The story of Peter John Bellendir’s journey from Europe to the Americas.
Compiled by Joshua Ryan Bellendir
I have long wanted to know the history of our family and where our name came from. During my university years, I had a history professor who was an excellent teacher/mentor. The first day of entering his class he asked me, “Son, do you know where your name comes from?” It sounds like somewhat of a strange question, but not exactly. The reason he asked such a question was because I had just been transferred into his class and his students had just been assigned a research report on the topics they had been going over for the past several weeks. Given the fact that I joined the class late, it would be extremely difficult to write a report on a topic I know nothing about; so he decided to give me a somewhat unique assignment.
In reply to his question, I stated, “No, I actually have no idea. I think my father’s side is German so maybe the name comes from there.” And to my amazement he responded, “I believe your name comes from a small area of France called Alsace Lorraine.” How he knew this, I have no idea, and I probably will never know. But my assignment was to research Alsace Lorraine and write a report about how it shifted control from France to Germany and then back to France around World War II, as well as how it affected the people. And in all of that, perhaps I could find out a little about my family’s history.
The report came out good and was an interesting assignment, but unfortunately, I didn’t find out as much information on my family’s history that I had planned to. However, when my great uncle Pete passed away in January of 2009, the story came together. He was the last member of my father’s father’s family, so everyone got together to piece the puzzle together so that our history would not be lost.
I have put together the story below so that everyone knows where our family came from and what the Bellendir name means.
This story starts in 1729…
Catherine the Great, born as Sophia Augusta Frederica was born on May 2nd in the year 1729. She later became known as Catherine the Great, Empress of all Russia. She greatly expanded Russia’s borders, as far as the Black Sea and into central Europe. With control of this land she issued a decree welcoming all peasants and farmers to inhabit and till the land in Russia’s vast domain. In return, she allotted them land of their own. Russia continued to follow through on this offer until long after Catherine’s passing.
Valentine Bellendir was born in Alsace-Lorraine, France in the year 1803. He decided to take advantage of Catherine the Great’s offer and packed up his things and settled in Saratov, Russia. With his newly acquired land, he decided to harvest grain and start a business of selling it. He took pride in his stock and with every grain sack sold he would place his initials “V. B.” on them. Valentine had at least one offspring that we know of, Peter Valentine Bellendir. Very little is known about Peter Valentine’s life except for his three offspring. Peter Valentine Bellendir had two sons with a woman whose name is unknown. One son was a teacher and married and unfortunately this is all that is known. The other son was married as well and worked in the tax department of the Russian government. Peter Valentine Bellendir had later had a child with a women by the name of Magdalenda Lambrecht Bellendir, he was given the name Peter John Bellendir. Peter John Bellendir was born on March 18th in the year 1889 in Koehler Russia, a small town in the Saratov area. Peter John was the only child of Peter Valentine and Magdalenda Lambrecht.
Magdalenda passed away during Peter John’s childhood years, when he was at the age of 11. Peter Valentine was a land owner and made a business out of leasing his land to neighbors and associates for a fee. In 1906, Peter Valentine passed away, leaving his land to be distributed to his three sons. Peter John, Peter Valentine’s youngest son, refused estate distribution to his step brothers on the basis that they made no attempt to help their father during his final years. Peter John decided to sell the residence, contents, and the land; at the time, he was only 17 years of age.
Peter John, at age 17 had a girlfriend named Katherine Barin, who lived in the neighboring village of Semenovka, Russia. The same year of Peter Valentine’s death, Peter John had married Katherine Barin in the month of September. Katherine was the only daughter of Walendin Barin, an organist and music director for the Catholic church. Katherine was also known as an excellent cook and spent summers cooking for wealthy merchants in the Odessa area.
One month after their marriage, Peter John and Katherine decided to pack their possessions and leave Russia. Peter had made this decision many years earlier when two Cossacks entered his classroom and presented the teachers with an edict. It stated that half the day to be spent speaking and learning German, and the other half be spent speaking and learning Russian. The inhabitants of the area spoke mostly German, so this was not received favorably. On another occasion, a citizen refused to remove his head cover and pay respect to a portrait of the Czar in a public building, and as a result, that citizen was beaten by a military guard. Peter felt it was unjustified. He was also nearing military draft age, and had no interest in fighting a war that he had no stake in. So these thoughts and experiences lead him to seek a new home.
Together, Peter John and Katherine left Russia and traveled by boat to England, and then proceeded to the Canary Islands. Their original plans were to go to the United States of America, but a friend spoke to them of the many opportunities in South America, particularly, Argentina. Seeing that Katherine had a cousin, a Catholic nun who was stationed at Coronel Suarez, Argentina, they decided to head to Argentina for a home and opportunities.
