The Extended Batke Family with Link neighbors

The Extended Batke Family with Link neighbors
Pictured in the photo: (Back row, standing, left to right) Herman Fredrick, Anna Batke, Henry Batke, Sr., Selma Batke, Henry Robert Batke, William Batke and Arthur Engler. (Front row/sitting, left to right) Donald Fredrick, Robert Fredrick, Katherine Batke Fredrick, Ruth Batke, Edwin Batke, Katherine Reck Batke, Jerald Batke, Edna Kwiatkowski Batke, Mary Batke Engler and Elaine Engler. Taken c1940, possibly to celebrate Henry and Katherine’s 30th wedding anniversary, October 22, 1940. Photo courtesy: Don Fredrick.

About Henry Batke and Katherine Reck

Heinrich Batke, the son of Martin Batke (c1848-b1912) and Anna Lock (1848-1939) was born in Chortitza, Russia on September 7, 1877. Also in Russia, Catharina Reck was born on October 14, 1890. Her parents were John Reck and Renata Shirk. Henry and Katherine married in Russia on September 22, 1910. On July 13, 1912, Henry, his wife and seven month old daughter, Katherine, sailed from the Port of Bremen, Germany on the ship Pallanza. They traveled to Quebec City, Canada arriving on July 28, 1912. They immediately left on a special Canadian Pacific Railroad train to Saskatchewan, Canada. The Batkes homesteaded in Lydiard, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan between 1913 and 1918. On October 3, 1917 Henry Batke became a citizen of Canada. Due to England's sovereignty over Canada, he became a British citizen. Finding farming in Canada difficult, on December 7, 1921 the Batke family, now also including Mary, William and Selma, left for Yellow Pine, Alabama. After the birth of Anna and much hardship in Alabama, the family moved to St. Joseph, Michigan where children Henry, Ruth and Edwin were born. Henry, a furniture maker in Russia, became a machine operator at the 1900 Corporation, a fore-runner of Whirlpool, in St. Joseph. After Henry's death on April 7, 1949, Katherine Reck Batke married Gustav Schmeichel in 1959. Katherine Reck Batke Schmeichel died at the Claremont Nursing Home in Benton, Michigan on October 28, 1979.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Memories of Olen and Selma Batke Smith

Don Fredrick, nephew of Olen and Selma Batke Smith, remembers:

"I remember well going with my family to Oklahoma for a visit as a child with Olen and Selma Smith who took Bob and I and parents to the State prison Rodeo where prisoners were given prizes for running around in the ring with bulls trying to attach ribbons to horns. At times a tragedy as inmates were gored or thrown in the air by the bulls. I was about age 8 or 9.  I understand this kind of thing is still going on annually in Oklahoma.  Nothing like visiting one of Uncle Olen's oil wells and listening to oil well stories."

Don Fredrick, December 13, 2010

In response to Don's comment, Olen and Selma's son shares his memories:

"Don, I have read, with interest, your comments about your trip to Oklahoma visiting my parents, Olen and Selma Smith.  Dad and Mother loved company, and they had just the tour to take if one is willing, and has the time.  You referred to the McCalister, Okla. prison, SE of Seminole, Okla. about 90 minutes.  Believe the "inmates" continue to entertain during select summer months, as this has been a "Crowd Pleasing/Fund Raising Event" over the years.  Dad and Mother, at one time, had over 100 oil wells.  It was financially more productive to buy select leases with producing and non-producing wells...revamp, buy better equipment, clean out the old holes...price per barrel was on the rise when they, Mom and Dad, were actively working a very successful living over the many years.  Both enjoyed being on the Oklahoma Beef Club, which provided 50 yard line seats at the Oklahoma Home Games, and they also enjoyed traveling with the Oklahoma team for many years on Chartered Flights.  Ran into Dad/Mother, in Denver, inside a large bar, with Dad standing on top of a large table leading the Oklahoma Fight Song to a crowd of Beef Club Members  playing his/Dad's "Boomer Sooner Song Box".  I had flown out to Denver and dating Jackie Sergeant, from Coloma.  Jackie was working for Frontier Airlines, and we were meeting Mother and Dad in Denver...Okla. playing Colorado that weekend.  Dad and Mother loved driving their Cadillac to select Oklahoma games with Dad pushing a button on the Cadillac playing "Boomer Sooner" and getting immediate attention from "friend and foe". 

The picture of the Heart Grave stone in Buchanan is the beautiful resting place for Olen and Selma...That location is among many of Dad's relatives.  I plan to be buried at the feet of Dad/Plot, with Judy expressing interest in being buried at the feet of Mother/Plot.  Buchanan was home for Dad, having been reared their and graduating in Buchanan High School.  Summers in Buchanan, and Winters in Florida worked for them...Mother's cancer cut her life too short.  She was anxious to spend time with her Brothers and Sisters in the Michigan all of them did visit the Oklahoma homestead, and all had fun!

Lots of fond memories of Mother and Dad.  Actually, fond memories of our entire family.  That goes for all of my Aunts/Uncles, cousins.  I loved the Christmas seasons when we would all get together going to Trinity Church, and then to a relative's home after Christmas Eve church...Wonderful times!!!

Roger Smith, December 13, 2010

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Fredrick and Engler Burial Place, North Shore Memory Gardens

North Shore Memory Gardens, Front Entrance

The North Shore Memory Gardens located at 5027 Michigan (Rt.63) in Columa, Michigan was started in 1952-53.  The site had been an orchard and farmland.   Source: North Shore Memory Gardens Office.

Herman and Katherine (Batke) Fredrick and Arthur and Mary (Batke) Engler are buried here.  Both sets of graves are in the Garden of Devotion section behind a beautifully crafted stone Bible monument.

