07 January 2020

“Leave just after sunset and not after sunrise.”

Often we wonder about the reasons why our German ancestors left Russia. Military conscription was certainly a part of it, but it wasn't the whole story. Here is account from someone who was closer to them in both time and place, someone who had spoken to those who wanted to leave Russia as well as to those who had left and settled in the United States: the Bishop of the Catholic diocese of Tyraspol.

The following is an excerpt from 
History of the Diocese of Tyraspol (part 11),” from the Germans from Russia Heritage Society's journal, Heritage Review.  It is part of a long series about the history of the Catholic diocese in Russia, written by Joseph Aloysius Kessler, Titular Archbishop of the Bosphorus and previous Bishop of Tyraspol. Initially published in the German language in 1930, it has been translated into English by Rev. Horst Wilhelm Gutsche from Barrhead, Alberta, Canada. Installments of the book have been appearing in Heritage Review since March 2017. 

The phrase “leave just after sunset and not after sunrise” has more or less haunted me for weeks.

• • •

53. Immigration to America

According to the manifest of July 22, 1763, paragraph VI, n: I 4, whereby Empress Catherine II had invited the German colonists, these were to be forever exempt from military service: “Such settling foreigners in Russia are, during their entire sojourn here, apart from normal agricultural service, not to be taken into military or civil service against their will.” For 100 years the German colonists were glad because of this privilege. However, when military conscription was extended in 1874 to include the Russian nobility and the Russian merchant class of the first estate, the colonists also had their privileges taken away. However, the government gave them an alternative: either emigrate or serve in the military. Thousands of colonists in the Volga region, particularly Catholics, decided to emigrate. The emigration became the topic of daily conversation. Everyone cherished the desire to leave Russia. This was proof of the fact that the German people in Russia did not feel at home. If the Volga Germans had been able to come up with the necessary funds, probably only a few would have remained behind in the Russian homeland. Nevertheless, the removal of the military privileges would have not caused this general attitude to be brought about. Its causes lay deeper. 

The government gave them an alternative: 
either emigrate or serve in the military.

At one time, the colonists felt themselves to be foreign in the empire of the tsar as one always looked upon them as being foreigners. The Russian does not consider all non-Russian citizens as having equal rights and as loyal subjects. He always sees them as being foreign invaders. When during the war, a German colonist, a member of the imperial duma held a speech concerning the welfare of the fatherland, many from the rows of Russians called out: “Which fatherland: Russia or Germany?” How often did the German colonists, ever since they stood in more regular contact with the Russian population, experience how very much they were envied and even hated because of their higher standard of living? The consciousness of being envied and hated by the great mass of the Russian population did not easily allow the German colonist to have the feeling of equality with the other citizens. If, for this reason, there was a lack of devotion to the fatherland on the part of some colonists, then the fault must be looked for not so much in them but much more in the general population of the country. A second cause, why the German colonist never felt very good, lay in the different psyche of the Germans and his Russian surroundings. By nature, the German is open-hearted, rugged, hardy, and without guile. The exact opposite is found in the character of the Russian farmer. For this reason, the Volga colonists invented the saying: “The Russian has a Russian in his breast.” However, proverbs originate from the deep conviction of a people and are based on general experience. The third reason why the desire to emigrate and to leave Russia took hold of almost all of the colonists was the poor judicial system. As long as the guardianship office and the offices made decisions concerning the legal issues among the colonists, the colonists had enough legal protection. The leaders of the communities and the administrators had the power to bring serious crimes to court and to pass judgment upon them. The administrators had the power to sentence brutal criminals with corporal punishment. They could even have people punished with rods. With the introduction of the “Russian rules,” that is, since 1874, these rights were withdrawn from them. The judicial cases were handled in the county cities, or in the case of important issues, even in the governments. Corporal punishment was abolished. Russian justice often even let the serious criminals go without punishment. The people were convinced of the fact that the judges allowed the thieves to go without punishment so that they could steal even more and could divide that which was robbed with the judges. As a result of the poor handling of justice, whole bands of horse thieves were formed who often drove away all of the livestock belonging to the farmers. No complaint, no protest to the government official solved anything. With this state of affairs, the people turned to self-defense. Murder and killing of the thieves and swindlers was not unheard of in some of the colonies. Actually, the lack of legal protection was one of the main reasons why the best colonists left Russia. Together with others, it even caused Balthasar Brungardt, the leader of the emigrants from the colony of Herzog, to say farewell to Russia forever, as the aged gentleman himself told the author of this diocesan history while he was visiting America.

