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. 

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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).

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21 June 2022

City of Kherson Through Time

1910 Map of the City of Kherson.

On 18 June 1778 (uncertain if this was the Julian or Gregorian date), a decree was issued by Catherine the Great founding the city and fortress of Kherson (Ukrainian: Херсо́н, German: Cherson) on the Dnieper River. It was to be the central command of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet.

German colonists immigrating to Russia in the early 1800s who were not farmers had the option settling in cities:

“For the initial founding of colonies in Cherson, Ekaterinoslav, and Taurida Gubernias to select locations mostly near ports in order that the settlers can be located with a particular means to get their products out....Artisans and craftsmen of all types are to be settled in the cities, wherever each one wishes. But in the first instance the present arrivals [February 1804] from Germany will be based in Odessa because Collegial Councilor Kontenius has been permitted to get this process started....” 

German colonists in Russian cities were a minority population. In 1897, with a population of 59, 076, just .7% of the population of the city of Kherson spoke the German language. 

There was a Catholic parish in Kherson with a stone church. In 1904, there were 1,209 souls, and according to Joseph Schnurr, most were Poles. 

Like with most cities in the former Russian Empire, it is difficult at a glance to say exactly when German colonists may have lived there. Kherson is a city, a former district, and a former province. Like Odessa, Kherson shows up in in family trees and EWZ records without any indication if it was the city proper, the district, or the greater province. 

A search of Kherson/Cherson as a birth place in the Black Sea German Research database indicates that the children of German colonists were born in Kherson/Cherson (city? district? province?) between 1808 and 1943. This happens to correspond with the early years after the Black Sea area was made available to foreigners for settlement (1804) and also the later years of when EWZ records were taken (1939–early 1945) for those ethnic Germans who were resettled back to Germany.

Sources and Further Reading:

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18 June 2022

Christina Through Time

In search of locating the earliest map of the Beresan Catholic daughter colony Christina (today Novosafronivka, Mykolaiv Oblast, Ukraine) by its coordinates, I noticed something: the name “Christina” did not appear on maps until the 1940s.

Reportedly founded in 1874-75 or 1878-79 (German Captured Documents) or 1891 (Mertens and Ortslexikon), the oldest appearance of the village by its name Sofronowka that I found initially was on an 1860 map.

A quick search of the Black Sea German Research database confirms people were born in Christina in between 1860 and 1943, not only in pedigrees but also in EWZ records. Earliest death in the same database was 1875. Another search for Sofronowka shows even more between roughly the same years, most of which called the place Nowo-Sofronowka. 

I began to look for Sofronowka/Christina on older maps and found it on ones from 1805 and 1796, before Germans were settling in the Black Sea area. Certainly before there were any daughter colonies. 

I searched the Ukrainian language version of Wikipedia for its current name, Новосафронівка. It said the village was established in 1796, matching the publication date of the oldest map, and the sign on the way into town

Further into the German Captured Documents is a page about the history of Sofronowka:


     Some of the German inhabitants come from the Rhine Palatinate and Alsace. Some of the old landlords emigrated to Germany, Serbia and Bulgaria in 1918. S[ofronowka] used to be a rich village; the least landlord in the village owned 15 ha [hectares, ~37 acres] of land, the second least 25 ha [61.78 acres]. The richest landlord, Jakob Loron, had 300 ha [741.32 acres]. The village had to endure several waves of persecution because of its wealth. In 1918, the villagers often left their belongings in a bundle and fled. At the bridge of Vossnessensk, some Germans were murdered in a cruel way by the Bolsheviks (sawing off hands, cutting out eyes etc.). Some Germans had stayed behind to protect the goods of the fled landlords. They took care of the cattle, etc. Franz Reisenau and Alexander Schüler from S[ofronowka], about 30-32 years old, were shot as spies by the Reds while protecting the estate. At the mill in S[ofronowka] a Hertner and others from Felsenburg who had been taken to S[ofronowka] were shot. 

     The second persecution started in 1930. A number of ethnic Germans were forcibly resettled to Arkhangelsk. The third wave of persecution began in 1937. A number of ethnic Germans were arrested and sent away. It is not known where they were sent. This was the worst year.

     In 1941 some men were arrested and taken to Nikolaev. It is said that they were shot there by the NKVD. 

     It was founded in 1874-75 by immigrant landlords from Karlsruhe. The land was bought by the widow of a nobleman with the first name Christina. The newly founded village was originally called Neu-Sofronowka. (After the nearby Ukrainian colony of Old Sofronovka). However, a few years later a German pastor changed the name of the village, and it was called “Christina” after the widow of the nobleman. This name has been preserved in the folklore until today. The later change of the name by the Soviets to New Sofronovka did not change it.

     In 1906-07, a beautiful Gothic church was built for the Catholic community. It is said that it was the most beautiful one in the whole region. The building costs were 15000 rubles, which were raised by the community. Today the church is destroyed, but it is still possible to see from the ruins and from the whole complex that the church, situated on a dominant hill in the village, was extraordinarily magnificent. In the village there was a family who had their estates (chutors) outside and lived in the village. One of them was called Tomas Anton and he had an estate of about 1000 hectares [2471 acres].

     In the village still lives an old teacher named Johann Bär, 69 years old, who knows a little about the history of the village.

     The village today makes a desolate impression because a large number of the farms have been destroyed. The ruins still stand above all. The valley, crossed by the Elanez River, is now a wasteland. In the past there were orchards everywhere. Today the village is inhabited by 48 German families, 15 of which are of mixed marriages. There are also 11 Ukrainian families living in the village. The inhabitants are well aware of their Germanness, but they are extremely poor. The most necessary repairs have been made to the houses, and some of them have been painted and repaired. However, due to the fact that the old dilapidated place and farm buildings are still standing, the village has a desolate appearance. The planned resettlement of the inhabitants to Dobroje is postponed until the morning. There is a German school in the village, run by 2 teachers and attended by about 30 students. The mayor is Rochus Müller.

Sources and Further Reading:

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09 June 2022

Yandex's Disappearing Borders

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, I have periodically looked at Yandex Maps (Russia’s version of Google Maps) to see if there have been any name or region changes, particularly the Russian-declared “people’s republics” in the Donbas. Surprisingly, as war experts and cartographers rushed to keep up with daily maps of the tactical borders of the war, there were no immediate changes on Yandex. 

However, this morning, I saw that Jake Cordell of Reuters and other news outlets reported that Yandex Maps has removed the international borders. Yandex Maps has seemingly removed national borders. All of them.

This was noticed around 4 June, the say after the founder and CEO of Yandex, Arkady Volozh, was sanctioned by the EU and subsequently resigned. 

Today, Yandex put out a statement saying that its main scenario/service to its users was to help find organizations, places, public transport, and auto routes. Where their main service/scenario is not used will become physical and geographical. “The emphasis will be on natural objects, not on the borders of states.” It goes on to say, “Our task is to display the world around us. Therefore, mountains, rivers, polar circles lines and other data typical of this type of maps will appear on the map. Changes will appear gradually.”

I located a screenshot of what the map looked like before and the same map today. Ignore the pins on the map, but note the lack of borders. 

Source: Google Images search for “screenshot of yandex maps”.

Source: Vue Yandex Maps Examples on CodeSandbox.

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