30 August 2016

A Major Milestone

Today the Germans from Russia Settlement Locations project has reached a major milestone in its efforts to locate and document German settlements in Russia.  There were approximately 3,000 ethnic settlements attributed to the German people, and we have located 1,519 thus far, with over 1,400 of those found in the last six months.

Having reached the halfway mark, we wanted to take a moment to thank all those who have contributed their time, expertise, patience and encouragement of this project. Without your interest and support of what we're doing, this project would not be where it is today.  I wanted give my personal thanks to Dennis Bender, the project's chief researcher, for his determination and tireless efforts. I am in constant amazement of what he achieves.

And now we keep going.

All of the maps have been refreshed with the latest data this morning.    


Total village count so far: 1,519

Germans from Russia Settlement Locations Map (full map)
Germans from Russia Settlements Map (all villages)

Three Major Areas of German Settlement in Russia
Black Sea Region
Volga Region
Volhynia Region

Colony Group Maps 
Beresan Colonies (86)
Bessarabian Colonies (185)
Chortitza Colonies (127)
Crimean Colonies (110)
Dobrudscha Colonies (44)
Early Black Sea Colonies (1)
Glückstal Colonies (45)
Hoffnungstal Colonies (55)
Kutschurgan Colonies (60)
Liebental Colonies (51)
Molotschna Colonies (87)
Prischib Colonies (44)
Volga Colonies (329)
Volhynia Colonies 


26 August 2016

New Map - Volhynia Colonies

We're pleased to release a new map of the Volhynia Colonies.  

Volhynia is a historical area in northwest Ukraine bordering Poland and Belarus. German immigrants to Volhynia came not at the invitation of the Russian crown but rather by the invitation of wealthy landowners.  Because of this, they received no settlement help and did not have same privileges or regulations that other German immigrants had in the Volga and Black Sea areas.  

Settlements began between the first and second partitions of Poland with the earliest recorded in 1783 with the heaviest migrations into the area in 1831 with a second wave beginning in 1863.  

This is just the beginning of this particular group of colonies.  As you know, this is all a work in progress.

This new colony group has also been added to the map of all Germans from Russia villages map.


25 August 2016

New Map - Black Sea Colonies

We have a new map to release today: Black Sea Colonies.

This map is comprised of all the colony groups that are collectively referred to as the Black Sea Colonies: Bessarabia, Chortitza, Crimean, Molotschna, Beresan, Kutschurgan, Hoffnungstal, Liebental, Glückstal, Dobrudscha, Prischib and the Early Black Sea colony groups.

Like the Volga and Volhynia regions who have dedicated researchers and websites to the history and study of those groups of German colonists, the Black Sea also has researchers and websites dedicated to the study and documentation of this area.  We thought a dedicated map was also in order.


18 August 2016

How We Find Villages

When Dennis sets out to find villages, he uses a set of both paper and online tools.  Over the years of his research, he’s honed them down to the essentials.  At first, it took a very long time to find a village and feel confident about it being accurate. There are villages that can still take hours of collateral research of surrounding villages to hone in on a single one. But today, if everything goes well, it takes about 20 minutes to find a village with confidence that it is correctly located and fully documented.   

Sounds simple but don’t think for a moment that it is always that easy, or that hours haven’t been spent in the weeds rather than on the path.  German persistence drives Dennis every day, but he also knows when to quit work on a village if it’s not being fruitful and move on to the next.  

Primary Sources Used to Locate Villages
These are the five sources used most often to locate villages.  

1. Stumpp Maps
There are 70+ maps of various areas in Russia and Eastern Europe with Germans from Russia villages.  Periodically a portion of an online version can be found, but mostly they remain in paper format available from the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia and the Germans from Russia Heritage Society.  Libraries, archives and special collections also house copies that can be used on premise for research.

This is a web and mobile mapping service launched in 2005.  Includes navigation, satellite imagery, aerial photography, street views and much more.  It understands addresses, cities, zip codes, latitude and longitude coordinates.  In 2007, users could begin creating their own Google maps using a feature called My Maps.  

This is an online geographical index that uses many different public sources.  Its primary source for city names outside the United States is the NGA GEOnet name service, which is a part of the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

4. German Russian Village lists from the Black Sea German Research site and GRHS
Both lists are are based on the work of Dale Wahl and originally published on the Odessa Digital Library.  The greatest advantage to these is that they are online and searchable, although any continued research and updates to them seem to have stopped.  They are still good resources for finding place name variations, areas, districts, religions, etc.

5. German-Russian Handbook.  A Reference Book for Russian German and German Russian History and Culture with Place Names Listings of Former German Settlement Areas, by Ulrich Mertens.
This hefty book contains a remarkable section of village name cross references that will make anyone’s head spin.  It was the final key source necessary for the success of this project, and we refer to it alternately as “The German-Russian Handbook” and the “bible.”

Collaboration Tools
Because Dennis lives in Medicine Hat, Alberta, and I live near Charleston, South Carolina – that’s 2324 miles and two time zones apart – shared online tools are important to us.  

