22 February 2019

German Colonies in the Poltava Province

Note: This post was updated on 24 Feb 2019 with the correct photos and source of the church. –SSP

Map of the Poltava Province, 1821.
Source: Geographical Atlas of the Russian Empire, General map of the Poltava Province.

The first German colonists in the Russian province of Poltava (
Poltawa) in the historic area known as Left Bank Ukraine were farmers from Frankfurt am Main. They arrived in the mid-1700s and settled in the village of Kremenchug. It would be another 50 years before larger numbers arrived. And when they did, they would make significant contributions toward the construction and textile industries in the province.

Malorossiya (Little Russia 1796-1802) was a territory created in 1796 that was comprised of most of modern-day northeastern Ukraine along with some adjacent regions. The territory proved too large to administer, so on 27 February 1802, Tsar Alexander I divided the area into the Chernigov and Poltava governorates.

At the end of the French Revolution (1789-1799), Napoleon seized power in France and created a de facto military dictatorship. By 1803, the Napoleonic Wars had begun. These major conflicts pitted the the French Empire against its allies until 1815. Sharing a border with France, the Germanic states obviously felt the immediate threat. When Tsar Alexander I opened the Black Sea up for settlement in 1804, German colonists responded overwhelming regardless of the immigration quotas that were set. Fearing the loss of military force at a precarious time, King Friedrich of Württemberg prohibited emigration from his kingdom from 1807-1815. Russia also felt the military threat of Napoleon. The governor-general in Poltava enacted a plan to build massive administrative offices and housing to support manufacturing in the area and brought in craftsmen needed to prepare for war. Poltava was already well equipped with specialists in metallurgy. What it lacked most were brick makers and weavers.

Volga Germans from the Saratov area who were experienced brick makers were invited to move to the city of Poltava to help begin mass producing building materials. Until then, Poltava had only two permanent structures made of brick. A master brick maker could only make 500 a bricks a day, not enough for the major construction projects planned.

Germans would also immigrate to Poltava to help develop its textile industry. The cloth Russia used to buy from England was no longer available due to broken trade ties with France. Poltava was well known for its high-quality wool which was plentiful. It needed weavers and knitters to manufacture fabrics to be made into military uniforms. In order to expedite this, on 20 June 1808, Alexander I invited artisan colonists from Bohemia, Moravia (both in present-day Czechia), Alsace (present-day France) and Saxony (a state in eastern Germany presently bordering Czechia and Poland) to settle in the cities of Poltava
Kostyantynohrad and Kremenchug.

The conditions of their settlement were as follows: 
  1. Freedom of religion. 
  2. Exemption from all taxes and duties for a term of 10 years. 
  3. In the following 10 years, land taxes were set at a rate of 15-20 kopecks per dessiatine [1 dessiatine = 2.7 acres] per tithing.
  4. Exemption from compulsory military service. Colonists were allowed to enter the civil service, subject to payment of the debt to the treasury. 
  5. Freedom to leave the colony or the Russian Empire, subject to payment of the treasury debt and 3 years taxes. 
  6. Freedom to sell their handicraft products throughout the country. 
  7. Per-diem in the amount of 12 kopecks per person per day for travel to Poltava and while waiting for placement. 
Housing would also be provided for the colonists who settled in the cities.

Arrival and Early Living Conditions

In November 1808, the first six families arrived. They were settled on what was then the outskirts of Poltava city. Houses were built for them along the streets of Fabrikantskaya (now Balakina St.) and Kolonistskaya (now Skovoroda St.).

Map of Poltava City showing the German Colony, 1857.
Source: War Archives, Stockholm, Sweden

The first large party of 130 German families reached Poltava in August 1809. They were placed in 16 houses. Over time, several more groups arrived with 54 families (249 people) settled in the city of Poltava, 41 families (218 people) in Kostyantynohrad, 2 families (10 people) in Kremenchug.