Garden of Devotion monument


Katherine Batke Fredrick (November 30, 1911 - August 10, 1997), the oldest child of Henry and Anna Batke, is buried here along side her husband, Herman Fredrick (September 20, 1906 - April 19, 1977).
They are buried in the Devotion Section, Lot 15C, Graves 1 and 2.  The GPS coordinates for the graves are: N 42° 12' 12.0"; W 086° 23' 33'.

Herman Fredrick Obituary
Herman Fredrick, 70, of 1322 Wolcott, St. Joseph, died at 11:30 A.M. Tuesday in Mercy hospital.  He was born Sept. 20, 1906, in Esk, Saskatchewan, Canada.  Mr. Fredrick was a member of Trinity Lutheran church, St. Joseph and retired in 1971 from Whirlpool corporation, where he had been employed 44 years.  He was a member of Whirlpool Old Timers club.

Surviving are his widow, Katherine; two sons, Donald W. Ypsilanti and Robert L., Salt Lake City, Utah; a daughter, Mrs. Robert (Jeanne) Hartman, Stevensville; two sisters, Mrs. Olga Schultz, Benton Harbor and Mrs. Ida Noack, Niles; a step brother, Adolph Lockman, Benton Heights and eight grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday in Trinity Lutheran church.  Burial will be in North Shore Memory Gardens.  Memorials may be made to the church.  Friends may call at the Front funeral home, Benton Harbor.

The Herald-Palladium, Benton Harbor-St. Joseph, Michigan, April 20, 1977

Katherine Batke Fredrick Obituary
See Children of Henry and Katherine Batke - Obituaries


Also in the Garden of Devotion Section of the North Shore Memory Gardens, Arthur L. Engler (May 1, 1911 - July 12, 2006) and his wife Mary Batke Engler (June 22, 1914 - July 25, 2008) are buried.  Their graves are about 50 feet away from the Fredrick graves.   

They are buried side-by-side in the Devotion Section, Lot 92C, Graves 1and 2.  The GPS coordinates for the graves are: N 42° 12' 12.7"; W 086° 23' 32.9".

Arthur L. Engler Obituary
Arthur L. Engler, 95 of St. Joseph died Wednesday morning, July 12, 2006, at Lakeland Regional Medical Center, St. Joseph.

Services will be held 10 a.m. Tuesday at Dey-Florin Chapel, Florin Funeral Services, St. Joseph, where visitation will be Monday from 5 to 8 p.m.  Burial will be in North Shore Memory Gardens.  Memorial donations in memory of Mr. Engler may be made to Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Joseph.

Mr. Engler was born May 1, 1911, in Stevensville to Lorenz and Louise (Heyn) Engler.  He retired in 1976 after 26 years of service as a security guard for Whirlpool Corporation.  He was also a member of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Joseph.

Survivors include his wife of 71 years, Mary (Batke), whom he married June 22, 1935, in St. Joseph; one daughter, Elaine Bush of St. Joseph; one son, Kenneth (Nok) Engler of Woodbridge, Va., and one brother charles Engler of St. Joseph.  Also surviving are five grand-children and three great-grand-children.  He was proceeded in death by a son, Charles Engler; five brothers and one sister.

The Herald Palladium, Benton Harbor-St. Joseph, MI, July 14, 2006, p. 5A, col. 5.

Mary Batke Engler Obituary

Smith Burial Place, Oak Ridge Cemetery

Selma Batke, daughter of Henry and Katherine Batke, married Olen Smith.  Both are buried at the Oak Ridge Cemetery.

The new Oak Ridge Cemetery on Front Street, originally 10 acres, was purchased from Warner Hamilton in 1864 for $500, to replace the first known cemetery in Buchanan, "The Old Burying Ground."  The first burials were made in 1867.  Records show that bodies were moved from "The Old Burying Ground" cemetery in Buchanan, to Oak Ridge as late as 1898. 

Oak Ridge Cemetery is located on the western edge of Buchanan, Michigan, between Terre Coupe and Front streets.  Oak Ridge Cemetery currently consists of approximately 45 acres.  There are 5 entrances: two on Front St., two on Terre Coupe, and the Polis St. entrance. Source: Oak Ridge Cemetery Buchanan, MI, Friends of Oak Ridge Cemetery, 2005.

Terre Coupe Street Entrance, Oak Ridge Cemetery, Buchanan, MI
Closest entrance to the Smith graves

Olen and Selma Batke Smith are both buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery.

On the gravestone, shaped with two hearts, is chiseled birth, marriage and death dates.  It reads:   SELMA Jan 27, 1919 - July 24, 1980; MARRIED Oct 24, 1940; OLEN June 9, 1918 - Sept. 13, 1995.

However, there are other documents, including Henry Batke's Declaration of Intention to become an American Citizen, that states Selma's birth year was 1918.

Olen Albert Smith and Selma Batke Smith are buried in Section A, Lot 317.  The GPS coordinates for the grave are: N 41° 49' 24.0"; W 086° 22' 41.9".

Olen Smith Obituary
Olen A. Smith, 77, of Boca Raton, Florida, formerly of Buchanan, Michigan, died Wednesday, September 13, 1995, at Healthwin Hospital, South Bend, Indiana.

The funeral was held at 10:30 a.m. Monday at Swem Funeral Home, Buchanan.  Memorials may be made to the City of Buchanan for the Buchanan Commons or Buchanan High School Athletic Department.
Mr. Smith was born June 9, 1918, in Virginia.  He retired as the independent owner and operator of Reclamation Oil Fields after 38 years.  He was a navy veteran of World War II.

Survivors include: two daughters -- Judy Maxwell of Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, and Cheryl Richeson of Decatur, Alabama; a son Roger Smith of Coloma, Michigan; three step daughters -- Polly Koenegsknect of West Bloomfield, Michigan; Christine Gardner of Noblesville, Indiana, and Linda Morrer of Charlotte, North Carolina; a stepson, John Donley of St. Joseph, Michigan; nine grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.  He was preceded in death by his first wife, the former Selma Batke, in October 1940 (sic) and by his second wife, the former Agnes Donley, in 1981. 

