers from 1832 on and these are available on microfilm and online.3

3) The baptismal register of the Deutsch Kazun Mennonite Church. Mennonite baptisms were not included in the civil registers, but kept separately by the church. The Dt. Kazun church had a baptismal register which was started in 1834. This register was copied by either the Ältester or one of the ministers in 1902. In 1939, a bomb destroyed nearly all of the Dt. Kazun records, including the original baptismal register. Fortunately, the 1902 copy has survived the war and was brought to Canada by Ältester Leonhard Ewert.4

The emigration application for two brothers, Jacob and Cornelius Stoesz, of Rosenort (in the Gross Werder), West Prussia, dated 31 October 1803. Jacob did not immigrate to Russia until 1817 and Cornelius never did. The original record would have also had their signatures (Berlin Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz I HA Rep7B file 4176 page 00533). Photo credit: Glenn Penner.
The emigration application for two brothers, Jacob and Cornelius Stoesz, of Rosenort (in the Gross Werder), West Prussia, dated 31 October 1803. Jacob did not immigrate to Russia until 1817 and Cornelius never did. The original record would have also had their signatures (Berlin Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz I HA Rep7B file 4176 page 00533). Photo credit: Glenn Penner.

4) The baptism and marriage records of the Elbing-Ellerwald Mennonite Church in West Prussia. Elbing-Ellerwald was a large and very important congregation in West Prussia. The church appears to have kept records going back at least to the early 1700s. Shortly after he was ordained as Ältester in 1778, Gerhard Wiebe started a diary in which he also recorded the baptisms he performed every year as well as most of the marriages which took place within the congregation. This continued until 1795, the year before he died. Later Ältesten continued the diary records well into the late 1800s. The original church registers have disappeared. When and under what circumstances is unknown to me, but the Ältester diary records have survived and are in the Mennonitische Forschungsstelle in Germany.5

1. For more on these records, see the genealogy section of the last issue of the Mennonite Historian. Since that time, I have posted one batch of scans of these records. See:
2. Copies of the memoirs of Ältester Leonhard Ewert (1898–1968) can be found in the collection of the late Arnold Schroeder (1926–2000). Schroeder’s collection is at the Mennonite Heritage Centre in Winnipeg. See also Marie, Rehsler, “Ewert, Leonhard ‘Leo’ (1898-1968),” in GAMEO (2010).
3. I have been able to make over 3,000 scans of birth, marriage, and death records for the Dt. Kazun and Dt. Wymyschle Mennonites for the years 1809 to 1867 from various microfilms and online Polish genealogy webpages. These records were written in Polish (including ALL numbers). In addition there are 405 scanned pages of German records for Dt. Kazun for the years 1832–1841. From 1868 on the records were written in Russian.
4. The originals are now in the Mennonite Historical Society of British Columbia archives in Abbotsford. They can be found online at:
5. For transcriptions of some of these diary entries, see


Mennonite Historian December 2015, p. 3

New Mennonite Prussia-to-Russia Immigration Lists

by Glenn H. Penner, chemistry professor at the University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario (

Those genealogical researchers who have successfully traced their Mennonite ancestry through Russia are often met with another roadblock—finding their ancestors in whatever immigration lists are available in order to ultimately find their ancestors’ place of origin in Prussia.


When I attempted to do this nearly 40 years ago, the one-and-only source was the huge immigration list at the back of Benjamin H. Unruh’s 1955 book.1 It took until 2000 before a second immigration resource was published, Peter Rempel’s book.2 Since then several lists have appeared on the web page.

This short article is an overview of the available lists, including those not yet extracted from microfilms and archival holdings.

Mennonite immigration from Prussia to Russia took place from 1788 until the 1870s. From the 1870s onward, Prussian Mennonites preferred to immigrate directly to North America. A description of the periods or “waves” of immigration from Prussia into Russia are well-covered in chapter 6 of Henry Schapansky’s latest book.3

There were essentially four early waves of immigration: (1) 1788–1789 and (2) 1795–1798 to the Chortitza colony, and (3) 1803–1806 and (4) 1816–1820, mostly to the Molotschna colony. There were also coherent groups coming in 1834, 1836–1838, 1854, and 1859. In addition, during this time period, and on to the 1870s, there was slow but continuous immigration. The exception was the period 1806–1816, due primarily to the Napoleonic wars in Europe.

Glenn Penner standing at the entrance to the archives in Turuń, Poland.

Unfortunately, there is only one official government list for the early Chortitza immigrations: namely, the list of those who passed through Königsberg on the way to Russia in 1788. The list given on pages 287 to 304 of B.H. Unruh’s book is gleaned from this and numerous other sources. The most significant of these is the 1808 set of census listings for Einlage, Rosenthal, Neuendorf, and Burwalde, which include the village of origin and immigration year for each head of household.

The immigrants from the 1803–1806 periods are much better documented. This is due in large part to the 1808 census, which is complete for the entire Molotschna colony and includes each colonist’s immigration year and village of origin. For the years 1803 to 1805, the Prussian government required families to apply for permission to emigrate. They were then interviewed and their assets were evaluated. They were then required to pay a 10% exit tax.

Those who have looked at the immigration lists on pages 336 to 355 of B.H. Unruh may have noticed the term Vernehmung, which refers to the application/interview process. The Vernehmung records of the Prussian government still exist, and are found in the Berlin archives. One set is available on microfilm;4 and I was recently able to obtain copies of the other half of these records.5

A close examination of these records shows that a good deal of important information from the Prussian records did not make it into Unruh’s book. A good example is the record for my own great-, great-, great-, great-grandfather, Johann Dyck (GRANDMA # 44744).6

The Prussian record reads: “Johann Dyck von Tiegenhagen welcher sich als Tagloehner, theils bey den Feldarbeit, theils bey den Schiffarth, indem er als Martose zu weilen auf der Jacht gefahren, ernähet hat, und kein Vermögen besizt er ist gesamen mitzunehmen siene Ehefrau Agatha geb. Schulzin  und sein 4 unmundige Kinder Johann, Harm, Jacob, und Heinrich.”5  This Johann Dyck is not found in Unruh’s or Rempel’s lists. He is, however, found in the 1808 census, which confirms that he did emigrate from Tiegenhagen in 1803. These Berlin files are a fantastic source of new information in original form and need to be made accessible to researchers!