The houses provided in these villages were state-owned, small, inadequate in number, and of poor quality with paper-thin walls. The entire family lived and worked inside their homes, with their looms a part of their living quarters. Each family was expected to produce about 800 arshins [1 arshin = 28 inches or 71.1 centimeters] of cloth per year. For each arshin, they were paid 82 kopecks, including the cost of raw materials. Other expenses the colonists incurred were not reimbursed. Working conditions were severe, and disease and malnourishment were common. Medicine, like fuel, was added to the colonists' debt, keeping them from being able to leave.

In 1816, a new governor-general of Poltava was appointed who was more sympathetic to the working conditions in the German colonies in the province. Noting these conditions, he submitted a memorandum to the government. In response, Alexander I, through Ministry of the Interior, ordered the following measures be carried out:
  1. Cancel all debts of the colonists with the treasury.
  2. Give each family property with plots of land and hayfields.
  3. Give each family a loan of 100 rubles for three years.
  4. Any State provided tools used by the colonists were given to the colonists to own.
  5. Allow colonists to stay where they were or join others of their faith, Lutherans in Poltava or Catholics in Kostyantynohrad.
  6. Allow the colonies to set up courts and other self-government like other German colonies in Russia, including, by 1820, the election of a 3-year-term Schultz who oversaw the administration and management of each colony.
  7. Allow each colonist the opportunity to engage in his own craft at will, essentially become free craftsmen.
With mandatory quotas lifted and more autonomy, immediately German colonists began several small industrial enterprises that contributed to the production of fabric, leather and products made from them (socks, stockings, footwear, etc.). They would remain, some very prosperously, for decades to come.

 Religion and Culture

Most of the German colonists were Lutheran with number of Catholics settling together in the colony of Kostyantynohrad. Eventually there would be two Lutheran parishes. The parish in Poltava was established in 1804, with pastors serving until 1932. Peter and Paul church stood in the German colony in Poltava until it was destroyed by the Soviets in the 1930s. The parish in Kremenschug was established in 1863 with pastors serving until 1919. The Kremenschug congregation in 1905 included 216 Germans, 22 Latvians, 10 Estonians, 5 Swedish and 47 others.

Like other German colonies in Russia, those in Poltava kept their language, culture, religion and married mostly among themselves. Being that they were very much in the minority when it came to ethnicity, language (.16% of the population spoke German in 1897) and religion (Protestants, Catholics, Mennonites combined were .4% of the population in 1897), there was likely more assimilation into the culture around them simply in order to do business.

Peter and Paul church in the German colony in Poltava circa early 1900s. 
Source: WikiCommons

The Industrial Revolution in Russia

The Industrial Revolution and the development of capitalism came later to Russia than it did to other European and Western nations. Those nations transitioned to new manufacturing processes between about 1820-1840. Tsar Alexander II's 1861 Emancipation Manifesto freed serfs from private estates and domestic households across Russia. In total, an estimated 23 million people became free Russian citizens–free to marry, free to own property, free to run a business, etc. And this meant that large populations of people were suddenly also free to seek employment in cities. With this influx of workers, by the 1880s, large scale factories were producing textiles and steel, and coal mining became important to support these factories. Steel was used to construct railways, one of which was the Trans-Siberian Railway, which opened up vast amounts of territory for settlement and domestic trade. The textile factories made fabric mainly for the Russian military. The manual production of fabric was no longer needed and the small home factories run by German colonists closed.

Far Reaching Ties

While some German colonists returned to their homelands as the need for their expertise was replaced by industrial manufacturing processes, some stayed in the cities or moved to smaller villages. A search by location in indexes of the EWZ (EinWanderungsZentralstelle) Film Series 50 shows colonists in Poltava had ties all over the former Russian Empire and to cities in the German Reich. It includes a number of colonies in Volhynia, Bessarabia, Volga, Molotscha, Prischib, St. Petersburg, Siberia, Crimea, Liebental, the Don, as well as to cities in present-day Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Czechia, Belarus and Poland. For such a small percentage of German population in the province, their ties to other locations is much wider than anticipated, as the map below shows. 

Areas in Russia and other countries that had ties to the Poltava Province (pink pins).