...They taught the colonists to leave just after sunset 
and not after sunrise....referring to America and not 
to the old homeland of Germany... 
It had to be better in America than in Russia.

Even the Jesuits, who led the pastoral ministry among the colonists for about eighteen years in the Volga region, suspected that the Germans would not remain in Russia forever. In case of emigration, they taught the colonists to leave just after sunset and not after sunrise. Without a doubt, they were referring to America and not to the old homeland of Germany. Since the Russian state needed the Volga Germans as a human bulwark against the assaults of the wild nomadic peoples of the East, the Kyrgyz and the Kalmycks, the priests could not speak directly and openly. With the term “toward 
sunset,” one could also have meant the old homeland. But the colonists could return to the old homeland. This was not considered to be a crime by the Russian state. The elders now were reminded of the advice given by the “Jesuviter,” as the people called them. According to them, it had to be better in America than in Russia. Considerations such as these affected the Catholic German farmers in the Volga region. Nevertheless, the Catholic colonies of the Meadow and Hilly Sides (on both sides of the Volga) decided to send scouts to North and South America. These were to explore the land to see if it was suitable for agriculture and to enter into negotiations with the government officials concerning the allotment of sections of land. Those so authorized travelled through many states of North America, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. According to the report of the authorized delegation, the conditions for immigration were most favorable in the states of North America. For this reason, the first stream of Catholic emigrants from the Volga region poured into the United States of North America. A second movement from the Catholic Volga colonies went to Argentina. In 1926, the colonies in the state of Kansas celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of their settlement in the New World. However, Kansas is a state in the middle of the [United] States which often suffer from a lack of rain and therefore from failed harvests. Nevertheless, as the author of this history witnessed personally during his visit to America in the year 1922, the valiant fellow brethren of the same heritage, by means of diligence and prudence have set themselves up so well in such a short period of time that they helped to still the hunger of their unfortunate relatives in Russia by generous gifts given to them in the years of famine caused by Bolshevism. Once again, let me heartily thank the dear benefactors for their kind and willing cooperation and the dear reception which they prepared for the author and his ministerial traveling companion!

Catholic colonies...decided to send scouts to North and South America...through many states of North America, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay... to explore the land to see if it was suitable for agriculture...

Since 1876, many immigrated at various times to the New World from the south of the diocese of Tyraspol, mostly to the United States of America. Most of them settled in North and South Dakota where many, despite the short period of settlement, have established themselves well. Some have already attained a high standard of living. By means of their great courage, prudence, and diligence, they will soon be better off than in their former Russian homeland. The author was very glad to have met many of the former members of his diocese in North Dakota, also members of his parish, and even students from the parish school. At this point in the book, he also thanks these dear brethren of common heritage as best as he can for their kind reception and the generous donations for the starving! Our dear God will reward them for their great acts of compassion. The dear Americans often saved on their own meals in order to just have their starving brothers in Russia fed! We will always lovingly remember the benefactors. However, the famine could not be truly alleviated since the same one affected everyone upon the territory of the diocese of Tyraspol, so that the proverb “Many brethren but few possessions” was fulfilled.

Since 1876, many immigrated at various times to the 
New World from the south of the diocese of Tyraspol, 
mostly to the United States of America. Most of them settled 
in North and South Dakota... By means of their great 
courage, prudence, and diligence, they will soon be better off than in their former Russian homeland.  


01 January 2020

Ellis Island Opened 1 January 1892



The Inspection.

