28 February 2018

Two Years and 4037 Colonies Ago

Two years and 4037 colonies ago, the Germans from Russia Settlement Locations project began with a map of 103 colonies.  It's turned into the tool I wish I had decades ago when I started my German-Russian research. 

What does a German do when she (or he) doesn't have a tool she needs?  She builds it.

This is what the map looked like then:

The Germans from Russia Settlement Locations map from 11 February 2016. There were 103 villages.

In January of this year, the 4000th locate was quietly posted, and with this week's map refresh, there are 4037 colonies located.  How many more to go?  I've learned to stop guessing and just go with it until there's nowhere else to go. 

Now the map looks like this:

The Germans from Russia Settlement Locations map as of 28 February 2018. There are 4037 villages.

The two map refreshes this month added colonies in Central Asia and in the far eastern Siberian district of Amur. With the help of smaller-scale maps of both areas by the late Mennonite historian William Schroeder (author of the Mennonite Historical Atlas) and the online map of the Great Mennonite Trek by Walter Ratliff, there are just a few colonies left that are unable to be located in these areas. 

The Amur settlements were particularly difficult because they were all founded between 1927-28, and all were abandoned within a few years.  Because the Stumpp and Schroeder maps are more or less estimates of where the colonies were, instead of relying on measurements for the locations, they were georeferenced using map overlays.

Georeferencing is a method of overlapping old maps with new maps (often aerial or satellite images) using multiple known, still-existing locations as anchors.  The old map is then adjusted to fit over the new one, and the older map can be made transparent to show the newer map beneath and pinpoint places that no longer exist.  Many military maps an other old printed maps are available as overlays on Google Maps or OpenStreetMap and have been very useful in this project.

Hand drawn maps are very difficult to georeference because their scale rarely matches the online map, even with stretching and rotating.  To be as accurate as possible, multiple takes on the georeference were done on the Schroeder map, which had more modern reference points, to line up with Russian cities and borders with China to pinpoint these locations. Direct map overlays were done in Google Earth also, which enabled adjustments to match the terrain as well as cities. 

The example below shows the colony of Osernoye in Amur.  Note the rather large dot on the original map marking the location of the village.  The entire area is scoured for man-made clearings, old roads, the outline of farmsteads, any scars of the past that may mark where the colony was once located.  If none are found, the pin goes in the middle of the giant dot. 

Example of the colony of Osernoye in Amur.  Top: Schroeder map overlay on Google Earth. 
Bottom: Pin marking the defunct colony on the Germans from Russia Settlement Locations map. 

Yurgino (white pin) near the Amur river, bordering China.
Mukhino (circled in yellow) was the district of which Yurgino was a part.
Finally, there was one colony, Yurgino, that was not on a map, but it was referenced in multiple Mennonite colony sources with its district, Mukhino. This was the only colony in Amur that was found based on its historical name.  Amazingly, there is a coordinate reference to it in the Global Gazetteer that points to a place with a population of zero that is within a reasonable proximity to Mukhino.  It's almost like it didn't want to be forgotten.  And now it won't be. 

It pays off to check out every reference.

The following maps have been updated:
Siberian Colonies
Central Asian Colonies
Asiatic Russian Colonies
Germans from Russia Settlement Locations map (the big one)