Search for Colony Names

Even though they arrived about the same time as the Black Sea Germans, the colonists who settled in Poltava have a different immigration story. No historical map exists of the German colonies in Poltava, making the area a challenge. Some of the names of the places came from the research of a handful of Ukrainian historians who study the impacts of the Germans on the textile industry in the 19th century. The majority of the names of the places came from the Germans who had to leave their homes in Poltava during WWII. From their immigration applications where they reported where they, their parents and their children were born, a list of colonies was compiled 

  1. "Німецькі колонії на Полтавщині" (German Colonies in the Poltava Region), by Dr. Iryna Petrenko, Poltava University of Economics and Trade (2015). Dr. Petrenko's research focuses on the city of Poltava and construction and textile industries to which the Germans contributed. Special thanks to her for sharing her research with me and getting me off to a good start with the list of colonies. 
  2. EWZ (EinWanderungsZentralstelle) Film Series: 50 from the National Archives and Records Administration, index by the Germans from Russia Heritage Society. This is the first time in this project that this source has been used. This index is a part of GRHS's members genealogy database and is the only index of these records at this time that is searchable by locality without requiring a surname. These records were created for ethnic Germans who, during WWII, were resettled from the Soviet Union back to Germany and had applied for German citizenship. Part of the process was proving their German ethnicity through genealogy, so these records contain a lot of family history information–most important to this project are the places of births for those being resettled as well as their parents and children. The information in these records is only as good as what was reported, recorded, transcribed and translated. All spelling variations found have been included. This source is provided in each of the colonies where it was used, the exact URL is not given because it is a GRHS members-only database. If another public index is found that provides the same capability, this source will be updated. 
  3. Birth record lists from GRHS for Neu-Strymba (Bessarabia), Prischib (Prischib) and Johannenstal (Beresan) and others. The records seemed to have come from Russian archives but didn't always have source identifying information on them. The few colonies found in these documents were all confirmed with EWZ records.
  4. AHSGR's Journal of the American Historical Society of Germans From Russia. A full journal and work paper search of organizations including AHSGR, GRHS, SGGEE, EEG, etc. was performed. While there were several references in articles to Poltava as a whole, there a few issues of the AHSGR journal that provided a few specific colony names that were added to the list. 
  5. German-Russian Village List, also known as the "Long List," created by Dale Wahl (1999). Very few listings for Poltava/Poltawa, but it was useful because it indicated what other villages were nearby. 
Of that list of colonies reported to be in Poltava from the sources listed above, less than half were found. Without a map showing cities and landmarks near the colonies, there was no credible way to determine where some of them are now, or where they used to be if they have been abandoned or destroyed. The former province now spans across the modern-day Poltava oblast along with parts of the Cherkasy, Kharkiv, Kiev and Sumy oblasts. Common place names proved impossible to narrow down because there were just too many possibilities. Because this area was occupied by the German army in WWII, one can also assume that many of the small agrarian colonies as reported by those who were resettled no longer exist. 

Below is the map of the new colonies. On the main GRSL map, you may notice I've begun shifting areas around to make room for more of the interior governorates.



21 January 2019

January Update

Happy New Year!

I'm a little late getting an update out this year, so let's get caught up first, and then I'll go into what's on the horizon.

Map Updates

In December, there were minor updates to a few colonies on the maps where alternate names were added, origins of settlers, spelling fixes. You can view the list of changes on the Change History page.

The location of the Volhynia colony of Jadwinowka was updated based on the research of Judith Silverthorn. With assistance from Dr. Frank Stewner and Dennis Bender, they were able to set the maps aside, narrow it down and confirm the location using church records. With earlier help from historian Hans Christian Heinz, she also provided a location update of Mitnica. 

Stan Schwafel has kindly been updating me on locations in Siberia and Central Asia to which his Volga relatives were deported and where they lived afterward before returning to Germany. Three colonies were added based on information from his newly-found relatives in Germany: Saimka, Novoyarkovo and Kozhevnikovo.

