Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta

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Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization
Data Extraction Project

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About the Records

Privacy of Living Persons: In order to protect the privacy of persons on the CMBoC records who may still be living, the MHSA has decided to remove the images of these records from the website.

Improved Index: The CMBoC index pages now groups heads of households on the basis of the GRANDMA surname codes (PDf p4). By using these codes,  all the variant spellings of each surname are given a single code value, such as 001 for Abrams, Abrahams and other variations of that surname.  This makes it much easier to find a particular surname in large lists or in databases, searching by code number rather than by trying all the possible ways that the surname may be spelled.

The brackets after each household head usually indicates how many persons arrived in Canada together as a party. Occasionally, members arrived at different times.

Copies of Records: We invite inquiries and will respond to individual requests for research copies. If possible, cite both full name of household head and four-digit record number in your request. In order to acknowledge our time in filling such requests, we request $10 payment per record supplied in jpg format by e-mail attachment. If you visit the MHSA you can conduct the search yourself and there is no search fee.

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Between 1923 and 1930 almost 6,000 Mennonite households (20,201 individuals) pulled up their roots from the USSR and managed to emigrate to Canada. For many this had a substantial physical, emotional, psychological, and financial cost associated. Migration theory tells us that small and large moves are made on the basis of the balance of push, pull, and inertia factors.

Some of the things that were pushing Mennonites were the loss of control over their financial and religious affairs, the inability to provide adequate food on the table, the fear of military activities, and so on. The pull of Canadian residence was that Mennonites would be able to regain control over these aspects of their lives and acquire enough land that their families to grow in comfort and be supported by the produce of the land. Inertia - well there wasn't much of that for most, but there were inhibiting factors such as the reluctance of the USSR authorities to provide exit visas. So strong were the push and pull factors at that time, that families spent years in their efforts to acquire the exit visas. Towards the end of the 1920s, this resulted in a major Mennonite demonstration in Moscow (see Vor den Toren Moskaus by H.J. Willms, 1960 - also published in English under the title At the Gate of Moscow).

The Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization (CMBoC) of Rosthern, Saskatchewan created a registration form for each family that came to Canada under its auspices. These forms were cross-referenced to the ledger books which recorded the transportation debt, which the CMBoC owed to Canadian Pacific Railway.

The registrations forms initially consisted of a two-sided 5.5 x 8 1/2" newsprint sheets that were preprinted and completed by hand (see sample front and back with German replaced by English translation). The sheets are punched with two holes on the left side, and were housed in cardboard binders. For a substantial period of time they were in the care of Mennonite Central Committee (Canada). Then, they were moved to the Mennonite Heritage Centre in Winnipeg where they are carefully kept in archival conditions.

The pages are of fragile newsprint and with many years of handling their condition has deteriorated. The MHC had them microfilmed as a conservation procedure for the long term protection of the originals. These microfilms are now in a publicly accessible area of their archive. An alphabetical index of household heads represented in the records makes it much easier to locate a needed record (revised March 2007 by Al Rempel, Edmonton).

What they can tell us

Why is such care bestowed on these records? It's because they contain rich information about the Mennonite households who were able to leave the USSR and come to Canada.

Each one represents a milestone in the fleeing and freeing experience. Years later, they represent one sure proof of age for those who apply for Old Age Pension. Collectively, they represent a goldmine of data for family and academic historians.

The face of each record identifies the given and surnames of all household members (maiden name of the mother is occasionally identified), their birthdates, and generally their birthplaces. It also contains a single word indicating how the trip costs were paid, and the above-mentioned cross-reference numbers.

The back of each record tells the story of the journey from Russia to Canada in painstaking detail: place of last residence, place and date when the journey began, all dates of arrival/departure at ports, including ship names. It identifies the intended first place of residence in Canada and may include a list of names of relatives who had previously immigrated to Canada or the United States. The back of each record also may record information about persons who were medically-detained in any of the ports.

Our Plan

The MHSA has just acquired a copy of the 36 reels of microfilm required to preserve the CMBOC records. Our purpose is to make the information contained on the records more accessible by transcribing much of the data housed on them.

Our plan is to compile this information into a single database that can be read by standard family history (e.g., Brothers' Keeper) and other software. It will be available on the websites of the MHC and the MHSA. A copy of the database will be shared with the California Mennonite Historical Society for eventual inclusion in a future version of the GRANDMA (Genealogical Register and DAtabse of Mennonite Ancestry). The microfilm copies are available both in the MHSA and the MHC archives.

The Project Coordination and Volunteers

Judith Rempel has coordinated this project, with the considerable assistance of other volunteers as well. Thousands of hours have gone into the reading, data entry, indexing, correcting, linking and proofreading steps. This project has proceeding as a result of the support and cooperation of the Mennonite Heritage Centre of Winnipeg (thank you Alf Redekopp and Ken Reddig), and the great help of a lot of volunteers who we would like to acknowledge here.

  • Karin Bock, Calgary, Alberta
  • Menno Boldt, Abbotsford, BC
  • Mary Burkholder, Duchess, Alberta
  • Liesa (Duerksen) Evans, Calgary, Alberta
  • Dora Epp, Calgary, Alberta
  • Walter Edel, Grunthal, Manitoba
  • Harold Friesen, Calgary, Alberta
  • Helena Goertzen, Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan
  • Margreta Gronski, Toronto, Ontario
  • Esther Harder, Chilliwack, British Columbia
  • Jill Hughes, Edmonton, Alberta
  • Gerry Isaak, Calgary, Alberta
  • Myrna Isaak, Calgary, Alberta
  • John N. Janzen, Dominion City, Manitoba
  • Marianne Janzen, Winnipeg, Manitoba
  • Tim Janzen, Portland, Oregon
  • Frank Kasdorf, Winnipeg, Manitoba
  • Michael Kaehn, Victoria, British Columbia
  • Peter Kroeger, Calgary, Alberta
  • Dave Loewen, Abbotsford, British Columbia
  • Rob Luzius-Vanin, London, Ontario
  • Sydney (Penner) MacKenna, Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Frank Martens, Summerland, British Columbia
  • Cindy Matheson, Cold Lake, Alberta
  • Vina Mayer, Clearwater, British Columbia
  • Mary Miller, Ayr, Ontario
  • Bob Mitchell, Winnipeg, Manitoba
  • George Paetkau, Gem, Alberta
  • Warren Pearson, Calgary, Alberta
  • Peter Plett, Calgary, Alberta
  • Al Rempel, Edmonton, Alberta
  • Ann G. Rempel, Calgary, Alberta
  • Kathleen Sullivan, Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Bob Walde, Saskatchewan
  • Elsie Wiens, Chilliwack, British Columbia
  • Valerie Williams, Calgary, Alberta

General Queries/Comments: Contact MHSA