Historical Societies

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By the mid-1950s there were only four Mennonite historical societies in existence, three in the United States and one in Europe. The Mennonitischer Geschichtsverein of Germany, the largest with about 800 dues-paying members, was founded by Christian Hege and Christian Neff in 1935. It was unique in character as a national organization with a large number of Mennonite ministers as well as laymen in its membership. It published (1) a journal, Mennonitische Geschichtsblatter ( 1936- ), and (2) a publication series, Schriftenreihe des Mennonitischen Geschichtsvereins, supported the Research Center (Mennonitische Forschungsstelle) at Gottingen, and held annual meetings.

The Mennonite Historical Society of Goshen College, Goshen, Ind. and the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Indiana, is a purely local society of professors and students of the College and Seminary. It was founded in 1920, but was moribund until reorganized in 1924 by Harold S. Bender and Ernst Correll. It publishes the Mennonite Quarterly Review (1927- ) and edits a publication series, Studies in Anabaptist and Mennonite History, which it published (up to 1950), but since has been published by Herald Press at Scottdale, Pennsylvania, holds quarterly meetings during the school year, and supports the Mennonite Historical Library at Goshen College. The Franconia Mennonite Historical Society was founded in 1930 by John D. Bender and others as a district society for the Franconia Mennonite Conference (MC) in eastern Pennsylvania with no dues-paying membership. It held annual meetings to support the Franconia Mennonite Historical Library at Souderton, Pa., and published J. C. Wenger's History of the Mennonites of the Franconia Conference. It no longer exists as a separate society; its successor is the Mennonite Historians of Eastern Pennsylvania.

The Iowa Mennonite Historical Society was founded in 1948 by Elmer G. Swartzendruber, as a regional society with its center near Kalona, Iowa. The Mennonite Historical Association was created in 1938 by the Historical Committee of the Mennonite Church (MC) as a nominal organization of the subscribers of the Mennonite Historical bulletin . It holds no regular meetings.

The Echo-Verlag in Canada, though not called a historical society, was similar to one, with dues-paying members. It published a series of historical books into the 1960s. Earlier, in 1911, H. P. Krehbiel had organized a Mennonite Historical Association in the General Conference Mennonite Church, which reported regularly to the triennial sessions of the General Conference and collected a large amount of historical literature and materials, but held no regular meetings. It was replaced in 1938 by the Historical Committee of the General Conference Mennonite Church. Several bodies have followed this one; in 1999 the General Conference had no Historical Committee.

The number of explicitly Mennonite historical societies dramatically increased after 1956. In 1999 there were at over 35 in North America and Europe alone.

Some of the societies are national in scope--Schweizerischer Verein für Täufergeschichte (Switzerland); Mennonite Historical Society of Canada; L'Association Françoise d'Histoire Anabaptiste-Mennonite (France); Doopsgezinde Historische Kring (The Netherlands); and Mennonitischer Geschichtsverein (Germany).

Many of the remaining societies are statewide, provincial, or regional in scope. These include societies in each Canadian province west of Quebec and in the states of California, Delaware, Oregon, Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois. Mennonites in Pennsylvania support several large societies--Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society; Mennonite Historians of Eastern Pennsylvania; Mifflin County Mennonite Historical Society, and the Juniata Mennonite District Historical Society. The Lancaster society is the largest of the Mennonite historical societies, with a paid membership in 1986 of 1,918. Local societies include the Mennonite Historical Society at Goshen, Ind. (the oldest continuing Mennonite historical society in North America, see below); the Essex-Kent Mennonite Historical Organization (Ontario); the Casselman River Area Historians (Grantsville, Md.), the Stark County Mennonite and Amish Historical Society (Hartville, Ohio) and the Mennonite Historical Association of the Cumberland Valley (Md.).

A third type of historical society maintains loose affiliation with denominational bodies. This category includes the Brethren in Christ Historical Society and the Mennonite Brethren Historical Society of Canada. The Mennonite Historical Association is a membership group loosely affiliated with the Historical Committee of the Mennonite Church (MC) an official program committee supervised by the denomination's general board. There are also several regional Mennonite Brethren societies.

The lack of societies in major Mennonite communities does not imply lack of historical activity. Many district and regional conference historical committees would parallel the role of an independent society in one-denominational Mennonite communities. "Secular" local history groups in communities with high Mennonite populations serve a similar purpose, for example in areas of Manitoba, Kansas, Indiana, and Ohio.

