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How 5 Siblings in Russia Wound up in Grand Island: Andrew Leonhardt Sr. Never Left Russia, but Five of his Children did

Barfknecht, Ruth. "How 5 Siblings in Russia Wound up in Grand Island: Andrew Leonhardt Sr. Never Left Russia, but Five of his Children did." Grand Island Independent, 17 March 2005.


Germans moved to Russia at the invitation Catherine The Great in the last half of the 1700s and early 1800s. They enjoyed many special privileges that were not shared by the Russian citizens.

In the late 1800s, many of these special privileges were being rescinded. This resulted in many of the German colonists leaving Russia. Some came to the young and expanding United States.

This is the story of five siblings from one family who left their homes in Russia to start a new life in the United States at Grand Island, Nebraska.

Andrew Leonhardt and his wife lived in the Volga village of Frank. Five of their children -- three sons, Andrew, Henry and Jacob, and two daughters, Maria Catherina and Anna -- left their homes in Russia and came to America. They did not all come at the same time, but over the years from 1892 thru 1911. The five Leonhardt siblings were all living in Grand Island in 1912.

Maria Catherina (Leonhardt) came to America with her husband, Henry Loebsack, in 1892. They first settled in Hastings, but moved to Grand Island, where Henry became a section foreman for the CB&Q Railroad. They stayed in Grand Island for the rest of their lives.

Henry Leonhardt came to the U.S. in April of 1906 when he was 19 years old. He lived first in Grand Island and later moved to Gering.

Andrew Leonhardt Jr., who was born in 1879, and his wife Margaret (Seiler) came to Grand Island from Russia in November of 1906. His is a very interesting story.

One of the original privileges granted to the German settlers in Russia was exemption from military service. When this privilege was canceled, Andrew was drafted into the Russian army and had to serve for several years. Soldiers were away from their homes for the entire length of their service because there were no leaves granted.

Andrew served part of his time in Siberia. He said it was so cold that if you threw a bucket of water into the air, the water would freeze before it hit the ground. He told this with a straight face, so who am I to argue?

He was an orderly for a Russian army officer while serving in Siberia. When he was about to be discharged from the army, the officer asked him what he planned to do after he was discharged. Andrew replied that he intended to go back home and farm with his father.

The officer told him that there was trouble coming in Russia before long and that the German people, along with many others, would suffer.

He told Andrew that he should try to get out of Russia before the trouble started.

When Andrew got out of the army, he went back home to Frank, and then left Russia as soon as he could. He and his wife traveled by train to Germany. From Germany, they came by ship to America, and by train to Grand Island, where one sister and one brother already resided.

After living in Grand Island for some time, Andrew moved to a farm near Giltner. When he retired, he moved to Hastings. Andrew and several other Leonhardt kin are buried in the Grand Island City Cemetery. (Andrew passed away on Jan. 10, 1966.)

Anna (Leonhardt) came to America with her husband Conrad Hoffman in 1909.
They lived in Grand Island for a time, then moved to the western part of
Nebraska, settling in Gering.

Jacob Leonhardt was the last of the siblings to leave Russia. Jacob was nearing the age when he would be drafted to serve in the Russian army. His family in America knew from Andrew's experience what Russian army life was like and wanted to spare him the experience. They borrowed money to pay for tickets so that Jacob and his wife Kate could come to America.

The only way that Jacob could leave Russia was by getting a work pass to go to Germany. Once he obtained the necessary work pass, he and his wife traveled to Germany by train.

In Germany, Jacob got a job in a steel mill while waiting for the necessary papers that would allow them to enter the United States. When those papers were in order, he still had to pass an examination by the ship's physician. The ship's physician said that Jacob had trachoma in his eyes and he would not allow them to board the ship.

Since this would cause an unknown delay before Jacob would be cleared to leave, they decided that Kate should return to her home in Frank, Russia, because she was expecting a baby soon. Kate traveled back to Russia with a neighbor couple that had decided to return home.

While Kate was back in Russia, Jacob received clearance to board ship for America. He decided that he had better go while he had the chance. He arrived at Philadelphia on Nov. 11, 1911, and took the train to Grand Island.

Their son, Jacob Leonhardt Jr., was born in Frank, Russia, on Nov. 19, 1911. In April of 1912, Kate with her infant son started out alone on the trip that would take them to America. She once again took the train through Russia and Germany, and then the ship to America, after which she made the long train ride to Grand Island. Kate and Jacob Jr. arrived in Grand Island in June of 1912.

They lived in Grand Island for six years, during which time Jacob worked for the railroad. Jacob then decided to farm, and the family lived on a couple of farms in Adams county before purchasing a farm west of Hansen.

When Jacob retired from farming, they moved to Hastings, where they resided for the rest of their days.

Ruth (Leonhardt) Barfknecht, author of this article, is a daughter of Jacob and Kate Leonhardt. She lives in Hastings. Her grandfather, Andrew Sr., stayed in Russia after the five children left for the United States.

Reprinted with permission of the Grand Island Independent.

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