A very important source of immigration lists for 1803–1828 is the book by Peter Rempel.2 This book complements the Unruh book and the lists found in the Berlin archives in that it consists mostly of Russian sources—those who actually arrived as opposed to those who applied to leave. It is very important to note here that the majority of the material found in Rempel has not yet been integrated into the GRANDMA database, even though the book has now been around for 15 years! The lists found in Unruh are taken from various sources and have been integrated into GRANDMA.

The web site includes many other lists obtained from various sources. Six examples are: (1) 1820–1841 lists of the heads of families who left Prussia; (2) 1843 list of recent immigrants settling in Neuhalbstadt, Molotschna; (3) 1839 list with names and ages and Russian village; (4) 1848–1850 list with names and ages and Russian village; (5) 1849 list with names and ages and Russian village; and (6) 1851–1852 list with names and ages and Russian village. The following four files found in the Odessa archives7 have not yet been posted: (1) 1819 list of the heads of 240 families who arrived in Russia (Fond 6 Inventory 1 File 1528); (2) 1836 list includes family members, ages and origin in Prussia (Fond 6 Inventory 1 File 23834); (3) 1847 list includes family members, ages and origin in Prussia (Fond 6 Inventory 1 File 9471); and (4) 1849 list includes family members, ages and origin in Prussia (Fond 6 Inventory 1 File 12750).

The 1835 Molotschna also includes the immigration year for each family. This census also has lists of those who arrived from abroad and settled in each village between the 1835 census and the 1850 census. I have extracted and posted these.8

An essentially untapped source is Prussian church registers. Some of these indicate when a family left the congregation for Russia. I have posted a list extracted from the Orlofferfelde records.9 Other congregations with such information include Rosenort (after 1857), Ladekopp (after 1832), and Elbing-Ellerwald (after 1809).

1. Benjamin H. Unruh, Die niederländisch-niederdeutschen Hintergründe der Mennonitischen Ostwanderung im 16. 18. und 19. Jahrhundert (Karlsruhe, 1955).
2. Peter Rempel, Mennonite Migrations to Russia, 1788–1828 (Winnipeg, 2000).
3. Henry Schapansky, Mennonite Migrations (Rosenort, 2006).
4. Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preussicher Kulturbesitz, Berlin, Germany. II. Hauptabteilung: General-Directorium, Abt. 9 Westpreussen und Netzedistrikt, Materien. Tit. 109, No. 1 Acta das Mennonisten, vol. 5, 1803–1805, found on microfilm LDS #1056558. One of the lists can be found at
5. Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preussicher Kulturbesitz, Berlin, Germany. II. Hauptabteilung: General-Directorium, Abt. 7B, file 4176. For Johann Dyck, see 28 March 1803.
6. The GRANDMA database (Genealogical Registry and Database of Mennonite Ancestry), California Mennonite Historical Society (CMHS)
7. Microfilms and scans of the Odessa archival material can be found at the MHC and CMBS in Winnipeg and most other Mennonite archives in North America.


Mennonite Historian December 2013, p. 3

West Prussian Property Records

by Glenn Penner, Guelph, Ontario (

Property and inheritance records are important sources for genealogical and historical studies. Unfortunately for Low German Mennonites, the earliest West Prussian records are in Polish archives and have been difficult to access. An early use of these records is found in B.H. Unruh’s classic book on the immigration from Prussia to Russia: Die niederländisch-niederdeutschen Hintergründe der mennonitischen Ostwanderungen im 16.,18. und 19. Jahrhundert.


Unknown, or unnoticed, by the many researchers who have used Unruh’s book are the many references to “Hyp. Beil. Akten” in the extensive lists of immigrants. These are the Hypotheken Beilagen  Akten, which were thoroughly researched by Franz Harder of Danzig. The information he obtained was provided to Unruh. Unfortunately, all of Harder’s collection was destroyed or went missing after his death towards the end of World War II.

As a result of the partition of Poland in 1772, most Mennonites ended up living in West Prussia, a province of the Kingdom of Prussia (Frederick the Great was king at the time). In1783, the Prussian Hypotheken Ordnung initiated standardized recording of property and inheritance records. Village Grundbücher and Grundakten were started. A Grundbuch is a large ledger of about 400–600 pages containing information on about 20 to 30 properties. A Grundakt is a file, or dossier, containing information on a particular property.

Many of these records have survived and are located in Polish archives. The first part of the project to make these records available was funded by the Plett Foundation. It concentrated on the extensive collection in the archives at Malbork, Poland, formerly Marienburg, West Prussia. These records cover villages which belonged to the Mennonite congregations of Bärwalde/Fürstenwerder, Tiegenhagen, Ladekopp, Rosenort, Heubuden, Elbing/Ellerwald, Orlofferfelde, Tiensdorf/Marcushof, and Tragheimerweide.

In May 2012, I travelled to Poland and spent one week in the Malbork archives identifying pre-1830s property belonging to Mennonites. Since an index was available for only the Tragheimerweide area villages, each Grundbuch and Grundakt from outside that area had to be searched for Mennonite property owners. I repeated this process in May 2013. As a result, about 11,000 good quality digital images are now available online at the website:

So far about ¾ of the “Mennonite” property records in the Malbork archives have been copied. In addition to the Malbork records, there is a significant collection of property records in the archives at Bydgoszcz (Bromberg) and Torun (Torn). These cover the Mennonite congregations of Schönsee, Montau, and Pzechowka. Acquisition of the remaining property records depends on future funding of this project.