The Volhynia colony of Stolpec (Stolpeckoje, Stolpezkaia Kolonie) was located and added at the request of Viktor Haupt. Looking for his grandfather's birth place, he provided enough information to figure out what else it was called and where it was using Frank's Volhynia Gazetteer from Society for German Genealogy in Easter Europe (SGGEE). It was then confirmed on Karl Stumpp's Map of the German Settlements in Ukrainian Volhynia.

Much thanks to Judith, Stan and Viktor for their contributions. Every piece of information adds to the narrative of our geographical history, and I'm grateful to anyone who wants contribute to this project.

New Map: Vistula Colonies

The first draft of the Vistula Colonies was added to the main map in mid-December. There had been several requests for colonies in that area. The locations have been out there for some time, but for ease of use I went ahead and added the colony group to my maps. The data was updated again in January.  

The map that this data was drawn from was created by historian Albert Breyer in 1935. He was one of the only local historians who focused his research on ethnic Germans in central Poland. While traveling through Poland, Breyer noticed patterns and connections between the geography and the ethnic Germans living there. In his work, he noted the patterns were explained by different waves of settlement from different areas in Germany to central Poland for different reasons. The story of the Vistula Germans, who settled in central Poland along the river by the same name, dates back to the first wave of settlers in 1600.

Poland was called the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth officially in 1569, but it was the de facto state when the Polish and Lithuanian kingdoms united in with the marriage of Polish queen Hedwig and Lithuania's Grand Duke Jogaila in 1386. At its largest in terms of land, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth included all of what we know today as Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus, most of Poland and Ukraine, small portions of Moldova, Romania, the Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia on the Baltic Sea (between Poland and Lithuania) and the western-most part of Russia bordering Estonia, Latvia, Belarus and Ukraine.  

Between 1768 and 1771, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was a protectorate of the Russian Empire, meaning it was controlled and protected by the Russian Empire while retaining its own monarch. The Partitions of Poland occurred between 1772 and 1795. During this time, the empires of Austria, Prussia and Russia carved out pieces of Poland for their own empires, and, in the end, brought about the end of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, wiping Poland itself off of the map. But that was not the end of the border changes for this area. The Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) continued to redraw borders, in particular Napoleon's declaration of the Duchy of Warsaw, a client state of France. During Napoleon's occupation, some Germans decided to leave and go to Bessarabia and the Black Sea areas, and others to Volhynia. Volhynia's earliest German settlements were in 1873. The Black Sea was opened for settlement in 1804 with Bessarabia being acquired in 1812 and opened for settlement in 1813. I've heard the Vistula colonies referred to as "the old colonies" by some Germans from Russia with Bessarabian roots. 

The occupation was short-lived, 1807-1815, and at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the Duchy of Warsaw was again divided. The portion that went to Russia was officially called the Kingdom of Poland but is referred to as Congress Poland (and sometimes Russian Poland) to differentiate it from other Kingdoms of Poland in the past. Sometimes called a client state or "personal union," the two shared a monarch – this would've been Tsar Alexander I, the one we know best as opening up the Black Sea area for settlement – but they retained distinct laws, boundaries and interests. By 1867, Congress Poland officially became a part of the Russian Empire. Poland as an independent country wouldn't return to the map until 1918. 

The location information for the colonies in this colony group came from the Germans from Russia and Eastern Europe Settlement Locations, Dennis Bender's site. The sources used include the SGGEE sections of the Breyer map, and SGGEE and Jerry Frank's Russian (Poland) Congress Gazetteer. A scan of the original full Breyer map is available here. 

The data that I included on my map has had some assumptions removed from the original data to more accurately account for the historical complexity and the shifting borders in this area. Of note, on my map the country at founding is "unknown" for all but a few dozen colonies where founding dates were specifically mentioned in Breyer's work. As more information is found, these will be adjusted accordingly.

In Progress

These are the map projects that are currently in progress. These along with more articles about Germans from Russia colonies and history will more or less set the course of the project for the coming year. 