Tri-City Record, Watervliet, Michigan, September 20, 1995

Selma Batke Smith Obituary
See The Children of Henry and Katherine Batke - Obituaries

Thursday, December 2, 2010

On Vine Street, St. Joe Michigan

Corner of Vine Street and Park Avenue

The Batkes and Links both lived on Vine Street in St. Joseph, Michigan.  Although they each lived at other addresses in St. Joseph, when they finally settled in, Henry Batke and his family moved into 614 Vine Street and Jacob Link and his family lived at 626 Vine Street.  Vine Street is now part of the historic area of St. Joseph.

Today, even though both original homes have been replaced with new larger homes, many older homes still remain giving Vine Street, just three blocks from Lake Michigan, the feel of the time when the Batkes and Links lived there.

The Batke home is marked with a green X and the Link home with a red X.

626 Vine Street, New Home

View looking out (west) from 626 Vine Street
down Pearl Street toward Lake Michigan

View from 626 Vine Street looking south toward 714 Vine Street

714 Vine Street, New House

Looking north from 714 towards 626 Vine Street

Silver Beach, on Lake Michigan,
just three blocks from where the Batkes and Links lived

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Story of Jacob and Maria Link - Part 1 of 9

Darlene (Dee) Byron Milbocker has put in writing the story of her grandparents, Jacob and Maria Link.  She has graciously permitted its posting on this Blog so the larger Link and Batke families can appreciate the struggle and the strength it took for these immigrant families to make a better life for all of us.  

Don Fredrick, grandson of Henry and Katherine Batke, commented on the history with the following:

“The whole story, as far as it goes, impacts us directly, our generation.  But the effect, perhaps in a lesser way is important for the generation that follows ours.    Origins mean something!  Origins mean a great deal when we realize that our ancestors had to face all of this to migrate to America and what it meant already in the early part of the last century as a result of the kind of culture developed by those already here.  Our kids need to know!!!  Their families need to hear the story that is so importantly told by both of you and now potentially will be repeated on the Batke blog even though there may be some uncertainty about who the characters are in the pictures.  Your history makes these pictures especially meaningful to you and yes, even the Batkes.  Thanks to you Dee and Bonnie.”   Nov. 2, 2010.

Written by Darlene Byron Milbocker
Granddaughter of Jacob and Maria
This is the story of Jacob and Maria Link and their escape from Russia in the year 1912, nearly one hundred years ago!  Thanks to the internet and the research done by so many of the family, the story behind the story has been discovered!  Until a short time ago, we were quite unaware, as our grandfather did not offer much about his and grandma’s experiences for his own reasons, and as a result, we did not inquire!    

And so, this story is written with a composite of information from family members who have tried to piece together their grandparent’s life story!  Timothy Link, son of Jacob Link Jr. did interview his Grandfather for a school project, which gave us our first bit of information.  His mother, Pat Link and sister Pam Link Schoonaert, all from S. Bend, Ind., at that time, gathered much information.  Bonnie Link Fago, (an enthusiastic genealogist) daughter of Raymond Link, from La Mesa, California, has searched intensely and has been very successful, as was Brenda Link, wife of Gary Link, from Vernon British Columbia, Can.  Brenda recently passed away on September 9, 2009.  She also was an enthusiastic genealogist and had contributed a great amount of information!  Gary is the grandson of Friedrich Link and Maria Elizabeth Knack and Gary’s father was Jakob  (Jacob, also known as Jack) Link.  Sharon Byron Lampros, granddaughter of Jacob and Maria, interviewed and recorded her mother Frieda Friedrika Link Byron on February 2, 1993.  I, Darlene Byron Milbocker, also daughter of Frieda Link Byron, not a part of gathering information necessarily, was graciously given information by all parties.  Our brother Frank Byron, who studies Russian history as a hobby, was also very helpful.  We three are from Allegan, Michigan.   Just recently, contact has been made with a Canadian cousin, Marvin Mutschler of Medicine Hat. Alberta.  He is the son of Anne Link, Mutschler, and grandson of Friedrich and Maria Link.  Marvin has given us some fascinating information that has been incorporated into our story!

Quite recently, contact was made with grandchildren of the Henry Batke family, and so much was shared by them!  Don Fredrick , son of Katherine Batke Fredrick gave us a wealth of information, and Elaine Engler Bush, Anna Batke Pesko, and Elaine Beaudoin  have contributed greatly.  Their information opened up many new avenues and filled in many gaps.

As you will see, generation after generation used the same names over and over, sometimes changing the spelling, making it very difficult to decide who is who.  It can be assumed that the names were repeated so often, to remember, or possibly  honor those that were never seen again. 

One day, it suddenly occurred to me that I had to put all this information, such as it was at that time, into “story form”, for the sake of my descendants.  So much has become available since, making original versions of the story obsolete.  So once again, I attempt to document their story, with the information we now have.  I have come to realize that this story may never be finished, as more information becomes available and some memories are “jogged,” making for some interesting insights into the lives of our ancestors.


Our story begins with Friedrich Link, born 1852 in Steegan, West Prussia and Elizabeth (Hopp) Link, born in Rosengart, Russia 1854, who became the parents of our Jacob Link.  There were also Elizabeth, Friedrich, and Peter.   Friedrich and his parents may have become part of the migration of Germans to the Ukrainian Republic of Russia.  Most likely, they as others, fled their homeland to avoid the wars of the 19th century in Germany, through Germany and across Germany, by other nations.  (It is here that we find a discrepancy in our story!  I used the information we have from Brenda Link stating that they lived in Russia, but Grandpa Link, in his statement to his Grandson, Tim, said that they lived in Germany).   This is still being unraveled.

