Thursday, June 06, 2013

Family heritage ... makes you think

Recently on Facebook, there was a link to an article about things you would remember if you were growing up in the 80's.  It got me remembering about growing up in general.  The world that I grew up in is quite different from the world that my children have been born to.  My generation saw the dawn of the internet, home computers, cell phones and video recorders (both of which began as huge clunky models that you lugged around) and shock TV/reality TV.  

There are so many things that I now take for granted as I enter my 40s (next year, eek), but I do remember the value of the historical journeys taken.  This reflection has also come as I reflect on where I "came from". I have been doing well on one of my hobbies, geneology.  I have always been fascinated with my roots seeing as I am a First Generation Canadian in my family, but recently have been digging further into the family roots with the advent of the internet and other digital resources. 

Growing up in Prince Edward Island, I knew that my family was different.  PEI has been predominantly Irish/Scottish, and it was my aspiration to marry a Mac/McLean, Mac/McLeod, or Mac/McDonald, because then maybe people would stop asking me "what kind of a name is that"?  In PEI, it seems that you didn't really fit in unless you were a) born there, b) had one of the Irish/Scottish names, c) had a family that had been there for generations, otherwise, you weren't "one of them".  At least that is how I experienced it.

I guess you could say it was part of the small town/small province culture.  To make it worse/harder, I had a German last name in a not so German location.  Sure there was a German community in Southern Nova Scotia, but I didn't know that until I attend grad school in Nova Scotia (in my 20s).  Hence my family's story has been an anomaly to our neighbors.  

My family came to Canada during the Second World War to flee persecution for one of the main tenets of their faith; pacifism.  My parents grew up as German speaking Mennonite in Ukraine/Russia, but did not meet until they were teens in Canada.  This is the story that I grew up with.  That there are certain things that we believe and not everyone will agree with it.  Of course, being in PEI, my sister and I did not grow up as Mennonites either. There is no formal Mennonite church on the Island, so we spent most of our lives in a Presbyterian Church.  I am actually a Baptist at the moment, having gone to a Baptist school for grad school.  Being Mennonite is still a strong part of my heritage, a big part of my "story".  

I moved to BC in 2002, taking a leap of faith, and it has worked out well for me. I met my husband, who is also of Mennonite heritage and I am now a Penner.  When I married into this clan, I found out that my mother in law and my father's mother had the same last name, Hamm.  It was then that I rediscovered my geneology hobby.  I have been working on this on and off for the past 15 years, but my latest project of merging the clan info has been going strong for the past 3 years.  I recently gained access to the GRANDMA7 CD.  

 This CD, published by the Genealogy Project Committee of the California Mennonite Historical Society, contains a genealogical database of people whose ancestral lines include Mennonites or Hutterites who at some time lived in Poland, Ukraine, or Russia. This release of GRANDMA (Genealogical Registrty and Database of Mennonite Ancestry) contains data on 1,250,285 individuals. It is designed to be accessed with the Brother’s Keeper program (a shareware copy of which is included on this CD). Once both the Brother’s Keeper program and the data files are installed on the hard drive of your computer (approximately 1.3 gigabytes of available hard drive space required), you may either view or edit any of the information in the database.

I have been working with the information in it and filled in "blanks" throughout various parts of the family; my mother's paternal side, as well as my father's maternal side.  But there are some frustrations - 1. there are errors on the disk 2. there are a lot of names that repeat, a LOT. I often stop and say "didn't I already put this person in the list before?" only to discover that there is someone with the same name, different side of the family from that I am working on at the moment, or different birthdate by centuries, or repetitions within the SAME family.  Do you KNOW how many Katharina Penners, Aganetha, Maria, Heinrich, or Johanns there are in a line??? It gets confusing and dizzying at times!!

It is also really sad to realize that some women at 10 to 14??! children with a lot of them dying young; either a few days/weeks, or 2-3 years.  I can't imagine.  Of course, the records don't say if they were to term, or miscarriages, but still, that is a LOT of pregnancies to end in disappointment and sadness in one family.

 I have been using the MyHeritage site as opposed to because it has access to more of the European/Ukraine records than Ancestory does.   As of today, my merged tree of Penner/Nass/Sawatzky/Hamm/Klassen/Dueck has 2280 people with 790 families.  ... and I'm still going. 


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