They Only Named Men. This Is So Disappointing.

Often Mennonites head off across the ocean to “the old country” to hunt for grave markers and tombstones of their ancestors… and of course I totally want to do that someday! But first I must prepare. And part of that preparation is for sure to just take the time to investigate the lands here and now… it’s within my power to simply start asking questions, start doing a bit of reading, so that I know what I’m looking for, and head out there, to these little ghost villages that are located really quite near to where I live today.

I think I’ve been a little afraid to actually pay attention to the specific names I could potentially find. By that I mean, I’ve seen enough crumbling and difficult-to-distinguish gravestones by now that I kinda figure it’d almost be pointless to actually try to look for specific burial sites of my great-great-great-grandparents — likely there’s no evidence remaining anyway.

What a defeatist attitude, I know.

I don’t want to feel defeated before I even begin!

And so, on Thanksgiving Day, Andrew and I were visiting many local sites with historians Ernest Braun and Glen Klassen. We stopped at the Gruenfeld cemetery.

This cemetery has long tempted me, because you can see it from the highway, but it’s on private land. So I stayed away, unsure of who to ask for permission. But, Glen and Ernie are well-connected, and so finally Andrew and I were able to visit this cemetery.

I chose to walk along the driveway alone.

As I made my way down the driveway, I could think of only one name: Susanna Neuman. That’s the name of my great-great-great-grandmother. She married the Kleine Gemeinde minister Peter Baerg, they lived for awhile in Crimea, before embarking upon the S.S. Austrian and arriving in Quebec City, and finally the East Reserve in 1874. They settled in at #1 Gruenfeld, which was the first incarnation of what is today the village of Kleefeld.

I’m sure the name “Neuman” is Mennonite… but it sure isn’t very common around here. In fact, I’ve never come across that name in Mennonite context before. (I suppose that if men took their wives names, then perhaps today the countryside would be full of Neumans!)

Anyway! I was approaching the Gruenfeld cemetery, expecting to see the grave of my great-great-great-grandmother, Susanna Neuman Baerg… but was disappointed by the KG convention of only naming men.

The first two names on this cairn are both females, and I’m descended from both of them. In my mind, I call them Susanna Neuman and Aganetha Giesbrecht.

I hadn’t known that Aganetha had died in Gruenfeld. Interestingly, she’s the ancestor that is linked to the line I’m able to trace back the farthest, beyond the Netherlands, to Ghent in the 1500’s. (Thanks to Grandma Online, that is… #5761!)

But on the cairn, they are named as Mrs. Peter Baerg and Mrs. Jacob Barkman.

I stared. “Oh come on!” I yelped. “This is ridiculous!”

I forget whether it was Glen or Ernest who said, “Yes… regrettably, the KG were quite bad for that.”

Seems the only way a female was able to maintain her identity was by remaining single… or possibly becoming widowed early on.


Well, nevertheless, it was a meaningful experience for me to visit the site where two of my great-great-great-grandmothers had been laid to rest.