Saturday, February 25, 2017

3 Types of West Prussian Mennonite Church Books

The church books kept by Mennonites in West Prussia fall into three main categories:  the family book, the vital statistics register, and the baptism register.  Here's an example of each.

First, the family book.  These are organized geographically, listing all the families in one village at a certain time and then continuing to add to them as events happened.  These books are especially useful for two reasons - they often list the parents of the husband and wife, and sometimes even information about the parents, so can be used to go back a generation before the stated beginning date of the book.  Also, they group all the children of a family together and name the wife, which other books usually do not.  There are some limitations - the elder who compiled the book may not have known all the dates and places, so there are often blanks instead of information.  Also, at least the initial compilation of the book was not done contemporaneously with the events recorded, so the information may not be as reliable as the vital statistics register.

Here is an example of a random family from the Rosenort church book, Cornelius Wiens and Maria Duick. 
Source:  Rosenort Mennonite family book, 1772-1880, KB Ro 1.2, Rosenort, West Prussia, Mennonitischen Forschungsstelle, Weierhof, Germany. p. 5-6.
The blue oval is the village name of Blumenort, the green oval is the names of the husband and wife, the red box is the names of the children, the purple line marks the columns with dates for birth, baptism, and death, and the yellow box is the name of the parents of the husband and wife.  Unusually, there is no column for marriage date, although a note says that Cornelius and Maria were married in 1857.

A link to Andreas Riesen's extraction of the information from this book is here, but if you want the images from the book, you have to buy the Rosenort DVD from the Mennonite center in Weierhof, Germany.

Next is the vital statistics register, which includes lists of births, marriages, and deaths in a congregation chronologically.  Usually, all the events are in one book, and there is a page for each type of event in a single year, but sometimes there are separate books for each of the three event types.  These books were created more or less contemporaneously with the event, so they are the most reliable.  But they usually only list the father's name and village, and sometimes not even that.  It can be hard to group children into families and to figure out the name of the wife since that information is usually not provided.  Since it wasn't obligatory to record data in these books until sometime in the 1800s, individual events and even whole families may be missing.  Sometimes the marriage lists are found in the diaries of elders or ministers.

Here is a random example from Tiegenhagen for the births of 1804:
Source:  Tiegenhagen Mennonite church book, 1780-1831, KB Pe 1.0, Tiegenhagen, West Prussia, Mennonitischen Forschungsstelle, Weierhof, Germany, p. 75.
Each line lists the date of birth, the father, the village of residence, the child's name, and a mark for the child's sex.  Scans of the book are available at the web site of the Mennonite Library and Archives in North Newton, Kans, as well as a transcription of the book by John Thiesen.  Andreas Riesen has extracted the data here.

Finally, there is the baptismal register.  Since Mennonites were typically baptized as young adults, these records do not function like the baptismal records in the German Evangelical parish records, which usually function as birth records.  Usually, these books were kept by the elder and give the father's name, village of residence, and child's name and noted whether or not the father was still alive.  Since Mennonite young people in West Prussia in the late 1700s and early 1800s were usually baptized about the age of 17-20, you can still get a good idea of when a person was born.  (In later times periods, the age ranged widened and typically baptismal candidates were older.)

Here is a random example from the Gross Werder baptismal register from 1785 for Rosenort.  The Gross Werder had started as one congregation, but in 1735 it was divided into four congregations, Tiegenhagen, Ladekopp, Rosenort, and Bärwalde, although the single elder continued to maintain one baptismal register for decades.

Source:  Gross Werder Mennonite baptismal register, 1782-1840, KB WP 1.1, Petershagen, West Prussia, State Archives, Gdansk, Poland, APG 779 Nr. 1, p.15.  Accessed at on 25 February 2017.
Scans of the book are available at the MLA web site, and Riesen's extraction is here.

Let us know in a comment about your experience with Mennonite church books.

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