Although these records are a genealogical goldmine, there are some limitations. These are not church registers or census lists. You will not find nice, neat lists of names and dates, nor will you find any reliable indices. You will need to carefully search the pages of the records for the village of interest in order to find the person you are looking for. This is part of doing real historical and genealogical research!

Grundbuch for Klein Mausdorferweide, Blatt 1. State Archives of Malbork, Poland, Fond 341, File 354. This Grundbuch is not yet online.

The records are written in a rather legal style of 18th- and 19th-century German. Even those with some knowledge of German may find it difficult to decipher the terminology and work out the often complex relationships described in these documents. One should also keep in mind that, by the time these records were started, at least a quarter of all Mennonite families in West Prussia were landless and therefore would not be included in property records.

In addition, at least one half of the property records have disappeared. This seems to have happened around the end, or just after World War II. For example, page 301 of Unruh’s book mentions that my own great-, great-, great-, great-grandfather, Heinrich Penner, is found in property records from Zeyersvorderkampen. Unfortunately, no property records earlier than 1928 have survived for Zeyersvorderkampen. In some cases entire villages are missing, such as Rosenort in the Gross Werder.

It is important to note that husband and wife were joint owners of a property. As a result, the maiden names of wives are provided (something rarely done in many Prussian Mennonite church records). Also, all legitimate children had equal inheritance rights (unlike in some European countries). So, if a husband or wife died while owning a property, all of the living children and children of deceased children of that person (not step-children) are frequently listed as heirs.

A page from the Grundbuch of the village of Klein Mausdorferweide is shown in the adjacent photo. It indicates that Abraham Dyck of Klein Mausdorferweide exchanged his property with the property of Johann Klein (a very rare Mennonite name!) and wife Sara Entz, with Klein paying an additional 450 Reichsthaler. Important here is that Dyck’s deceased wife, Anna Kroeker, was the last wife of the late Jacob Hoeppner. When this transaction took place, the surviving children of Jacob Hoeppner and Anna Kroeker were entitled to a share of the money. These children were Anton (1762–1806), who was represented by Franz Schroeder (of Waldorf), Anna, the wife of Heinrich Dyck, and Helena, the wife of Abraham Classen. One can see that Jacob Hoeppner’s children Jacob (the deputy 1748–1826), Peter (b. 1852) and Catharina (b. 1757) are not mentioned. This is because they were not children of Anna Kroeker, but from an earlier wife of Jacob Hoeppner Sr.


Mennonite Historian March 2013, p. 3

On The Ancestry of Early Mennonite Brethren Minister Gerhard Wiebe (1847 – 1934)

by Glenn Penner

Gerhard Wiebe (1847 – 1934) was an important leader in the early Mennonite Brethren church in Manitoba. His life has been documented several times.1 In the past I, and probably several others, have unsuccessfully attempted to determine the ancestry of Gerhard Wiebe. According to family sources he was born in Waldorf, West Prussia. Assuming that this is correct, his family would have been members of the Mennonite church at Rosenort, West Prussia. Unfortunately the Rosenort church records were destroyed in a fire in 1812 and again by a flood in 1855 or 1856. The surviving records were started in 1858, after the death of Gerhard’s father (estimated to be around 1851). However, in 1800 the Prussian government required that all Mennonite vital records (births, marriages and deaths) be kept by the state church, which was the Evangelical Lutheran church. The village of Waldorf was in the parish of the Jungfer Lutheran church and some information on the family of Gerhard Wiebe can be found in the Jungfer records. These records were started in 1798 and have survived to this day.2


According to these records Gerhard Wiebe was born on March 2, 1847 in Waldorf, West Prussia, in agreement with family records. His father, Johann Wiebe, died on May 24, 1852 in Waldorf at the age of 35 years. This places his birth at about 1817. He was an “Einl. Zimmerman”, which I assume means Einlieger  Zimmerman, a carpenter. He was survived by his widow Sara Martens and children Helena, Johann, Gerhard and Catharina. In these records surviving children are usually listed in order of birth. Interestingly, there is no mention of daughter Sarah who is included in family records.3 Also added in different handwriting is the word Russland, presumably indicating that this family later moved to Russia. The Jungfer records also include the marriage of Gerhard’s parents: on 10 May 1840 Johann Wiebe surviving son of Johann Wiebe and Helena Schroeder of Robach married the widow Sara Güre, born Martens, widow of Peter Güre of Tiegenhof. He was 23 ½ and she was 24 at the time. Güre is actually Guhr, a rather rare Mennonite name. I have been able to find the births of the following children of Johann Wiebe and Sara Martens in the Jungfer records: Helena (14 July 1841), Johann (9 Dec 1843), Gerhard (2 Mar 1847) and Catharina (1 Feb 1851).

The Rosenort Mennonite church was part of a larger congregation, the Gross Werder Gemeinde. The Gross Werder Gemeinde consisted of 4 churches under the leadership of an Ältester who conducted the baptisms. The Gross Werder baptismal register includes the baptism of Johann Wiebe’s surviving son Johann of Blumenort in 1837. It is uncertain from these records if it was Johann Sr. or Jr. who was actually from Blumenort. Since the average age of baptism in this congregation was about 20 years, this baptism date is consistent with his birth year estimated from his age at time of death. The 1834 baptism of Sara Martens is also found in this register. She was the surviving daughter of Julius Martens of Krebsfeld. His death is found in the Lutheran records of Fuerstenau. He died in Krebsfeld on March 13, 1828 at the age of 55 years and 5 months. He was survived by his widow Elisabeth Loewen and children Elisabeth (Mrs. Gerhard Braun), Helena and Sara. I have been unable to find a death record for Johann Wiebe Sr., who would have died sometime between the birth of his youngest daughter Catharina (1823)4 and the baptism of his surviving son Johann (1837). However, the Lutheran records of Fürstenau include the death of Gerhard Wiebe’s grandmother Helena (Schroeder) Wiebe.5 She died in Blumenort on Mar. 29, 1840 at the age of 53. Her surviving family consisted of Helena, Johann, Martin and Catharina. This would place her birth at about 1787. So, thanks to the Lutheran records, we have information on Gerhard Wiebe’s parents and his grandparents, on both sides of the family! If anyone has further information on the ancestry of Gerhard Wiebe please contact me at

