The Mennonite DNA Project

Y-DNA Analysis and the Connection between Similar Low-German Mennonite Family Names

One area of family history and genealogy where there is much speculation and frequent misconceptions is the relationship between similar sounding or similarly spelled family names. For example, among the low-German Mennonites there are obvious examples of spelling variations of family names such as Dyck, Dick and Dueck. Another example is Bergen, Bargen and Baergen, where each of these variations can be preceded by van or von to give a total of 9 possible spellings for this family name.

Not so obvious are situations where one family name may, or may not, derive from the other. Hence Berg, Barg or Baerg might derive from (van/von) Bergen, Bargen or Baergen. Whether or not this is true cannot be determined from historical records. By the mid-1700s these appear to be two separate family names. However, a confusing factor is that the early Prussian and Polish records often had an -en tacked onto the end of a family name making it difficult in some cases to determine if the person being referred to was, for example, a Berg or a Bergen.

One way to reach back before available written records is through DNA analysis. Since Y-DNA is passed on from father to son it should be possible to investigate any possible connection between the Bergs and the Bergens by analyzing the Y-DNA of as many unrelated Bergs and Bergens as possible.

Preliminary results are out for several of these sets of similar family names. Below are summaries of these results. The reader must keep in mind that this is a work in progress and that conclusions given here may change as more men of Mennonite ancestry have their Y-DNA tested.

Berg and Bergen – Very preliminary results are out for a Barg, a Berg, 3 Bergens and a Baergen. The evidence so far indicates that the Berg/Barg men are not related to the Bergen/Baergen men.

Driedger and Riediger – These two names both derive from the ancient Germanic first name Riediger. In the case of Driedger it is a contraction of “de Riediger”. Two Riedigers and one Driedger have been tested. The Y-DNA results make it clear that the 2 Riedigers and the Driedger are not related.

Friesen and Froese – It is well known that the common Mennonite family name Friesen is derived from van Riesen (via von Riesen). What is less well known is that in the 1700s Froese was often spelled as Friese, presumably indicating that this family name was Frisian (from the Dutch province of Friesland). This has led to some confusion in working through early records in that Friese is often given as Friesen. In fact some of the Friesens recorded in the 1776 census of Mennonites in West Prussia were actually Froeses. Results are available for several Friesens and several Froeses. So far there is no evidence from these DNA results to indicate that the Friesens and the Froeses are related.

Hein and Heinrichs – So far a few results are available for 2 closely related Hein men, who are descended from Bartel Jacob Hein (1751 – 1789), and for a descendent of Johann Heinrichs (1747 – 1805). Even though there are only results out for a few markers for these men it is obvious that the 2 Heins and the Heinrich are from different families.

Kroeker and Kroeger/Krueger – It has often been claimed that these two families are related and in some of the very earliest records it can be difficult to tell them apart from the way the names were spelled at that time. However, Mennonite church records from the 1700s clearly show that the Kroekers belonged to the Flemish Mennonite church and the Kruegers belonged to the Frisian Mennonite church. The Kroekers were a much larger family (28 families in the 1776 census) whereas all present day Mennonite Kroegers and Kruegers are descended from Peter Krueger (1693 – 1763). The Y-DNA results for the two Kroekers and the Krueger do not match.

Voth and Vogt – It is difficult to separate these two family names in the early secular records. This is likely because non-Mennonite officials occasionally confused the two family names. On the other hand the experienced Mennonite genealogist can distinguish the variations of these two family names in Mennonite records. Results are available for 2 Voths and a Vogt. It is obvious from these results that the 2 Voth men are not related to the Vogt.

Other sets of similar family names that have yet to be investigated:

Cornies, Cornelson and Knels – The Cornies family was small and seemed to maintain a separate spelling of their family name. Cornelson was a much larger family and members of this family belonged to both Flemish and Frisian churches. Knels (Cornels) originates in the Przechowka church, but the earliest church register indicates the first in their church with that name (Abraham Cornels, b. ca 1700) came from “der andre Kandt” indicating that this family may have originated from one of the other groups.

Thimm and Thun – Henry Schapansky (Mennonite Migration, p. 82) groups these two as one family.

Buller and Buhler – The Buhlers are found in the northern part of West Prussia (Gross Werder and Danziger Werder) and belonged to the Flemish church whereas the Bullers were from the southern part and belonged to the Frisian church.

Page updated 26 January 2008; html by Richard D. Thiessen

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