May 29, 2003


Grandpa Dick was, as I have already recounted, my grandfather's adopted father and the only father he knew. Grandpa Dick was born David Davidovich Dick on the 17th of October, 1900 in Apanlee, one of his family's estates, located in the Molochna colony, the largest Mennonite enclave in Ukraine.

I know this because when I was a young Russian student in Montreal, Grandpa sent me a photocopy of a document in Russian that he couldn't identify. I was able to tell what it was pretty much right away. It was Grandpa Dick's birth certificate. Translating it, however, was quite difficult. First, I had awful Russian. I was - I think - in my second semester, not too long before I quit Russian to concentrate on my core courses. Second, this birth certificate had been written and certified in 1913, and the Russian language went through a huge reform after the revolution. They didn't just change the way words were spelled, they actually changed the alphabet. The result was that I had a hard time even looking the words up in the dictionary.

The certificate is a printed form with blanks to fill in. I was able, with my trusty Russian-French dictionary and a short lesson in converting the old spellings to new, to piece together this little bit of Tsarist bureaucratic writing. However, there was one segment - just four words - hand-written in one of the blanks that I couldn't make any sense of at all. The dictionary was no use. Finally, I had to go to one of my profs - a native Russian - for help. He couldn't understand it either, saying that it wasn't very good Russian, although at least he had some suggestions on what it might mean. The four words were po reviziy v Goldshtadt', which I translated as "according to the record at Goldstadt." I still have no idea if it was a good choice of words. [turns out it was Halbstadt]


On the seventeenth of October, one-thousand-nine-hundred, from a legal marriage registered in Tavrida province, Berd'nsk district, colonised according to the record at Halbstadt, to David Jakovivich Dick and his wife Ekaterina Petrovna Dick, née Schmidt, was born a son David.

This record is from the birth register volume II page 96 of the Petershagen Mennonite church parish, and is accurate to the original, certified and attested by the printed seal of the church.

At the village of Petershagen, May 24 1913.

(Church Officer)                     Pastor
Mennonite Church Parish      Gerhard Enns

At the bottom of the certificate is a printed seal in German. On the photocopy, I couldn't make out the picture in the centre, but around it, there are the words:

Siegel der Molotschner Mennoniten Kirchengemeinde zu Petershagen
Seal of the Molochna Mennonite Church of Petershagen
There is a lot more material on Grandpa Dick's family than there is on the Neustädters or Martens. I think Grandpa simply knew more of those people. Most of it has not been written by my grandfather or Grandpa Dick, so I'm using several texts by different authors. I'm starting with a history of the Dick family written by Grandpa Dick's sister, Elsa, who concentrates on their father, David Jacob Dick. It goes further back than any other part of Grandpa's work, touching briefly on events from the Napoleonic era.

I am unclear on exactly when it was written. Elsa Dick Reimer was born on the second of March 1905 and survived into the second half of the 20th century, but I have not been able to find out when she died. Grandpa's notes explain that he got this material from Elsa's daughter Louise Reimer Heichman, a farmer's wife in Perdue, Saskatchewan, in October of 1991.

It was on June 29th 1861 that Jacob and Anna (née Schmidt) Dick gave birth to their sixth son, David. The family lived in what was then called South Russia, now the Ukraine, on a large estate called Rosenhof. He had an older sister, Anna the first born, and five older brothers, all with good Mennonite names: Peter, Jacob, Heinrich, Nikolai and Johannes. Later, the family had four more daughters: Marie, Helene, Justine and Louise. All eleven grew up in Rosenhof and were married there. Some stayed their whole life, others moved away, but it was always a closely knit family that stuck together through thick and thin.

They were also the kind of happy and lively sort who didn't take their Christian life too seriously. Even in later years, Dad played dance hall music from his youth for his friends and relatives when they came to visit. Mother told us that the old and the young alike used to come to his home. Babies were put on a bed with all the coats and shawls and how they did not suffocate is a wonder, but their mothers had a good time dancing. I do not know whether Mother ever danced herself, but that was a time when the spiritual life among our people was low. The revival came later.

[I should point out that Mennonites have traditionally have taken a dim view of dancing, which they regarded as sinful, carnal, generally no good and a serious no-no that was worse than just having sex. At least married people could sleep together. This led to a lot of jokes, like this oldie:

Q: Why is the Mennonite Church against pre-marital sex?
A: Because it might lead to dancing.

