31 May 2023

End of May Update

Almost there! 

The splitting of Asiatic Russia into its former imperial provinces is near the end. All that is left in the Caucasus are the provinces of Stavropol and Terek. The pins in yellow and orange are left to do. Those in shades of red are complete. So far, 89 more locations have been added, covering the western part of the  North Caucasus (Russia) and the South Caucasus (Armenia, Türkiye, Georgia and Azerbaijan). 

Still on target for a mid-late June map update. This is what it looks like as of yesterday. 


Upcoming Conferences and Presentations

I will be presenting virtually and on-demand for GRHS and FEEFHS respectively. And in August, I will be attending AHSGR in Greeley, CO.  

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Germans from Russia Heritage Society Convention (Virtual), Saturday, July 22

Time Travel Using Historical Maps: Wander through time and explore your ancestral villages on geolocated maps. In the past decade, efforts have been made to scan and georeference historical maps that have been sitting in archives for hundreds of years. You will learn how to use information from the Germans from Russia Settlement Locations map to travel back in time and find your ancestral colonies on period maps using their GPS coordinates. You will learn where to find repositories of detailed maps online, how to overcome language issues with technology, and how to capture images and cite your findings. 

The geographical focus of the presentation will be on historical provinces of South Russia (the Black Sea region) of the Russian Empire.

As some of you know, when I do this presentation for chapters, I customize it by using colonies suggested by members. If you're going to be at this presentation either in person in Mandan, ND, or virtually, let me know what colonies you would like to see. 

Learn more and register here.  

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Foundation of East European Family Studies Conference (On-Demand), August 1–4

Germans from Russia Settlement Locations Project: It started with the same questions we’ve all had. Where was my ancestor’s village? Does it still exist? What is it called today? Was it far from other villages? Is it still in Russia? How do I find it on these old maps? Where is it on today’s map? This presentation introduces the Germans from Russia Settlement Locations project, a geographic genealogy tool built using Google MyMaps that plots the locations of German colonies across the Imperial Russian Empire. We’ll review the history of the project and the research methods, tour the map, and discuss what’s coming next.

Time Travel Using Historical Maps: Wander through time and explore your ancestral villages on geolocated maps. In the past decade, efforts have been made to scan and georeference historical maps that have been sitting in archives for hundreds of years. You will learn how to use information from the Germans from Russia Settlement Locations map to travel back in time and find your ancestral colonies on period maps using their GPS coordinates. You will learn where to find repositories of detailed maps online, how to overcome language issues with technology, and how to capture images and cite your findings. 

The geographical focus of the presentation will be on historical provinces of the European part of the Russian Empire.

Learn more and register here. 

And so, a busy May ends as a busy June begins. 

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05 May 2023

Russian Turkestan

1900 Geological Map of the Caspian Region. Germans lived in the areas marked in blue, which followed the Transcaspian Railway and today border Iran and Afghanistan. To see the non-marked up map, click on the source link. Source: EtoMesto

The splitting of Asiatic Russia into its former imperial provinces continues. All of Russian Turkestan is done. This area includes the modern-day countries include Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. 

Twenty-nine colonies were added, bringing the total for this area to 53. It was not a big German settlement area, and it was only open for a short time, roughly 1880 to 1910. During WWII, there were some deportations to this area and later resettlements. Those will be reflected under the Deportations section on the map in the future. 

The First Imperial Census of 1897 described a total of 3,722 native German speakers at the time living in the oblasts of Fergana (369), Samarkand (440), Syr-Darya (1,887), and Transcaspia (1,026). There were none reported in Semirechenskaya at that point. 

Map of the Syr-Darya Resettlement District from 1914. Most of the Germans in Russian Turkestan lived in these three oblasts, the districts of which I marked up and color coded: Syr-Darya (blue), Samarkand (red), Fergana (green). Source: EtoMesto

The census also did not include German populations in the protectorates of the Emirate of Bukhara and the Khanate of Khiva. But we know that Molotschna (Taurida) and Am-Trakt (Samara) Mennonites had settlements in those two Russian protected states, the result of the Great Mennonite Trek 1880–1884 for the End of Times. There is much about this topic out there. I recommend the very engaging book Pilgrims on the Silk Road: A Muslim-Christian Encounter in Khiva by Walter Ratliff. He is an Associated Press journalist, historian, and descendant of those original Mennonite pilgrims who were on the trek. He along with a group of other descendants recreated the trek in 2007. 

