January 13th, 2012

An excerpt from _Apart & Together_

Subtitled: Mennonites in Oregon and Neighboring States 1876-1976
Author: Hope Kauffman Lind
Published by Herald Press

from page 176

"Three Holdeman groups settled in Oregon, but only the last survived through 1976. The first arrived in 1890 from Kansas where, after emigrating from Russia, they had joined John Holdeman's church and lived about fifteen years. In Oregon, they settled in northern Polk County near Perrydale, about ten miles from Dallas. Some family names were Unruh, Ratzlaff, Giesbrecht, Esau, Boese, and Schimmelfeming. Elder John Holdeman visited them in 1893 and ordained Samuel Boese to the ministry on November 23. In 1902, due to the Panic of 1893 and economic hardships that followed, the group dissolved. Some moved to Linden, Alberta, Canada."

[Paragraph about the second group that I don't currently think is relevant to my research.]

"In 1957 families in the third group began moving to Scio, northeast of Albany, an area with relatively inexpensive farms and friendly people. There they organized the Evergreen congregation. They came from the Winto and Livingston congregations in Merced County, California, because of urban pressures there from Castle Air Force Base with its screaming jets. Family names were Becker, Loewen (several of them), and Toews, all from California except one from Langdon, North Dakota."

What follows is a brief summary of why these two paragraphs -- all by themselves -- were worth getting the book to me. I _thought_ Peter W Toews was missing from my Johan Toews family register. He is not -- his section heading (sort of a chapter title) is just missing from the list of his siblings (I think of it as a table of contents), but his data is in the register. While I thought he was missing, I created a theory to explain why he was missing: that he had followed his half-uncle Peter when the colony in Steinbach underwent a painful, three-way schism, including a Church of God in Christ, Mennonite group (which is what these paragraphs are about), a Kleine Gemeinde Group, and a Chortitzer group. I _do not know_ which denomination my family members in Canada are currently -- or were ever -- members of (other than that half-uncle Peter _definitely_ went off on the Holdeman side).

In an effort to prove/disprove my theory, I found and got a copy of Peter W. Toews approximately 40 page memoir, which I have now mostly read. In it, he describes his travels to various places. I have external evidence (through documents indexed and/or digitized in ancestry.com's databases) of Peter's travels to Polk County, Oregon, where he married a woman with the maiden name Kaegi (census records indicate her father came over from Switzerland himself and while the name is not a common one among Mennonites, there was a Mennonite group in Switzerland involving that surname into the 1950s) and the married name (twice) of Unruh (his second marriage; her third). Later, he traveled with this wife and their daughter Emma to Merced, California (again, external evidence _and_ mentioned in the memoir). While Peter speaks only very briefly of the original schism and doesn't touch on religious issues to any great degree thereafter (thus, no internal evidence as to his particular choices of congregation/denomination/etc.), he is very clear about why he was traveling (to visit friends and family, including two sisters of his who were apparently married and living in Oregon when he traveled there the first time) and the subtext of how he chose his wives is pretty apparent as well (he wasn't choosing based on geography, but he was choosing within the community of people he already knew, and that community was closed).

The first paragraph supplies evidence in support of my hypothesis that he was Holdeman. I no longer believe this led to an internal-to-the-family split. On the contrary, I suspect the whole family (for suitable definitions of whole family) was Holdeman/CGCM and may have continued to be so into the time frame that I met them (altho this is a tricky hypothesis for reasons I may get into later). I suspect this in part based on the memoir saying two of his sisters were in the group in Polk County that he went to visit, and in part based on a very imperfect understanding of which groups retained (near-)mandatory veiling practices into the 1980s.

The second paragraph supplies a possible explanation for the visit to Merced.

I'm continuing to try to get answers to my questions while avoiding the obvious step of contacting my closest relatives to just ask them. You might wonder why I would be so averse to just contacting them and asking them. Then you might read up a bit on CGCM, and conclude that being wary, in this instance, is, shall we say, the better of valor. My current strategy is to just enter great swatches of the register, attempt to find death dates for the older generations, and hope someone has an obituary available online that gives a church that maybe makes clear which group they were with at least at the end of their life.

If you're ever working on a family tree and entering names and dates and wondering why anyone could possibly care about places for births and deaths, I'm hoping the above makes it clear. The family register I have is JUST names and dates. Reconstructing all the migrations is something that I'll have to do laboriously -- and the compiler had in front of him while he was doing it because he was doing this over the phone (phone numbers! with area codes!) and by letter (addresses! addresses!). I don't think I have it in me to complain about great-uncle Aron, because just having this thing is amazingly cool. But if I did have it in me to complain, I would. No places means really, really, really tough to _find_ the stories, much less tell them.