new Mennonite Life logo    March 2000     vol. 55 no. 1     Back to Table of Contents

Researching Mennonite-related Topics on the Internet: A Perspective from the United States

Tim Janzen

If you have had Internet access for very long you are probably aware that the amount of information available online via the Internet has been increasing exponentially, particularly in the past 5 years. The astounding growth of the Internet has been transforming the way we engage in research and exchange information. This online revolution has made it possible to click on a mouse and quickly gain access to enormous amounts of information that had previously been only available to those able to travel to the archives and libraries that held that information. Those of us actively involved in various areas of research in Mennonite studies have been increasingly using the Internet to access information that hitherto had been difficult to obtain. I have personally approached this primarily from a Mennonite genealogical research perspective, but scholars involved in research on a wide variety of Mennonite-related topics will find information on the Internet that will be useful to them. In this article I will outline some of the more useful web sites and other resources available to Mennonites interested in pursuing research through the Internet.

Many Mennonite archives now have web sites on the Internet. Researchers will find these very valuable in their efforts to locate little known material or allow them to research various topics. Below I have listed information about the largest Mennonite archives, libraries, and historical associations in the United States. Many of these have catalogs of portions or all of their holdings available online through their web sites and I have made comments about the current status of their online material in this list. The archivists at the various institutions can be contacted for additional information as well.

There are a number of other organizations and libraries besides the various Mennonite archives which have web sites that can be useful to Mennonite researchers. Below is a list of these:

MennoLink is also a resource that is becoming increasingly valuable to Mennonite researchers. MennoLink's web site has been developed by Jon and Laura Harder of Mountain Lake, Minnesota. In the past several years they have expanded MennoLink to provide a number of services helpful to researchers including providing articles from Mennonite periodicals online and other information. Probably most useful, however, is the forum it has established through the various E-mail lists that MennoLink hosts. On these E-mail lists researchers can post messages and queries and hopefully make connections and exchange information with others doing similar research. Some lists may be accessed free of charge, but other lists are restricted only to subscribers who pay an annual fee for membership to MennoLink. Mennonite-related E-mail lists to which one can subscribe are available for many topics including genealogy (menno.rec.roots), history (, theology, music, and general chat groups. This forum will no doubt continue to expand and evolve in the future. MennoLink has also recently become the host of the Mennonite Information Center, a catalog of links to the web sites of hundreds of Mennonite-related organizations. The information is provided in a well-organized manner and often a brief description of the organization is included on the web site.

Another web site offering links to the multiple Mennonite organizations and churches that currently have web sites is Mennonite Connections on the WWW. This web site is supported by Dr. Bradley Lehman and contains a catalog to Mennonite and Amish resources on the Internet. It is reasonably well organized and allows researchers to quickly locate web sites to many Mennonite-related organizations.

An E-mail list of interest to Mennonite genealogical researchers is the RootsWeb Menno-Roots list. This list is dominated by genealogical researchers of Swiss Mennonite ancestry although there is also some participation by Low German background researchers. Subscribers to this list are encouraged to financially support RootsWeb, but payment is not required at this time. An E-mail list that may be of interest to those researching people from nonMennonite German colonies in Russia as well as Mennonites is the GR-Genealogy (Germans from Russia Genealogy) list which is hosted by North Dakota State University.

For Mennonites interested in pursuing genealogical research online many web sites offer information of interest. The most frequently used web sites may be accessed through a web site known as Cyndi's List. This site has links to over 59,000 web sites containing genealogical information. Cyndi's List has categories for Mennonites and for Germans from Russia as well as for many localities in the United States. Within each category are links to multiple web sites that may be of interest. I have also developed an outline of Low German Mennonite genealogical resources which is available at my web site. This outline includes links to many sites of interest to Mennonite researchers and also summarizes the currently available Mennonite genealogical information.

The Odessa Library is an important web site hosting a number of databases helpful to Mennonite genealogical and historical researchers as well as those interested in other German background groups from Russia. This site is supported primarily by the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia and by the German Russian Historical Society. Mennonite-related databases on this web site are only a small portion of all the information available at the site, but these are gradually increasing.

Genealogical researchers of Low German Mennonite ancestry will want to become familiar with the GRANDMA database. The GRANDMA database is a genealogical database of people whose Mennonite ancestors originally came from West Prussia and/or Russia.

GRANDMA stands for "Genealogical Registry ANd Database of Mennonite Ancestry."

The GRANDMA database is a compilation of the contributions of genealogical information from dozens of Mennonite researchers in which the data has been merged together to create one unified database. The first version of the GRANDMA database was released in 1996 on a compact disk holding information about 135,482 people as GRANDMA Volume 1 and since then the database has continued to grow rapidly. When the third version of the GRANDMA database is released on compact disk as GRANDMA 3.0 this spring it will contain about 400,000 people of Low German ancestry. In addition to the GRANDMA database, each GRANDMA compact disk also holds scanned images of material such as maps, Mennonite church records, or census records and a database of Mennonite immigrants to the United States. For example, GRANDMA Volume 2 includes scanned images of the census records from Benjamin H. Unruh's book, Die niederländisch-niederdeutschen Hintergründe der mennonitischen Ostwanderungen im 16., 18. und 19. Jahrhundert.

The GRANDMA Project is organized by the Genealogical Project Committee of the California Mennonite Historical Society in Fresno, California. An index to the GRANDMA database is available online at the Odessa Library web site. There are plans to have an up-to-date version of the GRANDMA database omitting currently living people available online in the near future. The California Mennonite Historical Society is seeking additional Mennonite genealogical material to add to GRANDMA and is also interested in correcting errors that researchers discover in the database.

People doing research on Mennonites of Swiss/South German ancestry will be interested in the OMII Project. OMII stands for "Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois". This genealogy research group has pooled together 52 different databases totaling over 1.3 million people. The databases have not yet been merged into one unified database, however. The largest databases are the Kidron database which currently contains 319,750 individuals and James Hostetler's database which contains 227,317 individuals. These may be searched online at the OMII Project web site.

Databases such as GRANDMA and those under the OMII umbrella are quite valuable for genealogical researchers as they have made it possible to have access to early records and information that previously was more difficult to obtain. These databases will no doubt continue to grow and become more refined in the future as more genealogists contribute data.

At present, we are no doubt seeing just a small portion of the Mennonite-related material that will eventually become available for viewing via the Internet. Robert Kreider laid out his vision of some of the possibilities for future online research in the last issue of Mennonite Life. I endorse many of his suggestions. I believe it would be especially valuable to provide online access to large collections of electronically scanned material taken from sources currently housed in the various Mennonite archives. Collections of material such as this would give researchers easier access to little known sources and would facilitate their research. I hope we can work together to bring more and more of this material online in the future.