1. See for example the Sep. 3, 2007 edition of the Mennonite Historian and the Oct. 2007 edition of Heritage Posting.
2. Evangelical Lutheran church records of Jungfer, West Prussia. LDS film numbers 208169, 208171 and 208172.
3. GRANDMA genealogical database, California Mennonite Historical Society. Gerhard Wiebe is entry number 134068.
4. Mennonite church records of Rosenort, West Prussia (1858 – 1944). Microfilm copies available at the Mennonite Heritage Centre, Winnipeg. LDS film number 555794. She is found on pages 17-18.
5. Evangelical Lutheran church records of Fürstenau, West Prussia. LDS film number 208104.


Mennonite Historian June 2011, p. 3

Adalbert Goertz (1928-2011)

by Glenn Penner

Last month the worldwide community of Mennonite genealogists lost a giant. On May 7, 2011 Adalbert Goertz died in Colorado Springs, CO, at the age of 82. Adalbert, a retired physicist, was a very active genealogical researcher for over 50 years, having written well over 150 articles on the history and genealogy of Prussian Mennonites. Many of his contributions can be accessed at the Prussian page of the Mennonite genealogy web site:


Adalbert Goertz

Adalbert was always one step ahead of the rest of us, recognizing, decades ago, that information pertaining to our Prussian Mennonite ancestors, which many of us thought was lost due to the destruction of Mennonite church records during and before the war, was often available in Lutheran and Catholic records. He also tried to interest the Mennonite genealogical community in West Prussian property and inheritance records, which are currently held in Polish archives and are only recently being acquired by Mennonite researchers. He was using his university’s mainframe computer for genealogical purposes long before the rest of us were making our own databases.

Adalbert lived a very interesting life, which he chronicles on his web page ( passing is representative of the disappearance of an important generation – those who were born and raised in our Prussian homeland, only to flee for their lives at the end of the war. With the passing of this generation we will lose our direct connection to the land where our ancestors lived for hundreds of years!

My correspondence with Adalbert started in 1976 and continued until about 2 months before his death. During those 35 years he passed on a wealth of information, not readily available in books or online, for which I will always be grateful. I was fortunate to attend an annual conference in Denver, CO which gave me the opportunity, every few years, to rent a car and visit Adalbert and Bärbel at their home in Colorado Springs. I will very much miss those visits!

Adalbert’s contributions to Mennonite genealogy and to the history of Mennonites in Prussia will last for a long time to come. Until the age of the internet he published mostly in obscure German periodicals. Fortunately he was highly computer literate and embraced the internet as a medium for the dissemination of genealogical information and sent many files for posting at I hope to convert his older genealogical publications into electronic form for future posting. A bibliography of his numerous Mennonite genealogical publications (up to 2001) can be found at

As the great physicist Sir Isaac Newton once stated “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants”.


Mennonite Historian March 2007, p. 3

A Genealogical DNA Project for Low-German Mennonites

by Glenn Penner

In the Dec. 2004 issue of the Mennonite Historian I announced the start of a genealogical DNA project for Mennonites. At that time there was a significant cost associated with the testing and the project covered all Mennonite/Anabaptist groups. Since that time a new project has been started which specializes in the use of DNA analysis to help genealogical research among Mennonites of Low-German background. The good news is that participation is now free. So far nearly 500 people of Low-German Mennonite background from Canada, the United States, Paraguay, Mexico and Germany have participated. For more information on this project and what kind of information it can provide visit the Low-German Mennonite DNA Project website at You can also find the Y-DNA results for the first 91 men on this website. Y-DNA is the DNA that is passed on from father to son and is particularly useful for genealogical research since Mennonite family names have also been passed down from father to son for at least the last 400 years. Also note that mtDNA is also tested for both men and women. This is the DNA that is passed from mother to child and follows the maternal ancestry of the person who is tested. Those who are interested in participating in this project are encouraged to contact me at or 519-824-4120 ext. 52602.

Mennonite Historian March 2005, p. 1

Fate of the Chortitza Colony Church Records

by John Dyck, Glenn Penner* and Margaret Kroeker

The fate of the various Russian Mennonite church records has been the subject of much private discussion and speculation. This article is an attempt to put together what is known about the church records of the Russian Mennonite colony of Chortitza (Khortitza). The basis for this article is a file left by John Dyck in which he translates parts of Dorfberichte (village reports). The Dorfberichte were prepared by the German army during the occupation of the Ukraine in 1942/43. The report on each German village included a short section entitled Kirchenmatrikeln, which outlined what church records could be found and the last known whereabouts of records that had been removed. Some of these reports provide very depressing reading as one realizes that many of the Chortitza Colony church records are gone forever. On the other hand some of the reports indicate that records did survive attempts by the Communist authorities to have them destroyed. One can speculate as to what happened to this latter group of records: 1) they were destroyed by the advancing Russian troops, 2) they were collected and found their way into Russian archives, 3) they were removed to Germany, presumably for safe keeping. The following sections, in quotations, are the translations by John Dyck and Margaret Kroeker of the Dorfberichte found in microfilm nos. 399 -407 at the Mennonite Heritage Centre. A shorter set of reports for some of the villages are found in microfilm no. 808, and are referred to below as the second source. My (GHP) comments are in italics.



“A church register for the years 1796-1901. Then a new church register started which was brought to Nieder Chortitza about 1936 or 1937. However, it is not available there, as enquiries have proved. The old register remained only because secretary Reimer hid it at his place.”


