GRanDMA volunteer connects with others

‘It’s fun to connect people,’ says tour participant Lorna Goertz. (Photo by John Longhurst)

For Lorna Goertz, a retired accountant from Richmond, B.C., the “Memories of Migration” tour is an extension of her archival work.

Goertz, 67, is a volunteer with GRanDMA(link is external), the Genealogical Registry and Database of Mennonite Ancestry.

Her job is to go through the 10,300 records from the Mennonite Board of Colonization to make sure all the immigrants from that 1923 to 1930 period are accounted for.

“I’m making sure everyone is there,” she said, noting that people can be found in various unconnected records since members of the same family sometimes came on different ships at different times.

“I’ve got 16 percent of it done after five months,” she said. “There’s more work to do.”

It’s something Goertz enjoys doing. “It’s fun to connect people,” she said.

Of being part of the tour, she noted there’s a personal reason for participating: All of her grandparents were Russlaender.

“They didn’t talk about that part of their life,” she said. “That door was slammed shut.”

She has been able to find out some of the story. One of her grandparents fled in the middle of the night after being warned by a neighbour they were about to be attacked.

Two other relatives were hacked to death during that time, she said.

“They kept those traumas to themselves,” she said. “They left that horror behind.”

Also left behind was the good life they enjoyed in Russia, where they had a farm, house and mill.

Being on the tour gave Goertz a chance to connect with others who were impacted by the migration—beyond the archival records.

“It was good to hear their stories and remember together what happened,” she said.

John Longhurst is a freelance writer from Winnipeg who is blogging about the first and third legs of the tour.