Jump to navigation Jump to search

1955 Article

Official depositories of documents were almost unknown among the Mennonites of America until the first half of the 20th century. The immigrants of 1683-1873 whose descendants constituted the (old) Mennonite and related branches, coming from Switzerland, South Germany, and France where the congregations kept few if any records, established none in their new home. On the contrary through a strange twist, record-keeping, even of membership lists, was often considered an evidence of pride. Written minutes of the annual and semiannual conference meetings were not kept until quite late, e.g., in the Franconia Conference not before 1905. Sometimes, even after the establishment of general organizations such as boards, few records were preserved, and sometimes secretaries did not pass on record books or files of correspondence to their successors. Much important material was lost or destroyed—few documents of any sort have been preserved, even letters dating before 1870. A noteworthy exception are the Alms books of the Skippack (1738- ) and Franconia (1753- ) congregations in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, of the Franconia Conference. The important records of the Germantown congregation (1708 ff.), the first Mennonite congregation in North America, which were still extant in 1835, have since disappeared.

In 1937 the Mennonite General Conference (MC) established "The Archives of the Mennonite Church" under the administration of its Historical Committee, which employed a trained archivist-librarian. The archives were located (beginning 1940) in the Goshen College Library building, Goshen, Indiana, and contained over 200,000 items by 1953. The most important deposits were: the John F. Funk collection, including the records of the Mennonite Publishing Company, certain records of the Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities and the Mennonite Board of Education, the records of certain General Conference committees, as Peace Problems Committee, General S.S. Committee, the Commission for Christian Education and Young People's Work, Inter-Board Committee, also of certain district conferences and congregations, the letters of John Horsch, George Lapp, S. D. Guengerich, J. D. Mininger, M. S. Steiner, Edward Yoder, and the diaries of J. S. Coffman. For a list of contents in 1949 see "General Catalogue of the Archives of the Mennonite Church" by N. P. Springer in Mennonite Historical Bulletin 10 (January 1949). The archival materials of the Mennonite Central Committee before 1945 and the Corporación Paraguaya were on deposit here also, but the Mennonite Civilian Public Service records (exclusive of government records) together with the Mennonite Central Committee records since 1945 were on deposit in the MCC central file at the Akron, Pennsylvania, headquarters. The Mennonite Historical Library at Goshen College contained a considerable amount of documentary materials. Most of the district conferences had official historians and a few had historical societies, but little was done in the collection of documentary materials except by the Ontario Conference, which had a conference archives located in a room in the Golden Rule Bookstore, Kitchener, ON (later Rockway Mennonite School, then Conrad Grebel University College).

In the General Conference Mennonite Church, however, due to the fact that the Mennonites of Dutch, Prussian, and Russian background were inclined to keep records, diaries, and copies of correspondence, much valuable historical material was accumulated and preserved in homes and congregations. Soon after the coming of the Prusso-Russo-German Mennonites to America in 1873 ff., interest in collecting material of this nature was manifested. Since these congregations, formed by Mennonites of the above background, gradually all joined the General Conference Mennonite Church, efforts along these lines coincided with those of this Conference. After some individual efforts at collecting and preserving materials pertaining to the Mennonites, a Mennonite Historical Association (Society) was organized in 1911 at the General Conference session at Bluffton, Ohio, one of whose purposes was the collection of documentary materials. The collection was kept in the vault of the General Conference headquarters at Newton, Kansas and Bethel College. Most of the material collected consisted of letters, diaries, church records, deeds, photographs, rare periodicals, and some books brought to America by the Mennonites coming from Russia, Poland, and Prussia. In 1920, the Association reported that it had collected more than 10,000 separate items. It proposed the erection of a memorial building to house the conference historical materials, possibly on the Bethel College campus. Although this plan as a conference project did not materialize, a modern, fireproof library with space to house such materials was constructed by 1953. In 1937, the Mennonite Historical Association was replaced by the Historical Committee of the General Conference Mennonite Church. The documentary materials of the Mennonite Historical Association were transferred to the Bethel College Historical Library, which collected material for both the school and the conference. By the early 1950s numerous items and larger collections had been added. Among them were the diaries and collections of L. E. Zimmermann, Leonhard Sudermann, Cornelius Jansen, David Goerz, B. Warkentin, D. Gaeddert, C. H. Wedel, H. P. Krehbiel, C. E. Krehbiel, J. H. Janzen, A. A. Friesen, and a number of church records including some of the Danzig (W. Prussia) Mennonite Church.

