Mennonites and Amish in Canada Church Records

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Mennonites and Amish

Historical Background[edit | edit source]

Mennonites follow the teachings of Menno Simons, after whom the religion is named. He was part of the Anabaptist movement in Germany and Switzerland; his followers could first be found there along the Rhine River and later in Russia, where they were invited to settle in religious freedom by Catherine the Great.

Mennonites have only two sacraments, believers’ baptism and a communion service. Their beliefs encompass a whole way of life which separates them from the world around them. The freedom to practice this non-violent and separate life is of the greatest importance, and is one reason why so many emigrated to Pennsylvania in the 18th century, where the British government had promised religious tolerance. Following the American revolution numbers of these Pennsylvania Germans (as they were known) came to Upper Canada beginning in 1786. This was partly to escape the new American government’s insistence that they bear arms in defense of the country and partly in protest against new taxation.

There was also the pressure of population growth which put land at a premium. The British government offered them continued religious tolerance in Canada. The largest settlements were in south-central Ontario (Lincoln, Waterloo and York counties) in the 19th century. After the Russian revolution, the toleration promised by Catherine the Great was revoked by the new government, and many Russian Germans emigrated, some to Ontario, but many to western Canada, particularly Manitoba. Families there have been well documented by local histories, often organized by family name, whose thoroughness makes up for the deficiencies of Mennonite church records. There are many sources for background information on the Mennonites.

Mennonite pastors are called bishops and their records are known as "bishops’ books". These are regarded as the personal property of the bishop; they go with him as he moves around and follow him into retirement. What happens to them once he dies is a matter for his family to decide.

The result of this is that few 19th century records have survived. Most of those that have consist of baptismal records (not infants) and membership lists, with some marriage records.

The Amish broke away from the Mennonites in the 17th century to follow the teachings of a man named Ammann. They have continued a very conservative tradition which emphasizes a separation from the rest of society, including dress, the use of modern inventions and new technology. Their religious practices are very similar to the Mennonites, although they often meet in members’ houses rather than in church buildings. Culturally they are still linked to the Mennonites, particularly Old Order, and they often live in the same areas. Their records are also similar.[1]

Information in the Records[edit | edit source]

Some typical birth, marriage, and death records were kept more by Russian and German Mennonites. However, they are rare. In the absence of church records, other record types become important sources.

  • Occasionally church leaders did keep notes on baptisms and marriages.
  • Compiled cemetery and obituary collections are listed in the online records above.
  • Newspaper announcements of births, marriages, and deaths
  • Published family histories.

Directories[edit | edit source]

The Amish in several communities have published directories of their communities at regular intervals from the 1980s to the present. These volumes feature a wealth of information for each family, including husband’s name, wife’s maiden name, the names of each spouse’s parents, children’s names, dates of birth for each individual, children’s marriage partners, the family address, husband’s occupation, and notations of whether each child is living at home, married and living within the community, married and living in another Amish community, single and living outside the family home, or has left the Amish faith. The directories also include history of the communities and maps showing locations of Amish homesteads and schools.

Family Histories[edit | edit source]

The Mennonites are deeply involved in keeping records of their ancestors and descendants. An extensive collection of genealogical materials are maintained in archives.

Finding the Records[edit | edit source]

Look for online records.[edit | edit source],, and can be searched free of charge at your local family history center or the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Caution sign.png

Online databases are incomplete. This can lead to two common errors:

  1. Near matches: Researchers might mistakenly accept an entry very similar to their ancestor, thinking it is the only one available. Only use information that matches your ancestor in date, place, relationships, and other details.
  2. Stopping research: Researchers might assume the database proves church records do not exist. Actually the record is still out there, just not in this incomplete collection of records. Keep searching!

Online Records[edit | edit source]

• Surname
• Given Name
• Sex
• Estimated Birth Date
• Arrival Age
• Stated Occupation

• Individual RIN
• Spouse RIN
• Parent RIN
• Ship Name
• Ship Code

Look for digital copies of church records listed in the FamilySearch Catalog.[edit | edit source]

Family History Library
Salt Lake City, Utah
  • The Family History Library (FHL) has microfilmed and/or digitized records for churches in the Canada.
  • Online church records can be listed in the FamilySearch Catalog under the province or a town.
  • If you find a record that has not yet been digitized, see How do I request that a microfilm be digitized?
  • Some records might have viewing restrictions, and can only be viewed at a Family History Center near you, and/or by members of supporting organizations.
  • To find records:
a. Click on the records of Canada.
b. Click on Places within Canada and a list of provinces will appear.
c. Click on your province.
d. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
e. Or click on Places within Canada, [PROVINCE] and a list of towns will appear.
f. Click on your town if it appears, or the location which you believe was the parish which served your town or village.
g. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
h. Some combination of these icons will appear at the far right of the listing for the record. FHL icons.png. The magnifying glass indicates that the record is indexed. Clicking on the magnifying glass will take you to the index. Clicking on the camera will take you to an online digital copy of the records.

Correspond with or visit the actual churches.[edit | edit source]

Some records are still held in the local churches. Contact the current minister to find out what records are still available.

