14 December 2022

It's been a busy year.

Germans from Russia Settlement Locations map as of December 2022

With convention and presentation season over late last September, I dove back into research again. The maps have all been updated as well as the sources and the change log. This is the last update for this year. 

This time, the focus was on East Russia: that is, the eastern part of European Russia, the Volga German colonies and the surrounding provinces. I had a few requests to address the Samara/Saratov province split in 1850, so I did a similar exercise that I did with South Russia last year: disassemble the entire region completely and put it back together in the provinces as they were at the end of the Russia Empire. Each colony in the region was revisited and revised and notes added to help the researcher fill in the blanks depending on when their ancestors resided in these places. Period geolocated maps were used to place them accordingly. The same was done for the Orenburg/Ufa province split. There are still 72 outstanding Volga colonies because there was not enough time to finish them all before the holidays. They were all established in the Soviet era with founding years in the 1920s or unknown years. Those will be in the next update prior to RootsTech in March. 

Unlike most maps, this map is that it is not just a single snapshot in time drawn with data that might be a few years old already, like most maps. It is a cumulation of centuries of data on one single map. It is impossible to include every administrative variant that transpired over the years, but I am trying to put what makes sense to help guide researchers on their journeys. 

One piece of information I have altered in the Volga colonies is the German origins. I had been going through the confirmed origins on The Volga Germans website and listing out the origins for each colony. But Maggie Hein and her crew of researchers are difficult to keep up with. All kudos to them for just doing what needs to be done and sharing it freely with everyone. For now, I've added links to the colonies from their website instead of listing out the places in Germany that have been confirmed. As much as I would someday like to be able to search the map for a Germanic origin and see all the colonies in Russia that had people come from that place, for now it is not feasible. If anyone has time on their hands and would like to take on this data collection, let me know. 

Also in this release are updated notes on the occupation of Ukraine by Russia. Because this is a living document (continually edited and updated as research progresses and as current geopolitical events occur), the former German settlements that are in Russian occupied Ukraine are noted as such. I happily removed some of those notes this time around, but not enough of them, in my opinion. An easy way to find these is to search the big map for “Russo-Ukrainian” (no quotation marks) to get a list. The first time I noted these on the map, I had to use a number of sources to draw my own front line through a copy of my map. Since then, the good volunteers with GeoConfirmed have been keeping up an easily searchable map (by latitude and longitude instead of the other way around) with a current frontline. 

In addition, there have been a few locations added to the former Kharkov Province with more pending. Some of these originated from the First Imperial Census of 1897 wherein native languages were recorded, giving me insight into where there were German speakers at that point in time. Knowing the provinces, districts and cities were German speakers were has become a jumping off point for further searches of EWZ indexes on the Black Sea German Research (BSGR) database along with its full database of donated GEDCOMS. Within it, I can search by place and sort by date to generate a list of places and the earliest known recorded births in each place. Do not let the term “Black Sea” mislead you into thinking you will only find Black Sea German information on that website or in the database. Our ancestors moved far and wide. Recent translations of parish records released by the researchers at BSGR show this. If a Black Sea German family moves to Chelyabinsk, are they still Black Sea German? If a tree falls in a forest...well, you get the idea. The Society for German Genealogy in Eastern Europe (SGGEE) master pedigree database is another source I use in the same manner. This one is restricted to members and has the place names normalized. I never know what I might find until I start searching these pedigree databases; knowing what to search for helps. I hope that someday there will be a similar effort to collect donated GEDCOMS from Volga Germans and put them online, either free to the public like BSGR or a part of a membership. It’s long overdue, really. Also, as long as I’m asking for things in my Christmas stocking (I have been very good this year), please include a search and/or sort by place name option. Thanks, Santa. 

I have started to make a list what I would like to work on in the coming year. Somehow the list of things to do never gets shorter. I am so very lucky that I am never bored. 

One domestic (?) project that I will be working is a map of first families in the historic Beaver Creek area of Dakota Territory. When Michael Miller sent out his December issue of In Touch with Prairie Living, it included excerpts of the "Fischer Family Chronicle," which had been donated to the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection archive. The Fischers, landing first in Yankton, but eventually settled in the Beaver Creek area now in North Dakota, same place as my great-great-grandfather, Ludwig Erck, in 1886 and my great-grandfather, Johann Schilling, in 1898. George Rath in his book, The Black Sea Germans in the Dakotas, mentioned the “so-called Beaver Creek area,” the area where Catholic Germans from Russia first settled in Dakota. A while back, I put together a map to try to figure out exactly where exactly the settlement of Beaver Creek was based on what was in Rath’s book and and other sources that mentioned Beaver Creek in North Dakota. There were several townsites called Beaver Creek, but none of them developed into actual towns. I shared the map, and there was some interest from those who had ties to the area. So, I will be putting together a plan to collect data to map, and hopefully descendants of those who settled there will be able to contribute some of their time, knowledge, and maybe some scans of documents and photos to the project. I will post the plan here when it is ready to go. If anyone is interested in participate, please let me know. Although it may only be an interest to a few, it might serve as a map model for other small historic GR areas in the future. 