The General Conference Headquarters at Newton, Kansas maintained an archival collection. The C. Henry Smith Collection at Bluffton College contained some documentary material, as did the library of the Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Chicago. The Canadian Board of Mennonite Colonization, Saskatoon, had the files pertaining to Mennonite immigration to Canada since World War I. The Historical Committee of the Conference worked on a project to microfilm all records, diaries, and other items of historical significance found in congregations and private homes. In addition to this, an extensive microfilming program was under way in Europe. It planned to complete the microfilming of the archives of the Mennonite Church of Amsterdam and the materials on the Anabaptists in Innsbruck and other places in 1954.

In Germany the congregational archives of Danzig, Orlofferfelde, and Heubuden, the only significant ones for West Prussia, were lost or destroyed in 1945. The Hamburg-Altona congregational archives were only in part preserved. The small documentary collection established by Christian Neff at his Weierhof home was preserved and given to the Mennonite Historical Society (Mennonitische Forschungsstelle, Göttingen) of Germany. It remained at the Weierhof.

The most extensive Mennonite archives anywhere in the early 1950s were those of the Dutch Mennonite churches. These were for the most part concentrated in the archives of the United Mennonite Church in Amsterdam. A catalog of the great collection here was published in 1883-1884, under the title Inventaris der Archiefstukken berustende bij de Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente te Amsterdam, by Dr. J. G. de Hoop Scheffer. Part I (1883), containing material relating to Mennonites in general, occupied 467 pages, with 2,334 numbered items. Part II, Section I, containing (1884) the [[Amsterdam Mennonite Library (Bibliotheek en Archief van de Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente te Amsterdam)|archives of the Amsterdam Mennonite Church]], occupied 496 pages, with 3,320 numbered items. Of this material, pp. 371-420, items 2,571-2,862 contained correspondence with foreign Mennonite churches, chiefly German. Part II, Section II, "Archival Material of Mennonite Churches Outside of Amsterdam," occupied 165 pages with 867 numbered items, plus 24 items of supplementary material belonging to the various parts of the whole catalog. In this section pp. 1-109 and items 1-679 were from Dutch churches, while pp. 109-62,items 680-867, contained correspondence from foreign Mennonites, all from Germany except three from Switzerland and one from France. Since these catalogs were issued, much additional material was acquired, for which no printed list was available in 1953. Not all the archival materials from the Dutch congregations were desposited in Amsterdam, since many congregations had their own archives. Some congregations deposited their archives with the municipal Archives, such as Rotterdam, while other congregations gave their valuable documents and books into the safekeeping of the provincial or state Archives. For instance, the archives of Almelo were in Zwolle, those of Zaandam-West at Haarlem, and those of many congregations at Leeuwarden. Among the important archives were those of Groningen (catalog by A. Pakhuis, 1940), Deventer, Rotterdam (catalog by E. Wiersum, n.d.), and Middelburg (catalog by L. Lasonder, 1906).

The Swiss Mennonite conference established its official historical collection, including archival materials, in the building of the Sonnenberg Mennonite Church at Jeangisboden near Tramelan in the Bernese Jura.

In Russia each of the two original Mennonite colonies, Chortitza (founded 1789) and Molotschna (founded 1804), had official district (volost) archives. Both were destroyed either by bandits or by wanton Russian officials in 1921. The Mennonite Central Archives which was established in 1917 by the General Conference of the Mennonite Churches of Russia, and located in Halbstadt, Ukraine, under the direction of Peter Braun, the director of the Halbstadt Zentralschule and the Mennonite Normal School, was hidden in a house which was confiscated by the government in 1929. Whether the archives were saved and transferred to some central Russian archives, such as Moscow, was not known in 1953. This was a rich archive containing the records of various official Mennonite organizations as well as private collections of documents. Its contents are listed in the article by Peter Braun, "Archive von Bolschewisten zerstört," in Mennonitische Geschichtsblätter I (1936) 32-36, where the story of the destruction or loss of the three archives is told. Only a small portion of the large David H. Epp collection of Chortitza was brought to Canada. The collection fell into the hands of the Red army during the Mennonite flight from Russia in 1943. The records of the Mennonite Central Committee relief work in Russia 1920-1925 were deposited in a Mennonite home in the Alexandertal colony in 1925 by Director Alvin J. Miller when he left Russia. The important Odessa Archives of the Russian governmental Fürsorge Amt (Guardians' Committee), which had supervision of matters relating to the Mennonite and other foreign colonies in South Russia (1803 ff.), was brought out to Berlin during World War II by the German army, and deposited in the library of the Sammlung Georg Leibbrandt. Its 1953 whereabouts was unknown. Much material on the earlier immigration of the Russian Mennonites to Canada (1873-1880) was in the Canadian government archives at Ottawa. Part of this material was published by Ernst H. Correll in the Mennonite Quarterly Review 1935-1950. In 1945 an attempt was made without much success, to establish a central depository in Canada located in Winnipeg, for Mennonite records rescued from Russia and brought to Canada. A small collection was located at the Canadian Mennonite Bible College in Winnipeg (now Mennonite Heritage Centre). The valuable files accumulated in the office of B. H. Unruh of Karlsruhe relating to the emigration from Russia 1920-1940, taken for safekeeping to Central Germany along with the library of Karlsruhe Technical University, were apparently lost.

