15 October 2018

"They make you think big thoughts..."

Every map tells a story.

The New York Times published a special section this past weekend in both their print and online editions that show an interactive map of almost every building in the United States. Every black speck on it is a building.

A map of every building in the United States.

It reminded me of Karl Stumpp's Map of the Russian-German Settlements in the USA and Mexico.  Every triangle, circle and square is a town where Germans from Russia settled in the U.S. between 1874 and 1920.

A map of every (?) German-Russian town in the US between 1874 and 1920.
Partial "Map of the Russian-German Settlements in the USA and Mexico" by Karl Stumpp.  Click to view the full version. 

Without plotting out every town in the U.S. (maybe a new map soon?), just looking at the two reveals that our ancestors who came to America went where no one else wanted to go.  They, for the most part, settled where there was nothing else. And they started to build...and 140+ years later, we've made black specks on the map.

The online version of the New York Times' map came across my newsfeed Saturday morning, and being that it was a rainy day in southern Arizona, I spent some time playing with it.  I searched for places I'd lived, where my grandparents lived, and where my great-grandparents had homesteaded. I noticed where the towns ended was not the end of the buildings. The data had picked up the farms – houses, barns, etc.

Map nerd that I am, as I zoomed in, I couldn't help but think how much the images looked like the plat maps of our ancestral villages that we cherish so much when we find them – boxes indicating that someone remembered that something was here. Someone lived here.  Someone went to church here.  Someone was buried here.

Below are a few towns in the U.S. that were settled by and, in many cases, are still home to descendants of Germans from Russia.

Eureka, South Dakota was a major hub of Germans from Russia in the Dakotas. Most who settled in and around Eureka were Protestants from the Black Sea area of Russia. 

Gotebo, Oklahoma was home to Mennonite Germans from Russia.
Liebenthal, Kansas was home to Catholic Volga Germans from Russia. 

Pfeifer, Kansas' sister village in Russia was also named Pfeiffer, a Catholic village in the Volga region. 

Reedley, California was home to Mennonite Germans from Russia.

German settlers in Rifle, Colorado were Protestants from the Volga area of Russia.

Scottsbluff, Nebraska was home to Volga Germans of both the Catholic and Protestant faiths. 

German settlers in Sedgwick, Colorado were Protestants from the Volga area of Russia. 

Strasburg, North Dakota's sister village in Russia was Strassburg, Kutschurgan, Odessa. It became home to Catholics from that Black Sea village. 

Wishek, North Dakota was home to many Protestant Black Sea Germans from Russia. 

Zurich, Montana was home to Protestant German settlers from the Black Sea area of Russia

The authors of the New York Times article went on to write about how at one time in the not so distant past, every car's glove box contained folded road maps. Each map took you only so far when you'd have to pick up another map to continue your trip. The maps helped us trace our connection to other places.

It's probably not surprising to you that I have a box filled with old road maps that serve as reminders of nearly every road trip I ever took from the time I got my driver's license in 1983.

The article continues:
"Fewer of us use maps like that today. We gaze at our phones, pinching and stretching an image but seeing the world through a little rectangular window.  
"The phone's guidance is better, but the view is not. We're less likely to know what we are driving past. 
"'We lose what's fascinating about a place by not having this bigger picture,' said Susan Crawford, a professor at Harvard Law School whose work involves cities and and technology, who looked at the images at our request. 'They make you think big thoughts...'"

Big thoughts.
Current map of German from Russia Settlement Locations

Learn More:

  • Map of the Russian-German Settlements in the USA and Mexico. This is one of Karl Stumpp's lesser known maps indicating towns in the United States and Mexico that were settled by Germans from Russia. It contains special maps of those states that had dense populations of Germans from Russia: North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Northern Colorado and Northern Oklahoma.
  • Germans from Russia in Campbell, Nebraska History. This recounts one of the early Volga groups who, after learning about Alexander II's decision to revoke the German colonists' rights granted to them by Catherine the Great and Alexander I, went to the United States in search of new land. After a short time in Wisconsin, the Burlington Railroad took them to Nebraska.
  • "The Migration of Russian-Germans to Kansas," by Norman E. Saul. Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains, Spring 1974 (Vol. 4, No. 1), pp. 38-62. Kansas was well advertised as a place for immigrants to settle. The state of Kansas had already established the Kansas Immigration Society by 1871, and with the blessing of the society, the railroads launched a major advertising campaign to draw immigrants to the area, including free transportation by rail once they arrived. Contingents of Volga Germans investigated moving to Kansas as early as 1874. This article does into the symbiotic relationship between Kansas and the Germans from Russia.