Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A Polish Mennonite

There have been ethnically Polish Mennonites for centuries.  That's where surnames such as Rogalsky, Sawatsky, Tilitsky, and Petkau come from.  Their forefathers were ethnic Poles, almost certainly Catholic, who became Mennonites in the 18th century or earlier.  But very few ethnic Poles have become Mennonites in North America.  One of those was John Glen #319928 (1864-1939), who joined the Kleine Gemeinde near Jansen, Nebr., having been baptized in 1891.

I came across him because he was friends with my grandparents, Cornelius #7529 (1884-1950) and Margaret Siemens; and his life intrigued me because as a Polish convert in Nebraska he was not a typical KG member.  Although he had children, none of them had any children; so he has left no descendants to research him and to preserve his memory.  So I have taken that task for myself; and he has proven to be quite an interesting, if elusive, person.

First, I decided to find his immigration record, but that proved to be a fruitless search, even with the search capabilities of  I also checked the Mennonite immigrant lists in Clarence Hiebert's book Brothers in Deed, Brothers in Need: A Scrapbook About Mennonite Immigrants from Russia, 1870-1885 and David Haury's book Index to Mennonite Immigrants on United States Passenger Lists, 1872-1904 but found nothing.  I suspected that I didn't have his Polish name and that "John Glen" was an Americanized version and that he had used his Polish name when he arrived.

So then I decided to narrow it down by finding his year of immigration in the census records.  But he reported variously that he had immigrated in 1874, 1884 (mentioned twice), 1885, and 1886.  That didn't help much.  But I did note that he said he had been naturalized, mentioning 1913 twice and 1915 once.

So I decided to look for his naturalization record since it should give his immigration date.  If either of the two years of naturalization was correct, he should have been living near Meade, Kans., since the Kleine Gemeinde had migrated there as a group in 1908.  When I searched in Ancestry, I found an index card for him in Meade, Kans., on 28 October 1913.
Naturalization index card for John Glen, 28 October 1913, Western District Court of Missouri, ARC: 572253; Records of District Courts of the United States, Record Group 21; National Archives at Kansas City, Missouri, accessed at on 5 November 2016.
His naturalization card gave me a month of arrival (March 1884) and a port (New York City).  Fortunately, there were only two passenger ships that arrived in New York City in March 1884.  But Ancestry still couldn't find him with an automated search, so I browsed the records individually.  With only two ships, that was doable.

It took a while, but I came across a "Jan Glein" traveling in a group of 24 single men, mostly young, from Hungary, who arrived on 3 March 1884, on board the S.S. California from Hamburg.  The Kingdom of Hungary was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at that time, so that fit the fact on the naturalization card that he had been a subject or resident of Austria. But he gave an age of 24, meaning that he would have been born in 1859-1860, while the naturalization card gave a birth date of 10 May 1864.  But no one else on those two ships was even close, and enough of the facts fit so that I concluded it was probably he. 

Here is his name from the passenger manifest:
Passenger Jan Glein, Passenger Manifest of Vessels Arriving New York City, 3 March 1884, ship California, page 2, line 61.  Accessed at on 2 December 2016.
Later I found him in the 1885 census records in Nebraska but not in the 1880 census records anywhere in the US (using the Ancestry search).  I also went manually through the entire 1880 Jefferson County, Nebr., census records, since that is where he was in 1885, but didn't find him.  So that was another piece of evidence that he arrived between 1880 and 1885.

I was so excited that I had manged to track down a single individual who changed his name shortly after arrival!  But of course, I wanted to find out who his parents were.


  1. Is it possible that Polish Mennonites of your first paragraphs are not converts, but are descendants of people who have married into the faith? I.e., a Polish peasant Rogalsky marries a Claassen, they move into a Mennonite village, and their kids are raised as Mennonites with Polish names?

  2. If a Polish Catholic man married a Mennonite woman, she would have been excommunicated without question (certainly in the 1800s and perhaps even in the 1900s). In your example, the Polish Catholic peasant Rogalsky would have to have repented, been baptized, and joined the Mennonite church. Then he could marry Miss Claassen.

    Poles were much more religiously diverse before 1800 (just to pick a date).