The Hutterian Brethren brought with them from Russia to South Dakota in 1873-1875 (now in part in Manitoba and Alberta) much valuable manuscript material, including their two great chronicles, and numerous epistles, doctrinal books, hymnbooks, and constitutions for their religious and economic life. The two chronicles have been published in America, 1943 and 1945.

Vast amounts of archival material relating to the Mennonites, both in their earlier history (Anabaptist period 1525-1618) and in more recent times, repose in official government archives, throughout Europe. The persecution of the Anabaptists in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Holland, and elsewhere occasioned multitudinous investigations, trials, and other legal procedures, all of which were duly recorded in government documents, concentrated in the centers of Anabaptist activity, such as Zürich, Basel, Bern, Strasbourg, Augsburg, Münster, Amsterdam, Innsbruck, and Vienna, as well as in countless city, provincial, and state depositories. Numerous Hutterite manuscripts were confiscated from the Bruderhofs and deposited in the archives and libraries of Austria, Hungary, and Moravia during the 17th century and later. A great collection of such materials, assembled by Josef v. Beck (reported in his Geschichts-Bücher, 1883), was deposited in the state archives at Brno, Czechoslovakia (described by H. S. Bender in Mennonite Quarterly Review 23 April 1949, 105-106, "Anabaptist Manuscripts in the Archives at Brno, Czeckoslovakia"). See also Robert Friedmann's "Die Briefe der Oesterreichischen Täufer (Ein Bericht)" in Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 26 (1929) 30-80, and 161-92.

Only in the first have the 20th century were the great Anabaptist documentary collections used extensively by scholars—resulting in a great number of scholarly monographs on regional and local Anabaptist history. The great enterprise of publication of all Anabaptist documents in German language countries, begun by the German Verein für Reformationsgeschichte in 1925 with a subsidy from the Prussian state, was being brought to relative completion by the 1950s (see Täuferakten). -- Harold S. Bender

1990 Update

During the three decades ca. 1955-1987, Mennonite archives developed, broadly speaking, in two major dimensions. One is the stabilization and internal refinement of four older archival institutions which led the way among Mennonites of the western world. The other has to do with the emergence of several dozen new centers, both large and small, that did not exist, for the most part, in the early 1960s.

To begin with, there were the document centers developed at Goshen, Indiana, and North Newton, Kansas, in the United States, at the Weierhof in Germany, and in Amsterdam Mennonite Library, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The Dutch Mennonite materials have become accessible to other communities through a massive microfilming project which was completed in the 1950s and 1960s. A comprehensive catalog, produced in 1983-1984 is still a significant general finding aid to this collection.

In Goshen the Mennonite Church (MC) archives relocated to the former seminary building on the Goshen College campus even before pioneer archivist and historian Harold S. Bender died in 1962. Since then this center has become the official depository for the records of the Mennonite Church, Mennonite World Conference, Mennonite Central Committee, and the Council of International Ministries, among others. The wide-ranging personal collections of a number of leading persons (e.g., H. S. Bender, Melvin Gingerich, Paul Erb, Robert Friedmann, J. C. Wenger, S. C. Yoder, and Guy F. Hershberger have added much to the manuscript holdings here. The total number of personal collections is 1,800, with the number of documents estimated to be ten million or more.

Similar developments have taken place at Mennonite Library and Archives (MLA) in Kansas. With the retirement of historian Cornelius Krahn and archivist John Schmidt, the archives at Bethel College shifted from an emphasis on collection to organization and cataloging, under the guidance of director Robert Kreider and more recently, David Haury. The materials of MLA have very recently gained a more spacious home, with the construction of a new library building on the campus.

The Mennonitische Forschungsstelle (Mennonite Research Center) at the Weierhof in West Germany gained some permanence at this location. Its long-time director, Gary Waltner, sought to organize the older deposits, and to make the collection more accessible to researchers at home and abroad.

