Joe & The Cemeteries, Part 3: Neuhoffnung


Everybody starts somewhere, right? I might be about six years into writing this blog, but still feel I’m at the beginning. I think (hope) that  the next time I come here, I’ll know more, do more, and it’ll mean more. Although I certainly don’t mind the ephemeral nature of this exercise — of visiting sites that may or may not hold great personal history for me. Just, not really knowing. The past is obscured. For many of us, most branches of our families just didn’t write anything down, they didn’t record anything, or if they did, there is no remaining evidence. At least none that has surfaced just yet. All we have are those lists that I’m grateful have been published and then dedicated volunteers have transferred them onto the phenomenal Mennonite genealogy resource that is Grandma Online. So that lazy people like me can have a list of our ancestor’s birthplaces in a heartbeat. And something that has confused me at the outset when I first turned my attention to Mennonite stuff (remember, I’m uneducated and new to all of this, despite being born in and living in Steinbach — I’ve addressed this before and will again but not here in this post) is locating the birthplace of my paternal grandmother. I see on Grandma Online that it was Neuhoffnung. And then in the Historical Atlas of the East Reserve, I notice there was a village called Neuhoffnung located very close to where I remember my great-grandmother living. So I assumed that was where my grandma was born. But when the authors of the Atlas showed me the location, it just didn’t seem right. Something was off. So I thought about it, and over time did some more reading and considering and realized her parents had been living near Altona around the time she was born. The Neuhoffnung mentioned on Grandma Online was not the East Reserve one at all. No. My grandma was a yantzied baby. Well. This changed everything.

So I asked Joe if she knew where Neuhoffnung was. She did. It was tricky. She needed permission to venture there. And then she got it. And then she brought me there. But let me say, as with most Mennonite cemeteries and villages and whatnot… there’s more than one location. This may or may not have anything to do with my family. Certainly they may not even have lived here long enough to bury anyone. I have no idea. Like with most things I do, this is extremely preliminary, impulsive, presumptive, hopeful, thoughtless, and almost random.

But also, this was my favourite cemetery that I visited with Joe last year. BEHOLD!

I just love the wildness.

Long grass and many gigantic badger caves. I was very scared when I put my hand here so you could tell just how big that burrow is.

Long grass waving in the wind, and old broken headstones that continue to stand. Be still my heart!

Can you read this? Elizabeth… Giesbrecht?

I don’t think there have been any human visitors here for quite some time.

Look below. A jawbone with teeth. Ahhhhhhhh!

I do not know if it was human or animal. I never know anything about the things I discover. Honestly, I am exasperated with myself.

But encountering sites like this do something to my heart, even though I still do not know or understand the meaning of what happened here.

This confirms that yes, this cemetery holds Giesbrechts.

I’m very bad at reading these things and keep planning to get better but it hasn’t happened yet. I know readers of Mennotoba are better at this than I am, so here you go:

And then, because we were in a hurry, we were done, and carefully made our way back to our cars. I looked back at this wildly abandoned cemetery that continues to stand. We only took a few steps before it was evident you’d never know what that clump of grass holds.

And, we were not done. Onto the next cemetery!

(Feature photo: Joe in the cemetery.)