“Regarding the church register, Iwan Kriwopust, one time Komsoinort and secretary to the village council, who looked after the records says that he was ordered to burn all archival records in Burwalde. The order was not wholeheartedly obeyed by Kriwopust. He did not burn the church registers, the statistical records and documents of 1941. Four books were on hand from the Czarist period. Five to six books were started as civil registers: one birth register, two marriage registers, one divorce register, two death registers. On August 16 he received a second request to bum all the records. Kriwopust bundled the church registers and documents of 1941 and stacked them in a warehouse. After German troops surrounded Burwalde at 11:00 am, on August 18, Hungarian troops relieved them. The Hungarian troops moved the residents of Burwalde to Schoeneberg, 10 km away, because the Bolsheviks were firing heavily from the shore of the Dnjeper. At the end of September the people were allowed to return home. The former village office was occupied by Hungarian soldiers. What was left of the archival records and church registers lay scattered in the rooms, torn and dirty. In total, three old church registers could be saved. What was not torn and dirty was used by the Hungarian soldiers to heat the rooms. The condition of the books can be discerned from the attached records.

The manner in which the books were kept can be seen from the enclosed copy of Book 1, Folio 224. Volumes 1 and 2 are written in German. Many entries are repeated in both volumes. In Volume 1 even the column headings are in German; in the other two they are in Russian. In Volume 3, entries were made in Russian, apparently with a companion volume in German which was missing. The cover on Volume 3 has an old number 4. In the pre-Bolshevik period the church registers were kept by a trustworthy person. No current registers have been started yet.”

The 2nd source states that the largest part of the records were destroyed and that birth records for 1799-1900, 1800-1900 and 1828-1917 are available.


“No church register can be found any more. They have all been brought to Saporoschje where it is said they have all been burned by the Bolsheviks. On May 2 two men went to Saporoschje to search for the books. Church registers could not be found but the very old archive of the Chortitza Gebietsamt was found in the city archives, including statistical records for the years 1801-1806. We must and will search more thoroughly and intensively in Saporoschje to determine what is on hand. In addition, the entire archive must be sorted and organized, which will take much time but would be historically worthwhile, since Chortitza is the oldest German settlement on Ukrainian soil.

Excellent family chronicles and much valuable materials, such as diaries, clippings from old newspapers, Familienkalendar from before the World War can be found in many families. Unfortunately much of that has been burned recently out of fear of the Bolshevik police. A harmless piece of paper in the German language, even if it is from the previous century or older, was enough to put its owner in prison and annihilation as a damned fascist. That has naturally caused much exceptionally valuable material to be lost.”


‘The birth, baptism, marriage and death registers were entered by the Gemeindeiiltesten. In 1921 the Gemeinde was required to deliver the documents to the Sachs in Saporoschje. Out of caution the entire records were copied by hand and they continued to update them. In 1934 the copies were also called in and placed at the disposal of the Sachs in Saporoschje. When the Red army withdrew the archive also disappeared. At the present no records of births, marriages and deaths are kept in Einlage.

Up to the present time searches for the church documents have proven fruitless.”

The 2nd source claims that the church records are in Nikolaifeld.

Insel Chortitza

See Chortitza.


The 2nd source simply states “destroyed”.


“Kronstal belongs to the Osterwick Gemeinde where the church and statistical books are entered. There are five old church registers dating back to the previous century there.”

See the entry for Osterwick.


“In the pre-war period the baptism, marriage and death registers were kept by the local minister. In 1935 the church records had to be turned over to the village office in Einlage (Kitchkas). From Kitchkas they came to the left shore [of the Dnjeper] into the city S.A.G.S. After the reds withdrew, the Archives in the SAGS disappeared too. Attempts to ascertain their whereabouts have remained without results. It is strongly assumed that the entire Sags Archive has been burned, yet the search is continuing. There are indications that it may be possible to get a portion of the pre-Bolshevik archives back. While other German colonies are in possession of various diaries and entries in bibles and hymn books, that is hardly the case in Kronswiede. After the attack of the bandits, these treasures were destroyed as well. It is known that after the work of Kommando Dr. Stumpp was accepted, the people not only went to neighbors or older people to obtain records of marriage, births or deaths of relatives but would go many kilometers to neighboring villages in order to get such information or even undertake distant rail trips. Many young families do not remember birthdays of their children nor their own marriage dates. This situation is explained by the fact that no celebrations accompanied marriages. Registration with statistical departments was apparently considered of secondary importance. Parents have not always found joy in the birth of children and birthdays were not celebrated. Then, who could have imagined the things that have happened five or six years ago?”


”The church registers in Neuenburg were kept by church officials until 1935 for births, baptisms, marriages and death registers. In 1935 these documents had to be turned over to the local chairman of the village council in Neuendorf. In 1940 all church documents in Neuendorf were turned over to the village council of Tscapajew (Rechotinka). After withdrawal of the Red army, village council chairman Yurtschenko packaged the archive in a fireproof case which he brought to the south side of the Dnjepr. All searches for the documents have so far proved fruitless. Copies of these lists are not available. Many individual families have entered birth, engagement, marriage and death dates in the first pages of bibles and hymn books. Not infrequently one finds that individual families have kept detailed diaries, recording not only family events, such as births, marriages, etc., but also genealogical data and congregational information. These entries in books and scribblers were carefully guarded during the Bolshevik era, sometimes at risk of life. In the completion of the genealogical questionnaire, the necessary data can be taken from these entries and considered entirely dependable. Currently the mayor’s office records births. Other lists are entered by the minister of the local church, just as was practiced in the pre-Bolshevik period.” Note: under “Herkuft” the report refers to a Tagebuch (diary) written 60 years after immigration into Russia with detailed information about the early years, which had been deposited in the Einlage museum.


”The church books were all taken along by the Bolscheviks when they fled the first time, and have disappeared without a trace since then. However, there is still faint hope that they might show up later. The other church papers have also been lost from the time that the church was closed.”


”There are no church books found at this location since Neuhorst belongs to the Neuendorf Gemeinde.”