    Let the arrival of the ship, with the number of immigrants, be announced to the officer in charge, and let the order be given that they shall be brought in. Have a special officer conduct them to the platform in groups, a family, or two or three individuals, or sometimes a single person.
    1.  A general inspection, as they pass through a gateway, by a surgeon of the marine hospital, who takes a general look from feet to head; he is on the lookout for contagious skin-diseases or for any disease or deformity. If he sees anything suspicious in any one, that person is marked with a chalk-mark and sent to the detention-room, after being marked "F. I.," for a more careful examination.
    2. A careful inspection of the eyes by another uniformed doctor, who is looking especially for trachoma or any contagious eye-disease. Those whose cases seem doubtful are also marked with chalk and sent to the detention-room.
    3. The immigrants pass up to the table of the inspector, who asked them the questions given below. He has before him the papers on which the answers they have already given to the same questions at the the place where they embarked. If their answers are satisfactory, and if they agree with those on the paper before him, they are marked "O.K. for New York," or "O.K. for the Railroad," or "O.K. for the West," or wherever they are going.
    If any immigrants are not able to give satisfactory answers to the question, or if for any reason the inspector does not dare to admit them on his own responsibility, they are marked "F. I." (Further Investigation), of "S. I." (Special Inquiry), and are sent to the detention-room. 

Questions to be Answered by all the Immigrants.
  1. What is your name?
  2. How old are you?
  3. Where did you live before coming here?
  4. Who paid your passage?
  5. Where are you going?
  6. Have you a ticket?
  7. What is your business?
  8. How much money have you?
  9. Can you read and write?
  10. Were you ever in prison or an almshouse?
  11. Are you an anarchist or polygamist?
  12. Are you under a labor-contract?
  13. Who is to meet you here?
• • •

On 1 January 1892, Ellis Island Immigration Station opened. It was named for Samuel Ellis who owned the island in the 1700s. During the 62 years it was in operation, more than 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island.

The original Ellis Island Immigration Station on Ellis Island, circa 1896. The following year, this building would be completely destroyed by fire. Source: WikiCommons

The original building was built from Georgia pine, and it was completely destroyed by fire on 15 June 1897. No lives were lost in the fire. While a new fireproof building was constructed, immigration intake was moved to the U.S. Barge Office on the southeastern tip of Manhattan in Battery Park.

Ellis Island Immigration Station with a ferry docked at the adjacent pier taken between 1902-1913.
Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections. 

Among the millions who passed through Ellis Island, many were our immigrant Germans from Russia ancestors, who began coming to the United States in the early 1870s after the privileges granted by Catherine the Great and Alexander I were revoked. They came seeking land and a new life.


1855 – Between 3 August 1855 and 18 April 1892, Castle Garden, located on the southwestern tip of Manhattan in Battery Park, was used for immigrant intake in New York Harbor. Prior to 1855, there was no central immigrant processing center in New York. Each wharf kept their own custom passenger lists. 
1890 – 19 April 1892, immigration intake was moved to the the U. S. Barge Office on the southeastern tip of Manhattan in Battery Park. 
1892 – 1 January 1892, Ellis Island Immigration Station opened on a a small island off the New Jersey coast in New York Harbor.   
1897 – 15 June 1897, a fire destroys the Ellis Island Immigration Station. Immigration intake moved back to the U.S. Barge Office from 15 June 1897 through 16 December 1900.
1900 – 17 December 1900, the new fireproof Ellis Island Immigration Station opened and was in operation until late 1924 after the Immigration Act of 1924 (The Johnson-Reed Act).  

Learn More:


24 December 2019

14 December 2019

Interesting Maps

I love other people's maps. I like seeing what they're doing and what tools they use. Periodically I share some of the maps that have caught my eye. It's been a while, so here's a list of some interesting maps that I've appreciated and think you might enjoy. All have been added to the Maps page (if you only bookmark one page on this site, it should be the Maps page) at the bottom under the category Other Map Projects.