Activities of the societies are varied. Many publish a newsletter, but some publish substantial journals, usually annually or quarterly. Contents range from community histories, biography, and family genealogies to scholarly articles on doctrinal influence upon or changes within the Mennonite community. The most important society journals include Mennonitica Helvetica (Switzerland; Pennsylvania Mennonite heritage (Lancaster); Souvenance anabaptiste (France); Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (The Netherlands); Mennonitische Geschichtsblatter (Germany); and Brethren in Christ History and Life.

Another activity that has fueled the rapid growth of Mennonite historical societies is the increasing interest in Mennonite family genealogy. This is not limited to active members of Mennonite churches; many of the North American societies include a substantial number of non-Mennonites researching their families' roots. Many of the society periodicals include genealogy sections that publish family trees, genealogy book reviews, lists of names currently being researched, and results of cemetery tombstone transcriptions.

Sponsorship of historical libraries and archives in support of research and genealogical study is a third phase of society activity. Some of these are operated solely by a particular society (e.g., Lancaster and Illinois), but most support a library in conjunction with a Mennonite educational institution or conference.

Publication or sponsorship of books or audio-visual materials is a fourth common area of activity. The European societies and the larger North American societies have been particularly active in this field. In addition to Mennonite Historical Society at Goshen (see above), the Doopsgezinde Historische Kring, Mennonitischer Geschichtsverein and the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society publish monograph series.

Museums and oversight of historic Mennonite sites is a fifth area of activity for a number of societies. The Hans Herr House (Lancaster), Mennonite Heritage Centers (Eastern Pennsylvania and Illinois), Mennonite Heritage Village (Manitoba), Historical Center (Juniata) and Brubacher House (Ontario) are among museums that are or have been associated with Mennonite historical societies.

Other activities by some of the societies include sponsorship of academic conferences; book auctions; dramas; bus tours; tourist interpretation and information centers; lecture series; workshops for local, congregational, and family historians and ethnic festivals featuring typical Mennonite foods and crafts.

The grassroots historical interest necessary to develop these societies is not restricted to Europe and North America. Gathering of source documents is beginning in Latin America and perhaps elsewhere, but usually within the organizational structure of local conferences or communities. Independent societies may be more a feature of a "middle-aged" church.

A current list of North American Mennonite historical societies that maintain some form of library or archives is maintained in the Mennonite Directory.


Mennonite directory (1999).

Mennonitica Helvetica (Schweizerischer Verein für Täufergeschichte).

Newsletter (Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society).

Ontario Mennonite History (Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario).

Mennonite Historian (Mennonite Brethren Historical Society of Canada in cooperation with History-Archives Committee of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada).

Mennonite Quarterly Review (Mennonite Historical Society, Goshen, Indiana, USA)

Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta.

Pennsylvania Mennonite heritage and The Mirror ( Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society).

Souvenance Anabaptiste (L'Association Francoise d'Histoire Anabaptiste-Mennonite).

Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (Doopsgezinde Historische Kring).

Mennonitische Geschichtsblätter (Mennonitischer Geschichtsverein).

Brethren in Christ History and Life (Brethren in Christ Historical Society).

MHEP quarterly (Mennonite Historians of Eastern Pennsylvania).

Historical Center Echoes (Juniata Mennonite District Historical Society).

Mennonite Heritage and Illinois Mennonite Heritage Newsletter (Illinois Mennonite Historical and Genealogical Society).

Mennonite Historical Bulletin (Historical Committee of the Mennonite Church).

Bulletin (Mennonite Brethren Historical Society of the West Coast).

OMHSG newsletter (Oregon Mennonite Historical and Genealogical Society).

Saskatchewan Mennonite Historian (Saskatchewan Mennonite Historical Society).

California Mennonite Historical Society Bulletin (California Mennonite Historical Society).

Historian (Essex-Kent Mennonite Historical Association).

Reflections (Iowa Mennonite Historical Society).

Shenandoah Mennonite historian (Shenandoah Valley Mennonite Historians).

Conococheague Mennonist (Mennonite Historical Association of the Cumberland Valley).

Preserving Our Heritage (Mennonite Heritage Village, Steinbach, Manitoba).

Preservings (Hanover Steinbach Historical Society).

Additional Information

Directory of Mennonite and Related Church Historians and Committees

Author(s) Harold S. Bender
Samuel J. Steiner
Date Published January 1999

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S. and Samuel J. Steiner. "Historical Societies." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. January 1999. Web. 29 Nov 2023. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Historical_Societies&oldid=165813.

APA style

Bender, Harold S. and Samuel J. Steiner. (January 1999). Historical Societies. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 29 November 2023, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Historical_Societies&oldid=165813.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 751; v. 5, p. 374-375. All rights reserved.

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