Nieder Cbortitza

“Birth register volumes 1-4 and 12-17. The registers 6, 9-11 and 18. Marriage register 5, 7-9 and 19. Listed in the Village Report.”

The Village Report for Nieder Chortitza has not yet been found.  


“Osterwick is in the fortunate position to have church registers from 1812 the founding year of the village. They have been kept up to date until 1931. In addition to the church registers there are some statistical record books from the soviet period, so called diaries. A listing of the church registers is enclosed.”

According to Victor Janzen, presently of Steinbach, Manitoba, his father David Janzen took the church records with him when the family left Osterwick on Oct. 21, 1943. Later, in Bergdorf, Germany, David Janzen prepared a wooden crate which he used to ship the church books to his cousin, also named David Janzen. These records never reached their destination! The whereabouts of the Osterwick church records are presently unknown.


“While the main church was kept in Chortitza, records were also kept locally, which had to be turned over to Chortitza in 1937 and has since disappeared.”


The church records for Rosenthal were probably kept in Chortitza.


”There are no church records at this location. The church registers are kept in Osterwick, 4 km away, where there are five registers from the previous century. A sample page of these books is appended to the Village Report of Osterwick.”


”The church books were in the townhall at Neuendorf until the beginning of the war (1941) and then taken away by the Bolsheviks. At present there are no church books available. In the possession of a Jakob Penner there is an Amtsbuch from his grandfather, Prediger Jakob Penner in which he wrote all of his official business including marriages and burials. The years 1870-1917 are covered. The owner of the book is reluctant to hand it over but will allow it to be copied for general use.”

According to the 2nd source there is one church book covering 1796-1901.

There was also a church book in the form of a family register started in the 1870’s which was taken to Canada in the 1920’s. Copies of this register are available at the Mennonite Heritage Centre and the Archives of the Mennonite Historical Society of British Columbia. The original register is in private possession.


The village report for Schoenwiese has not yet been found.

Other Church Records

A pair of Family registers, written in Russian,were discovered in the Zaporozhye archives in 2000. These records were started around 1888 and continue until about 1934. They cover the villages of Chortitza, Nieder Chortitza, Burwalde, Einlage, Rosenthal, Insel Chortitza and Blumengart. English translation copies of these registers, together with scans of the Russian originals, are available on CD and can be purchased from various sources.

 If anyone has further information regarding the last known whereabouts of any of the Chortitza Colony church records, please contact me at the address below.

This article is dedicated to the memory of John Dyck in recognition of his many contributions to Mennonite history and genealogy.

Glenn Penner: 306-27 Cardigan St. Guelph, ON, · NJH 7V6. or email:


Mennonite Historian December 2004, p. 3

Mennonite Genealogy DNA Project

by Glenn Penner

Traditionally genealogists have used written records to piece their families together. Unfortunately for most Mennonites written records will only take us back to the mid-1700’s, the mid 1600’s if we are lucky. There is another, much more modern, methodology that allows us to reach back dozens, if not hundreds, of generations. This is DNA analysis. DNA analysis has revealed some amazing information about the distant past of the human race as well as other living beings (for example all domestic hamsters appear to be descended from one breeding pair). As might be predicted DNA analysis has been embraced by genealogists as a way of determining whether two people with the same surname are indeed related.


There are now several commercial companies that will look a t”markers” on the Y chromosome, which is passed directly from father to son. These companies require only a  small sample of the dead skin scraped from the inside of the mouth with a type of hard Q- tip provided by the company. In July Amelia Reimer and I, together with the Family Tree DNA company, started a Mennonite DNA project. This project provides Mennonites with a simple way of having their DNA sampled and compared with others. In order to see the results so far go to the Mennonite DNA project web page at: Note that the individual is not identified only the family name of the contributor.

What information can we obtain from DNA analysis (of the Y chromosome)? A simple analysis for an individual male will tell him about the very early origins of his distant ancestor (not all Mennonites are of northern European descent). A comparative study of the DNA of several people of the same family name, but who are apparently unrelated gives us some idea of how distantly they are related.

For example, I have started a sub-project to compare the DNA of Penners who appear to be unrelated. Many years ago Mennonite historian Horst Penner suggested that the Penners descended from two families: one was Flemish and spelled their name Penner, and the other was Frisian and spelled their name Pender (laterPenner). By testing the DNA of many apparently unrelated male Penners we can test this theory. In order to encourage other male Penners to get in volved I am willing to pay the costs of a DNA analysis ($300) and make all of the arrangements. But in order to qualify you must not belong to one of the Penner families from which I already have samples. We are also interested in volunteers in order to get DNA results for the approximately 300 different “Mennonite” family names.

For more information on the Mennonite DNA project or the Penner DNA project please contact me at; phone 519-824-4120 ext.52602.


Mennonite Historian June 2002, p. 2

Chortitza Colony Documents Shed New Light

by Glenn Penner

Many readers of the Mennonite Historian are aware that Mennonite materials in various Russian archives have been microfilmed. One project that is currently under way and will continue over the next few years is the microfilming of the Mennonite records of the Guardianship Committee for Foreign Settlers in Southern Russia (1799-1876), currently held by the Odessa State Archives. This winter the films of Fond 6, Inventory 3 (1852-1856) were distributed in North America.1


It goes without saying that these microfilms contain invaluable historical information on the former Mennonite Colonies in South Russia. They also contain a tremendous amount of genealogically useful data, such as voters lists (e.g.Chortitza and Bergthal colonies for 1852 in file#14602), lists of heads of households (e.g.Chortiza for 1853 in file #16449), transfers of households (e.g.#16102) and inheritance records (e.g.inheritance by Simon Schroeder of Schoenfeld, Bergthal colony from parents Bernhard Schroeder and Maria Westerwig of Prussia in file #14715). Unfortunately the archives where these microfilms are deposited are not always conveniently located. Further, many researchers are unable to read the Russian or the Gothic script in which all of these records are written. Because of these and other factors several people have made the effort to translate or transcribe the most genealogically useful of these documents into English and posting them on the Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society website.2

Two such documents from Inventory 3 have recently been posted on the MMHS webpage. The first contains the 1852 property transfer records for the Chortitza Colony, found in file #16071. These records (and other property transfer documents found in the collection) provide valuable information on the movement of Mennonites within the colony. This document gives the “Wirtschaft” or property number, the name of the former owner of the property, village, date of transfer, reason for the former owner giving up the property, name of the new owner and where the new owner was registered in the 1850 census. This last entry often names the father of the new owner. There are a total of 35 property transfers for the year 1852. For example, Wirtschaft#21 of Nieder Chortitz became available on Sept.27, 1852, after the death of the owner David Redekop. On Oct.28, it was transferred (sold) to Peter Penner, who was registered in the 1850 census under his father Peter Penner (family#18) of Rosengart.