The journey to Russia in those days was an ordeal to try the strongest, beyond the endurance of many.  But the German immigrants still came to the Black Sea region by the thousands.

Peter and Jacob Link standing;
Elizabeth and Friedrich Link sitting.
Photo courtesy: Bonnie Fago, date unknown
Friedrich and Elizabeth were married in Russia, city not known.  His father’s name was Johan.  Her father’s name was Gottfried Hopp and her mother’s maiden name was Karoline Whorms.  Nothing more is known.

Friedrich and Elizabeth Link moved to an area above the Black Sea known as Alexandrovsk, Ekaterinoslav.  The city has changed names many times.  It was Yekaterinoslav 1776-1782, re-established 1783-1797.  It was Novorossiysk from 1797-1802, Yekaterinoslav from 1802-1917.  It was Sicheslav from 1917-1918, Yekaterinoslav again from 1918-1926 and became the province of Dnepropetrovsk/Dnipropetrovsk in 1926 to present day.    It is surrounded by Mennonite communities. 

Their sister, Elizabeth Link was born Aug. 30, 1875 in Gerhartstal, Russia,   She married Peter Schultz, who was born August 14, 1875 in Chorititza.  Both Gerhartstal, and Chorititza are Mennonite communities  in Russia.

At one time, similar promises had been made to the Germans of Prussia, and a group known as the Mennonites, by Catherine II, Empress of Russia.  The Mennonites had an important role in the background of the Germans who found themselves in Russia and eventually immigrating to Canada and the United States

Catherine II reigned from 1762 to 1796 as Empress.  Her son Paul I, reigned in Russia  from 1796 to 1801. Nicholas I, son of Paul I, reigned from 1825 to 1855, and Nicholas II,  reigned from 1894 to 1917, as Czars.  Catherine made promises to the Germans who immigrated to Russia.   Nicholas broke them!     

Catherine the Great had been very motivated to put swampland that the royal family owned to productive and profitable use, and was informed how industrious and innovative the Mennonite farmers were.  She encouraged only Mennonites to settle the region of Russia known as Chorititza, a city near the Dnieper River.  The Royal family exploited and profited quite well in this arrangement and helped to transform the region into a “breadbasket” for Russia.  The political climate changed over time however, and allowing these “immigrants” to be important agricultural producers fell out of favor after Catherine II died.  A plan was announced that all special privileges would end by 1880.  Now they were required to give up their culture, language, and deliver their sons to the Russian army.  Because of the changes in the Czar’s policies towards the Germans living in Russia, a large wave of immigration to America began in the late 19th century.  This included the Mennonites.  By 1912, 300,000 Germans had “immigrated from Russia to North and South America

The Dneiper River was an important route traveled by the Mennonite and Lutheran families in establishing the Dnepropetrovsk region, and Chorititza, nearby.  One and one half million Germans moved to Russia and were scattered about in communities above the Black Sea, the Volga, and the Dons Rivers, the Volhynien area and Crimea.  The Germans were all promised that they could:
1.         Keep their own language
2.         Churches
3          Have their own schools
4.         Never have to serve in the military.                                                 

In 1873 a delegation of 12 Mennonites explored North America, seeking large tracts of fertile land.  Canada was chosen, which promised privileges for the Mennonites, previously held in Russia, near Manitoba, Canada, such as:
l.          They could keep their own language.
2.         Freedom of worship
3.         Control of their own schools
4.         Exemption from military service

The Story of Jacob and Maria Link - Part 2 of 9


When Jacob was a schoolboy in Russia, he attended school 39 hours a week for 5 1/2 days a week. He had to read and write the Russian letters, the English letters and the German letters.  Each hour the teachers changed off and taught a different grade. 

Rempel Plant, Chortitiza, Ukranine, Russia.  Photo: c 2006
At the age of 16, he worked in a machine shop in the Ukrainian Republic, which is an industrial center.  He received a certificate of high recommendation from his employer B. W. Remple in 1902, which reads that “Jacob Fredrich Link worked in my plant in the metal-worker’s department in 1902.  He did a good job”.   Signed  B.W. Rempel.  Grandpa was 16 yrs. old.  The Rempel factory developed and manufactured an improved version of the seeder plow, also manufactured cultivators, fanning mills, reapers and underground packers that were used to pack newly planted seed to encourage germination.    

Later he became a furniture maker by trade, possibly working alongside a man who would become his lifelong friend, Mr. Henry Batke, who will become a very important part of our story.

When Timothy Link, grandson of Jacob Link interviewed his grandfather for a school project, he was told that, he (Jacob) was born, lived, and worked in Russia, but left when he was a young man, because the Bolsheviks were taking over the government life in Russia”.  “Life in Russia was changing so much that it wasn’t a happy life anymore and they were no longer free!”    Marvin Mutschler’s information adds more insight into the reason that the Link families left.  He states, “the only thing I remember my mom (Anne) telling me as to why our grandparents fled the old country was that, life was intolerable there and people were starving.”
Russia’s defeat in the Russian – Japanese war in 1905 resulted in revolts against the Czar in many places, including Yekateranoslaw (Dnepropetrovsk)!  Tens of people were killed and hundreds wounded.  There was a wave of anti-semantic attacks.

Jacob Link, 1907
Friedrich Link c 1907
Our grandfather and his two brothers were in the Russian Army, and I am told that in the pictures that we have of them, they are wearing officer’s uniforms!  Grandpa served for three years, from the age of 21 to 24 years of age.  I have to surmise that they were part of the Russian draft, (a promise broken)!  Our grandfather was a valet to a Russian General, waiting on him and polishing his boots, at least for a time, but he must have risen in rank, since he did become an officer.  (As told to Bonnie Link Fago by her father Raymond Link.)   I am told that when you were in the Russian Army, you were in it for a long time, (possibly life), and that many officers were being assassinated, and those under the officers were being assassinated also.  Many began to desert.

