Grandma Online
Sponsored by the California Mennonite Historical Society

Frequently Asked Questions

Isn’t “Mennonite” a religious term? Why do you use the term “Mennonite ancestry,” and what does it mean?

This is a complicated question. We’ll try to make some sense of it here.

First and foremost, “Mennonite” is a religious term that has nothing to do with race, culture, or ethnicity. Mennonites are a Christian denomination whose historic roots trace back to the Anabaptists of the sixteenth century. Anyone, regardless of nationality, race, or ethnic identity, who identifies with that religious heritage is a Mennonite.

At the same time, Mennonites are sometimes described as an “ethno-religious” group. Many people (whether they now identify religiously as Mennonites or not), can trace back much of their ancestry to Mennonites who once lived in Russia and Poland. It is not uncommon, in fact, for some people to have only Mennonite ancestors going back over several centuries. For such people, being “Mennonite” often includes a strong sense of ethnic and cultural identity along with a religious identity.

But how did this happen? The sixteenth-century Anabaptists didn’t set out to create a distinct “ethnic” identity, and probably would be horrified that it happened. Nonetheless, a combination of historical circumstances and theology helped create a sense of ethnic identity among many Mennonites.

In the face of intense persecution in the earliest years of the movement, many Anabaptists and later Mennonites fled their homelands in places such as Switzerland and the Netherlands to find greater tolerance elsewhere. They took with them not only their faith, but also their native languages and other cultural qualities to new countries such as Poland, Russia, Paraguay, Canada, and the United States.

Their beliefs about being separate from “the world” also encouraged Mennonites to hold the cultures of these new homelands at arm’s length. Marriage outside the Mennonite church was forbidden if an individual expected to remain a church member in good standing. Given the small size of the various Mennonite communities, this inevitably resulted in frequent inter-marriage. Within this context faith and ethnic identity – for better or for worse – became almost synonymous.

In North America, this linkage between faith and ethnicity didn’t begin to diminish significantly until the mid-twentieth century. The adoption of English and a growing desire to do evangelistic work slowly led to a more diverse Mennonite Church. Restrictions on marriage outside the narrowly-defined Mennonite community also became less common. Meanwhile, Mennonite mission work around the world led to the creation of new Mennonite communities without any ancestral connections to places like Poland or Russia. Many of these Mennonite churches in places such as Asia and Africa today are the fastest-growing Mennonite groups in the world, and have helped to redefine what it means to be a “Mennonite.”

The genealogical data project undertaken by the California Mennonite Historical Society focuses on the descendants of those Mennonites who once lived in Poland or Russia. We don’t worry about what religious identity (if any) those people have today. We also don’t care what other cultural, racial, or ethnic identities those people might claim.

We’re trying to document the way descendants of a particular group of people have changed over time, and not to suggest any kind of value judgment between people who have lots of Mennonite ancestors and people who don’t have any. We also have no interest in defining any kind of “pure” Mennonite identity based on ancestry, since such a thing simply doesn’t exist. The people included in our database aren’t more “Mennonite” simply because of their ancestry than are those Mennonites without such ancestry and therefore not in the database.

Are Brother's Keeper® and GRANDMA different names for the same thing?

Many people are confused by the relationship between Brother's Keeper® and the GRANDMA Project, sometimes assuming that they are two names for the same thing. This is not the case.

Brother's Keeper is a commercial genealogy program designed by John Steed. It existed before the GRANDMA Project was founded, and is used by many persons outside the GRANDMA Project. Early in the development of GRANDMA, we chose Brother's Keeper as the best general-purpose program for our purposes. Look here for an explanation of why we prefer Brother's Keeper.

GRANDMA itself is not a program, but only the genealogical data files that we created using Brother's Keeper. You must use Brother's Keeper (or another compatible genealogy program) to read these data files. You need to use the Gedcom file if you are working with a genealogy program other than Brother's Keeper.

GRANDMA users will need to install both Brother's Keeper (or other compatible program) and the GRANDMA data files onto their hard drives. Users who already have a copy of Brother's Keeper do not need to reinstall it, unless they wish to upgrade from an earlier version of Brother's Keeper.

Why should I register my copy of Brother's Keeper?

Brother's Keeper is a "shareware" program, meaning that it can be shared and tried out at no cost. If you have only an unregistered version, we encourage you to register your copy by paying a $45 US registration fee to John Steed, the creator of Brother's Keeper. John doesn't get any income from GRANDMA sales unless you register your copy of Brother's Keeper. John is not affiliated with the GRANDMA project, and the registration fees go to him rather than to us.