Google Drive
This is a set of free online office applications similar to Microsoft Office.  When we began our collaboration back in February 2016, I shared a folder with Dennis that had our big map and few other files in it.  We both have full editing access to it, and I share to the public what needs to be shared.  When the map got too big for its original design and we got serious about setting up a permanent site for this project in June, I extracted all the data from Dennis’ PDF file he’d been updating and circulating into a shared spreadsheet we call our “dorfs-master.”  We now work on the file together and exports of sections of the data are imported into our various maps at regular intervals.

Our "dorfs-master" shared spreadsheet on Google Docs.
Because we keep very different schedules, we have a color system in place to signal to each other where we are on various villages. Red highlight means something wrong with the village, please investigate or delete. Yellow highlight means I’m still working on this or something needs to be looked at further. It’s not quite ready for prime time. Green means this is a new village, or changes have been made or verified to an existing village. Green means good to go.

This is a free video chat application.  Because Dennis is in possession of all the maps, sometimes it helps for him to just hold up a map and show me what he’s talking about. And some things just need a conversation over an email.  

Locating Villages
So how do we locate villages?

It all starts with a Stumpp map, a ruler and a pool table.

Dennis' pool table, now map table. 
A Stumpp map is not always an easy thing to read, but for our purpose of mapping villages on Google maps, they are by far the best place to start.  Because some of the maps are very large, Dennis has sacrificed his pool table for the cause.  

The lines running north and south and east and west on the maps are longitude and latitude lines. Sometimes the maps are marked with degrees and seconds; sometimes they are not.  The tick marks used to denote villages indicate which direction the village is laid out, helpful when looking at them from aerial or satellite images, and how large the village was. One tick is usually a chutor/khutor (farm or summer village), while two or more were larger villages.

Example map without degree markings.
If the map isn't marked with degrees, first step is determining which line is which degree. Taking clues from any major roads, railroads, rivers and other water sources and Russian cities on a map helps determine this.  These are generally easy to locate on Google maps and obtain their coordinates and translate those to the latitude and longitude lines on the map.
Example of map with degree markings.

The next step is establishing a measurement in millimeters based on the scale of the map.  The map is blocked off in sections, and measurements of individual village coordinate begins.   Dennis will measure and take notes of a villages before taking it back to his computer for the next steps.  

For each village, he enters his hand calculated coordinates into Google Maps and sees where it lands.  A full 50% of the time, the pin will drop on or near the exact village being researched. Dennis has remarked several times how good the Stumpp maps are and has, at the same time, wondered out loud why no one has done this before.  

If the pin drops nowhere near a village, sometimes switching over to satellite or Earth view and seeing the landscape may show the remains of an abandoned village, or the scars of a destroyed village. Or sometimes the pins just drop in a field.  These cases require further research.  If Dennis is confident the coordinates are correct, the notes may indicate that the defunct village is located some miles or kilometers is some direction from a nearby village or landmark.

The most important pieces of data in this project are the ancestral village names and their coordinates, and if there is any doubt about the coordinates, the village not listed.  

Next step is looking up the name found on Google Maps on the Global Gazetteer to get the current name, all the previous names the village was known as and verify the coordinates.  Sometimes among these AKAs is the name of the ancestral village with a spelling variant.  

After consulting the Global Gazetteer, Dennis always adjusts the location of the of the pin on Google Maps to point to the current name of the village and records the coordinates to the 4th decimal place to include degree, minutes, seconds.  These final coordinates are added to our shared spreadsheet.

The German Russian Village lists are consulted next to record the district name, area and any other information.  Sometimes entries will include Russian or Ukrainian names which further validates what Dennis has found is correct.

The German-Russian Handbook is the last reference consulted, mostly because there is a lot of page turning going through all the cross references and spelling variations.  It’s worth the effort, but it does slow things down.  Page numbers are noted to add to the map in the sources.

The last step is to list the village and all its information on our shared spreadsheet. If there are any open questions about it, it’s highlighted yellow and notes are added.   Otherwise, it’s highlighted green, and he moves on to the next village.

When I wake up 5:30 a.m. and look at what Dennis has done overnight, I usually see the last edit on the file after midnight his time.  Once a week or so, I’ll re-import all the updated data into the maps, clear out all the green highlights and post to the world that we have fresh maps. Come and get 'em!


16 August 2016

Working on the Next Major Area of Settlements

Tuesdays have become map update day for us, but, alas, we have no updates to the existing maps this week.

Instead, Dennis has been head's down researching the next major area of German settlements.  This is an area we've not seen plotted out in Google maps anywhere before, so we're excited to be able to share it with you soon.  Dennis is 87 villages into it now, and he's on a roll, taking breaks for Toronto Blue Jays games, of course!

Dennis at work at his home in Medicine Hat, Alberta, measuring and calculating village coordinates for the next major region of German settlements.

Map: Germans from Russia Settlement Locations

Map: Germans from Russia Settlement Locations
Map last updated 17 December 2023

About this Site

This is the home of the Germans from Russia Settlement Locations project. Its goal is to bring the past into the present, to follow the humans and record where they lived, and to plot where they lived by coordinates on modern online maps. It is inclusive of all ethnic Germans who uprooted from their homelands and heeded the call to colonize the Imperial Russian Empire and those who remained in the former Soviet states after it fell. The resulting maps from this project currently span the modern-day, independent countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, Tajikistan, Türkiye, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. This is a work in progress and a living document.

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