Peter Link, c 1907

 “Conditions were ripe for revolution as the country was without a real government!  There was no longer a middle class, the aristocracy was ruined and without influence, and there was much corruption!  There were about 100 million people gradually becoming poorer and poorer as they bore all the burden of taxation, and were being drafted into the Army by the thousands.  The revolutionary movement had a profound impact on the Russian character.  Its creed of violence and treachery was poisoning the whole structure of society!”  Quoted from the “Russian Dagger”.

It has always been thought that Grandpa and Grandma Link left Russia for a better life, but after studying Russian history and especially the events that took place in their own area, there can be no doubt that they fled for their lives!!  And just in time, as we will see!


Jacob Friedrich Link, born March 5, 1886, married Maria (Mary Philips) September 4, 1911, at Alexandrwsk Church, in Ukrainian Republic, Russia.  They were married  by Pastor G. Rath.  She was born May 14, 1895.  Their marriage certificate states Jacob Link, son of the “German citizen”, Friedrich Link, and Maria Phillip, daughter of the “German citizen”,  Ferdinand Phillip, were married, both Lutheran religion!  The distinction of being a “German Citizen” was always with them!

The Story of Jacob and Maria Link - Part 3 of 9


Jacob Link and Henry Batke.
Photo courtesy: Don Fredrick, date unknown
It is here that we see a connection between the Batke family and the Link family and what was to become a lifelong friendship!  The Alexandrwsk Church was also the church where Katherine Batke, daughter of Henry Batke, was baptized  May 20, 1912 by the same Pastor:  Pastor G. Rath. 

In 1992, Frieda Link Byron, in answer to some questions for her niece, Pam Link Schoonaert, said, and her exact words were, “the Links had some neighbors, the Batke family, that traveled with them to Canada from Russia, to St. Joe”.   We now know that they must have become friends through work and church, but they were also neighbors!  “Being neighbors” doesn’t necessarily mean right next door, but reasonably close!  The small villages around Chortitza were populated with both Mennonites and German Russians.
I envision them quietly, (even secretly) making their plans to leave Russia, sitting around someone’s kitchen table, with the “lamp down low”.  As it turns out there were four groups that planned to leave.  The Batke family, Friedrich and Maria Link and their family, Jacob and Maria Link, and Peter Link, age 24 a single man.  Peter never married.

Since the Batke and the Link families lived in and near Mennonite villages near Chortitza they may have been viewed  as such by the local population.  The Mennonites were being targeted, giving all even more reason to leave.

June 25, 1912
 On June 25, 1912 the Batke family, consisting of Henry Batke, age 34, and his wife Katherine Reck Batke, and their infant daughter Katherine, 7 months old, were issued a travel pass in German and Russian to exit Russia to Germany and “return” by the German Kaiser Embassy.  It is suspected that this pass enabled them to flee Russia through Germany and on to Bremen where they boarded  a ship called the Pallanza on July 13, 1912.   The ship’s manifest also lists Johann 38, Anna 65 (great grandmother Batke), Anna ll, Karl 29, Friedrika 24, and Lena 2.  Total of nine.  They went through customs in Quebec, Canada on July 28, 1912.  There destination was Swift Current, Lydiard, Canada.  They settled on a quarter section of land containing 160 acres. 

One has to assume that the Batke’s, and the Links may have had help from some of the Mennonites who were already settled there, as the end of July arrival does not give much opportunity to find or build shelter.  We can  assume that they all helped each other!  We know that they did build a 16x24 house, an 18x30 barn and a 12x14 grainary.

After August 9, 1912
Maria & Friedrich Link, Canadian prairie, c1913

The next family to leave was the eldest brother of Jacob, Friedrich Link, born Oct. 14, 1876 and his wife Maria Knack Link. Born in Kronstahl, Jekaterinaslav, Russia on Dec. 10, 1877, and their children, Elisabeth Link, born in Kronstahl, Russia, Dec 6, 1900, Fredrick Edward Link, born Feb. 15, 1904, in Kronstahl, Russia., daughter Helena Link, born July 30,1905, Osterwick, Jekaterinoswaw, Russia., son John Link, born Dec. 18, 1907, Kronstahl, Russia, son Jakob (Jack) Link, born Jan 21, 1910, and son Peter Cornelius Link, born Aug. 9, 1912, Kronstahl, Russia.  Since Peter Cornelius Link was their last child born in Russia on the date of Aug. 9, 1912, it was shortly thereafter that the family left.  Total of eight.   They made their way to Rotterdam, Netherlands and sailed on the Noordam, from Holland-America Shipping Line.  Their fare was $380.00 for the family.  Their port of arrival was Halifax, Nova Scotia.   Maria had just given birth to Peter on the 9th of Aug. and their arrival date in Nova Scotia was August 25, 1912!  Destination was Moose Jaw, Canada.   He established a wheat farm there in what would seem to be a very short time.  

A very near tragic accident happened to baby Peter on the ship Noordam,  (remember he was only a few weeks old!)   The baby was lying on the bunk,  when the boot of a sailor man, who was high up on the mast, fell, and landed on the head of baby Peter.  At first they truly believed the baby was dead as a result, and they were preparing to put him overboard, when he was observed to have taken a breath, and they suddenly realized he was still alive!  (As told by Marvin Mutschler.)

When the family arrived in Canada, the children (including baby Peter) somehow became separated from the adults, and Friedrich and Maria had no choice but to get on the train bound for Saskatchewan without their children.  The children had possession of the family pots and pans and nothing else.  Somehow the children made it to Saskatchewan awhile later, and they were all reunited!!   (Also told by Marvin Mutschler.)

