31 December 2020

From one willow to another...

The German is like a willow. No matter which way you bend him, he will always take root again.

This quote is attributed to the Russian writer, philosopher, and historian Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008), although I have yet to find where or when he said it. Still, it's nice. German-Russians love this saying and have adopted it. It speaks to our strength, resilience, and faith in that whatever happens, we'll be fine.

The global coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has certainly tested our ability to bend and will continue to do so into 2021. So grab a handful of vitamins and get a good night's sleep. Tomorrow is another year. 

And stay bendy fellow willows. 

White willow (Salix Alba), a common willow found in Russia.
It is one of the first trees to leaf in spring and the last to shed its leaves in fall. 



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24 December 2020

'Twas the night before Christmas

23 December 2020

Last year on Christmas Eve, I tracked part of Santa's trip through our ancestral German colonies in Russia. It was so much fun that I'm going to do it again this year. I'll be posting all day tomorrow using Google Santa Tracker.


Santa, as you know, is an essential worker and as such has had his first COVID vaccination. The reindeer are waiting for their latest tests to come back. Rudolph's test, I understand, was difficult to administer because of the glare. I’m told a welding helmet was used in addition to an N85 mask by the healthcare worker performing the test. Safety first, people. We’re all in this together.


Anyway, they should all be ready to go in about 14 hours!  


24 December 2020

3:10 a.m. MST

Reports are coming in that a few minutes ago, Santa masked up and left the North Pole and will make his first stop soon. Remember folks: it's already Christmas Eve somewhere.

 

Georg Rudolf is leading the team of reindeer tonight. And I think I just heard Herr Santa Claus call out each of the reindeer’ names... 

 

Now, Johann Dasher!

Now, Johann Dancer!

Now, Johann Prancer and Johann Vixen!

On, Katharina Comet!

On, Katharina Cupid!

On, Katharina Donner and Katharina Blitzen!

 

6:15 a.m. MST

Santa has arrived in Sidney, Australia. It’s partly cloudy and 71°F (21°C). 

Christmas greetings to all the descendants of Germans from Russia who immigrated to Australia from Harbin, China and elsewhere. We don’t hear your stories often enough. But we know you’re there. 

 

7:25 a.m. MST

Santa just flew over the former Amur colonies on his way to Yatutsk, Russia. It’s foggy and -57°F (-49°C). Good thing Georg Rudolf is leading the way.

The Amur colonies were settled by Mennonites from the Black Sea area between 1927-28, and all were abandoned within a few years. Some fled to Harbin, China and later immigrated to Australia and Paraguay.

 

7:31 a.m. MST

Santa just arrived in Irkutsk, Russia. It’s lightly snowing and 0°F (-18°C).

Irkutsk was a settlement area for Germans beginning before the invitations of Catherine the Great, as early as 1720 by some accounts.

 

9:43 a.m., MST

Santa stopped in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. It’s cloudy and 17°F (-8°C ). 

 

9:53 a.m. MST

Santa visited Omsk, Russia under light snow showers, 10°F (-12°C)

The German settlements in and around Omsk made up a major settlement area for Germans in the late 1700s. Many of the surrounding villages had significant German populations.

 

9:56 a.m. MST

Santa’s next stop is Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Misty skies,  24°F (-4°C)

Our German Mennonite ancestors called it Grünfeld when they founded it in 1925. Settled by Black Sea Mennonites. The original location of the colony was about 10 km southwest of Frunze. The following year, In 1925, the Soviet government provided land for a new village in the Chu valley. At the time this village was founded, it was a part of the Kazak Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic. 

 

9:58 a.m. MST

Santa stopped in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, where it was cloudy and 44°F (6°C). 

This is very near the colony of Neu-Ak-Metschet, founded on January 18, 1935 by Black Sea Mennonites near the border of Uzbekistan.  The name Mechety means mosques in Russian. The town went by Regar until 1978 when it was changed to Tursunzoda after a poet. The city grew from its original agricultural district. Grapefruit, vegetables and cotton are grown in the district. It is also a major rice-growing region.

