Saturday, November 4, 2017

What Is Our Nationality?

On my grandmother's (Margaretha H. Reimer, #321744, 1895-1993) death certificate, the informant, my uncle, said that she was German.  Here's a snip from the certificate:

Margaret H. Siemens death certificate, died 26 October 1993, dated 15 November 1993, certificate #93-019194, Office of Vital Statistics, Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Topeka, Kansas.
And here is the information for her "ancestry:"

When she died in 1993, Mennonites absolutely considered themselves German.  They spoke Low German and read and wrote High German.  So my uncle's answer was correct.

But it wasn't always so.  During Word War I and the years immediately following, Mennonites usually considered themselves Dutch because of the anti-German backlash of the war.  Here is my grandfather's (Cornelius K. Siemens, #7529, 1884-1950) 1921 Canadian census record:

Census of Canada 1921, Provencher District, Manitoba, ED 19, Sheet 15A, Family 108, Household of Cornelius Seamons accessed at on 10 April 2014.
And for a closer look, my grandfather reported that the language spoken by every member of the family was "Dutch," which was the closest question to ethnicity on that census:

The language that they spoke didn't change from 1921 to 1993 - but the way that Mennonites viewed themselves (and they way they wanted outsiders to view themselves) definitely had.  And since their Low German dialect was indeed part of a group of Low German dialects that had historically been spoken in a band from modern Netherlands to modern Poland, this was an accurate description.

If we go back a century earlier when the Mennonites were living in Russia, they did not consider themselves either German or Dutch, but rather they saw Mennonite as a distinct ethnic group.  For example, my great-great-great-uncle, Jacob Siemens was murdered in Molotschna colony in Russia in April 1811 at age 19 by Nogai nomads while working on a road crew.  The official report on the crime called him a "Menonist" (менонистъ in Russian), not a German.  Here's a snippet from the report:

“Po raportu smotritelia Molochanskikh” kolonii Zibera o ubitykh” 4-kh molochanskikh” poseletsakh” [On the report of Supervisor Ziber about four murdered Molochansk settlers],” 26 April 1811, Odessa State Historical Archive, Odessa, Ukraine, Fund 6, Inventory 11, File 78, found at Mennonite Library and Archive, North Newton, Kansas.
And here's a blow-up of his nationality from the report:

You may not be able to read the Russian, but it says Menonist, or Mennonite.

BTW, this incident became a notorious crime among the Mennonites in south Russia and led to the Rusisan government disarming the Nogai nomads two years later.  So most of our ancestors would have known about and felt the fear of the nomads.

So I've given you a few documents that show how Mennonites understanding of their ethnicity or nationality has changed over the last couple centuries.

1 comment:

  1. …. and then you have passenger list databases on Ancestry, which interpret clearly written column heading “Citizenship” as “Place of birth”!