European Ancestors – Understanding France (22) Religion and Mennonites

Courtesy of Wikipedia
Flag adopted 15 Feb 1794

This post is part of a series about genealogy in France. You can read the complete series HERE.

Mennonites are a Christian religious denomination that originated in the Netherlands and Switzerland from around 1523, forming in opposition to the Roman Catholic faith, aligning with the Anabaptist movement. The movement spread across Europe, the northern German states and the Netherlands with a leading activist, Menno Simons who was a former Roman Catholic priest.

Mennonites hold, and adhere to the religious principles of:

  • Non Violence, and pacifism
  • Dedicated to the practices and beliefs as outlined in the New Testament
  • Against infant baptism – belief that baptism is a choice and not something undertaken as an infant.

Map courtesy of Encyclopaedia Britannica

Mennonites were persecuted during the 16th Century, those from Switzerland and south Germany migrating west, settling in Alsace and Palatine, settling along the Rhine Valley, (larger version of the map can be found HERE), whilst those who were Dutch or from northern Germany migrated eastwards, towards Poland, Ukraine, and into Russia, by the end of the 18th Century.

In the 17th Century, there was a split between the Liberal and Conservative Mennonites, with the latter taking the name of Amish. Into modern times, technological advancement has provided and enabled the liberal of the faith taking advantage of modern elements, such as cars and electricity.

Gradually, as the religious turmoil continued, many migrated to the New World, initially settling in Pennsylvania (those originating from Switzerland or south Germany) and eventually the mid west arriving in states such as Ohio, where they worked the land and farmed.

Around 1776, others, around 2,000 began migrating to Upper Canada, a defining feature was spoken German language. Between 1825 and 1870 there was further movement, as others acquired land in York and Waterloo Counties.

About 7,000 Mennonites from Prussia, Russia and United States were attracted to Manitoba and the Prairie provinces of Canada by Homesteading lands between 1890 and 1914, this led to Mennonite communities being established in Saskatchewan and an increased number to Ontario.

Following the United States joining the First World War, some Mennonites migrated to the Prairies, but the largest migration was still to come. In 1917, with the Russian Revolution underway, a further 20,000 escaped from the famine in Russia, by 1920 those living in Ukrainian areas of Russia followed suite.

With the Second World War underway across Europe a further 12,000 migrated to Canada from Russia and Germany via Displaced Person camps. Following the conclusion of the war in Europe another 8,000 went to Canada.

Whilst we have touched on other countries in this post, some being a long way from France, religious persecution across the centuries and war has by far been the most reasons for Mennonites to flea Europe, in many cases families would be split, some perhaps entering the United States, others to Canada and elsewhere.

Today, Mennonites can be found across the United States, Canada, Mexico, Paraguay and others in Europe. The total across north America was about 450,000 (2003). The Canadian census for 2001 revealed about 190,000 following the faith in the Country, with around half living in cities. About 20,000 or so are living in Winnipeg which boasts of 45 Mennonite churches. France has about 2050 Mennonite Churches, of which most are in the east of the country, but there are three in Paris.

Here are a couple of links which might be of interest:


About Julie Goucher

Genealogist, Author, Presenter, native Guildfordian, avid note taker and journal writer. Lover of Books, Stationery & History; Surnames, Butcher & Orlando One-Name Studies. Pharos Tutor for all One-Name Studies/surname courses as well as Researching Ancestors from Continental Europe.
This entry was posted in European Ancestors, Europeans beyond Europe, France, Understanding France Series. Bookmark the permalink.

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