21 December 2018

Stille Nacht

For this Christmas season, the Germans from Russia Settlement Locations has compiled a collection of Kirchen und Weihnachtslieder – Churches and Christmas carols.  
The churches once stood in former German colonies across the Imperial Russian Empire. They are paired with traditional German Christmas hymns still sung today. The sources for the photos are indicated on each, and while most do not have dates, the majority are from the early 20th century, all prior to WWII when most of the churches were defaced or completely destroyed by the Soviets. Many of the hymns became popular in the 19th century and found their way from Germany to our German ancestors living in Russia. Descendants of Germans from Russia still sing them today.

Wherever your ancestors may have lived, from Volhynia to the Black Sea, from St. Petersburg to the Volga, from the Caucasus to Siberia, long ago they gathered in these churches and sang these songs on Christmas. When you look at these images and perhaps play this music, maybe, just maybe, you'll hear their voices.  

Fröhliche Weihnachten!  


26 November 2018

Current Event in the Context of Ancestral Villages

Often I search the maps on this site when I'm reading articles about Germans from Russia history to give me an idea of where the events took place, where the mentioned villages were, how close they were to each other, etc. The whole point of the maps on the Germans from Russia Settlement Locations is to bring current context to historical locations, specifically our German ancestral villages in Russia.

This past weekend (25 November 2018), I was using the maps to look at a current event – Russia's attacks of Ukrainian ships at the Kerch Straight between the Black Sea and Sea of Azov.

There have been several graphics from news organizations in the past 24 hours showing where the attacks occurred, but I thought some context in terms of where our Germans from Russia ancestors lived....and where some of our relatives still live...might be helpful.

And overview of the area of the conflict. Source: Map4News. Graphic by Jiachaun Wu, NBC News.

This is the same area as shown in the NBC News graphic with German ancestral villages in what was Imperial Russia at the time most were founded, but today span across (left to right) Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. 

This is a close up showing the Kerch Straight, the Sea of Azov and the city of Mariupol.

Keep in mind that you can search the map for any place, whether or not it's a historical German village, using the magnifying glass icon in top right corner of the legend on the left of the screen. At the bottom of the items listed, you'll see other suggestions such as "Move map to" or "From Google." It will drop a pin on the map, perhaps amongst our ancestral villages.

This is a good example of why the Germans from Russia Settlement Locations project is a living document and why it's not just published and put on a shelf.

Things can change in a weekend.


06 November 2018

Death of Catherine the Great

Painting of Catherine the Great by Fedor Rokotov (1763, Tretyakov gallery). Source WikiCommons.

Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst
Born: Slettin, Pomerania, 21 April (2 May) 1729
Died: Saint Petersburg, Russia, 6 (17) November 1796
Reigned: 1762-1796

Empress Catherine II died on this day, 6 November 1796 (17 November according to the Gregorian calendar), of a stroke in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  She was 67 years old.  Without her rising to the position she held for 34 years and her famous manifesto issued in 1763, there would be no Germans from Russia.  She brought Russia "from the mindset of the Middle ages into the modern world of the 18th century" and was the last ruling Tsarina of the Imperial Russian Empire. 

The grand opening of the monument honoring Catherine the Great in Odessa, Russia in 1900.  Source: WikiCommons.

The moument honoring Catherine the Great in Odessa, Ukraine as it stands today.
Photo by Dennis Bender, May 2017.


16 October 2018

Max Kade Institute Friends Newsletter

The fall 2017 of the Max Kade Institute Friends Newsletter featuring the Germans from Russia Settlement Locations project is now online on their website as a back issue.  You can download the full issue for free here.


15 October 2018

"They make you think big thoughts..."

Every map tells a story.

The New York Times published a special section this past weekend in both their print and online editions that show an interactive map of almost every building in the United States. Every black speck on it is a building.

A map of every building in the United States.

It reminded me of Karl Stumpp's Map of the Russian-German Settlements in the USA and Mexico.  Every triangle, circle and square is a town where Germans from Russia settled in the U.S. between 1874 and 1920.

