This is a response to “Mennonite Genealogy and Racial Privilege” by Ben Goossen.
David Rempel Smucker
Mennonites doing genealogical research may or may not have undesirable attitudes about racial privilege. Goossen works from one case—Christian Z. Mast—out of the thousands of Mennonites who have done genealogical research. In my twenty-two years (1981-2003) of assisting people doing historical and genealogical research at the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society library and archives (Lancaster, Pa.), I encountered many people in the following two categories: Mennonites who discovered information about non-Mennonite ancestors, and non-Mennonites who discovered their Mennonite and Amish ancestors. Both gained an enlarged sense of lineage from their genealogical study. These researchers emerged with an expanded identity that incorporated people of varied religious and ethnic persuasions.
These researchers emerged with an expanded identity that incorporated people of varied religious and ethnic persuasions.
Goossen also calls the vigorous interest in family history research among Mennonites “uncommon,” as if that interest is higher than that of other denominations. My years at Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society acquainted me with many other denominational and ethnic groups with historical and genealogical organizations. Of course, the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) is perhaps the denomination with the most interest in genealogy. In my experience, they were very generous in their willingness to share their vast historical resources with all researchers. They also quickly discovered how many contemporary Mormons had non-Mormon ancestors, and vice-versa.
To suggest that “Mennonite family history research is intimately connected to issues of racial privilege,” as Goossen does, is far too sweeping. It is similar to saying that I know a racist plumber, so I conclude that plumbing has an affinity to racism. Christian Mast’s ideas on race and culture are mistaken and lamentable, but one case does not constitute sufficient proof. Nor does that racism totally ruin the genealogical value of his book. To show that Mennonite genealogy in Germany in the 1930s was influenced by Nazi ideology on race does not support generalizations about all Mennonite genealogy.
David Rempel Smucker, Ph.D., former staff of Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, a resident of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
- Ben Goosen’s original post, “Mennonite Genealogy and Racial Privilege”
- Philipp Gollner’s Response, “Who Calls Whom Racist, and What’s the Privilege With That?”
- Steve Ness’s Response, “Tell Me Your Stories and I’ll Tell You Mine”