21 January 2020

Survey Summary

On May 1st of last year, I launched a crowdsourced survey in order to fill in some blanks of the history of where immigrant Germans from Russia and their subsequent generations settled* in the United States. While there had been some previous research on this topic, it was nearly 50 years old and focused on the immigrant and first generation descendants from the Volga and Black Sea. Little substantial research had been done since to expand beyond those two well-known areas, or to continue the story to the present day.

I had questions. 

The survey was not scientific by any stretch of the imagination. It was completely opened ended, which allowed anyone who responded to answer with as much or as little information as they wanted to share using any language or terms they were comfortable with. There were no mandatory fields that had to be filled out in order to submit a response. Participation was entirely voluntary and could be completely anonymous. 

The survey was sent out in to the wild (social media) for genealogists discover and do what they do best: talk about their families. 

Last Friday afternoon, I finished the initial summary of the location data by generation. My husband came into my office intending to ask what my thoughts were on supper**. Instead, I held up a Post-It note and began to summarize the survey results for him. Below are some of the points I made along with a few other observations. 

Keep in mind that what is below is only what was reported in this survey by people who voluntarily responded. It does not include any information from other published maps and sources that are being used for the larger map project. It is one brand new source and should not be considered the ultimate source. 

*Did we ever really settle? There are those who stay and those who wander. I could wax poetic on this – and will at some point – but I do have a map to make. 

**Tamales (homemade, leftover from Christmas), rice and beans. 

• • •
  • There were 604 responses to the survey.
  • These responses resulted in 8,193 lines of unique data by generation and location. 
  • 1,944 unique places were reported in the survey to have had immigrant or descendants of Germans from Russia residents.
  • Roughly 1% of the places reported no longer exist. 
  • Places in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and the territory of Guam were reported.
  • The years reported were from 1872 through 2019. 
  • They came from areas across Russia (from modern-day Lithuania to Siberia), including Congress (Russian) Poland, Volhynia, Dobrudscha, Bessarabia, the Black Sea, the Don, the Caucasus, Volga and Asiatic Russia.   
  • Religions reported for the immigrant generations were Catholic, Jewish, Mennonite and several denominations of Protestant. If a religion wasn't reported, the known religion of the colony reported was not assumed. There were some surprises on that front. 
  • The earliest immigration year reported was 1872. The German immigrant came from Torun in Russian-occupied Congress Poland near the Vistula settlements and settled in Watertown, Wisconsin.
  • The latest arrivals reported were both in 1957. Both came from places in the Volga (Frank and Saratov). One settled in Lincoln, Nebraska and the other in Chicago, Illinois. Both immigrated through Germany to the U.S.
  • There were several reports of immigration to the U.S. through other countries including Argentina, China and Germany/East Prussia/Weimar Republic.
  • Some reported being in the U.S. a short time before they moved on to Canada.
  • Some immigrant Germans from Russia settled in one place, and their five subsequent generations have all lived in the same place.  Still do. 
  • Some immigrant Germans from Russia moved to several places. Over a dozen places were reported for one immigrant who was a migrant farmer. 
  • The state that had the most places reported was California
  • The states that had the least number of places reported were Rhode Island, Vermont and West Virginia. (Frankly, I'm just glad they finally showed up to the party. I thought for a while we might need to send scouts to those states. ) 

The table below shows the number of places reported for each state, the earliest year Germans from Russia inhabited each state and the place where they settled. Less than half of the responses included dates, so some years are later than what are reported in other sources.

StateNumber of places reportedEarliest reported yearEarliest reported place
Connecticut 121890Waterbury
District of Columbia11983Washington
Guam11991Naval Base Guam
Idaho341905American Falls
Illinois911874Brush Prairie (Akin)
Louisiana51968New Orleans
Massachusetts 91913Boston
Michigan 721890Detroit
Minnesota621875Mountain Lake
New Hampshire41977Hanover
New Jersey171899Oradell (was Delford)
New Mexico 161915Santa Fe
New York121890Buffalo
North Carolina131969Hendersonville
North Dakota1661874Freeman
Pennsylvania 211907Philadelphia
Rhode Island11974Warwick
South Carolina81972Summerville
South Dakota961873Tyndall
Tennessee151962La Vergne
Utah191892Salt Lake City
West Virginia11999Walnut Hill

My next steps include line editing, incorporating this data into the master list of places that will populate the map of Germans from Russia Settlements in America. I also have a running list of updates and places to add to the Germans from Russia Settlement Locations map that were reported in the survey. 

