I purport to be interested in local history, so it’s astounding and ridiculous that I’ve never read all the books that contain Peter Baerg’s translated letters. He’s my great-great-great-grandfather and I said I was interested!
Well, I just remembered, there was that one time…
Someone once told me that if I wanted to know stuff about this particular ancestor of mine, I should read Pioneers and Pilgrims by Delbert Plett. So I opened it at random, and sure enough, there were a series of translated letters from 1874 — a correspondence between elderly Kleine Gemeinde Minister Peter Baerg newly arrived in Gruenfeld, and youthful Kleine Gemeinde Elder Peter Toews, remaining behind in Russia for another year tending to the remaining KG flock and unfinished financial business. I was struck by the amount of words they used to discuss and/or convey their spirituality. Reading this felt like a bit of a slog to me so I shut the book and have never returned to it.
Wow. Yep, that’s my confession.
Honestly, I don’t know what I expected from letters a Kleine Gemeinde minister and church elder sent each other in 1874. Seems it was right on track, but I wasn’t prepared for it at the time.
I probably needed a better introduction to Peter Baerg than to just jump right into reading that series of letters. I needed some kind of context for the intensity of the correspondence.
Speaking of context and introduction… I feel very privileged to have gotten the very best introduction to the subject of Gruenfeld from the author of the history book himself, Henry Fast, when Andrew and I met him in the heart of the old village site last September. Mr. Fast led us on a walking tour of what remains (spoiler alert: not much, but it’s there if you know how to look, and have an excellent guide). All the while I was keeping in mind that Peter Baerg’s first wife, my great-great-great-grandmother Susanna Neuman, lay buried in the field, in the village cemetery, right there.
The fact that Peter and Susanna moved into Lot #1 in Gruenfeld further made me feel like this is where it needs to start for me. I’ve learned a few things about the senior Peter Baerg from reading this book.
The Gruenfeld book states that Peter Baerg Sr was “an accomplished carpenter” (125).
Incredibly, Gruenfeld author Henry Fast sent me a photo of a remarkable find that grounds me to the past:
Mr. Fast notes, “This photo includes a tool found by the Gruenfeld village site. The hatchet was found adjacent to the Peter Baerg site and likely belonged to Peter Baerg. The hatchet has a curbed blade and would be used as an adze to shape timbers.”
These tools would have been found in the background somewhere in this picture:
Some other things I’ve learned from reading this book:
Peter Baerg Sr. was the spiritual leader of the Kleine Gemeinde’s first contingent to Manitoba in 1874. Minister Jacob Barkman was an important fellow minister, who tragically drowned in the Red River in the spring of 1875. This meant the load on elderly minister Peter Baerg’s shoulders was even heavier. He would have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Elder Peter Toews from Russia at this point.
On page 336, Peter Dueck writes in 1885, “We met old Peter Baerg there (Rosenfeld church service) who said that they planned to move back to Gruenfeld in spring. This would be very acceptable to the brothers and sisters in Gruenfeld as we have missed them.” (I think this is after Peter Baerg had remarried and moved to Blumenort?)
On page 337, Peter Dueck writes in another letter in 1885, “Jac. Duecks are building an L-shaped hay barn. Ohm Peter Baerg is the carpenter, as he is not going to put a crop in this year.”
On page 352, Peter Baerg himself writes in 1878, “I cut myself in the left arm with a fairly deep wound, but now it is healed and I do not feel pain in it.” I’m thinking he must’ve done this while doing carpentry work. He goes on to write, “I send you two schwaulen (door thresholds?) with Martin Warkentin. I don’t remember if you ordered two or not but that is of no consequence.” I guess he was taking carpentry orders! And was kind of laid back about it, too. He also writes, “the old David Klassen was ill. Has he improved?” He sent this letter to Heinrich Enns… probably in Rosenort, so I guess he was maybe inquiring after the health of the delegate David Klassen?
Peter Baerg Sr. was born in Prussia in 1817. In 1842 he and Susanna Neuman married in Molotschna. Their five eldest children were born in Molotschna, but my great-great-grandmother Sarah Baerg Koop was born in Crimea. Peter died in 1901. Grandma Online and Find A Grave both say he was buried here in the old Gruenfeld Cemetery but I say this info is wrong.
Susanna died on February 14, 1891, and was buried here. She is listed on the cairn as “Mrs. Peter Baerg”, so yes his name is on this cairn but no it does not refer to him. I don’t think he’s here.
You see, Peter was 74 years old when Susanna died. A few months later, on November 8, 1891, the history books say he married Katharina Schellenberg and moved to her home village of Blumenort. I know for a fact that Peter’s name appears on the cairn at Neuanlage (very near Blumenort), which suggests that is where he is buried. This makes sense to me, because Peter’s daughter Sarah, who had married Johann Koop, lived at Neuanlage. This site was Johann and Sarah Koop’s homestead.
Below, you can see me approaching the Gruenfeld Cemetery, in the fall of 2018. This is still a sight you’ll see around southern Manitoba — me, leaving the car, walking off into a field, iPhone in my pocket and hat on my head.