Author: DeGurse, Carl
Date published: May 14, 2012
In the 23 years since I married in, I have often listened from the outside as Mennonites match their family trees.
Well, sound the trumpets and widen the circle because, finally, I have experienced a genealogical coincidence worth sharing.
Before relating this memorable encounter that I humbly submit is worth inclusion in the Name Game Hall of Fame, it should be understood that I have always enjoyed listening to the rest of you talk about your family histories- and I'm not just saying that so you pay attention now that it's my turn.
There is likely no need to explain the Mennonite name game in a magazine that goes mostly to Mennonite homes, but I will offer a fictional example in case any readers are anthropologists trying to grasp the subtle complexities of the Menno tribe.
Imagine we're at a Mennonite conference and it's time to dine. The people at the table are strangers, but not for long. Even before the bowls of borscht arrive, they introduce themselves with surnames like Friesen, Peters, Klassen, Rempel, Epp, Toews, Goetz and Thiessen.
Thus begins a quest for connections. Thiessen and Rempel discover they both have roots in Kitchener-Waterloo and, furthermore, both have relatives who were blue-ribbon winners in the annual Kitchener-Waterloo Rollkuchen Cook-off. Both Toews and Goetz went to Louisiana to help flood victims build houses on stilts, and Goetz mentions, with a wink, that his men's group went one better and built dog houses on stilts. Klassen and Peters discover both of their families were originally from Abbotsford, B.C., and their grandmothers attended the same church, where they instigated an upstart quilting group called Quilting Outside The Lines.
With a surname like DeGurse, I have always lacked the Mennonite DNA ante to enter the game, which is why I am whoop-out-loud excited that, at last, I have had an encounter worth relating. Without further ado- drum roll pleasehere is my true story:
It happened about 8:30 a.m. on March 24 of this year in Toronto before the annual meeting of Canadian Mennonite magazine. My billet dropped me off at a driveway, where we board trustees were to gather and be transported to a day of meetings.
When I arrived, editor Dick Benner was already standing on the driveway with two other men. I sidled up and we engaged in the time-honoured conversational agenda of men everywhere: first, we talked about the weather and hockey, and only then did we start to share personal information.
Ed Heide of Toronto mentioned that he was married to Sharon Roth of Rosthern, a Saskatchewan town of about 1,500 people. Jim Moyer of Lethbridge, Alta., remarked that it was a coincidence because he had also married a Rosthern woman, Beth (Elsbeth) Epp.
I was flabbergasted because I had even bigger news for these two gents. "You fellows aren't going to believe this, but I married a Rosthern girl too, Lois Schmidt, the daughter of Ed and Trudy."
We were silent as we pondered the enormity of the synchro nicity. One man from Alberta, one from Manitoba and one from Ontario. We had met on a Toronto driveway, 3,000 kilometres away from Rosthern, but we were united by the geographical hometown of our brides.
When we got home and told our wives, it got even better. Turns out that our wives all attended high school at Rosthern Junior College and are also related by blood.
They are of different ages and socialized with different groups, but in the way of small towns and Mennonite circles they knew about each other.
"I don't know them, but I know of them. I know who they are," said my wife, using a phrase I often hear among Mennonites discussing the far reaches of their web of relations.
One final note: Our three wives share a common matriarch, who sounds like a fascinating woman. Judith Dyck (1832-1906) came from Russia as a widow and single mom with several children to the area that would eventually become Saskatchewan, according to a genealogy composed by Beth Moyer. Long before feminism, the title to her land was in her name, and she founded and named the district of Eigenheim, meaning "my own home."
She also left another legacy: Three men agreed on a Toronto driveway that the descendants of Judith Dyck make fine wives.
By Carl DeGurse
Special to Canadian Mennonite
Carl DeGurse is vice-president of the Canadian Mennonite Publishing Service board and an assistant city editor for the Winnipeg Free Press. He lives in Winnipeg and is a member of Douglas Mennonite Church, where he feels valued despite his lack of Mennonite DNA.