November 24, 1912
Maria and Jacob traveled to Canada on the S.S. Rijndam, 1913
Our Jacob and Maria were the next to leave November 24, 1912.  Peter, Grandpa’s younger brother was to travel with them, but mysteriously, his name was crossed off the manifests twice.  They apparently had made their way to Hamburg, Germany and were to board the Prince Oskar, but their names are crossed off the manifest!  Then they make their way to Rotterdam, Netherlands, and his name is crossed off the S.S. Ryndam manifest also!  Grandpa and Grandma did continue on their way arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia, without Peter! 

Their first child, a little girl they named Maria, was born on ship, but died, and was buried at sea.  They arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia on January 27, 1913 at 9:35 o’clock.  Tickets were $41.00 for two people.   They then boarded the Canadian Pacific Railroad at 8 A.M. on January 28, 1913.  There destination was Grandpa’s brother Friedrich’s farm, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada.  Upon their arrival in Moose Jaw, they would have traveled a third of the way around the world! 

Herein lies a mystery.  Sharon and I both remember our mother saying that baby Maria was buried in the Baltic Sea, which could be, if they traveled to a port on the Baltic, but that would result in them traveling by ship on the Baltic to get to Hamburg, which doesn’t make sense to us, but it may have to them!   Traveling for Grandma would have been easier on water, than over land, but we also know she became very sick at some point!  Pregnant and seasick??  We have never found how they traveled from home before getting on board the boats; by land, by horse and wagon, train, or possibly by boat on the Dneiper River.

From November 1912 to January of 1913 gave Jacob and Maria a nearly two month stay in Germany including travel time to Rotterdam (unclear)!  It is here that our mother told of an incident that happened in Germany.  They needed a place to stay, a man told Grandpa that “he knew of a place.”  He told Grandma to “stay here” while he went with the man to look.  She is alone in a strange country, and she became frightened when he didn’t return, and started to cry.  After a time, he did return and told her that the man had tried to rob him!  These were treacherous times! 

Elaine Engler Bush’s (granddaughter of Henry and Katherine Batke) thoughts on why the grandparents went to Breman and Hamburg first, were that their passes to leave Russia to go to Germany, said that they had to return!  So it is felt that they went to the end of the allowable line and then found their way to Rotterdam, Holland (Netherlands.)  There the Batke’s boarded the Pallanza and the Link’s boarded the Ryndam on l-27-13.  They then sailed for Canadian Ports of Quebec and Halifax.

MARCH 15, 1913
Four months later on March 15, 1913, Peter Link boarded the Barcelona from Breman, Germany with Friedrich, age 26 and Elizabeth Knack, age 25, brother and sister-in-law of Maria Knack Link , (our Jacob’s sister-in-law) along with their infant  Elizabeth, 4 months old, and Catharina Knack, age 18, also sister of Maria Knack Link.  Total of five.  They actually fled Russia earlier than this as it took some time to get across Russia.  They arrived in Portland, Maine on April 3, 1913.  Destination Moose Jaw, Canada.  Home of Friedrich and Maria Knack Link.

I have to ask myself, where was Peter for the four months?  Did he go all the way back?  Did he help escort Grandpa and Grandma because she was pregnant?  Did he go all the way back to help the Knack family get through?  How else would he have met up with the Knack family?  Communication was not what it is today!!

Notice that the four groups left about 3 l/2 to 4 month’s apart, different boats, from different ports, and each arrived in different ports!  There was a reason for all this!  When they did leave, they had to know that more than likely they would never return, leaving parents, grandparents, siblings, extended family, friends, jobs, possessions behind!  For the families with several small children, to pick up and leave for places unknown, took an enormous amount of strength and courage!  The women were traveling soon after having a baby, or while pregnant!  But they were strong Lutherans, people of faith!

It is quite certain that our Jacob, Friedrich, and Peter never saw their parents or sister again.  Why they didn’t leave also, is somewhat of a troubling mystery.  We now know that circumstances were extremely bad there, including starvation, so why didn’t they leave when they had the chance?   Were they not physically able to travel?  I do remember that Grandpa used to send packages to his sister; one would wonder if she ever received them.  Records show that she did immigrate to Germany after her children were born.

The Story of Jacob and Maria Link - Part 4 of 9


The Russian Civil War in the Ukraine was from 1914-1923.  With the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, Russia was thrown into bloody revolution.  The Mennonite communities of the Ukraine were the scene of the most violent uprisings and bandit raids in the history of the Russian Civil War!!!  First the anarchist, (bandits) then the Bolsheviks, lay waste to their land. `By 1918, anarchy had completely destroyed the once thriving Mennonite community.

Farms, homes, personal possessions, even life itself, felt the fist of tyranny!  Plagues of diseases such as Cholera and Typhus, along with starvation took their toll.  Suffering became a way of life!

After the bandits were turned back, the Ukraine found itself under Communist rule.  Many were sustained by their faith, but the government had no use for anyone who believed in God.

It was only a short time before WWI, which started in 1914!  At that time, the hatred of everything German reached new heights.   Grandpa and Grandma’s parents and sister Elizabeth were still there!  We don’t know what might have happened to them during this time period.  Our records show that Friedrich and Elizabeth died in Russia, and that Friedrich lived to be 91 years old, and passed away in 1943 (from Brenda Link).  But there is no record of Great Grandma!   Could she have been one of the casualties??  Much of this was taken from “A family Strives for Survival During the Russian Revolution.”


The time level that these families arrived in Canada:  the Batkes arrived  July 28, 1912, the arrival time for the Friedrich Link family was well after August of 1912,  possibly into October of  that year,  Jacob and Maria arrived  January 27, 1913, and Peter and the Knack family arrived April 3, 1913.  They still had to travel across Canada  by train to Moose Jaw and  Swift Current.  Surely there was great rejoicing upon each family’s arrival!! 