One can summarize some of the more recent major developments in archival work under four regional headings: (a) Mennonite Brethren research centers in North America; (b) emerging archives in the eastern United States; (e) archival work in Canada; (d) new depositories in Latin America and the Far East.

Three Mennonite Brethren archive and research centers came into being in the mid-1970s at Fresno, California (Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary); Hillsboro, Kansas (Tabor College); and Winnipeg, Manitoba (Mennonite Brethren Bible College). These centers received a strong mandate to gather Mennonite Brethren congregational and conference materials, and to further research on church-related themes.

Other new centers in Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Virginia have tended to favor collection in Swiss-Pennsylvania Mennonite communities. Among these are the Illinois Mennonite Historical and Genealogical Society archives at Metamora, the archives at Bluffton College (Ohio), the Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Mennonite Historical Society archives, the Mennonite Historical Library and Archives of Eastern Pennsylvania at Harleysville, and the Menno Simons Historical Library and Archives at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The collection of the Archives of the Brethren in Christ Church (United States and Canada) and Messiah College, located at Messiah College, Grantham, Pennsylvania (1952-), contains denominational, congregational, and personal documents as well as museum artifacts. A number of smaller conference or regional collections are maintained at Mennonite high schools, junior colleges, and Bible institutes in the United States and Canada.

Archival work in Canada has been concentrated mainly in the growing depositories at Conrad Grebel University College (emphasis again on Swiss Mennonites in Ontario), the Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies in Winnipeg, and the Mennonite Heritage Centre, also located in Winnipeg, on the campus of Canadian Mennonite Bible College (now Canadian Mennonite University.) Russian Mennonite studies have become a strong secondary emphasis at these three centers. All date the serious beginnings of their general programs to the period 1974-1976, when Mennonite centennial celebrations in Canada helped to emphasize the importance of records for history writing and related work. The Evangelical Mennonite Conference began its collection at Steinbach, Manitoba, around 1980, and Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford, British Columbia, has begun to build up an archives for British Columbia Mennonites as well. Saskatchewan Mennonites made a similar beginning in the late 1970s at Rosthern Junior College. Congregational records are central to the collection policies of all Canadian Mennonite archival centers.

Begun in the late 1970s, the Mennonite archival centers of Brazil (Curitiba) and Paraguay (Fernheim and Lorna Plata in the Chaco) collect church data and give much attention to community records generally. The Archives of Chaco Indian Cultures in Filadelfia holds materials on the Chaco Indians. The Gereja Injili di Tanah Jawa (Evangelical Church of Java) has archives at Pati, Indonesia, and there is important material for Japanese Mennonites at the Anabaptist Center Library and Archives in Tokyo. -- Lawrence Klippenstein


Periodicals published by various Mennonite archives include The Mennonite Librarian and Archivist Newsletter (1984); Mennonite Historical Bulletin; Mennonite Life (1946); Mennonite Historian [1975-]; Mennonite Brethren Historical Society of Canada Newsletter (1979-86); Brethren in Christ History and Life.

Current statistics are found in Mennonite directories published by the various denominatins.

Haury, David A. "The Mennonite Library and Archives, a Brief History." Mennonite Life 42 (September 1987): 26-29.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 81.

Klippenstein, Lawrence, ed., Directory of Mennonite Archives and Historical Libraries. Winnipeg: Mennonite Heritage Centre, 1984.

Klippenstein, Lawrence." Mennonite Archives in Canada."  Archivaria 31 (Winter 1991): 36-49.

Klippenstein, Lawrence and John Friesen. "The Mennonite Heritage Centre for Research and Study." Mennonite Life 33 (December 1978): 19-22.

Reddig, Ken. "The Mennonite Brethren Archives in Winnipeg." Mennonite Life 34 (December 1979): 11-14.

Regehr, Ted. "Mennonite Archives in Canada." Archivaria 5 (Winter 1977/78): 164-65.

Waltner, Gary. "Leidvolle Geschichte-dokumentiert in der Mennonitischen Forschungsstelle Weierhof." Donnersberg Jahrbuch (1979): 173-78.

Mennonite Reporter (14 September 1987): 10.

Wittlinger, Carlton O. Quest for Piety and Obedience: The Story of the Brethren in Christ. Nappanee, Ind.: Evangel Press, 1978: 547.

Author(s) Harold S. Bender
Lawrence Klippenstein
Date Published 1990

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S. and Lawrence Klippenstein. "Archives." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1990. Web. 25 Jul 2021.

APA style

Bender, Harold S. and Lawrence Klippenstein. (1990). Archives. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 25 July 2021, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 151-153; vol. 5, pp. 35-36. All rights reserved.

©1996-2021 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.