Thursday, November 10, 2016

Another Mystery

Here's another mystery about the same Gerhard Abraham Fast #62896, my 3-greats-grandfather.  He was born in West Prussia about 1787, and moved to Molotschna Colony in 1817.  He appeared in the 1835 census in the village of Lichtfelde at farm #16 at age 48.
Gergard" Abragamov" Fast" household, 25 February 1835, 8th Revision of Census of Russian Empire, Lichtfelde village, Molochanskii Mennonistskii Okrug, Melitopol'skii Uezd, Tavricheskaia Guberniia, household #16.  Found in Odessa Region State Archives, Odessa, Ukraine, Peter J. Braun Collection, Fond 89, Inventory 1, File 357, p. 333R-334.  Accessed on microfilm from California Mennonite Historical Society, Fresno, California.
But then sometime in the 1840s, Gerhard Abraham's wife, Elisabeth Driedger #62897, appears as as the Widow Fast in the Alexanderwohl church membership list.  Below is a snippet from that church book, listing Abraham Sperling, Catharina Fast, and Widow Fast as members.  I'm sure it is she because the membership numbers show her as #251, the mother of Catharina Fast #250, who married Abraham Sperling #249, which fits the family information.  Moreover, there is only one Fast family in Lichtfelde at this time. So Gerhard Abraham must have died by this point.
Membership record of Abraham Sperling, Catarina Fast, and Witwe Fast, members 249-251, Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church, Alexanderwohl, Molotschna Mennonite District, Tavricheskaia Guberniia, Russia, Kirchen Buch der Gemeinde zu Alexanderwohl, no page.  Accessed at, microfilm chr_17, congregation #15, "Russian Book," frame 16 on 25 July 2013.

The 1847 Molotschna voter's list also shows her as Widow Fast in Lichtfelde.  Here is her line from the tabulation of the votes from Lichtfelde village:
Witwe Fast [Widow Fast] entry, 12 November 1847, Wahlliste der Dorfsgemeinde Lichtfelde [Election List for Lichtfelde Town Meeting], Lichtfelde village, Molotschna Mennonite District, Tavricheskaia Guberniia, Russia, Odessa Region State Archives, Odessa, Ukraine, Fond 6, Inventory 2, File 10510, p. 47.  Accessed at Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies, Hillsboro, Kansas.
The line reads "Witwe Fast," which means Widow Fast, and then it shows the candidates for whom she voted for village mayor and district administrator.  Again, a record shows that she was a widow, which means that her husband Gerhard Abraham must be dead.

Now here is the mystery - in 1874 when he would have been 86 years old, Gerhard Abraham wrote a letter to his son Jacob, my great-great-grandfather to bid farewell to Jacob as he prepared to leave for America.  Here is the first page of the letter:
Letter, Gerhard Abraham Fast to Jacob Fast, 14 February 1874.  Copy held by Viola (Fast) Funk of Corn, Oklahoma.  A Fast cousin in Oregon sent a copy to Minnie Fast who sent a copy to David D. Fast.
Clearly the name Gerhard Fast has been added in another hand to the letter, but the content of the letter makes it clear that it was written by Gerhard Abraham Fast, who should have been dead for three decades at this point.  What is going on?

I have only one clue - a clue that I discovered in the Alexanderwohl church book.  Gerhard Abraham's son Gerhard was baptized at Alexanderwohl on 31 May 1843.
Baptism record of Gerhard Fast, 31 May 1843 O.S., Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church, Alexanderwohl, Molotschna Mennonite District, Tavricheskaia Guberniia, Russia, Kirchen Buch der Gemeinde zu Alexanderwohl, p. 90.  Accessed at, microfilm chr_17, congregation #15, "Earliest Kansas List," frame 45.

If you read the columns from left to right, the first one is the baptismal candidate's name - Gerhard Fast.  Then the year of baptism - 1843.  Then the day - 31st - the month of May is omitted here, but it is in the page heading.  Then the candidate's father - Gerhard Fast - is listed.  Finally, his home village of Lichtfelde is given.  Then below that a line of explanatory comments.  First, Atest which refers to a letter of good standing given to transfer to another church, which means that Gerhard the son must have transferred to another congregation at some point.  Then under the father's name are two comments, gestorben and gekommen, which means "he died" and "he came." Gestorben is even crossed out.

Could this mean that Gerhard Abraham was thought dead for some time in the 1840s but then he returned?  This is the only explanation that I can think of that accounts for all the information. Did he leave on a trip to St. Petersburg or back to West Prussia and not return when expected?  Was he kidnapped and held against his will for some time?  It seems that such an event would have been noted in the Odessa archival files of the colony administration, but I haven't found anything yet.  Until I find more information this will remain a tantalizing mystery.

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