A Short History of the Family of Peter Paul Janzen

By Orville Eugene Janzen, August 9, 1986

On the 15th day of August, 1849, in the Mennonite Colony of Molotschna, a son was born to Daniel and Elizabeth Flaming Janzen. They named him Peter Daniel. Very little is presently known about this particular family. Their ancestors were members of a religious group who had come to this area north of the Sea of Azov at the invitation of Catherine the Great. Most evidence indicates that the Janzens had emigrated from the area around Danzig in West Prussia. (5) Family tradition indicates, however, that they may have come directly from Holland. (1) Whatever the ultimate source, they were in Russia.

Young Peter grew up in perilous times. Russia was attempting to establish a position in European affairs. The Czar needed an army and began to see the German settlers as a source of manpower. More and more the promises of Catherine were being ignored. To the Mennonites, the thought of bearing arms was abhorrent.

Despite the clouds looming on the horizon, it appears that Peter reached his manhood within the colony, courted (according to Mennonite custom) and married one Katharine Warkintin, daughter of Aron and Katherine Flaming Warkintin. Slightly older than Peter, she too was a Mennonite. (3)

As the home colony grew larger, Peter and Katharine were sent with others to help develop a daughter colony on the banks of the Juschanlee. This colony was named Neukirch. (5) In the next ten years the colony prospered and Peter’s family grew. Four children entered the family there in Neukirch; Katharine, Peter Paul, Elizabeth and Daniel Paul. The children matured, were educated by the church school, and began to leave home. Katharine married Jacob Martens and moved to the nearby village of Orloff. Elizabeth married John Aaron Toews and also moved away. (3)

Peter Paul continued with his education and became a teacher. On June 7, 1899 he married one of his students, Helena Graber, daughter of Joseph and Frani Schragg Graber. The couple moved to another daughter colony named Ignajewska much to the northeast where he was the village teacher. (1) (3)

More trouble developed for the Germans in the area. The Russians began to interfere with Mennonite life-style under the guise of “Russification.” More and more the Mennonite way of life was being disrupted. Active efforts, sponsored by the church, were undertaken to get the people to leave for America.

Young Daniel Paul was the first to go. Unmarried, footloose and somewhat irresponsible, he left, crossed the ocean and journeyed to the Mennonite Community around York, Nebraska. There he met and married Helena Poetker in 1901. The family traveled from colony to colony. Four children were born in six years in such widely scattered places as northern Saskatchewan and central Oklahoma. Finally tiring of family responsibility, Daniel abandoned the family and disappeared completely. (4)

Meanwhile, back in Ignajewska, life for Peter and Helena had changed drastically. In 1901, a son they named Peter George was born followed in 1902 by a daughter, Elizabeth. By this time, Russian harassment made teaching according to Mennonite tradition almost impossible. At the urging of the church, the family decided to emigrate to America. Helena had relatives near Freeman, South Dakota who agreed to sponsor them if they came. They arrived in Freeman in 1903. (1) (3)

Life in the United States had problems of its own. While Peter continued to teach, it was obvious that a language barrier existed. The students, quite Americanized by now, had difficulty understanding Peter. The church suggested another move, this time to a newer settlement near Dalmeny, Saskatchewan where he tried his hand at farming as well as teaching. (1)

In July, 1904, a third child, Helena, was born. The following year tragedy struck. While recovering from a farm accident, Helena (the mother) developed tuberculosis and died leaving Peter with three young children. The church assisted in relocating in the colony near York, Nebraska not far from where Daniel Paul had settled on coming to America.(1)

Early in 1907, Peter remarried. His second wife was Suzanna Regier, the daughter of Cornelius and Helena Siebert Regier. The elder Regiers were quite wealthy and gave the new couple a farm as a wedding gift. There two more children were born, Cornelius in 1907 and Agnes in 1909. Then, in 1911, disaster struck again. Suzanna died of complications after giving birth to her third child, Henry. (1) (2)

Once more the church sought a solution. Leaving the infant Henry with Suzanna’s brother (also named Henry) the church moved the family to the large Mennonite settlement near Mountain Lake, Minnesota. This time there was no attempt at teaching. Peter settled on a farm northwest of Mountain Lake. (2)

In less than a year, Peter married for the third time. His new wife was Katherine Friesen, a local Mennonite girl. Young Henry was brought from Nebraska to join the family. Five more children were born there in the next ten years. They were, in order, Katharine, Abram, Anna, John and Daniel. The older children married and moved away. Henry married Dorothy Wagner of nearby Delft. (2)(3)

Fate was still not done for Peter Paul, however. Never a very good farmer, the depression of the 1930’s virtually destroyed him. When foreclosure was certain, he left the land and moved into Mountain Lake. By this time he was one of the Elders of a local Mennonite church, a position he was to serve until the early 1940’s. (2)

In 1941, World War II broke out in Europe. Mennonites by belief are conscientious objectors. Peter was a dedicated Mennonite which was to create problems. The community was not all Mennonite and bad feelings developed between those who would serve and those who would not. Even within the family, controversy arose. The two youngest children, John and Daniel, felt an obligation to serve the nation that had sheltered them and enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Such action was inconceivable in an Elder’s family so Peter was forced to resign from this position. Peter’s third wife, Katherine, had died early in 1941 so he had to bear this shame alone. He died in Mountain Lake late in 1949. (2)

To conclude this account, we go back to Henry, the sixth child. Like his father, Henry became a farmer. He and Dorothy had four children; Duane, Orville, Eldon and Marion (who died in infancy). The same depression that wiped out his father also forced Henry into bankruptcy. After working as a farm laborer for a number of years, the family moved to northern Minnesota where Henry was employed at the paper mill in International Falls. He retired after 23 years and still resides in the area. The author of this account is the second son of Henry.


1. Graber, Elizabeth Janzen. "Personal Letter- Dated August 4, 1986."
2. Janzen, Henry R. "Personal Interview on July 6, 1986."
3. Janzen, Peter George. “Unpublished Family History and Genealogical Charts."
4. Janzen, William W. "Personal Letter to Peter George Janzen when preparing Item 3 Above."
5. Stump, Karl. The Emigration from Germany to Russia in the Years 1763 to 1867. Lincoln: American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 1973. 1018 pp.

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