  • Make an appointment to look at the records. Or ask the minister of the church to make a copy of the record for you.
  • To find church staff available, you might have to visit on Sunday.
  • Ask for small searches at a time, such as one birth record or a specific marriage. Never ask for "everything on a family or surname".
  • A donation ($25-$40) for their time and effort to help you would be appropriate.
  • If the church has a website, you may be able to e-mail a message.
  • See the Letter Writing Guide for Genealogy for help with composing letters.

Addresses[edit | edit source]

Check the church records collections in archives and libraries.[edit | edit source]

Some church records have been deposited for preservation in government archives or in libraries. Watch for links to digitized, online records offered by the archives. Some archives provide research services for a fee. For others, if you cannot visit in person, you might hire a researcher.

Mennonite Archives of Ontario
Conrad Grebel University College
University of Waterloo
140 Westmount Rd.
North Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3G6
Telephone: (519) 885 0220 ext. 238

Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies in Canada
1310 Taylor Avenue
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3M 3Z6
Phone: (888) 669-6575 (Toll-free) or (204) 669-6575
Fax: (204) 654-1865

Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society
Mennonite Heritage Centre Archives
600 Shaftesbury Boulevard
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3P 0M4
Telephone: (204)669-6575

Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta Archives
223-2946 32 Street NE
Calgary, AB T1Y 6J7
Phone:(403) 250-1121

Mennonite Historical Society of British Columbia
1818 Clearbrook Road
Abbotsford BC V2T 5X4
Phone: (604) 853-6177
Fax: (604) 853-6246

Library and Archives Canada
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa ON K1A 0N4
Service Points Outside Ottawa

Telephone: 613-996-5115 or 1-866-578-7777 (toll-free in Canada and the United States)
TTY: 613-992-6969 or 1-866-299-1699 (toll-free in Canada)
Fax: 613-995-6274

Library and Archives Canada holds only a small collection of parish registers, none of which are comprehensive for any region. Most are transcripts rather than originals, available on microfilm and listed in our Checklist of Parish Registers (ISBN 0660538636). Due to the heavy volume of inquiries we receive, we are unable to conduct searches in parish registers.

Canadian Council of Archives / Conseil Canadien des archives
130 Albert Street, Suite 1201
Ottawa, Ontario
K1P 5G4

Toll free 1-866-254-1403
Fax (613) 565-5445

  • Archive Search You can search the holdings of more than 800 archives across Canada through this portal, formerly known as CAIN (Canadian Archival Information Network).

In 2018, CRKN merged with, an organization dedicated to the preservation and access of Canada’s documentary heritage since 1978.

Canadian Research Knowledge Network
411 - 11 Holland Avenue
Ottawa, ON
K1Y 4S1

Correspond with genealogical or historical societies.[edit | edit source]

Some church records have been given to historical societies. Also, historical societies may be able to tell you where the records are being held. To find a society near you, consult these lists:

Contact local libraries.[edit | edit source]

Churches sometimes donate their records to local libraries. Call or write to the libraries in the close vicinity of the church your ancestors might have attended and the towns where they resided.

Look for published books with transcripts of church records.[edit | edit source]

Many early records, especially from the 1600's and 1700's, have been transcribed and published in books.
These books can be digitized and available online. Check these online digital libraries:

Dark thin font green pin Version 4.png Try different keywords in various combinations:the name of the town,
the name of the specific church, the denomination, "church records", and "[PROVINCE] church records".

Consult the PERSI index for records published in journals.[edit | edit source]

  • PERSI is the Periodical Source Index and is available at, ($). It can be searched for free at any Family History Center. PERSI is an index to family and local history periodicals from 1847 to the present. Many of these periodicals publish church records. If you locate an index entry for a church, you will then need to find the periodical. Use the search engine to find a library near you that carries the periodical. Library reference desks can be contacted to request a copy of articles, or you may need to hire a researcher.

Carefully compare any record you find to known facts about the ancestor[edit | edit source]

You will possibly find many different people with the same name as your ancestor, especially when a family stayed in a locality for several generations, and several children were named after the grandparents or aunts and uncles. Be prepared to find the correct church records by organizing in advance as many of these exact details about the ancestor as possible:

  • name, including middle name and maiden name
  • names of all spouses, including middle and maiden name
  • exact or closely estimated dates of birth, marriage, and death
  • names and approximate birthdates of children
  • all known places of residence
  • occupations
  • military service details

Dark thin font green pin Version 4.pngCarefully evaluate the church records you find to make sure you have really found records for your ancestor and not just a "near match". If one or more of the details do not line up, be careful about accepting the entry as your ancestor. There are guiding principles for deciding how to resolve discrepancies between records that are seemingly close. For more instruction in evaluating evidence, read the Wiki article, Evaluate the Evidence.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Merriman, Brenda Dougall. "Canadian Denominational Background Church of England, Mennonites, Amish, Congregationalist, Baptist (National Institute)," National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012),,_Mennonites,_Amish,_Congregationalist,_Baptist_%28National_Institute%29.