Reading the Lehn Diary (Begun in 1725!)

As I went as far back in my genealogy as possible with the Grandma Online program, and was intrigued to discover that one of my mother’s lines could be traced all the way back to 1679!

I was intrigued. I’d never heard of Mennonite Lehns before.

I learned that Christoph Lehn was born December 18, 1679 in Danzig. He married Elizabeth Steffens in 1700 and he was a linen weaver, Elizabeth died in 1706 and later that year Christoph married Maria Jaeger. He was baptized in Amsterdam, Holland in 1712 when he was 33 years old. (I seem to be descended from Elizabeth Steffens.)

One day, on the fascinating Mennonite Geneology Facebook page, someone posted about a Lehn Diary. This stopped me in my tracks, and I sent a query to the Mennonite Heritage Archives — did they know of this diary?

They DID!

Now I have a copy.

Let’s read it together!

Here’s page one:

Just kidding, we can’t read that. While it is the first page of the diary, it’s just included by the translaters so us readers can understand what they had to go through. Apparently this is mostly Dutch, but already mixed with some German and Low German.

Page five of the translation explains this is being handed down to the oldest son of each generation. Fantastic. Guess that’s why I never got to see this thing. But on the bright side, it found its way to the Archives! I’m beyond grateful.

The diary begins on June 24, 1725. Just a word about this — Christoph basically just writes about what the church was up to. So here he talks about a really difficult time reaching consensus regarding an Altester. They drew by lots but that caused problems, they felt they could resolve it if they went to Amsterdam but the church didn’t want to pay the travel funds, and in the end they did reach a point of unity at which point they could finally pray together to end the meeting. Sounds intense.

November 4 entry is fascinating. Look at this:

From there, course more disagreements about a beloved brother of the newly elected altester, who had recently died. Words like “intentions” and “chastised” and “offended”.

On Christmas Eve of that same year, a different “honourable” fellow from Amsterdam arrived with an open letter to the church. The day’s post concludes “the ministers have judged it wise to keep the letter secret from the church for the time being”.


By December 27, “this last festival day” the letter was sent to a fellow who could be trusted to read it to the right people. Okay. Well, same day, new problem: a certain couple had had illegimate sexual relations. “Peter Bryun berated him because of this for a rogue and a voyeur and a hypocrite, whereupon Abraham Bryun told him to get out of the house. Peter Bryun said that knaves and theives are turned out of doors, and then threatened to strike him on the head so that blood would flow. This was done publicly.”

That same day another note about Hindrick Lybeck “made a sincere confession of guilt to the church stating that after he had been victimized by robbery, he had lived lavishly in a neighbouring inn with the Lord Mayor’s permission (at public expense).”

This is all pretty juicy stuff. It seems Christoph was privy to these meetings (or were they church membership meetings?) and he wrote about everything in his diary after.


I continue on…

Another observation: he calls his fellow church goers “Friends” — like, with a capital F. Like the Quakers!

On February 1726, he mentions that he has been elected as a deacon.

On February 25 he lists some sins that were an issue. At the top of the list: excessive use of silverware at a table. I went on to read about people striking swineherds, and others attending a Luthern church.

Umm skipping ahead we come to Simon Lehn born 1704, whose wife was Maria Neufeld. His diary entries are a list of people who are put out of the church, and welcomed back into the church. Here’s an interesting example from 1755: “On 16 November Jacob Mehl was called before the Brothers, because he permitted dancing at the wedding of his daughter. This time the matter was just let pass, nevertheless dancing was totally forbidden.”

Funny that everyone tells those jokes that Mennonites forbid dancing but I’ve never seen it written until here in my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather’s diary entry from 1755. Hmph.

Next is Simon’s son Jacob Lehn born 1743. He is my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. In 1763, Jacob took up his father’s habit of recording church issues in his diary. Right away he tells of Leonard Janzen and Heinrich Wiebe who went to a tavern and made girls dance with them.

Later, a Mrs. Anton Kowenhaufen was brought before the Brothers because she had committed adultery with a Russian officer, and was “therefore excluded from the congregation”. She was readmitted a month later.

A few weeks went by, and then Kornelius Janzen “appeared before the Brothers because of drunkeness. While he was before the Brothers he was also drunk.” Kornelius was “separated from the congregation, and is said ot have died on the same day.” Whoa.

As time goes on, Jacob turns from documenting sins of his fellow church goers, and instead documents how many young people have been baptized. I think the change may have happened when in 1769 when Jacob took the time to mention a “letter written by the Swiss Brothers” — Zwingli, Grebel, and Manz — stating child baptism was unnecessary. He goes on to document how these men were put to death, concluding with “the Lord knows his own. Thus you have this testimony of the beginning.”

The following year he documents an issue with a fellow by the name of Foking who wanted to marry his wife’s sister — the footnotes state “presumably decesased”. Apparently this threw the congregation into an uproar. But they eventually calmed down.

By 1772, Jacob had completely turned from recording sins of his fellow church goers, and was now recording who was all getting baptized.

Five years later, in 1777, Jacob documented something else — a switch from singing in Dutch, to singing in High German. The first time they sang in High German instead of Dutch appeared to be for Easter.

This post is long enough for now… the diary gets more detailed at the point at which they move from Danzig to Russia, so I’ll save that for another post. (I’m excited to