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!