• • •

Eastern Armenia Churches and Their Records
Camille Andrus has put together a Google MyMap of towns in Armenia in the former Russian Empire with churches and then grouped them by denomination and district (uyezd). Each town includes the name of the place as it was in the Russian Empire, the district, the denomination, a link to the church records at FamilySearch and the coordinates for the place.  Many also have a link to the entry in the online version of the Spiski Naselennykh Mest Rossiiskoi Imperii (gazetteer of Imperial Russia circa 1880). I like that there are active links in the entries that take you to your next steps in your research journey. This map is currently being updated.

 Eastern Armenia Churches and Their Records
Eastern Armenia Churches and Their Records

Maps of the 2019 Volga German Tours
Custom tours of the Volga colonies have been led by Brent Mai and and Mila Koretnikov since 2016. This year, Sergej Koretnikov's maps of the Volga German Tours had a nice surprise: markers for the locations of former buildings and other landmarks in the colonies that were visited on the tour. I had heard he was planning on something like this using a handheld GPS to record the locations, but this is the first time I'd seen the resulting maps. So instead of just one pin for Yagodnaya Polyana, there are six – one for each of the following landmarks: the old cemetery, the German school, the new cemetery, the old German school, the old mill and the site of the church. This is a great way to include historical context to modern maps. Although I wish the coordinates were included in the information for each so that they can be used with other maps, I think what he's doing this is a really great idea. I hope those who do research on individual colonies will consider creating similar maps with markers on sites where known buildings, farmsteads and other landmarks once stood. The real value of GPS is the precision that you can apply and say "this stood exactly here."

There are three tour maps, all made with Google MyMaps. The screenshots below are in satellite mode, but the default maps were in plain map mode. You can switch the view mode by going to the bottom of the legend on the left and clicking the little map.

Volga German Tour A, June 9-10, 2019: Yagodnaya Polyana, Pobochnaya, Kutter, Huck, Norka, Kolb, Frank.

Volga German Tour B, June 18, 2019: Bangert, Stahl-am-Tarlyk, Kukkus, Warenburg, Seelman.

Volga German Tour C, August 3, 2019: Friedendeld, Ährenfeld, Reinwald, Krasnoyar.

Germans from Russia Settlements Worldwide

Justin Ehresman has been working on a map that plots every place that Germans from Russia lived, from their origins in the Germanic states, to the generations who lived in the Russian Empire and later the Soviet Union, to their migrations worldwide up to the present day. Although still in progress, you can clearly see how far and wide the descendants of Germans from Russia have migrated since the mid-1700s, including some surprises – Africa!

This map is made with the mapping service ZeeMaps.

Germans from Russia Settlements Worldwide

Historic Place Map of Germans from Russia and Eastern Europe Settlement Locations
This map is by Otto Riehl using data provided by Dennis Bender. These two have been working together for a while now on a list of places that has become a part of the Historic Genealogical Gazetteer (GOV), a part of the even larger site of everything-German-genealogy, CompGen (Verein für Computergenealogie). There is a lot going on with this map, and while it's not the easiest to navigate, it's worth spending some time on it. You can browse to locations if you know where your'e going, but ideally, the site's instructions suggest that you search the spreadsheets first, find the colony, then click on the map link to take you directly to it. From the icon on the map, click on other icons to link to more information, view the entry in GOV, or view the place on historic maps (external sites). There is a lot of good colony information in here. Well worth your time.

This map is hosted on the site Historic Place, which uses OpenStreetMap as its mapping service.

Historic Place Map of Germans from Russia and Eastern Europe Settlement Locations


08 December 2019

Survey Closing December 31st

The year is winding down, and so is the Germans from Russia in America Survey. It will close at midnight on December 31, 2019. If you have contributed, my deepest thanks for sharing your family's stories and locations in the U.S. The time you put into answering the survey has enriched the project in ways I'd never imagined. 

If you haven't contributed and would still like to, please go to http://bit.ly/surveyGRinUSA.

To learn more about the project visit https://america.germansfromrussiasettlementlocations.org/