How did Friedrich and Maria accommodate so many?  They all arrived just before, or well into a Canadian winter!!  My conclusion, (only a conclusion), is that they had help from the Mennonites!   It is known that the Batke family didn’t have a history of Mennonite religion in their background, as they were Lutheran, but they did travel with, and lived among the Mennonites in Canada, and in Russia, which was heavily populated with Mennonite families, as did the Link’s!

As more settlers came to the prairies of Saskatchewan on railways, the population grew.  Saskatchewan became a Province on September 1, 1905.  The Homestead Act permitted settlers to acquire one quarter of a square mile of land.  Immigration peaked in 1910 and in spite of initial difficulties of frontier life, distance from towns, possibly sod homes,   and backbreaking labor, a prosperous (agrarian) society was established.  (An agrarian society is one that is based on agriculture as a prime means of support.)

There were rules concerning the land!  They were required to clear 10 acres of each quarter section per year and put it under cultivation the following year. 

Mr. Henry Batke broke 23 acres of new ground in 1914, cleared 21 acres in 1915 and planted 44 acres.  The house was 16x24 with 250.00 worth of lumber.  The barn was 18x30 and a granary was 12x14. Henry Batke received a Land Patent dated March 30, 1918 indicating official ownership of a quarter section of land equaling 160 acres.

As there were no, or few trees, it can be assumed that they had to buy lumber to build a house, barn and granary, possibly from the Mennonites, who were well established by then.  That is how they know the value of their houses.  Where did they live while building their houses?

Saskatchewan Homestead Map c1915; Blue-Links; Red-Batkes
On March 28, 1913 Friedrich Link applied for Homestead Patent for a quarter section of land at the age of 39.  He states that he has lived on the land continuously from that date with his wife and seven children.  In 1913 he cleared and planted 10 acres.  1914 he cleared 15 and planted 25.  1915 he cleared 5 and planted 30 acres.  And in 1916 he cleared 45 and planted 75 acres!

Saskatchewan Homestead Layout-Click image to enlarge

In a sworn statement by Heinrich Krueger for Jacob Link in reference to the application for land patent, November 22, 1917, he states that Jacob was a farmer since 1913 and that he had lived on the land continuously, with his wife and 3 children since May of 1914.  In 1914 he cleared 15 acres and cropped 8.  In 1915 he cleared 20 acres and cropped 15.  In 1916 he cleared 35 acres and planted 35.  In 1917, he cleared nil, and planted 70 acres. 

In 1914 Grandpa had 4 cattle, in 1915, 5 cattle and 1 hog.  In 1916, he had 2 cattle, 4 horses and 2 hogs, and in 1917, he had l cow, 4 horses and 6 hogs.    He also had a 14x18 frame house valued at 200.00, and 10 acres of fencing worth 35.00, a 14x20 framed barn along with a good well valued at 50.00.  Our mother described this house as having 3 rooms, but they had to be very small rooms, or partitioned off in some other way  than actual walls.         

When clearing the land is mentioned, more than likely this did not mean clearing of big trees, as one might think.  The prairie was known as the “steppe” meaning “without trees”.  Katharine Batke Fredrick remembered that the “steppes” of Canada destroyed plows because of all the rocks.  

Think about it!  When they settled on their homestead, there was nothing there! No shelter, no water, nothing!  They had arrived with only what they could carry, one would assume!  Three of the families had small children!  But they were FREE at last!

Brothers Peter, Jacob and Friedrich Link, Canada, c1913

The Story of Jacob and Maria Link - Part 5 of 9


Six children were born on the prairie in Canada to Jacob and Maria.  Frieda Fredricka, born March 5, 1915, Fredrick Henry, February 4, 1916, Wilhelm or William, July 16, 1917, Raymond October 8, 1918, and Jacob the 1st, birthday unknown, but quite likely 1919, and Jacob P. Jr. February 1, 1920.  (Grandpa found the first Jacob dead in his bed upon his return from a store (the next day.)  Frieda remembered Grandpa holding the baby before he left, and little Jacob was fine!  My mother told of being born in Beechy, and  some records say she was born in Queen CenterQueen Center and Lydiard are mentioned as birthplaces of the children also.  Jacob Link’s obituary states Beechy as being his birthplace, as does Frederick’s.

(Along with some of Katharine Batke Fredrick)

In the interview of our mother, Frieda, she gives us some insights into her life in Canada.  She speaks of heating the house with a black cook stove, using straw twists and dried cow chips for fuel.  Grandpa made the straw twists and the children gathered the cow chips, which are dried manure!

She remembers a time when a herd of wild horses came into the barn and Grandpa let them stay there to eat.
She tells of a special time that she got to go to the town of Herbert by horse and wagon, with Grandpa.  She stayed on the wagon, and when he came out of the store, he had a small bag of candy for her.  This must have been a very special treat!  They did not return that day, but stayed at the home of her cousin Anne, whose parents were Friedrich and Mary (Marie) Link, for the night. 

In the cold wintertime people traveled without freezing to death by building covered sleds they called cabooses, on a sleigh with wood stoves in them, and the reins from the horses passed through an opening in  the boxed enclosures.  This gave them a maximum  range of about 15 miles in the cold of winter at (-40F).  This is according to memories of Katharine Batke Fredrick.

Mom spoke of going to school for one day, in the winter in Canada, and being met by her cousin Anne.  She could not speak English, as she only spoke German.  The teacher, who had on overalls with buckles, said to her, “Frieda, what are these?”  She could only look at him because she didn’t understand him, and he became very angry!  She never went back.  As a result, she was about 7 years old when she started school in Michigan.  Someone had to have given her the translation!

Grandpa had purchased #100 of sugar, which was supposed to last for the entire winter as Grandma did a lot of baking!  All the children got a spanking from Grandma because they had gotten into the sugar and eaten it by the mouthfuls, and also spilled a lot of it!

Grandma let a stray dog into the house, and the children would not let him out from under the daybed, and were hitting it.  They named the dog Tucek.