My Dad told me once, facetiously, that in Niverville, the Manitoba town he grew up in in the 60's, they were against dancing because the nearest dance hall was in Ste-Agathe, a French town about 15 miles down the road. If you go to dance there, well, then you'll probably dance with French girls. Dancing with French girls leads to dating them, and maybe even marrying them, and then the Pope's got you and you're going to hell. However, later on when I lived with German Mennonites in Indiana, I found out that they were against dancing too, so dating French girls couldn't have been the reason.]

When David was five, on November 15, 1866, his uncle Peter Schmidt and his wife Marie (née Martens) had a little girl called Katharina. David and Katharina's grandmother Anna Schmidt (née Wiens) was the daughter of a German immigrant, Klaus Wiens, who had come to Steinbach [a Mennonite town in the Molochna colony] when it was nothing but tall grass for wolves to hide in. [He must have come not too long after Katharine the Great had opened her borders to immigrants.] But, it was very good land, and he had built his estate there.

One of his daughters, Anna, married Peter Schmidt senior, who had come to Russia as a young man from the Palatinate. [The Palatinate is a part of Germany bounded, approximately, by the Rhine river to the east, the modern French border to the south and the Moselle river to the west. There were not many Mennonites in the Palatinate, so I assume the Schmidts were of another sect.] He had come with his parents when Napoleon decreed that all the young men in the Palatinate should be inducted into the French army. To prevent this, the whole family left their home and took only their money with them, which they had to give to the ferryman who took them across the Rhine. The ferryman had threatened to take them back to the west side of the river - where a French corporal and a group of soldiers where already shooting at the escapees - once they were halfway across. So, to save Peter, they gave all that they had to the ferryman. But, now they were quite poor and had to continue east by foot. They made their living that winter by helping to thresh rye, but in spring, they moved on and came to South Russia where there were quite a few Mennonites living. Peter, in order to help the family finances, took a job on Klaus Wiens' farm, where he met Anna [Else's great-grandmother] and fell in love.

The Wiens family spoke Low German [Plautdietsch] and Peter only knew High German [Standard German]. That was not to the father's liking, so he kept the two from seeing each other for a year. But, love was stronger than he was, and so he gave them his blessing. The couple settled in Steinbach and God blessed them. It was at their home in Steinbach that they received the Tsar himself, on one of his trips through the empire. Great-grandmother made such a good impression on him that the Tsar told her she could ask anything she liked of him. Never a shy woman, she asked for the land that they lived on. That was how they came to own the estate where our mother Anna was born and raised, in the very house where the Tsar slept and dined.

These two families, Dick and Schmidt, were not only related through the marriage of Peter and Anna Schmidt. Love came to the younger generation as well, between the cousins. First Peter Dick took his cousin Anna Schmidt as his wife, then Jacob married Marie. When David was about 20, he became aware that his 15 year old cousin, Tina [Katharina] was nothing to sneeze at either. Both fell in love with each other, but both also knew that they were too young, especially Tina, and their parents would never consent to the marriage. So, they were engaged secretly. At that time the word meant more than it does now. They decided that they would not see each other for two years so no one would guess what they meant to each other, but it took three more years until they were able to be officially engaged. [In that time and place, engagement was a very formal matter, one usually followed by marriage in a few weeks time at most.]

Finally, on October 15, 1887, they were married. Tina had lost her father in 1876 and her mother couldn't just give her youngest daughter away, so she made her new son-in-law promise to live with her and take care of the Schmidt estate, some 20 miles from David's own land. David agreed, and so the young couple lived in Steinbach for five years, with David riding a horse out to his land every day.

With time, David built up his estate, Apanlee, eventually turning it into a 3360 acre showpiece of prosperity in South Russia. They had three children in Steinbach: Anna, Marie and Lydia. After five years without complaining and when they were expecting their fourth child, David's mother-in-law allowed to move there. She passed away a few years later, in October 1895. I remember Dad telling us that he had been so sorry that they had moved. If he had known that Grandmother had only such a short time left, he would surely have stayed and left mother and daughter together.

So, the Dicks and Schmidts were a large German clan that traced its origins to the Napoleonic Wars. They didn't approve of dancing, but they were okay with three marriages between cousins. Oh, and they have land. Apanlee was actually only the smallest part of the Dick's estate. By the time Elsa was born, David Jacob Dick had inherited or purchased three large estates totalling roughly 35,000 acres. He was a very prosperous kulak. Students of Russia history know that in the end, things didn't work out so well for the kulaks, and the Dicks would prove to be no exception. But that will be in the next part.

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Posted 2003/05/29 22:03 (Thu) | TrackBack