“Who are your parents?”

   When I am introduced to people who have a few more years behind their belts than I do, I’m frequently asked that question we’ve likely all been asked at one time or another: “So who are your parents?” And because I grew up in the Burwalde school district between Winkler and Morden, the people from my present home community rarely recognize the names of Peter B. and Mary Dyck.

   And really the question is often larger than just who my parents are. What people want to know is whether they know any of my relatives. The fact that Mr. Gerhard G. Kornelsen, a former educator and Watkins sales representative in Steinbach, was married to my grandfather’s sister, Annie P. Dyck, might be interesting to some. This means that Mary, Bill and Ernie Kornelsen were my father’s cousins. Or they might be interested to know that my maternal grandparents, Abram F. and Helena Klassen, each came to the Grunthal area as children in the late 1800s, grew up there, and then moved to the Hordean area in the former West Reserve after they were married. It seems that the knowledge of who one’s relatives are begins to create an identity in the mind of the inquirer. In other words, people want to learn something about me through my ancestry. Or maybe they just enjoy genealogical research.

   This common exercise is often referred to as “the Mennonite game, ”although I doubt that it is uniquely Mennonite. I’m pretty sure that people from other ethnic groups make similar inquiries of people whom they would like to get to know better.

   At Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) it is quite acceptable to inquire about one’s ancestry, because many of the people one encounters here are interested in things historical. Such people know that there are many fascinating stories in our ancestors’ lives, stories that in many cases have shaped us into the people we are today.

   For a number of years, MHV regularly hosted a Roots and Family History Day each April. This was an event where people who have pursued family-history research in a significant way could set up a table with their research materials and findings at hand and be available to talk with others who might be considering or already engaging in a similar project. Ideas, methodology, records and resources could be shared, often to mutual benefit.

   When that annual event was eventually phased out, a Family History Centre was created as a regular feature at each of our festival events.  Our Family History Centre is staffed by several volunteers who have considerable experience in doing genealogical research and are adept at using the GRANDMA (Genealogical Registry and Database of Mennonite Ancestry) program. The latest version of this database contains more than one million Russian Mennonite names and includes tools to determine how individuals are related to one another. Our Family History Centre staff enjoy asking if you want to know how you are related to a Mennonite celebrity like Jonathan Toews, James Reimer, Fred Penner or others.

   One of our volunteers started using the program on his home computer recently and now researches the ancestry of many of the people he meets. For him, it’s an enjoyable way to spend leisure time. But for others, the significant part of the exercise is to discover who one’s ancestors are, where they came from, where they lived, and perhaps even where they are buried. Who were those relatives from a century or more ago? What factors may have affected their lives and shaped who they became? Who are the other people whose lives might have been affected by these same ancestors? What do we have in common with those people today?

   This intriguing database can be found at grandmaonline.org or on a disc that can be purchased at Village Books and Gifts. We have volunteers who are quite willing to help people get started on the program. Other online ancestry databases are available as well. If you’re getting bored with sitcoms or Solitaire, perhaps genealogy would be a beneficial new hobby for you to explore.

Calendar of Events

- September 29: Auxiliary Fundraising Dinner – 6:00 PM

- September 30: Last day of operations for the Livery Barn Restaurant and the outdoor village.

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About the Author

Barry is the Executive Director of the Mennonite Heritage Village. While he does not consider himself to be a historian, he places a high value on the preservation and interpretation of the Mennonite and pioneer stories that help people of all ages understand and appreciate their heritage. Learn more about the MHV.

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