Beta version of Historic Beaver Creek.

That’s it for 2022. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Peaceful New Year. May all your days be merry and bright.

— Sandy

# # #

04 October 2022

1937-38 Collective Farms & Agriculture Maps

Below are several related to collective farms (kolkhozes) in the Soviet Union. I happened on them while exploring the beta version of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) catalog. 

These are all declassified CIA maps apparently produced from data collected between 1937 into the early 1950s. Some of our German ancestors, of course, lived and worked on these farms up to WWII, and some continued to work on the state farms (sovkhozes), which were more prevalent in Kazakhstan and Central Asia, after being resettled. The maps were produced after the Holodomor, the Great Famine. Perhaps it was a lessons-learned exercise on the part of the U.S.? NARA does not offer any context, explanation or other information about the maps. But among them is a series of maps that offers “computed production” — what could be produced on the farms given the acreage that could be planted and harvested within the estimated dates, and, presumably, if the farm land was managed well. 

While these maps don’t have German colony names on them, I still found them to be interesting. They led me to learn more about Machine Tractor Stations (Машинно-тракторные станции), which I had not heard of before. I almost disregarded that map entirely in favor of the crop maps until I looked into the subject further and realized it was a key part of the bigger story of collective farms.  

During the early days of collectivization (1929-30, Machine Tractor Stations (MTS) were established and tasked to acquire, maintain and provide tractors and other farm machines to collective farms in an area with the idea that it would modernize farming in the Soviet state, especially for peasants who often didn’t own such equipment. However, farming was already modernized in the German colonies, whose farmers owned tractors and other farm implements, particularly in the Mennonite settlements. Waldheim in the Molotschna Colony was home to the I. I. Neufeld & Co., a farm equipment manufacturing company who had been producing farm equipment since 1890. Look at any of the old Volkskalendars and newspapers before the fall of the Russian Empire, and you will see many advertisements for farm equipment for sale, including U.S. manufacturers. The inventory of farm equipment in the MST initially came from (confiscated from) prosperous individual farmers (kulaks) which was then turned around and rented back to the collective farm. Often finding tractors and other equipment in the MTS in disrepair, German farmers ended up resorting to using horses and cattle (for as long as they lasted) to bring in their crops in the early 1930s, leaving some of the crops on the field. MTS also served as political centers that oversaw the farms and made sure their obligations to the state were made in a timely fashion. They also made decisions on the timing of seeding and harvesting. These decisions were not always based on good agricultural practices.

The first MTS was established at the Shevchenko state farm in the late 1920s, which was in the same district as the Beresan colonies. Ulrich Mertens’ German-Russian Handbook notes the demise of the MTS (p. 121) and indicates which colonies had collective farms, but it does not mention where the MTSs were located. Unable to find a definitive list of MTS locations (Russian Wikipedia states they were “created everywhere”), accounts by German-Russian descendants and scholars noted they existed in Speyer (Beresan) and several of the Mennonite Colonies including Orloff (Molotschna), Halbstadt (Molotschna), Waldheim (Molotschna) and Chortitza (Chortitza). The website Wolgadeutch has an article and a map (unfortunately not very readable) about MTS in the Volga German ASSR.

If interested, here is some additional reading material on the topic: 

Below are the maps from 1937–38 along with their original source URLs. I have cleaned up the images, and they are all available along with some later maps and soil maps of Ukraine in a photo collection here. Visit the links below to see and obtain the originals. 


European USSR: Collective Farms, Proportion Services by Machine Tractor Stations, 1937


European USSR: Sown Area by Types of Farms, 1938

Major Areas of Oats in the Soviet Union, 1938. Approximate seeding and harvesting dates.

Major Areas of Rye in the Soviet Union, 1938. Approximate seeding and harvesting dates.

Major Areas of Spring Wheat in the Soviet Union, 1938. Approximate seeding and harvesting dates.

Major Areas of Winter Wheat in the Soviet Union, 1938. Approximate seeding and harvesting dates.