 

10:43 a.m. MST

For those concerned that Santa is not stopping at every former German colony along the way, sources have confirmed that his sleigh is outfitted with the latest advanced autonomous drone technology that deploys presents and candy as Santa drives the sleigh. No one is missed. 

 

10:48 a.m. MST

Santa has stopped in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. It’s currently cloudy and 39°F (-1°C).

Ashgabat (Aschchabad) was established in 1881 and was home to at least 296 former Volga Germans.

 

10:54 a.m. MST

Santa’s next stop is Aktobe, Kazakhstan. It’s partly cloudy, 10°F (-12°C).

This city was near several German colonies that were voluntarily founded in the early 1900s when the land in Siberia was opened for settlement.


11:04 a.m. MST

Santa has arrived in Samara, Russia. Partly cloudy 7°F (-14°C).

Northeast of the original Volga colonies and just north of the city of Samara, a number of colonies were settled between 1859 and 1870 by Mennonites from West Prussia and Protestants from Poland and Silesia. The original 10 Mennonite colonies were called the Alexandertal Settlement. 


11:09 a.m. MST

Santa heads next to the Caucuses. Tbilisi, Georgia is up first. Clear with periodic clouds,  35°F  (-1°C).

Neu Tiflis, as it was founded by Germans in 1818, was one of the Mother colonies in the South Caucasus. There were many other German colonies around the city, too.

 

11:14 a.m. MST

Santa goes next to Baku, Azerbaijan. Sleet, 32°F  (0°C). Again, Georg Rudolf has navigation under control. No need to worry. 

Baku was home to a population of Volga Germans who were among many who migrated from the Volga to the Caucuses. 

  

12:30 p.m. MST

Did you know that Santa has a fast chain model supply for certain popular goodies this time of year?  For example, he picks up extra halva made for the occasion while in Central Asia and in Turkey to deliver to all the Black Sea Germans from Russia and their descendants who love it so much. It is neither German nor Russian, but it has long been embraced by Germans from Russia as a part of a shared and evolving culture. 

 

12:43 p.m. MST

Santa has arrived at Rostov-on-Don, Russia. Beautiful clear skies, 14°F (-10°C). 

Rostow, as our German ancestors called it, was home base to many, but there were also many colonies around the city and elsewhere in what was then the Don Host Province. 

 

12:50 p.m. MST

Santa arrives next in Moscow, Russia. Cloudy, 27°F (-3°C). 

Although not a “German settlement” in the classic sense, EWZ records in the Black Sea German Research database shows records of Germans who were relocated during WWII as having listed Moscow as their birthplace.  

 

12:57 p.m. MST

Santa is in St. Petersburg, Russia now. Light rain, 34°F (-1°C). 

The Russian government founded three German colonies near the capital of St. Petersburg, just southeast of the city. Many early German immigrants (1764-1767) who would go on to the Volga, first came through St. Petersburg. Russian cities in the area also integrated 2,068 German colonists. 

 

1:15 p.m. MST

Santa just finished visiting the Baltic countries of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. They were once part of the Imperial Russian Empire and had populations of Germans that were there before Peter the Great declared in 1721 that Russia was no longer a tsardom but was now an empire. Still Germans, still in Russia. 

 

1:20 p.m. MST

Santa is in Odessa, Ukraine, the heart of the Black Sea German colonies.  Cloudy and 46°F, (8°C). 

Early on, Odessa was a temporary home to German immigrants while waiting for colonies to become available. Later many lived in Odessa. Numerous enclaves of German colonies around Odessa would be established, all touting themselves to be “near Odessa”.

 

1:25 p.m. MST

Santa stopped in Chișinău, Moldova. Cloudy 44°F, (6°C)

Our ancestors knew this place as Kischinew, Bessarabia. This was a daughter colony founded around 1825. 

 

3:39 p.m. MST

Santa just visited Hungary, Serbia, and Bosnia & Herzegovina. This was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and where the Donauschwaben were settled by the Habsburg monarchy. Some from the Batschka and Banat areas immigrated to South Russia and joined the German colonies there. 