The second document (file #15751) is the most important Chortitza Colony document in the Inventory 3 microfilms. It is a census of those families living outside the colony in 1852. The document lists 184 families with a total of 962 individuals. In other words, about one eighth of the Chortitza Colony’s approximately 7,800 people were actually living outside the colony on temporary passes! The census is divided into family units and provides such information as the names and ages of all individuals, the year they began living outside the colony, their place of residence, the occupation of the head of the family and the family under which the family head was registered (including family number and village) in the 1850 census. The families are grouped according to which village was considered their permanent residence. According to Harvey Dyck’s introduction to his translation of the Jacob Epp diary, Epp joined a group of about 50 families to found the Judenplan Colony in 1852. This census indeed lists 52 families living “in a Hebrew Colony of the Cherson Territory”. The census includes Jacob Epp and his brother Dirk.

Other interesting files in Inventory 3 include a list (including place of origin) of those who founded the new villages of Paulsheim, Molotschna Colony (#14910) and Friedrichthal, Bergthal Colony (#14914), a list of Chortitza and Bergthal Colonists who were fined (#15814) and the 1852 lists of those living outside the Bergthal and Molotschna colonies (also#15751).

1. Microfilm copies of the Board of Guardians Records from the Odessa State Archives are available for viewing at the Mennonite Heritage Centre and Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies, Winnipeg; British Columbia Historical Society Archives, Abbotsford; and the Centers for Mennonite Brethren Studies Fresno and Hillsboro.
2. The MMHS website can be found at:


Mennonite Historian September 1996

The 1835 Molotschna Census Chortitza/Bergthal Colony Connections

by Glenn Penner

In the summer of 1990 a large collection of Mennonite archival material, collected by a Molotschna settlement school teacher Peter J. Braun and presumed lost after 1929, was discovered, independently, by Dr. George K. Epp of Menno Simons College, Winnipeg, MB and Dr. Harvey Dyck of the University of Toronto, Toronto, ON.1 When news of the discovery of these records reached the Manitoba Mennonite community there was considerable interest as to what genealogical information might be found. I think that there was some disappointment when it was learned that, aside from a few tidbits, the only major acquisition of genealogical importance was a census of the Molotschna Colony villages from the year 1835.


Although this census is of considerable significance to the descendants of the Molotschna Mennonites who emigrated to the U.S. in the 1870s and to North and South America in the 1920s and 1940s, the relevance of this document to those whose ancestors lived in the Chortitza Colony is not so obvious. In this article I would like to point out some interesting and hitherto unknown information that I have gleaned from the 1835 census. One of my goals is to show some surprising connections between this census and the Chortitza and Bergthal colonies. I will further illustrate how Russian records can provide information reaching back to the generation of Prussian Mennonites that preceded the emigration to Russia.

Those who have taken a close look at the census will have noticed the occasional occurrence of the statement “nach Chortitz” (or “to Chortitz” in the English translation). I have been able to identify 57 of these entries. I have also been able to make several connections to existing Chortitza Colony, Bergthal Colony and Manitoba records. First it should be pointed out that these entries do not appear in the original Russian but are added in German. I have found that “Chortitz” , in this case, means the Chortitza or Bergthal Colonies. For example Peter Dirkovich Heinrichs (31 years, i.e. born in 1804) of the Molotschna village of Friedensdorf is said to have moved with his family to Chortitza in 1836, but in fact can be found in the church records of the Bergthal Colony (Vol. A, p. 37).2

That same year the families of Peter Johann Funk (b. 1799) of Rudnerweide and Jacob Kornelius Stoesz (b. 1780) of Halbstadt are recorded as leaving the Molotschna Colony. Both of these families ended up in the Bergthal Colony. Peter Funk can be found in Vol. A, p. 102, of the Bergthal Colony Gemeindebuch2. His son Johann (1836-1917) later became the Ältester of the West Reserve Bergthal Church in Manitoba2,3  Johann Funk was born in Nieder Chortitz in the Chortitza Colony. The census also lists Peter Funk’s father, Johann Johann Funk (b. 1773) in the same village (Rudnerweide), indicating that there was a grandfather, Johann Funk, who possibly remained in Prussia.

Jacob Stoesz and his family can also be found in the Bergthal Colony church records (Vol. A, p. 90).2 Jacob Stoesz is the ancestor of the Stoeszes presently living in North and South America. His son Kornelius (1836-1900) became a minister of the Bergthal Colony church in 1864. Son David (1842-1903) became a minister in 1869 and later (1882) became the Altester of the Chortitzer church in Manitoba. These two examples also show how the census of 1835 can provide information reaching back to pre-immigration times in Prussia. From the Stoesz entry we know that Jacob Stoesz’s father was Kornelius. This is in agreement with the Stoesz Genealogy.4  Kornelius Stoesz ( 1731-1811) remained in Prussia.

