Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta


Pankratz (R1a)

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Back in 1968 I came across a story in the August Atlantic Monthly that possibly sheds light on the origin of my surname. The story is an excerpt from a book about life in Torregreca, a poor mountain village in Italy, and includes descriptions of local religious celebrations. One such event is the festival of San Pancrazio [See Wikipedia article].

The Torresi say Pancrazio was smitten by the lovely Filomena, a controversial figure in Catholic lore, from the moment he first laid eyes on her. Arrangements were made for Pancrazio and Filomena to be married, even though Filomena objected. Filomena felt she was destined for sainthood. On their wedding day she walked into the Mediterranean and drowned herself. Pancrazio was heartbroken and has followed in her wake ever since.

The festival begins in the evening with people sitting around bonfires which are kept lit until all evil is deemed to have been driven out. This is followed the next day by a lengthy procession that winds through Torregreca. The procession is led by a porelain Santa Filomena, carried aloft, followed by the women of the town. Well behind them is San Pancrazio, described as a medieval beatnik dressed in tin armor and a satin miniskirt and behind him the local men. The procession moves so slowly that the men have time to stop for an occasional glass of wine along the way, with predictable results. The celebration ends with fireworks at an elementary school.

The real San Pancrazio was apparently stoned to death in 304 A.D. under orders of the pagan Emperor Diocleatin. San Pancrazio was fourteen. I believe the Mennonite Encyclopedia [slowly being transformed into articles at the Global Anabaptist-Mennonite Encyclopaedia Online] also mentions San Pancrazio, or a Greek version of San Pancrazio.

We do not know if either of these Pancrazios was the source of my Pankratz surname, but I am pulling for the beatnik - tin armor, satin miniskirt and all.

As for the first known Mennonite Pankratz, my father once told me that the Pankratz who emigrated to Russia had five sons and that one changed his name to the Russian version of Pankratz – presumably Pankratov.

In the mid 1970s my father and I went to visit two elderly women in Clearbrook who my father thought might have some information about our Pankratz ancestors. They told us about an Alexander Pankratz (some sources said his name was Johan, others that it was Jacob). They did not know the date of his birth but they thought he must have been born circa 1770 in Holland, where he spent his youth. He married the daughter of Hans Schmidt and was elected Aeltester of a Mennonite congregation. He was driven out of Holland because he was a pacifist and moved to Poland with his family. Alexander Pankratz lived near Warsaw for a period of time and again served as Aeltester of a Mennonite congregation. When Catherine the Great invited Mennonites to settle in Little Russia, he and his family moved to Gnadenfeldt in Molotschna. Alexander lived to age 96 and is believed to have had five or six sons and one daughter.

Glenn Penner thinks the ladies from Clearbrook were wrong, he says the first Mennonite Pankratz was Andreas Pankratz born in the early 1600s (GRANDMA #273566) and that he is the ancestor of all the Mennonite Pankratzs.

My problem is that I cannot get past my great-grandfather David Pankratz, I do not know his exact date of birth or death and I do not know much about his parents. I do, however, have some information which is based on family records (including: papers, diaries and a photograph). He was probably born around 1840, was still alive in 1899 but likely died before 1909. He married Elizabeth Teichroeb (1842 – 1927) and they had at least three children: Helen (who married a Born), David (my grandfather), and Johann. At some point in time my great-grandfather lived in the Molotschna village of Nicholaidorf and he likely also lived/worked on the Makutt estate in the Crimea.

My great-great-grandfather was also a David Pankratz.

As an aside, but still somewhat relevant, there was an article in the March 20, 1995 Time magazine about the murder of Vladislav Listyev, a popular TV journalist in Moscow. It was alleged to be a gangland slaying. The Russian people criticized Yeltsin for failing to bring crime under control and there was talk the murder could result in Yeltsin losing his presidency and Russia ending its experiment with democracy. Yeltsin's response was to fire both his prosecutor and the Moscow chief of police. The name of the police chief was Vladimir Pankratov. My fantasy, should I ever go back to Russia, is to pay Pankratov a visit and ask him which village in the Molotschna his ancestors came from.

Lastly, a few comments about my deep ancestors (3,000 to 3,500 years ago). I submitted a DNA sample in 2005 and Family Trees analysis indicates that my haplogroup is R1a. It is believed that the R1a lineage originated in the Russian steppes, north of the Caspian and Black Seas, and that the lineage was part of the Kurgan culture.

The website says the Kurgan culture existed between the 5th and 3rd millenniums BC with the earliest sites located in the Ukraine and southern Russia. From there they spread to Europe. Some researchers believe the Kurgans later became known as the Sea People, who pillaged the Holy Lands about 1200 BC.

Comments from Glenn Penner:

The name Pankratz very likely is derived from the Latin first name Pancratius. Like many Latin names it was shortened when it was introduced into the Northern European population. As a family name Pankratz appears to be much more common among Germanic people rather than Slavic people. For some reason we Mennonites seem to be under the impression that names like Pankratz must be Slavic in origin. It is more likely a Germanized version of Pancratius.

One way to approach the problem of to origin, is to have a couple of Pankratz men do Y-DNA tests. These men should be able to reliably trace their families back to Andreas Pankratz (who was born in the early 1600s and lived in Jamerau, West Prussia). Information on Andreas Pankratz and his descendents is found in the  Przechowko/Alexanderwohl church records.

There is a Pankratov in the Y-DNA database known as ySearch. His Y-DNA does not match Dave Pankratz's (the two mismatch on almost every DNA marker). His name is Felix Pankratov and is of Russian descent according to the profile he has provided.

© 2007 Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta
Last Updated 25 Mar 2007

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