Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta


Rempel (R1a)

Contributed by

In recent months I have particularly been looking at probable areas of origin of the Mennonite surnames based on the Y chromosome marker data available. At this point we have the Y chromosome haplotype available for only one male Rempel, specifically a descendent of Bernhard Rempel (b. 1763, d. 1806; Grandma #101361). This person's Y chromosome haplotype is in Haplogroup R1a. Haplogroup R1a is common in Poland, and in fact 56% of males of Polish ancestry have this haplogroup [see Wikipedia and Semino, et al. (2000). "The Genetic Legacy of Paleolithic Homo sapiens sapiens in Extant Europeans," Science, 2000, Vol. 290].

Mennonites of Dutch ancestry frequently are of Haplogroup R1b or I. Only 3.7% of a small sample of Dutch males (27 males), were R1a. Thus, the Y chromosome results from the one male Rempel tested thus far are consistent with central European origin of the surname. Hopefully, as more males in Europe have Y chromosome testing done it will become easier to pinpoint a probable area of origin for the Rempel surname. The closest matches I have been able to find thus far to the Rempel Y chromosome haplotype in the Sorenson database at and in the Ysearch database at are a Mr. MacDougall whose ancestors were from Scotland and a Mr. Brandolino whose ancestors were from Italy, each matching 29 of 32 markers.

See also: Origin of the Rempel Family and GAMEO article.

Updated 23 Mar 2007

Contributed by

A sample size of 1 is far, far too few to make any generalizations on the Rempel surname.  We have no idea whether or not the person tested is a descendant of Bernhard Rempel as shown in GRANDMA database. For all we know, adoptions, infidelities or record errors exist in the paper trail back to Bernhard Rempel (b. 1763). However, for that matter, we have no idea if that Bernhard Rempel himself is a true Rempel or not.

As far as the sample sizes used to generate statistics on present-day haplotype distributions in Europe, they are far too small to make any meaningful statements.  However, even with a large enough sample size (which is in the order of hundreds of thousands of tests, not something like a meagre 27), present day distributions of haplotypes have nothing to do with distributions at the time surnames arose, and are thus irrelevant.  To realize that, all you have to do is think about what a drastic change there was in haplotype distributions in Manitoba at the time Mennonites immigrated in 1870s in comparison to what existed there only a few years earlier, when natives, not Mennonites, were predominant.  Haplotype distribution is not a constant over time.  With events in Europe like the Word Wars and migrations, present day distributions bear no resemblance to what existed even a hundred years ago, let alone at the time hereditary surnames came into existence.  Other wars and migrations and plagues like the Black Death had profound effects on haplotype distribution in Europe in the Middle Ages.

By the way, it wouldn't matter a whit if no persons are found in present day Holland showing R1a haplotype, even if the entire population were tested.  That says nothing about whether or not this tested Rempel had ancestors in Holland at one time or not.  It also doesn't matter at all where R1a is currently prevalent, because that also says nothing about where this man's ancestors likely originated.  Even presuming that the Rempel surname arose in only one place, which is certainly easily not the case, that Rempel progenitor may have been the only man of that haplotype in that area, so even haplotype frequencies at the time that the surname arose say nothing about where the Rempel surname arose.  It also doesn't matter at all how many Rempels are tested or how many more Europeans are tested, because all the testing in the world is never going to "pinpoint" a place of origin of surname, and besides, the surname easily arose independently in a number of different areas.

Matches of only 29 out of 32 markers are such incredible mis-matches it is simply foolish to speculate on common ancestry, as evidenced by this putative Rempel sharing 29 out of 32 with a Scotsman and an Italian!

It may be fun to fantasize on ancestry based on weak theories and ludicrously small sample sizes, but it isn't science.  As far as the GAMEO article suggesting Raganbold as the origin of the name Rempel, that is extremely unlikely.  The theories that it is Germanic or of Silesian or Thuringian origins or that early Mennonite Rempels were formerly Moravian Brethren are also based on next to nothing.  The truth is we haven't a clue where those first Mennonite Rempels are from, where the surname originated, when or where the first Rempel joined Mennonite faith OR whether or not all Mennonite Rempels descend from one man or whether that man was himself Mennonite or not.  Even if all Mennonite Rempels do descend from one man, his various descendant branches easily did not all join Mennonite faith at same time.  We don't know any of this, and never will.

As far as the claim on frequency of haplotypes R1b and I in "Mennonites of Dutch ancestry", we are thousands and thousands of tests short of the numbers needed to make such a claim, and in truth no matter how many are tested, claims such as that still cannot be made, because we don't know which current Mennonites have Dutch ancestry and which don't (and never will).  Y-DNA testing is never going to answer any questions on the surname Rempel or any other or on places of origin of any surname, because it simply can't.  As Wilhelm Harvey said "The crowd of foolish scribblers is scarcely less than the swarms of flies in the height of summer, and threatens with their crude and flimsy productions to stifle us as with smoke."

Last updated 17 Jun 2007

© 2007 Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta

General Queries/Comments: Contact MHSA