By Sarah Troyer
Persecuted for their religious beliefs, my ancestors fled their home country. Hundreds of years later, my family found themselves still rooted in their faith.
Michael and Magdalena Troyer were among many Mennonites who escaped Switzerland in the 1740s and headed to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in hopes of finding a home where they could practice their faith freely.
The Mennonite faith began in Germany and Switzerland in 1525. The fundamentals of this Christian faith were rooted in their belief in adult baptism as opposed to infant baptism and their opposition to war.
In the 1670s, the persecution and countless executions of the Mennonites in Europe began. Many men and women who were found guilty of practicing the faith were questioned, tortured and as many as 5,000 were killed. Members of the dominant faith, the Catholic Church, carried out the persecution. The Mennonites, including my ancestors, would worship underground and in secret to avoid punishment.
Records of my ancestor’s emigration to America and our family’s genealogy has been uncovered and kept in a book that goes back to Michael and Magdalena and ends with my generation.
The first boat of Swiss Mennonites arrived in Pennsylvania in 1737, and a few years later, Michael and Magdalena followed. When they began their life in America, they helped to establish the Amish community that is still prevalent in Lancaster today. The two lived their lives as farmers, and over the years they had 14 children.
Their 14 children grew up farmers; some remained in Lancaster and some moved to Ohio. Many years and generations later, their great-great-great-grandchild who would become my great-great-great grandfather, John Troyer, moved from Ohio to Nebraska.
John and his wife, Lucinda, moved to rural Milford, Nebraska, to start their own 160-acre farm. On their farm, John and Lucinda gave birth to 13 children who made excellent farmhands. They grew crops, raised livestock and each winter, the family would butcher eight to 10 hogs to eat. Butchering days always began at dawn and extended throughout the day. These were the days the kids would “get sick” so they could stay home from school and be a part of the excitement.
One of those children, John, grew up and traded his life on the farm for a life in the Mennonite Church. John became a minister for the West Fairview Mennonite church in Milford.
During his time in the church, he married and had nine children. He later was killed in a car accident by a drunken driver when he was 57.
His son, Milton, also became a minister at a neighboring church, the Milford Mennonite Church. Milton spent several years as the minister before being appointed as the church’s bishop.
The church has a hierarchy system that starts with the role of deacon and works its way up to bishop. The role of bishop is the most highly regarded in the church; bishops have the authority to ordain, discipline, officiate baptisms as well as communions and preaching.
Milton went on to have six children before dying of a heart attack on Christmas morning, also at the age of 57. One of his six children would become my grandfather, Bob. He followed in both his father and grandfather’s footsteps and became a minister for the Milford Mennonite Church for a period of time.
Almost 300 years later and the same religion Michael and Magdalena fought and fled for still holds their descendants together today and is prevalent in their lives.