Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Mennonite Deaths

Their church
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?

Many sites that I looked at on the Internet concurred with what this one has to say: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/.../8296784
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.

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