As for other German origins, there were few specifics. Along with the Molotschna (Taurida) and Am-Trakt (Samara) Mennonites, there were Germans from or somehow connected to the village of Frank (Saratov), Hussenbach (Saratov), Warenburg (Samara), Romanowka (Akmola), and Druzhba (Semirechenskaya), There were also reported Germans who came from the provinces of Ekaterinoslav, Kherson, Orenburg, Poltava, Samara, Saratov, Volhynia, Voronezh, and the Don Host. 

This is not a live map, but this is what the new research so far will look like when it gets posted. Click on it see a larger view. 



Next up is the Caucasus region, which will cover parts of modern-day Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Türkiye. I am looking forward to relaxing in the sun on the back patio this weekend as I start collecting maps and queuing up the data for the last leg of this research stint. I have a few other deadlines this month for upcoming convention presentations this summer. Given that I want to present new parts of the map in these presentations, I am highly motivated to meet my self-imposed deadline of posting the data before convention season starts. 

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21 April 2023

Steppes Krai: Semipalatinsk, Turgai, Ural Oblasts

1912 Map of part of the northern parts of the Ural and Turgai oblasts. Source: EtoMesto
1912 Map of the Semipalatinsk Oblast. Source: EtoMesto

The splitting of Asiatic Russia into its former imperial provinces continues. The former oblasts of Semipalatinsk, Turgai and Ural are now done. This completes what is labeled “Siberia” on the map now.  Several more colonies were added: Semipalatinsk, 16 colonies; Turgai, 15 colonies; and Ural, 3 colonies. Tomsk also gained 5 colonies because my borders between Semipalatinsk and Tomsk were off a bit. Whenever I finish an area, I look at it next to surrounding areas to make sure nothing is out of whack. 

What was most interesting about these three oblasts is that they reported no Germans in them at all before 1901. The colonies that were formed were a part of the Russian Empire for at most seven years. Also interesting is that most did not show up on period maps by name for decades. All the settlement plots were numbered. By the time names of these places started appearing on maps, many of their names had already been changed.

The origins of those who moved to this area, of course, were all resettlements from elsewhere in the Russian Empire. Most of the sources just said Volga or Black Sea, but some were more specific. Here is a summary of where they came from: 

Provinces mentioned as origins of the resettlers: Akmola, Astrakhan, Bessarabia, Ekaterinoslav, Kharkov, Kherson, Kurland, Moscow, Petrokov, Poltava, Samara, Saratov, Taurida, Volhynia.

Specific colonies mentioned (grouped by enclave or province): 


Is is Ural? Map by Sasha Trubetskoy on Twitter, 26 Jan 2022. 

A note on the Ural Oblast. Ural and Ural region means a lot of things to a lot of people. Although everyone agrees there is a Ural region, nobody seems to know exactly what what geographic area it includes presently...or in the past. The map above shows some ways of defining the region. This map is from last year of current Russia, so it does not take into account any historical regions that were a part of  Russian Empire but are now Kazakhstan.

Map of the Cis-Ural Region and Siberia in From Catherine to Khrushchev.

In From Catherine to Khrushchev, the Cis-Ural region is outlined and mapped on pages 136-137. In the image above, imagine the Ural mountain range running from above Perm down between Ufa and Chelyabinsk continuing south to just above Orenburg. That would be the central and southern ranges of the Ural mountain range. To the west (left) is the Cis-Ural region; to the east (right) is Siberia, according to this map. The book further defines the German colonies in the Cis-Ural region as follows: 

  1. The Neu-Samara Colony [eastern part of the Samara Province then; Orenburg Oblast today]
  2. The colonies around Orenburg [Orenburg Province then; Orenburg Oblast today] 
  3. The colonies around Ufa [Ufa Province then; the republics of Bashkortostan and Tartarsan today]
  4. The colonies around Aktyubinsk [Turgai Oblast then; Aktobe Province, Kazakhstan today]
  5. The Arkadak Colony [Saratov Province then; Saratov Oblast today].

While mostly in the zone of “Is it Ural,” there are some geographical problems with the map in From Catherine to Khrushchev, notably the Arkadak Colony that is situated west of the Volga colonies in Saratov Oblast. No way is that in the Ural region. And Aktyubinsk/Aktobe is south of the mountain range. But if one definition of the Ural region is the Ural mountain range and all the cities and villages in and around it, including those to the north and south of it, then okay, maybe Aktyubinsk falls in that category. Maybe.

Now that you have seen some of the ways the Ural region has been defined, past and present, I'm here to tell you that the Ural Oblast of the Russian Empire that existed from 1868–1920 isn’t ANY of those above. No, this oblast was further south and west of what anyone in their right mind would call the Ural region. But there it was for 52 years. It does not mean that any other definition of Ural region is wrong; this is just another one to add to the list. So, when you see the data posted to the big map, and you see Ural Oblast is not where you thought the Ural region was, then remember this post.