You can read more about the project at https://america.germansfromrussiasettlementlocations.org/


07 January 2020

“Leave just after sunset and not after sunrise.”

Often we wonder about the reasons why our German ancestors left Russia. Military conscription was certainly a part of it, but it wasn't the whole story. Here is account from someone who was closer to them in both time and place, someone who had spoken to those who wanted to leave Russia as well as to those who had left and settled in the United States: the Bishop of the Catholic diocese of Tyraspol.

The following is an excerpt from 
History of the Diocese of Tyraspol (part 11),” from the Germans from Russia Heritage Society's journal, Heritage Review.  It is part of a long series about the history of the Catholic diocese in Russia, written by Joseph Aloysius Kessler, Titular Archbishop of the Bosphorus and previous Bishop of Tyraspol. Initially published in the German language in 1930, it has been translated into English by Rev. Horst Wilhelm Gutsche from Barrhead, Alberta, Canada. Installments of the book have been appearing in Heritage Review since March 2017. 

The phrase “leave just after sunset and not after sunrise” has more or less haunted me for weeks.

• • •

53. Immigration to America

According to the manifest of July 22, 1763, paragraph VI, n: I 4, whereby Empress Catherine II had invited the German colonists, these were to be forever exempt from military service: “Such settling foreigners in Russia are, during their entire sojourn here, apart from normal agricultural service, not to be taken into military or civil service against their will.” For 100 years the German colonists were glad because of this privilege. However, when military conscription was extended in 1874 to include the Russian nobility and the Russian merchant class of the first estate, the colonists also had their privileges taken away. However, the government gave them an alternative: either emigrate or serve in the military. Thousands of colonists in the Volga region, particularly Catholics, decided to emigrate. The emigration became the topic of daily conversation. Everyone cherished the desire to leave Russia. This was proof of the fact that the German people in Russia did not feel at home. If the Volga Germans had been able to come up with the necessary funds, probably only a few would have remained behind in the Russian homeland. Nevertheless, the removal of the military privileges would have not caused this general attitude to be brought about. Its causes lay deeper. 

The government gave them an alternative: 
either emigrate or serve in the military.

At one time, the colonists felt themselves to be foreign in the empire of the tsar as one always looked upon them as being foreigners. The Russian does not consider all non-Russian citizens as having equal rights and as loyal subjects. He always sees them as being foreign invaders. When during the war, a German colonist, a member of the imperial duma held a speech concerning the welfare of the fatherland, many from the rows of Russians called out: “Which fatherland: Russia or Germany?” How often did the German colonists, ever since they stood in more regular contact with the Russian population, experience how very much they were envied and even hated because of their higher standard of living? The consciousness of being envied and hated by the great mass of the Russian population did not easily allow the German colonist to have the feeling of equality with the other citizens. If, for this reason, there was a lack of devotion to the fatherland on the part of some colonists, then the fault must be looked for not so much in them but much more in the general population of the country. A second cause, why the German colonist never felt very good, lay in the different psyche of the Germans and his Russian surroundings. By nature, the German is open-hearted, rugged, hardy, and without guile. The exact opposite is found in the character of the Russian farmer. For this reason, the Volga colonists invented the saying: “The Russian has a Russian in his breast.” However, proverbs originate from the deep conviction of a people and are based on general experience. The third reason why the desire to emigrate and to leave Russia took hold of almost all of the colonists was the poor judicial system. As long as the guardianship office and the offices made decisions concerning the legal issues among the colonists, the colonists had enough legal protection. The leaders of the communities and the administrators had the power to bring serious crimes to court and to pass judgment upon them. The administrators had the power to sentence brutal criminals with corporal punishment. They could even have people punished with rods. With the introduction of the “Russian rules,” that is, since 1874, these rights were withdrawn from them. The judicial cases were handled in the county cities, or in the case of important issues, even in the governments. Corporal punishment was abolished. Russian justice often even let the serious criminals go without punishment. The people were convinced of the fact that the judges allowed the thieves to go without punishment so that they could steal even more and could divide that which was robbed with the judges. As a result of the poor handling of justice, whole bands of horse thieves were formed who often drove away all of the livestock belonging to the farmers. No complaint, no protest to the government official solved anything. With this state of affairs, the people turned to self-defense. Murder and killing of the thieves and swindlers was not unheard of in some of the colonies. Actually, the lack of legal protection was one of the main reasons why the best colonists left Russia. Together with others, it even caused Balthasar Brungardt, the leader of the emigrants from the colony of Herzog, to say farewell to Russia forever, as the aged gentleman himself told the author of this diocesan history while he was visiting America.