Uncle Fred got into trouble for walking around on the roof of the barn.  Another spanking!  This may have been the same barn that the wild horses came into.

Uncle Ray told his daughter Bonnie that the best Christmas present, when he was a young boy, was a balsa-wood airplane and an orange!

For one Christmas, each child received 1/2 of an apple.  (Their Christmas's weren't much, but a little bit was very memorable)!

We children of Raymond and Frieda remember them speaking of lard sandwiches!!! And they made them sound like they were really good!!


It seems that the Batke family along with our Grandpa Link were having great difficulty making a living as wheat farmers, one reason being that they were dealing with extremely rocky soil, so they decided to move on, and try somewhere else.  I personally cannot even imagine my grandfather as a farmer.  Don’t take me wrong, I have been a farmer’s wife for many years, and it is not an easy life.  You have to love it, and I don’t think Grandpa did.  I would have to believe that it was just not what he wanted to do for the rest of his life!  They were not alone, as we find out, as there were nine other families that left also.  Our mother said that there were other families, but we just recently found proof of it!

So a total of  44 people, nine families, 19 adults and 25 children, and a “cow” (as told to Don Frederick by his mother Katherine Batke Frederick),  left by train at Portal, N. Dakota in December 7, 1921 to Alabama by way of the Canadian Pacific Train No. 14!!!   Our mother was just six years old at the time.

Batke Manifest, Page 6, Portal, ND
Link Manifest, Page 7, Portal, ND. Click image to enlarge
They all apparently made this decision on the advice of two men who told them that things were much better in Alabama, Michigan and CaliforniaAlabama seems to have been chosen, and the two men would travel with them .   Grandpa promised to pay them for their help when they got to their destination.  So Grandpa, and I believe Mr. Batke had to borrow some money, which they did from their minister, Rev. Lucht, who was also Grandpa’s neighbor.  $100.00 was borrowed, and our Uncle Ray was adamant in stating  that they did pay the money back!  Upon their arrival in Yellow Pine, Alabama, the two men robbed them of all their money, and abandoned the families!  Grandpa found out later that these two men had committed suicide!  

She remembered a family by the name of Hultz that had been their neighbors to the East in Canada.  They had two little girls that she used to play with.  That family made the decision to go to California, I would suppose on the recommendation of the same two men.

The Story of Jacob and Maria Link - Part 6 of 9


Frieda’s memories of Alabama
Yellow Pine, Washington Co., Alabama is where Theodore was born.  Uncle Ray told Cousin Bonnie that Grandpa bought land and a house, sight unseen, and when he got there it was on stilts and seasonally under water.  They also lived in a tent while there.  They lived in Alabama for only about six months.  Grandma killed a snake that was crawling under the tent by clubbing it to death.  Mom said that she really disliked Alabama as it was very hot!!  We can assume tent life for the Batke family as well!  Update:  Picture have recently been found that we are reasonably certain are from Yellow Pine showing their living conditions!  (Bonnie Link Fago).

Theodore Link in casket, 1922
It is here that little Theodore died under unusual circumstances, (by a parasitic worm), and is buried somewhere near Yellow Pine, Alabama.  Mom describes being told by her mother and being shown by lifting his diaper, how he died, (quite gross).  Grandpa made his casket, which by the picture, could have been a drawer.  Grandma decorated it with a cloth that her mother had embroidered, that she had brought from Russia, which looked to me like Hardanger embroidery.  It looks quite pretty, with its tassels around  the edge.  There is a picture of Theodore in his little casket, with the family around him. But she didn’t know who took it. 

It was here in Yellow Pine that Mom saw a black person for the first time.  They sang, and carried their clothes on their heads and sang and sang, but she was afraid of them.  The men had taken stumps out of the fields, and then they sat in the holes and sang! 

She most enjoyed getting up in the morning, and playing make believe, by going out and covering her "hens." She made nests in the ground, putting a bit of straw in the nest, and then put in little stones, and put a big stone on top.  That was her hen!  She would do this every morning to see if there were any chicks!
The Link children in Yellow Pine Alabama, 1922

She tells of not having shoes, and stepping on what she called "prickers."  They had such strong barbs on them, that you couldn't pull them out without a tool! 

Maria Link left, and Jacob Link with cap,
housing in Yellow Pine Alabama, 1922
Photo courtesy: Bonnie Fago

Some recruiters came to their area trying to find men to work in the factories of St. Joe, Michigan.  It was quite an industrial city at that time, and the country was gearing up for war!  So Grandpa and Mr. Batke made their way north  to St. Joe. by train to find jobs to make enough money to bring their families there.  The families were left behind.  Grandpa and Mr. Batke met up with the Lutheran minister of the Trinity Lutheran Church, Rev. Louis Nuechterlein.  He mentioned in his Sunday service that the families needed help.  A woman anonymously donated the train fare for the families to get to Michigan.  They never found out who this dear woman was! 

Mom and Grandma were walking along a path going into the village, (probably Yellow Pine), when a rider on horseback came along with a letter for Grandma, and it had money in it!  That was the first time Mom had seen her mother smile in a long time!  After all, when Grandpa left, she could not know how long he would be gone, or whether she would ever see him again!  How could she raise her children alone in a strange land?  These things had to have been heavy on her mind, causing her great worry!!

So Grandma, the children, Mrs. Batke and her family, including John Batke and Anna Batke (Mr. Batke’s brother and mother) according to the Immigration Border Crossing records of 1921, took the train on July 3, 1922 to Michigan.  They didn’t have any trunks or suitcases, so they wrapped everything in sheets or whatever they had.

The train kept getting switched from one end to the other, but they stayed on the train.  Mom told of getting locked in the bathroom, because she couldn’t open the door.  She screamed for her mother, but Grandma couldn’t hear her.  Finally a man opened the door for her!  She says that the kids really enjoyed the train ride!  There were five Batke children at that time, and the five Link children!