 

3:59 p.m. MST

Santa is in Germany visiting all the places from whence we came. Listen close. Can you hear the bells ringing? 

 

4:15 p.m. MST

Internet outage. Looking on my phone it seems Santa was done with the German colonies in Russia and have moved on. 

 

5:30 p.m. MST

Internet is back. Santa will probably hit the UK (congrats on Brexit deal), Ireland, Iceland and Greenland before heading to North and South America next. So many descendants of Germans from Russia immigrated there beginning in 1872. 

 

6:00 p.m. MST

It’s getting dark. Like all good German-Russians who grew up in New Mexico and now live in Arizona, it’s time to put out the luminarias and settle down with a bowl of posole. After that, we’ll sit at the piano and play “O Tannenbaum” and “A la Nanita Nana” and “Stille Nacht.” We’ll put out a plate of biscochitos and a cup of Abuelita hot chocolate for Santa and hope that he will bring us a bag of corn husks (the stores were out) so we can make tamales for the new year. 


To all the descendants of Germans from Russia, wherever you live now, whatever youre eating, whatever you're singing, however you're celebrating, Merry Christmas. And to all a good night.


26 December 2020

4 p.m. MST

P.S. — There were so many comments about Santa not stopping specifically at some of the ancestral colonies because they were not called out by name. But I assure you, they were not missed! Because of COVID restrictions, he had to use magic and un-elfed drones to deliver the presents and goodies where he could only do fly overs. He only stopped when the reindeer had to do...reindeer business...if you know what I mean. He didn't want that stuff falling from the sky on Christmas Eve. Like every year, though, he brought Christmas Past to the spirits of our ancestors who once lived there, as well as Christmas Present to those to celebrate now. As long as our ancestors remain in our hearts and are not forgotten, Christmas will always come, and so will Santa.





 

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01 December 2020

Giving Tuesday

 

I'm often asked if there is a way to donate to the Germans from Russia Settlement Locations project. I've been thinking about this lately, and I have a modest proposal.

This project is fun for me. If I was not enjoying myself, I would not be doing it. Anything that comes out of the research that others find useful is just my way of paying it forward year round. #GivingTuesday is a day where people all over the world come together to do good and give back.

So, if you like what the Germans from Russia Settlement Locations project does...and it's helped you with your research or understanding of the role of Germans from Russia in history...and you really want to give, please consider paying it forward by donating to the genealogy society, historical society or university of your choice.  

All of your favorite GR organizations have costs associated with their work that I do not. The cost of running my site is minuscule, and the time I put into the writing and research doesn’t have to be justified to anyone in order to be funded. Not so in the case with the universities, state historical societies or genealogy societies. You could really help out these organizations that rely outside funding. Since I use all of them as sources, you helping them is helping me.

Consider the following possible ways to give and the impact you could make: 
  • Organizations that take items such as personal papers, books, photos, objects, textiles, etc., not only have to hire staff to process the items into the donation, they also have to purchase out of their own funds the archival storage materials for preservation and conservation. Your donation could help offset these costs and keep those treasures protected for generations to come.
  • Having a web presence is important to any organization. Many don't have the technical skills within them to run their own websites and have to outsource the cost of running and maintaining their web presence. Your donation or volunteering your expertise could help offset these costs.
  • For years, some organizations have committed to spending money on purchasing church records from Russian and Ukrainian archives so they can transcribe and translate them and make them available to researchers. Your donation or volunteering your expertise with transcribing and translation could help offset these costs.
  • Genealogy societies thrive on memberships. Join a genealogy society or buy a membership for someone who is just getting started with their family tree. There are many Eastern European and Germans from Russia societies to choose from – some may even be local to you. Most come with newsletters/journals, access to members-only information, including previously researched pedigrees, webinars, maps (yay!), and discounts on books and other research materials. Your membership or donation could help these organizations with the good work that they do and help someone just starting their genealogy journey.
  • Donating your written family history along with your GEDCOM can enrich the genealogy collection of any organization or research group. Consider donating it to several places, not just those that are a part of a genealogy society, but also those that make the information available for free, including university and local public libraries.  
  • Volunteer. One of the most rewarding ways to give back is contributing to ongoing research that others can use. If you make yourself available to an organization or project you're fond of, they will find a way to use your own unique talents. 
As I've always said to anyone who has contributed information to this project, every little bit helps.

