Of late, we have been working on a small group of Swiss Mennonites who emigrated to the Alsace and Montbéliard regions during a period when they were not French, and of whose descendants historians estimate some seven hundred to one thousand emigrated onward to North America. Known to the French as Anabaptistes, they came from the city and canton of Berne during the seventeenth century. Others had come to the region earlier but seemed to have disappeared as a separately identifiable group by the time that those from Berne began arriving. This second wave of migration first appeared in Alsace in the 1640s.
Thirty years later, as persecution in Berne intensified, they came in greater numbers, firstly to Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines in what is now the department of Haut-Rhin, and then to Montbéliard in what is now Doubs. Primarily farmers, they rented and restored some of the many properties left empty after the Thirty Years War and the deaths and migrations that conflict caused. At times, the Mennonites were persecuted or merely harassed, at times left in peace to farm their land and follow their religion. With the French Revolution and First Empire, the regions were annexed and the laws of the Republic applied to all, including Mennonites. Many adapted and many others left; today, barely two thousand practicing Mennonites remain in France. An excellent and thorough article on the history this group can be found here.
Two publications are the result of extensive research into the two settlements.
Issue number seventy-six of Saisons d'Alsace is dedicated to the Anabaptistes Mennonites d'Alsace, being almost entirely about the group at Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines. Articles range from the general, to discussions about the religion and culture, to comparisons with the Jewish community in Alsace, to a detailed study of a particular farm and the families that lived there.
Recherches Historiques sur les Anabaptistes de l'Ancienne Principauté de Montbéliard, d'Alsace et des Régions voisines by Ch. Mathiot was published in 1922 by the Mission Intérieure Luthérienne de Montbéliard. Most complete, it attempts to cover every detail about every family that was documented using what would seem to have been all archives in which they appear. Sources used are:
- Archives nationales
- Archives départementales du Doubs
- Archives départementales de la Haute-Saône
- Archives départementales du Haut-Rhin
- What would now be the Archives départementales du Territoire de Belfort
- What would now be the Archives municipales de Montbéliard
For genealogists of this group, the book is a treasure of discussion of individuals and families and their run-ins with the law. No family genealogies are given, but there is a table at the end (much reproduced on the Internet) showing:
- Family surnames
- Where in Berne they came from
- Where they first arrived in the region, if known
- Where they settled in the region
- The year that the name first appears in the archives
As Monsieur Mathiot identifies his sources throughout, the book can be used as a research guide to certain families.
For those who can read German, the parish registers of the Montbéliard Mennonite community are available in their entirety, with a French translation of much of it, on the website of the Archives municipales de Montbéliard. Alternatively, these same records, complete Mennonite church register of Montbéliard from 1750 to 1958, have been translated into English by Joe A. Springer and published in two volumes last year by the Mennonite Historical Society in Goshen, Indiana. Many thanks to Madame R. for our copies.
©2016 Anne Morddel