Who was Maria Kroeker Neufeld?

I haven’t written a post like this in a very long time. It feels like years. It probably IS years. And for that I am sorry. I’m still here and I’m still writing about stuff like Preservings and my own personal genealogy… and how fun it is when these two cross paths!

Okay. Well. My awareness of my Saskatchewanian roots dates back to my time attending (and subsequently failing miserably out of) Nipawin Bible Institute in the late 1990s. I had chosen this place pretty much at random. And while I was there, my maternal grandfather, David Neufeld, was nearing his end. And, at some point that year, either my mom or one of her sisters told me that Grandpa Neufeld was very interested/pleased to learn I was spending time in that region because he was from Lost River.

Lost River! I had, again entirely at random, attended that church on a lark with some friends from NBI for some reason. (Or was it Carrot River? Are they the same or different??? Must learn more.)

After I’d been there, I learned that someone important to Grandpa was buried in a cemetery there. There were connections and history from so very many decades past, that I had no idea about.

One day, back when I first started writing for Mennotoba, I rummaged through all of my mom’s old family books. I opened one and learned about my Grandpa Neufeld’s family.

The book tells me that his grandparents, Heinrich Neufeld and Maria Kroeker, arrived in Manitoba (having immigrated from Ekatrinasiawski in what is today Ukraine) in 1902, disembarking from the train at Plum Coulee and living in “the Winkler-Morden area”. In 1907, they moved to Lost River, Saskatchewan. In 1916 the Bethany Mennonite Church was built at Lost River. Heinrich and Maria were buried in that church cemetery (he in 1922, she in 1930). I learned that Jacob Ens and Maria Pauls immigrated to Canada in 1907 and lived at Schoenwiese (near Gretna) for four years before moving to Lost River – they were both buried in the Lost River church cemetery (he in 1929, she in 1912). In 1914, my great-grandparents David H. Neufeld and Aganetha Ens, were married at Lost River. My grandpa was born in 1915 and married my grandmother Mary Brown in 1935. In Lost River, Saskatchewan.

In 1937, the two generations left Lost River and moved to Manitoba. I don’t have information right now about my grandmother’s family but I do know she was a Brown and grew up in Lost River just like my grandpa did.

These things stick in my head though I scramble the details.

The other day, I opened Preservings 45, about the 1920s Mennonite migration. I wasn’t expecting to see anything to do with my own family because as far as I know, they never migrated south. Once in Canada they all seemed to have stayed here. However, we are all connected. But also this is confusing because we have the same place names and people names, re-using both over and over. So I take everything with a grain of salt. (And I remind myself that I sure do scramble things sometimes.)

That having been said, when I read Conrad Stoesz’s article in Preservings 45, entitled Letters from Paraguay: The Maria Neufeld Family, these names felt familiar. I became curious to learn about possible relatives who had moved to Paraguay 100 years ago. These are stories I’d never heard.

In the article, I saw names that felt very familiar after reading my family history book: Neufeld Kroeker Brown Lost River church West Reserve Schoenwiese

That’s a lot of similarity.

So, here I sit relying on Grandma Online once more to help me make sense of all this. Is this frindschoft??

Grandma Online tells me that Maria Kroeker Neufeld, the writer of these letters from Paraguay to her family in Saskatchewan, had been the first cousin of my great-great-grandmother… also named Maria Kroeker Neufeld.

First cousins with identical names (both maiden and married), from South Russia, settling in Lost River.

I read the article trying to make sense of all these familiar markers that somehow diverged from what I read of my own ancestors, believing they knew each other. Lost River is small. Their names were the same.

I appreciate that “the Peter Brown yard” is mentioned in the article in reference to the building of the church at Lost River. Again, not quite my family but how many Brown families could there have been in the area? My grandmother was a Brown and she grew up here. This only serves to highlight my ignorance of my maternal grandmother’s family story.

I’m also curious about this Lost River church. It mattered to them, all.

At any rate, I love bringing a bit of personal reading into these articles and I almost feel as though first cousins Maria Kroeker Neufeld and Maria Kroeker Neufeld lived parallel lives – as if they were one and the same but split somehow and one went to Paraguay and one went to Manitoba and I can watch these divergent paths play out over time and space.