German Colonies in and Around Poltava, Ukraine

The province of Poltava in Ukraine is not mentioned very often in Germans from Russia history, but there were German colonies within the city itself and elsewhere in the province. The story of how and why they went there is unique from other areas. There is no historical map that notes where the colonies were, and they were only in the periphery vision of Karl Stumpp's work. He mentions the area, but his focus was on the larger populations. However, local historians have researched and documented ethnic Germans and their contributions to this region, one of whom has been kind enough to share her research with me about the city itself. I also dug through several Germans from Russia and Eastern European genealogical and historical society journals, work papers, newsletters, websites, etc. to find any references in articles to Poltava and compiled a list of locations mentioned. These colonies will be added to the map in the coming weeks.

Germans from Russia Settlements in the United States

Inspired by a New York Times special article, I wrote a post called "They Make You Think Big Thoughts..." last October about an interactive map of building outlines the United States reminded me of a map of Germans from Russia settlements in the U.S. Almost immediately, I decided to start sourcing data for a new map that pinpoints where Germans from Russia settled in the U.S.  If you're of Volga decent, you may immediately think Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado. If you're a Black Sea German, you may think Dakotas, Iowa, Montana, Washington. But how about New Mexico? Arizona? Texas? Louisiana? Pennsylvania? Florida? Michigan? Like with the Germans from Russia Settlement Locations map, you may end up being surprised at how far and wide our immigrant ancestors spread across the U.S. Maps, books of place names and indexes of letters to the editor that were published in American German language newspapers make up the bulk of the sources that are being used initially for this map. The hope with this project is to bring more immediate context to those who's ancestors immigrated to the United States. The new map will be released in installments over the next several months.

More Siberia

There is one final Stumpp map to run through this year: "The Former and Today's ("today" = circa 1962) German Settlements in the Soviet Union." This map has a lot of overlap with other maps, but some locations are new...and pretty far north. Should be fun to do when temperatures start to hit 100 in southern Arizona.

Historical Photo Collections

Adding photos to the maps has always been something on my to do list. It has nothing to do with maps, but everyone likes to see what the colonies looked like, especially from the time of our ancestors, but also what they look like today. Last year I noticed that with demise of Panoramio, the photo site that fed photos into Google Maps, many of the images that people had contributed that showed old German architecture in the ancestral villages were gone. I was kind of bummed and wished I had saved more of them, even though they were subject to copyright. So over the summer, I started collecting historical images of the colonies – churches, schools, street scenes, houses, cemeteries, wells, cellars, maps, etc. – and curating them in Google Photo albums. It was one way I could assure myself that the images wouldn't just disappear if a website I link to goes dark. At this point, nearly all come from public domain sources made available in digital archives from libraries all over the world. A smaller number come from printed materials that I personally own. I am attempting to geotag, caption, date and source the images, all of which I feel are important research and documentation procedures, and all of which are too often overlooked in the excitement of finding an old image and sharing it all over the internet. In time, these collections will be attached to each colony on the map. Not sure that Google Photos will be their final destination, but it's where I'm storing them now.

About this Project: Going Forward

The Germans from Russia Settlement Locations project started almost three years ago, founded by myself and Dennis Bender. Dennis has since moved on and started his own site. I'm grateful for his contributions to this project and also grateful that he continues to make his work freely available for anyone to use.

This project has grown into something much larger than its original goal: map the locations of every German settlement in Russia from Catherine the Great to WWII on modern, searchable maps. It has turned into a means by which to educate, enlighten, provide context, start conversations, remind us of exactly where we came from, how we got here, and that history didn't end when our ancestors left Russia. For many, our families have been in North and South America for longer than our ancestors were in Russia. We are well on our way to becoming someone else's ancestors, so it's on us to not only to keep the stories of the past alive but also to record our own stories. For the younger generations, you may be third, fourth, fifth-generation in whatever country you reside, but you're still a descendant of Germans from Russia. What you have to say is important. Your story matters just as much as all those who came before you.

This project is a work in progress, a living document and has always been a labor of love. I consider the work paying it forward. The project is entirely self-funded, accepts no contributions, advertising or sponsorship, and I receive no compensation for this work. I write about what I find interesting. I hope you find it interesting, too.

Onward 2019.


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.