Thanks for all of your support over the years.

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30 August 2020

Mapping America: August Update

Map of Germans from Russia in America as of August 30, 2020.

I know everyone is anxious to see their states and towns on the map. The latest map update includes updates that will help you understand what's still in the queue. 

The first part of North Dakota and South Dakota have been posted. This represents about one-third of what will eventually be there. On the map legend to the left, you'll see that both North Dakota and South Dakota are marked "in progress." 

Map showing North Dakota and South Dakota in progress.

The states that are still in the queue (not yet in progress) are now marked with a red flag on the map and the label "in queue" on the legend. This is to let you know that I know about them. 
 
Map showing four states that are marked "in queue".

If you click on flag on the map, you'll see some information about the state including the reported earliest year of German-Russian habitation and a list of all the places that were known to have had German-Russian residents at some point. 

Montana is a state that is still in the queue.

I'll make every attempt to do monthly posts on this effort for the remainder of the year along with some of the interesting places I run across along the way. Many of these are cataloged on the Twitter account for this project, which has served as a mini research log this year. 


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27 August 2020

Pausing for a Hollyhock Memory

The early days in Bowdle, Dakota Territory (later South Dakota).
Source: Bowdle Centennial 1886-1986


As I virtually road trip and map the places that Germans from Russia settled in North Dakota and South Dakota, I find myself having a lot of fond memories. 

I knew this was going to happen. 

Instead of fighting it and try to map now, remember later, I just let the memories wash over me. Were in the middle of global pandemic. What else have I got to do?

When I came to Bowdle, South Dakota, I dutifully noted when it was founded in 1886 in Dakota Territory. I noted that reports of Germans from Russia living in the area were there at least a year earlier in 1885. I recorded the German-Russian origins of those who lived there: 

Immigrant and 1st and 2nd generation descendants of Black Sea Germans from Russia. 
  • Beresan: Gnadenfeld, Johannestal and Worms 
  • Bessarabia: Beresina, Borodino, Friedenstal, Glückstal, Hoffnungstal, Kulm, Leipzig and Plotzk.
  • Crimea: Heilbrunn, Kronental, Khutor Pitanis and Rosental.
  • Glückstal: Bergdorf, Glückstal, Kassel, Klein Bergdorf, Marienberg, Michelstal, Nesselrode, Neu Beresina, Neu Berlin, Neu Glückstal and Neudorf.
  • Hoffnungstal: Bessarabka, Birsula and Hoffnungstal.
  • Kutschurgan: Elsass, Kandel, Mannheim, Selz and Strassburg.
  • Liebental: Annental, Grossliebental, Güldendorf, Kleinliebental, Neu Liebental and Peterstal.
  • Mariupol: Grunau, Kronsdorf and Rosenberg.
  • Schwedengebiet: Schlangendorf.
I was excited to see a Schwedengebiet colony reported for the first time in this project. 

Bowdle was my Schilling grandparents
 post office and later their residence when they retired from farming in the 1940s. My dad claimed it as his birthplace, although he was born on the family farm nine miles north and two miles west of Bowdle and didnt live in town until he was 14 years old. If you know the area, you know the farm location I described is closer to Hosmer. But my Schilling great-grandparents post office was in Hosmer. Other immigrant Schilling great uncles had already claimed Eureka and Selby, too. So, I guess Bowdle it was. 