The benefits of registering your copy of Brother's Keeper are:

  • A printed manual that includes detailed descriptions of all Brother's Keeper features
  • Better access to technical support from John Steed
  • The good feeling of knowing you've done the right thing by paying John for his work in creating Brother's Keeper

During the Brother's Keeper installation process, you will be asked for your registration number and password. It is not necessary to enter any information at this point; the program will install and run properly whether or not you provide that information. For instructions on how to register your copy of Brother's Keeper, select Help/How to Register from the main Brother's Keeper screen.

If you decide to use GRANDMA with a genealogy program other than Brother's Keeper you are under no obligation to register the program. Registration of Brother's Keeper, furthermore, needs to be done only once. If you already own a registered copy of the program, you do not need to pay that registration fee again.

All important features of Brother's Keeper work normally whether or not you register your copy. It does not have an expiration date that will cause it to stop working if you don't register by a certain date. Nonetheless, we strongly encourage you to pay the registration fee.

The Brother's Keeper program asks me for a registration number and password, but I don't have them. Does this mean I can't use it until I register?

During the Brother's Keeper installation process, you will be asked for your registration number and password. It is not necessary to enter any information at this point; the program will install and run properly whether or not you provide that information. For instructions on how to register your copy of Brother's Keeper, select Help/How to Register from the main Brother's Keeper screen.

Read more about registering Brother's Keeper in the previous question above.

Do I need to register my copy of Brother's Keeper again every time I buy a new version of GRANDMA?

No. Brother's Keeper registration is a one-time fee.

Read more about registering Brother's Keeper in the previous question above.

Do I need to buy every version of GRANDMA in order to have all the genealogical data?

No. The genealogical data is cumulative from one version to the next. Anyone who buys the current version will have the entire genealogical database even if they didn't buy any or some of the previous versions.

Will GRANDMA work with Macintosh or Linux operating systems?

The GRANDMA data files are designed to be accessed using third-party genealogy software. For Windows computers, we recommend Brother's Keeper 6. There are no Mac or Linux versions of Brother's Keeper, so users of these systems must find other genealogy software capable of importing the GRANDMA data files. We know of only two Macintosh programs capable of importing such large files: GEDitCOM and Reunion 8.04 (or later). You can download a free demo version of Geditcom; the fully functional version costs $64.99. The cost for Reunion is $99.00. Please note that versions of Reunion earlier than 8.04 are not able to import the GRANDMA files.

Another solution for Mac users is to purchase a program that allows Windows programs to run on a Mac computer, such as Parallels Desktop for Mac. These programs will allow you to install Brother's Keeper and the GRANDMA data just as though you were working on a Windows-based computer.

For Linux operating systems, we have been told that the LifeLines program can import the GRANDMA data and that Brother's Keeper can be run on a Linux-based Windows emulator called Wine.

Mac or Linux users may also simply wish to order GRANDMA Online. The online version does not include data on living people and cannot generate many of the reports available on the CD version. It will, however, be regularly updated, and so will allow users to see the newest information added to the database before they appear on a new CD release. The cost is $20 for a two-year subscription.

To import the GRANDMA data files using any program other than Brother's Keeper, it is necessary to use the Gedcom version of the data. Given the large size of this Gedcom file, the initial import process may take 12-24 hours to complete, depending on the speed of your computer. When that one-time process is complete, the file will then open normally in the Mac or Linux program you have chosen.

I use a Windows-based genealogy program other than Brother's Keeper®. Can GRANDMA be used with this program?

It may be possible to to import the GRANDMA data files into other genealogical programs using a Gedcom file. We have found that many other programs are incapable of importing such a large Gedcom, so we can't guarantee that you will be successful if you attempt to import GRANDMA into another program.

Why do you recommend Brother's Keeper® over other genealogy programs for use with the GRANDMA data files?

There are several reasons that caused us to choose Brother's Keeper as the preferred program for running the GRANDMA data files:

  1. Brother's Keeper is a powerful yet relatively simple program. It offers all the features that most genealogists require without demanding a steep learning curve.
  2. Brother's Keeper includes a searchable Ref: field that allows for use of the GRANDMA name code system. This enables users to find all variant spellings of names with a single search. Many other programs do not have such a capability.

While there are other programs that may match or exceed Brother's Keeper in some of these categories, we are aware of no other program that meets all of these specifications.

The GRANDMA database is copyrighted. Does this mean that I can't incorporate sections of it into my own genealogical research without asking permission?

The copyright statement on the GRANDMA database applies only to the GRANDMA database as a whole. We don't want people reproducing the entire genealogy database and distributing it to others. The copyright does not, however, apply to the individual pieces of genealogical information themselves. That information was gathered from a wide variety of public domain sources, and we hold no copyright on them. You are free to take information on specific family lines and incorporate it into your own work.

Can I edit the GRANDMA data files once they have been installed on my computer?

Yes, you can add, change or delete any of the information in the GRANDMA data files, just as though you entered every one of those names yourself (but aren't you glad that you didn't?). We would like to know about the changes that you make, which is the subject of the next FAQ question below.