European USSR: Sown Area of Flax, Sunflowers, Sugar Beets, and Hemp, 1938

European USSR: Sown Area of Wheat and Rye, 1938

European USSR: Crops Percentage of Distribution, 1938 (wheat, vegetables, potatoes, forage crops, fibers, oilseeds, sugar beets, tobacco, spices, medicinal crops)

For additional maps like these, see the photo collection here.

# # #

01 October 2022

Traveling with Texan GRs Through Time

1765 map showing Dobrinka.

I had a fun time last weekend traveling back in time with the members of the North Texas Germans from Russia AHSGR/GRHS duel chapter over Zoom. Several members offered up their ancestral colonies prior to the presentation, so I was able to customize it a bit for the group using the colonies to which they are connected.
We divided our time between the Kherson and Saratov provinces. We wandered around some of the Glückstal colonies (Glückstal, Neudorf, Bergdorf, Hoffnungstal), then went down to the Kutschurgan enclave to visit the Mother colonies and a few of the Daughter colonies that were established by 1872 (Strassburg, Baden, Selz, Kandel, Elsass, Mannheim, Johannestal, Georgental, Nikolastal), and then on to a few of the Mothers and Daughters in the Beresan enclave (Rohrbach, Waterloo, Speyer, Johannestal, Worms, Neu Klatscha, Neu Kandel, Uljanowka, Neufeld, Friedenheim, Neu Rohrbach). We went back and found the elusive Chutor Balitsky, which appeared on maps as its Russian name, Saratow. We popped in on Dobrinka circa 1765 over in the Volga enclave. That was fun. Then we went up to Neu Messer and checked out the neighbors in 1910 (Walter, Frank, Kolb, Neu Blazer, Neu Dönhof, Norka, Huck). We found that map's purpose was to show phosphorite deposits. Amazing what you learn when you zoom out.

02 August 2022

Conference Presentations 2022

I had a great time presenting “Time Travel Using Historical Maps” at the 52nd Annual American Historical Society for Germans from Russia International Convention last week. I joined other Zoom presenters from Argentina, Germany and the United Kingdom in the virtual lineup of the program. 

Next up, I will be giving a longer (90 minutes), more in-depth version of the same material at the GR Wall Breaker Conference (September 9-11th on Zoom). The schedule is not locked down yet, but these are all the presentations/topics scheduled at the moment: 

    • Genealogy in Ukraine: Discover Online Resources
    • International German Genealogy Partnership
    • By the Sweat of Their Brows” Researching to Discover the Work by Which Your Ancestors Made Their Daily Bread
    • Stumpp and Search: Demonstration of how to use the fantastic Dr. Karl Stumpp Book and advanced search techniques for Google
    • Cadastral Maps and their Ancillary Records
    • Researching Your Russian-German Genealogy in Russian Archives 
    • Time Travel Using Historical Maps
    • How to Make Nockerl with Bacon in Scrambled Eggs 
    • Warrants & Patents & Deeds, Oh My!
    • Historic Newspapers: Our Story Has Always Been Told
    • Using Google Drive for Genealogy
    • Developing a Sixth Census: Finding more in “the Census” than meets the eye
    • EWZ! Diving Into Researching Using EWZ Records
    • Going from the EWZ into family
    • Unique Finds
    • Changing Churches
    • Moravian Faith 101+ Archives
    • Black Sea German Research updates
I will also be presenting at some AHSGR/GRHS combined chapter meetings in the fall. 

# # #

22 July 2022

First Colonies Established After the 1763 Manifesto

Today is the anniversary of the issuance of Catherine the Great’s Manifesto of 1763, where she invited foreigners to settle in her empire. It was the origin story of German settlement in Russia.

While the majority of the colonies were established along the Volga river in the Astrakhan Province (later Saratov Province), there were other groups and solo colonies established at the same time. Five Mother colonies were founded near St. Petersburg, and these would spawn daughter colonies in both the St. Petersburg and Novgorod provinces.  Six Belowesch colonies were founded in Chernigov Province. There were a few daughter colonies in the same area, but some of the Belowesch daughter colonies were established in Ekaterinoslav Province. Riebensdorf was an isolated colony in Voronezh Province, between the Belowesch and Volga enclaves. At least 14 daughter colonies were established not near Riebensdorf but in the Don Cossack Host, the North Caucasus, and in Siberia. Sarepta was another isolated colony south of the Volga colonies but also on the Volga River near Tsaritsyn (later Stalingrad and now Volgograd).

# # #