One more map section of the area that gives you a bigger picture. This one is from 1914. I’ve labeled a few provinces to give you some reference points. 

Map of Russia by Governments and Oblasts [1914]. Source: Wikimedia Commons

As mentioned before, all the data from this research exercise will be posted at once. 

Next up on the schedule is Russian Turkestan, or what is labeled Central Asia on the map now. It finishes off the southern part of modern-day Kazakhstan and includes settlements in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. After that, it’s off to the Caucuses.

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14 April 2023

Steppes Krai: Akmola Oblast

1914 of the Akmola Region from EtoMesto.

The splitting of Asiatic Russia into its former imperial provinces continues. The former Akmola Oblast of the Russian Empire is now complete. Today, it comprises part of Omsk Oblast in Russia and the North, Akmola, and Karaganda regions of Kazakhstan.

There were German colonies in this area as early as 1890, and before resettlement to Siberia picked up in the early 1900s, the Imperial Census of 1897 was taken. In it, it was reported there were 682,608 inhabitants in Akmola Oblast. Of those, 4,791 (0.7%) reported themselves as native German speakers. 

The map above shows the region as it was in 1914 in the Russian Empire, with resettlement areas still open for a few more years. Note that there are many numbered plots but not not many names of places on the map. By this time, there were already many German resettlers from provinces in South Russia as well as those in the Volga area. Where there is good, fertile land, there are Mennonite settlers. Like in Crimea, the Mennonites settled not in planned colonies that are named (such as Molotschna, Chortitza, Zagradovka, etc.), but rather, they settled in the general area around Omsk and west of Omsk along the railway. It was nice to discover several colonies by Germans from Volhynia, Estonia and Lithuania. Again, these are voluntary resettlements. However, mixed in with these settlements would eventually be the “special settlements” and other deportation sites.

To what is already on the map, I have done the following: added 65 colonies; removed 5 colonies that I could not find enough evidence to confirm the locations and did not feel good about leaving them there; and have pending another 49 new settlements that were formed in the Soviet era and that I need to cross-check against a list of special settlements so that I can categorize them correctly. 

The map below shows part of the region as it was in 1955 after the Russian revolutions, after the rise of the Soviet Union, and after WWII — i.e., what was left (as far as the Americans knew) after 40 years. 

1955 U.S. Army Map Service. Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, UT Austin. 

Next up will be the former oblasts of Semipalatinsk to the southeast, and Turgai and Ural to the southwest. Of note, the 1897 Imperial Census did not report even one native German speaker in any of these oblasts. But I have a list of 121 locations in the queue already. Should be interesting. 

The map data will be posted at the end of this research cycle, which is still on target for late June before convention season starts. 

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12 March 2023

Western Siberia: Tobolsk Province

1914 map of the Tobolsk Province from the David Rumsey Map Collection

The splitting of Asiatic Russia into its former imperial provinces continues. The former Tobolsk Province in Western Siberia is now complete. This province shrunk over time. I recorded it with its boundaries in 1914, toward the end of the imperial period and when the voluntary resettlement of German and other colonists from elsewhere in Russia to Siberia was in full swing. It spans parts of the present-day Omsk, Tyumen, Sverdlovsk, and Kurgan oblasts.  Thirty-eight more settlements have been added in the process. And again, like with Tomsk, settlement was primarily in the southern part of the province with a mix of previous regions of origin (Volga, Black Sea, Volhynia) and religious confessions (heavily Mennonite, Protestant, very few Catholics). More mixed ethnicity settlements, too, Russian, Ukrainian, German, Estonian, Latvian. 

The Imperial Census of 1897, there were 1,433,043 inhabitants in Tobolsk Province. Of those, 1,120 (0.08%) reported themselves as native German speakers. This increased as resettlement proceeded over the next several years.  

With this province, Siberia, as it was defined administratively, is complete. 

Next up will be the Steppes Krai and the former oblasts of Akmolinsk, Semipalatinsk, Turgay, and Ural. Starting with Akmolinsk, this will cover the remainder of the present-day Omsk Oblast in Russia and most of northern Kazakhstan. This was a heavier area of resettlement by Germans with nearly 5,000 Germans living in the region before 1897.

As has been mentioned before, the update map data will be posted at the end of this research exercise all at once. Now that it’s beginning to take shape, I’m looking forward to seeing how it will look at the end. 

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