I've corrected several errors and added new information to GRANDMA. How do I make sure this new information is included in future volumes?

We are very interested in receiving any changes you have made to the GRANDMA database or any new files that you might have created on your own. Choose the most suitable option from those listed below if you want to send us your information:

  1. If you've only made a few changes here and there, it's probably easiest to drop us a note telling us what you've done. Please be sure to include record numbers for people already in the database, so that we make our changes to the correct records. Send notes via regular mail (California Mennonite Historical Society, 1717 S. Chestnut Ave., Box 2300, Fresno CA 93702) or via e-mail. Please note that emails sent to this address will not receive a reply. If you have a question or need a response, send your message to Kevin Enns-Rempel.
  2. If you have made most of your changes to a particular family line, you should probably use the Brother's Keeper Split Database function. This function is well documented in the Brother's Keeper manual or on-screen help files. Databases can be split to include all ancestors of a particular person or all descendants of a particular person. Don't worry if some of the data in your new database is duplicated from the CD files. In fact, we need some duplicated information so that we know where your new data should fit. Send your new database via regular mail or as an e-mail attachment to Jay Hubert.
  3. Databases created separately from GRANDMA can be sent via regular mail or e-mail attachment to Jay Hubert. Persons using programs other than Brother's Keeper should send their files in Gedcom format.

I've created a database of my own containing persons of Low German Mennonite ancestry, at least some of whom don't appear on the GRANDMA database. Do you want this information?

We are very interested in receiving any changes you have made to the GRANDMA database or any new files that you might have created on your own. Choose the most suitable option from those listed below if you want to send us your information:

  1. If you've only made a few changes here and there, it's probably easiest to drop us a note telling us what you've done. Please be sure to include record numbers for people already in the database, so that we make our changes to the correct records. Send notes via regular mail (California Mennonite Historical Society, 1717 S. Chestnut Ave., Box 2300, Fresno CA 93702) or via e-mail. Please note that emails sent to this address will not receive a reply. If you have a question or need a response, send your message to Kevin Enns-Rempel.
  2. If you have made most of your changes to a particular family line, you should probably use the Brother's Keeper Split Database function. This function is well documented in the Brother's Keeper manual or on-screen help files. Databases can be split to include all ancestors of a particular person or all descendants of a particular person. Don't worry if some of the data in your new database is duplicated from the CD files. In fact, we need some duplicated information so that we know where your new data should fit. Send your new database via regular mail or as an e-mail attachment to Jay Hubert.
  3. Databases created separately from GRANDMA can be sent via regular mail or e-mail attachment to Jay Hubert. Persons using programs other than Brother's Keeper should send their files in Gedcom format.

I have found several errors in the GRANDMA data files. How can I verify that the information in this database is accurate?

The GRANDMA database has been created through the combined efforts of many genealogists. We freely accept contributions of data from anyone willing to help. We cannot independently verify every piece of information contributed to us in this way. In cases where a contribution contained many obvious problems of form or content, we would choose not to add it to the database. Beyond such obvious cases, however, we can't guarantee that every item sent to us is factual. GRANDMA users should be aware that the database does contain errors. It is no substitute for original source material.

We ask contributors to include documentation in the Source field in order to verify the accuracy of their information. We do not require source documentation, however, and many entries have no documentation. In such cases, GRANDMA users should take the information for what it is--the potentially unverified and undocumented statement of another genealogist.

We consider GRANDMA to be a "work in progress." We think it best to put the information in front of the largest possible audience, knowing that it contains some errors, and hoping that the rest of you will let us know where corrections are needed. Through this ongoing process, we are confident that GRANDMA will become an increasingly accurate and complete database of Low German Mennonite ancestry.

Is it possible to view the downloaded database without using a program on my hard disk to open it?

No. Downloaded databases on your hard disk must be opened with a genealogy program such as Brother's Keeper.

How do I download the latest updates to GRANDMA?

If you purchased a version of GRANDMA for either Brother's Keeper or a gedcom, you will receive an email announcement of the new version. Announcements will be sent for two years following the date of your purchase and will be sent to the email address you provided when you registered.

Even if you did not receive an email, you can check for the availability of a new version at https://www.grandmaonline.org/gmolstore/pc/Checkout.asp?cmode=1 Use your E-mail and password to login. You will see a list of your order(s). The last column at the right-hand end of each order shows whether or not an update is available. Hover your cursor over Yes. Left click when the cursor changes to a plus. When the next box comes up, click on Submit. You will then receive a download link via email. To install a new version for Brother's Keeper, follow the instructions on the Install tab. Be careful to give the new version a different name from the previous version. If you use the old file name for the new version, changes you have made to the old version will be overwritten.