A map of every (?) German-Russian town in the US between 1874 and 1920.
Partial "Map of the Russian-German Settlements in the USA and Mexico" by Karl Stumpp.  Click to view the full version. 

Without plotting out every town in the U.S. (maybe a new map soon?), just looking at the two reveals that our ancestors who came to America went where no one else wanted to go.  They, for the most part, settled where there was nothing else. And they started to build...and 140+ years later, we've made black specks on the map.

The online version of the New York Times' map came across my newsfeed Saturday morning, and being that it was a rainy day in southern Arizona, I spent some time playing with it.  I searched for places I'd lived, where my grandparents lived, and where my great-grandparents had homesteaded. I noticed where the towns ended was not the end of the buildings. The data had picked up the farms – houses, barns, etc.

Map nerd that I am, as I zoomed in, I couldn't help but think how much the images looked like the plat maps of our ancestral villages that we cherish so much when we find them – boxes indicating that someone remembered that something was here. Someone lived here.  Someone went to church here.  Someone was buried here.

Below are a few towns in the U.S. that were settled by and, in many cases, are still home to descendants of Germans from Russia.

Eureka, South Dakota was a major hub of Germans from Russia in the Dakotas. Most who settled in and around Eureka were Protestants from the Black Sea area of Russia. 

Gotebo, Oklahoma was home to Mennonite Germans from Russia.
Liebenthal, Kansas was home to Catholic Volga Germans from Russia. 

Pfeifer, Kansas' sister village in Russia was also named Pfeiffer, a Catholic village in the Volga region. 

Reedley, California was home to Mennonite Germans from Russia.

German settlers in Rifle, Colorado were Protestants from the Volga area of Russia.

Scottsbluff, Nebraska was home to Volga Germans of both the Catholic and Protestant faiths. 

German settlers in Sedgwick, Colorado were Protestants from the Volga area of Russia. 

Strasburg, North Dakota's sister village in Russia was Strassburg, Kutschurgan, Odessa. It became home to Catholics from that Black Sea village. 

Wishek, North Dakota was home to many Protestant Black Sea Germans from Russia. 

Zurich, Montana was home to Protestant German settlers from the Black Sea area of Russia

The authors of the New York Times article went on to write about how at one time in the not so distant past, every car's glove box contained folded road maps. Each map took you only so far when you'd have to pick up another map to continue your trip. The maps helped us trace our connection to other places.

It's probably not surprising to you that I have a box filled with old road maps that serve as reminders of nearly every road trip I ever took from the time I got my driver's license in 1983.

The article continues:
"Fewer of us use maps like that today. We gaze at our phones, pinching and stretching an image but seeing the world through a little rectangular window.  
"The phone's guidance is better, but the view is not. We're less likely to know what we are driving past. 
"'We lose what's fascinating about a place by not having this bigger picture,' said Susan Crawford, a professor at Harvard Law School whose work involves cities and and technology, who looked at the images at our request. 'They make you think big thoughts...'"

Big thoughts.
Current map of German from Russia Settlement Locations

Learn More:

  • Map of the Russian-German Settlements in the USA and Mexico. This is one of Karl Stumpp's lesser known maps indicating towns in the United States and Mexico that were settled by Germans from Russia. It contains special maps of those states that had dense populations of Germans from Russia: North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Northern Colorado and Northern Oklahoma.
  • Germans from Russia in Campbell, Nebraska History. This recounts one of the early Volga groups who, after learning about Alexander II's decision to revoke the German colonists' rights granted to them by Catherine the Great and Alexander I, went to the United States in search of new land. After a short time in Wisconsin, the Burlington Railroad took them to Nebraska.
  • "The Migration of Russian-Germans to Kansas," by Norman E. Saul. Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains, Spring 1974 (Vol. 4, No. 1), pp. 38-62. Kansas was well advertised as a place for immigrants to settle. The state of Kansas had already established the Kansas Immigration Society by 1871, and with the blessing of the society, the railroads launched a major advertising campaign to draw immigrants to the area, including free transportation by rail once they arrived. Contingents of Volga Germans investigated moving to Kansas as early as 1874. This article does into the symbiotic relationship between Kansas and the Germans from Russia.