Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan

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Genealogies and History

Re-edited by Ed Schmidt in June 2009

The Saskatchewan Mennonite Historian has printed good articles to assist in compiling family histories. In Vol. III, No. 2, Sept. 1998, pages 12ff, the article "Genealogy: A Beginning" by Edith Fransen was published. In Vol. VI, No. 1, Mar. 2001, pages 20ff "Links to Other Genealogy Sites" was published. In Vol. VI, No. 2, Sept. 2001, pages 20ff, "Speaking Mennonite: Our Colorful Plautdietsch Language" by Victor Carl Friesen was published. Genealogy workshops with Reg Rempel and Judith Rempel have been given for the Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan. In Vol. IX, No. 2, Sept. 2003, "Saskatoon Hosts Genealogy Workshop" by Rosemary Slater, records the full day workshop, June 28, 2003 during which time Dr. Tim Janzen - and GRANDMA Project - reviewed resources in the field of genealogy of Mennonites of Prussian/Russian background. GRANDMA is a contraction representing Genealogical Registry AND Database of Mennonite Ancestry. Any World Wide Web search will result in a vast amount of information that has been researched and published.

Ancient Sanskrit, a written language, is considered root to languages of the North-India sub-continent and is considered the closest to the roots of what is called the Indo-European group of languages. The Scythian culture of horsemen known for their ruling over the peoples where they lived used curved sword like knives for hand combat and their agrarian abilities gives us the word scythe. Scythians came from Central Asia with an unwritten language but were a core linguistic group alongside the Aryan - Sanskrit speaking people. Migration and trade shape linguistic communications over thousands of years. Ancient trade routes crossed over between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. Through the various geographic passes trade flowed northwest to the Vistula-Nogat delta on the Baltic and south in a more easterly direction to India's mountain ranges; the Low, referring to the Low Countries, German developed in the northwestern branch where it met the Celtic influence.

By the 12th Century there were communities of tradesmen and agrarian "Low Landers" reclaiming land from the Vistula River delta for cultivation; they sought to control flooding of the wide river valleys. In a few centuries these flood controls decayed and crumbled in neglect; however, a common linguistic form was established among the people. The transition from the 15th to the 16th centuries was a restless time in European culture and religion. In 1526 the Vistula River broke through the water restraining barriers. This coincided with the period of Anabaptist craftsmen migrating east. Many migrants who were persecuted for their faith moved to where they were welcome and by 1530 had begun arriving in Danzig. Dirk Philips was present in Danzig by 1550. Across northern Europe the Dutchman, Menno Simons gained influence in the Anabaptist expression of faith; at this time Dirk became the first Mennonite bishop in Danzig in 1569. The hard working migrants took on the task of reclaiming the lost land.

Most of the time Mennonites adapted to the Low German in the areas of extended residence. It was not a refined language; its rhythms suited the rhythms of the earth and its vocabulary expressed the common business of work and home. It was crude without being dirty though in translation it often appears to be both. It is almost impossible to capture its essence in translation and current research is looking at more recent developments in certain global Low German speaking communities. It is "earthy," with a constant tendency to topple over into the comic. It abounds in idiomatic "pithy sayings and old saws." It embodies the folk wisdom of peasants and craftsmen. Like the millennia that supplied historic roots of Low German, its dialectic variants were a dynamic that allowed them to change easily, growing and contracting with the experience of those who used it, changing from region to region and even, more subtly, from village to village.

By the time a census was done in 1776 there were more than 12,000 names (mainly heads of households) recorded as living on the land they tilled along the Vistula River. Between the 16th and 18th Centuries their written-record keeping was done mainly in the Gothic Script in a language often recognized as being generically "Dutch". Victor Friesen demonstrates the consonantal shifts between the linguistic developments of northern Europe. A link to PRESERVINGS Vol 26 of the Plett Foundation PRESERVINGS has several excellent articles on Low German. A MHSS sponsored workshop was also done: Mennonite Plautdietsch - Language and History - by Chris Cox.

In the above text a number of articles and projects have been referenced and as interest is gained they should be accessed. This introduction is a launch site to what has become a bridging activity of exploring the roots among the ancestors of many Mennonites that have experienced Saskatchewan in Canada.

A sample list of Saskatchewan related Mennonite Names has been started with a base from the Global Mennonite Encyclopedia - GAMEO.

A major resource available to Canadians is the Index to the Genealogical Collection at the Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies (CMBS) in Winnipeg which is known as the Katie Peters Collection; the material in 2009 is still not available for loan though much of it is already in searchable digital format. Researchers are welcome to come to the Centre and use the materials. The Centre can make photocopies of the materials for a fee.

There is a good website link in Significant Sites called Polish Prussian Mennonite History that has a lot of information. Various groups of people began in 2004 to use DNA in search for common ancestors. Those efforts quickly resulted in a search of a broader project of the Family Tree DNA or FTDNA sample collecting project. This Genographic Project is collecting samples worldwide to further knowledge of the ancient ancestry of mankind. The Genographic Project is interested in anthropology and not directly in genealogy. . . . MORE on Mennonite DNA

There is a power-point presentation by Tim Janzen on DNA testing applications for Mennonite Genealogists. You may open it as a PDF file in your browser by clicking, (right-click to download); DNA Testing Applications for Mennonite Genealogists2 (4 Aug 2007) (PDF) Or open it as a power-point, DNA Testing Applications for Mennonite Genealogists2 (4 Aug 2007) (PPT) Or if you wish to save it to your computer first, download and unzip; DNA Testing Applications for Mennonite Genealogists2 (4 Aug 2007)(ppt.ZIP)

[last updated - Dec/2/2021]
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Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan

Room 900 - 110 La Ronge Road,
Saskatoon, SK, S7K 7H8
Archive Hours: Monday: 1:30 - 4:00 p.m. Wednesday: 1:30 - 4:00 p.m. & by appointment on Wed. evening.