Central New York Research. The eclectic ramblings of doing genealogy and growing up in that part of Upstate New York that is the central and Finger Lakes regions. With ancestors all over the northeast and beyond, there will be forays outside the area with trips and news on family history as well as local history.
Last weekend I wondered about some of the details of the
Mennonite religion. While on a trip to nearby Yates County in the Finger Lakes
region, we stopped at a cemetery that belongs to a group of Mennonites.
Situated along side their church, the cemetery is small compared to most others
in the area. The Mennonites started moving to this area somewhere in the
1970’s, but it has only been in recent years that any large number have located
in the area.
Looking at the stones in this cemetery, I wondered about the
experience of pregnancy and birth for the women of the community. Do they have
more problems with giving birth and losing children than what people in the
general population, those of us they call “the English” do? It may seem strange
to be thinking about the beginning of life while standing in a place
representative of the end of this journey. However, there was a distinct reason
that these questions came to mind. Probably somewhere between 70 and 80 percent
of these graves were for children and infants.
While it is understandable that there would be few older
people buried yet in a cemetery that was created by a community fairly new to
the area, it was surprising to find so many young people. Many of the stones
gave birth and death dates that were only a few days apart. One listed how many
hours and minutes the baby lived. Others only had one date and the word
“stillborn” inscribed on them. It was heartbreaking to see so many, especially
the neat little row of five stones-- all from the same parents. Why I wondered.
Did they have a problem that we don’t? Is there something genetic that is
happening to them? Do they shun modern health care that would have prevented
some of these early deaths?
It seems that while
the group as a whole have a few more genetic disorders surfacing due to the
fact that they don’t marry across a wide population, their healthy life-style
balances this out. Therefore, the rate of infant mortality is not much
different than that of the general population.
The Mennonites, while
shunning many of our modern technologies, don’t object to ones that they find
helpful. For example, some groups do not own cars due to the temptations of
more modern life that they lead to. However, they don’t object to members
riding in someone else’s car when they need to get somewhere quickly or at a
great distance. This balance between temptations and what is helpful would
certainly allow for medical intervention by the English if there was a problem
during pregnancy or childbirth.
Shelter for the horses during services
The only conclusions
I could come to is that either it is a sad coincidence that there are so many deaths
at a young age, or that they are perhaps more willing to acknowledge such loss
and create memorials to the children than we in modern society are likely to.
It is a common fact that they tend to have larger families than others do and
so perhaps, too, it is just a law of averages at work and being a newer
community, it is more noticeable in the graveyard. Whatever the reason, I found
it sad and touching how many small children were remembered in their short
lives. This is a part of why we do genealogy, to remember those that have gone
on before us. I think especially, those that were here for such a short time
that they didn’t live much of a life or have many people get to know them are
important for us to acknowledge and remember.