The Handwriting of My Great-Great-Great-Grandfather, Peter Baerg

Every Archivists’ nightmare: that’s what that feature photo sure is. I really need to get some white gloves.

Thanks to Grandma Online, I’d discovered that my great-great-great-grandfather was Peter Baerg. A very old man at the time of immigration, he was among the first Mennonites to settle at Gruenfeld (now called Kleefeld) in 1874… and he was a minister.

This meant that he had hand-written sermons, somewhere. The first place I thought of looking for these sermons? The Mennonite Heritage Archives in Winnipeg, of course.

And there they were!

I found it extremely meaningful to be able to see his handwriting — for real. The real pages, the real ink, the real writing he left behind.

Even though I cannot read the text, I feel like I can at least glean from this a bit of his humanity, of the person he was in the moment he was writing these words.

With this signature below, I feel like here his writing was beginning to change; it’s showing his old age… and that kind of hurts my heart.

Somehow, to me, the way writing changes as our health changes is one of the most wrenching things. Does anyone else feel this way?

Handwriting over the course of a lifespan.

It begins with experimental lines… I remember learning to write my name. I knew I had to begin with a capital E… but I became carried away with drawing horizontal lines and my E ended up looking more like a comb. I wonder what Peter Baerg’s childhood handwriting had looked like.

He signed for the cemetery plots of others. As a minister, I suppose this was his responsibility. Given my penchant for exploring old cemeteries, I somehow found it fitting (connecting? bookending?) to see his signature on such a page.

Because they keep records like this alive — records that connect me to the past and reveal some of my family history — I’m very thankful for the existence of the Mennonite Heritage Archives.