In one case it is actually possible to make a connection from the Prussian forefather (who never left Prussia) to the Old Colony (Reinländer Gemeinde) Church Records in Manitoba with this single document. The family of Abraham Franz Peters (b. 1801) is listed as moving from Marienthal to the Chortitza Colony in 1843. His sons Jacob (b. 1830) and Abraham (b. 1832) are listed on pages 116 and 132, respectively, of the Manitoba Old Colony church register.5  In a census of 1881, Jacob is found to be living in Blumenort and Abraham in Rosenort.2

The Old Colony church records also give Franz (b. 1840) and Heinrich (b. 1842) as children of Abraham and Aganetha Peters. These two were born after the 1835 census. Abraham’s (b. 1801) father, Franz Franz Peters (b. 1771) can also be found on the same page of the 1835 census. Having been born before 1788, Franz Franz Peters must have come from Prussia, either with his own family or as part of his father Franz Peters’ family. I can find only one Franz Peters in B.H. Unruh’s book6 and that is Franz Peters who lived in Schoenhorst, in the Chortitza Colony, in 1795 and 1802. Although this Franz Peters is of about the right age in the 1795 Revisions-Liste, a closer look7 shows that he is not the Franz Franz Peters of the 1835 census.

This is one of a number of cases where people who have appeared in the 1835 census, and were born well before the move to Russia, cannot be found in Unruh’s book. Since Franz Franz Peters was born before 1776 one might expect to find his father Franz Peters Sr. in the 1776 Prussian census.8 The name appears three times: in Augustwalde, Neumuensterberg and Rudnerweide. I will leave it up to the interested genealogist to determine which is the right one.

The Molotschna census of 1835 will, no doubt, prove to be a very useful source of genealogical and demographic information. The Molotschna-Chortitza (Bergthal) connection is certainly of interest and definitely warrants a closer look.

1. Mennonite Historian Vol. 18, No. 1 (March, 1992), p. 4.
2. John Dyck, ed. Bergthal Gemeinde Buch (Steinbach, MB: Hanover Steinbach Historical Society, Inc., 1993) This book includes 1881 Federal Census data.
3. Mary Dueck Jeffery, ed. Aeltester Johann Funk: a Family Tree (Winnipeg, MB : the author, 1980).
4. Henry D. Stoesz, ed. Jacob Stoesz 1780-1859 (1972).
3. John Dyck and Bill Harms, eds. Reinländer Gemeindebuch 1880-1903 (Winnipeg, MB: Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society, 1994).
6. B.H. Unruh, ed. Die niederländisch-niederdeutschen Hintergrunde der Mennonitischen Ostwanderungen im 16., 18. und 19. ]ahrhundert (Karlsruhe: Schneider Verlag, 1955).
7. Henry Schapansky, “Schonhorst: The Old Colony The First Settlers: 1788-1803, Part 1”, Mennonite Family History, July 1993, p. 111.
8. H. Penner, ed. Die ost und westpreussische Mennoniten (Weierhof, Germany: Mennonitischer Geschichtsverein, 1978).

Editor’s note: The list of 57 persons in the 1835 Molotschna Census who have connections with Chortitza is available at the Mennonite Heritage Centre and on the internet at:


Mennonite Historian September 1988, p. 6

The Early Doell Family

by Glenn Penner

The first Mennonite Doell1 and, to my knowledge, the forefather of all Mennonite Doells was Peter Doell. He was baptized into the Flemish Mennonite church in Danzig, West Prussia, on July 3, 1689. According to the Danzig church records2 he was baptized “in Holland”. This suggests that he was either sent to the Netherlands by his parents to be educated and baptized or that he was originally non-Mennonite and had to move from Danzig to the Netherlands in order to be baptized into the Mennonite church. Local Prussian laws often prohibited the conversion and baptism of non-members by the Mennonite church. On October 24, 1691 his wife (name unknown) died. He married Sara Steffan on December 26, 1692. Peter Doell died September 15, 1709. The next year his son Peter Doell II was baptized into the Danzig church. Sara Doell (nee Steffan) died on July 14, 1746.


Peter Doell II married Anna Berg on November 15, 1711. He died in 1749. Five children of Peter Doell II are known: Heinrich (1718-1789), Anna (17..-1758), Peter III (1716-1789), Daniel (17..-1757), and Susanna (17..1751). Peter Doell II and his family lived in Schidlitz, a suburb of the city of Danzig. Son Heinrich moved to the village of Tiegenhof3 where he was weaver4. Son Daniel died a bachelor. Peter Doell III was born on September 20, 1716 and married Maria Berg (1717-1749) on October 15, 1747. She died on September 22, 1749. Peter III remarried on April 23, 1753 to Maria Lehn (1732-1789). Five children of this marriage survived to adulthood: Maria (1753-?), Anna (1759-?), Peter IV (1760-1833), Heinrich (1770-?) and Elisabeth (1776-?) Peter Doell III died on June 10, 1789.

Peter Doell IV was born on November 20, 1760. On May 1, 1788 he married Anna Kasdorf (1760-1844) of Stoltzenberg, Prussia. It was Peter IV who made the move from Prussia to Russia some time between 1792 and 1794. He settled in Neuenburg in the Chottiza Colony, Russia.5 Peter Doell IV died on October 28, 1833. Many descendants of Peter Doell IV moved to Manitoba in the 1870s and their descendants have, in turn, spread throughout North and South America.

1. The name has been spelled Doell, Dill, Dell and Dyll.
2. Danzig Mennonite church records: Deaths 1667-1808; Marriages 1665-1808; Baptisms 1667-1808
3. Tiegenhagen Mennonite church records 1781-1944.
4. “Ein Mennoniten Verzeichnisaus dem Jahre 1776” in Die Ost-und Westpreuflischen Mennoniten by Horst Penner, 1978.
5. B.H.Unruh, Die Niederlandisch-niederdeutschen Hintergrunde der Mennonitiscben Ost-wanderungen im 16. 18. Und 19. Jahrhundert. (Karlsruhe-Rueppurr, 1955).

Glenn Penner is a researcher at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with a Ph.D. in Chemistry. We look forward to further articles by him on various early Mennonite families.