I recorded the Find a Grave link to the cemeteries. It showed cemeteries outside the town as well as the city block of three cemeteries in town. In August 2012, I went on a genealogy road trip, and I ended up photographing several of them in that area. While in Bowdle, I did the Lutheran cemetery where lot of my relatives reside. There weren
t any obvious markers between the city cemetery, the Catholic cemetery and the Lutheran cemetery. The graves just started looking less Lutheran and more Catholic (its hard to explain...or maybe you know exactly what I mean) at a certain point. I went to the C-Store to get something to drink and ask about it. The woman who worked there immediately drew me a map showing where here grandfather was buried and where there was a pole in the ground that marked the line between the Lutheran and the Catholic cemeteries. When they mow the grass, she said, thats where they stop.

Got it.  

Both sides of my family originally homesteaded in North Dakota, but both ended up in South Dakota where my parents met, married (mixed marriage of GR Lutheran and GR Catholic) and commenced moving our family all over the country. In the 1970s, we lived in New Mexico and visited relatives in South Dakota every summer, usually in August. 

We’d pile into the white Toyota Corolla, my brothers and me in the backseat with fresh comic books that barely lasted past the Colorado border. Sometimes we brought our Siamese cat. Sometimes we hauled a camper and camped along the way. My mom always brought a box of Ritz crackers to keep us quiet and also to try to keep me from getting carsick when we drove through the Black Hills toward Rapid City. My mom loved the Black Hills. It was her favorite part of the drive...except when I got sick.

When we visited my Schilling grandparents (Jacob and Lydia) in Bowdle, my brothers and I had kind of a routine: play around on the rusted farm equipment outside Grandpa’s shop; play with Pete the cat who kept the mice at bay in the shop; poke Grandma’s chickens with stalks of rhubarb; get in trouble for poking chickens; poke neighbor Mary Brown’s chickens instead with Mary Brown’s rhubarb; flee to Meakins Park when Mary Brown discovered what we were doing; yell at the lion water fountain (it was voice-activated); and sip bottles of ice-cold pop on the stoop outside the backdoor in the late afternoon.

Three little Schilling kids on the swings at the park. I'm the little nut on the right making a break for it. 

Hollyhocks grew everywhere. They are the one flower that immediately takes me back to my German grandparents’ homes. They were always growing along fences, the side of the house, or at the edge of the garden and chicken coop. Volunteers or planted, it was hard to tell. My dad and I planted them in New Mexico, too, first in Albuquerque and later in Santa Rosa, although irises did better there. My dad called hollyhocks “bumblebee catchers.”

Hollyhocks outside the former house of Johann and Rosina (Keszler) Schilling in Hosmer. 

On the stoop of the Schilling house in Bowdle, my grandma, Lydia (born Martel, adopted Eisenbeisz), taught me how to make hollyhock dolls. There are more elaborate ways to do them now to make them more realistic or permanent. But neither permanence nor realism was the point. 

Grandma showed me how to pick the flowers first. She had the old fashioned single blossoms, none of the double or triple booms like you can get now. Pick one blossom closest to the stalk with some stem. That would be the body and the skirt. Pick one with little or no stem. That would be the hat. Place the blossom with the long stem face down (body and skirt), and then prop the other blossom on top at a slight angle (hat).

Now, apply imagination.

There was girl with a full skirt and big, wide-brimmed hat. I would line them up and down the stoop, mixing and matching colors of skirts and hats, adjusting the jaunt of the hats from shy to brazen until it was time to go in and help with supper.

Overnight, the flowers would blow away.

Everything is temporary, “just passing through,” my grandparents used to say. 

Lydia and Jacob Schilling among the hollyhocks on the south side of their house in Bowdle.
Photo taken mid-August 1983. 

A few years ago when I was living near Charleston, South Carolina, I picked some gardenias from the cemetery behind my house. Gardenias grow wild in the lowcountry, and they will always remind me of Charleston, like hollyhocks remind me of South Dakota. I made a gardenia doll. A lot fancier duds than a hollyhock dress for sure. 

A gardenia doll. 

Now I live in southern Arizona. I've not found a suitable cactus flower to make a doll out of yet. But little German-Russian girl in me is always looking. 


Part of this was originally written for the Germans from Russia – Oregon and Washington (GROW) chapter in February 2019. 



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