The young couple first arrived in Buenos Aires, where they soon found out that their possessions had been lost at the docks. As their bags had all their money and valuables in them, they lost everything; they were very wealthy up until this point. A thorough search was conducted with no favorable results. Their dreams were shattered and their only choice now was to seek work.
Peter John became a Gaucho and was later hired as a manager of a very large farm and Katherine was hired as a cook. During their time in Argentina, they had three sons. Louis in 1909, John in 1911 and Peter in 1912. Peter died in 1912, never reaching his first birthday. To make matters worse, Argentina experienced a drought in 1912. That, and the loss of a son, prompted Peter and Katherine to move on. They headed north.
In 1913 Peter John and a group of Russian emigrants left Argentina and traveled to Cuba. The women and children stayed in Cuba as the men proceeded northward and waited until the men sent word. Within two months, while Katherine remained in Cuba, baby John contracted measles and died. Finally, Peter John sent word to meet in Florida. They met in Florida and then traveled further northward by train to Chicago, where they settled on Schiller Ave. near Sedgwick Street (41.907753,-87.638330 – Not Confirmed)
After getting situated and setting up life in Chicago, Peter John and Katherine had two boys. James was born in October 1913 and Nicholas in 1915. The family then moved to 1355 Mohawk Street (41.907063, -87.641878 – Not Confirmed) where Peter Joseph was born in 1917. In 1918, Louis borrowed a friend’s two wheel bike and fell off. He received a head wound and died.
Constantine John, who later became John C., was born in 1919. He changed his name when entering the Air Force. Actually, he never changed it legally; he just switched to his middle name, the name of an older brother whom he never met due to a childhood death. Peter John purchased the property at 1368 Mohawk Street (41.907426, -87.642299- Not Confirmed) in 1920.
The property consisted of a frame two flat in the front and a three room cottage in the rear. Catherine was born here in 1922 and Mary Josephine in 1924. The property remained in the family until 1960.
During World War 2, brothers Nick and Pete served in the U.S. Army. John C. joined the Airforce as he had hoped to become a pilot. His vision was not 20/20 and so he went on to become a drill Sergeant and then a gunner while fighting in the European theatre. He flew in over 60 missions over Italy and was wounded twice being hit with shrapnel in the wrist and neck. He received the Purple Heart twice for his troubles.
John Constantine, my grandfather, married Mercedes Bellendir and gave birth to 7 children, 6 sons and 1 daughter, all which are living at the time of this writing. Their names are Larry, Paul, Vince, Steve, Johnny, Andy, and Margaret. My father Steve grew up in Illinois with this 6 brothers and sister and later decided to move to Southern California. His brother Johnny decided to move to California as well after hearing stories from his older brother. My uncle Johnny traveled from Chicago all the way to California by bicycle over a period of several weeks.
My father married by mother Jacquelyn, a descendent of Swedish and German immigrants. Together they had 4 children, 2 girls named Jennifer and Jessica, and two sons named Joshua and Jeremie. I thank my great grandfather for being courageous and taking the risk of leaving his home and everything behind to find better opportunities for his family. I find that after having traveled to more than 40 countries and living in the US, Europe, and Asia, I may just have a little something in common with my great grandfather.
– Joshua Ryan Bellendir
Below are photos taken from Ellis Island, New York, as well as a list of Bellendir’s that came through Ellis island prior to entering the United States of America. During my last visit to New York I took a trip to Ellis Island to see if any of our relatives had passed through this island before continuing on to their new world filled with opportunities.
Being the traveler, that I am, I know the desire to travel comes from my roots and after writing the above detailed story of how my relatives made it to this great land of opportunity. The desire within me, to see new lands and meet new people, is all starting to make sense.
Below are photos from Ellis Island including one that I was very excited to stumble across, it’s a plate with the words Peter J. Bellendir engraved into it. I’m unsure if it’s the same Peter Bellendir, as according to the story, he would have came to America via Florida, but still cool to see it. Below are pictures of the island, the view of the New York city skyline from Ellis island, the memorial wall, the inside area which was where all the new visitors to US were processed, the three ships that our relatives traveled on all the way from Russia, and a copy of a ship manifest from one of the Bellendirs that passed through Ellis Island. Below the pictures are a list of Bellendirs that passed through Ellis island and some information about each person.
Updates from My Life Journey
Being born in California and having traveled to over 25 countries, I have taken after my great grandfather, Peter John. I left my home in California at age 23 and headed to Asia. I lived in Osaka and Tokyo, Japan and have traveled all throughout Asia and Europe. To see my travels, go here.
I have now traveled to 40 countries and have lived in London for ~2 years and traveled extensively throughout Europe. I continue to travel and explore new lands in my quest for knowledge and life experiences.