...They taught the colonists to leave just after sunset 
and not after sunrise....referring to America and not 
to the old homeland of Germany... 
It had to be better in America than in Russia.

Even the Jesuits, who led the pastoral ministry among the colonists for about eighteen years in the Volga region, suspected that the Germans would not remain in Russia forever. In case of emigration, they taught the colonists to leave just after sunset and not after sunrise. Without a doubt, they were referring to America and not to the old homeland of Germany. Since the Russian state needed the Volga Germans as a human bulwark against the assaults of the wild nomadic peoples of the East, the Kyrgyz and the Kalmycks, the priests could not speak directly and openly. With the term “toward 
sunset,” one could also have meant the old homeland. But the colonists could return to the old homeland. This was not considered to be a crime by the Russian state. The elders now were reminded of the advice given by the “Jesuviter,” as the people called them. According to them, it had to be better in America than in Russia. Considerations such as these affected the Catholic German farmers in the Volga region. Nevertheless, the Catholic colonies of the Meadow and Hilly Sides (on both sides of the Volga) decided to send scouts to North and South America. These were to explore the land to see if it was suitable for agriculture and to enter into negotiations with the government officials concerning the allotment of sections of land. Those so authorized travelled through many states of North America, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. According to the report of the authorized delegation, the conditions for immigration were most favorable in the states of North America. For this reason, the first stream of Catholic emigrants from the Volga region poured into the United States of North America. A second movement from the Catholic Volga colonies went to Argentina. In 1926, the colonies in the state of Kansas celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of their settlement in the New World. However, Kansas is a state in the middle of the [United] States which often suffer from a lack of rain and therefore from failed harvests. Nevertheless, as the author of this history witnessed personally during his visit to America in the year 1922, the valiant fellow brethren of the same heritage, by means of diligence and prudence have set themselves up so well in such a short period of time that they helped to still the hunger of their unfortunate relatives in Russia by generous gifts given to them in the years of famine caused by Bolshevism. Once again, let me heartily thank the dear benefactors for their kind and willing cooperation and the dear reception which they prepared for the author and his ministerial traveling companion!

Catholic colonies...decided to send scouts to North and South America...through many states of North America, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay... to explore the land to see if it was suitable for agriculture...

Since 1876, many immigrated at various times to the New World from the south of the diocese of Tyraspol, mostly to the United States of America. Most of them settled in North and South Dakota where many, despite the short period of settlement, have established themselves well. Some have already attained a high standard of living. By means of their great courage, prudence, and diligence, they will soon be better off than in their former Russian homeland. The author was very glad to have met many of the former members of his diocese in North Dakota, also members of his parish, and even students from the parish school. At this point in the book, he also thanks these dear brethren of common heritage as best as he can for their kind reception and the generous donations for the starving! Our dear God will reward them for their great acts of compassion. The dear Americans often saved on their own meals in order to just have their starving brothers in Russia fed! We will always lovingly remember the benefactors. However, the famine could not be truly alleviated since the same one affected everyone upon the territory of the diocese of Tyraspol, so that the proverb “Many brethren but few possessions” was fulfilled.

Since 1876, many immigrated at various times to the 
New World from the south of the diocese of Tyraspol, 
mostly to the United States of America. Most of them settled 
in North and South Dakota... By means of their great 
courage, prudence, and diligence, they will soon be better off than in their former Russian homeland.  


01 January 2020

Ellis Island Opened 1 January 1892



The Inspection.
    Let the arrival of the ship, with the number of immigrants, be announced to the officer in charge, and let the order be given that they shall be brought in. Have a special officer conduct them to the platform in groups, a family, or two or three individuals, or sometimes a single person.
    1.  A general inspection, as they pass through a gateway, by a surgeon of the marine hospital, who takes a general look from feet to head; he is on the lookout for contagious skin-diseases or for any disease or deformity. If he sees anything suspicious in any one, that person is marked with a chalk-mark and sent to the detention-room, after being marked “F. I.,” for a more careful examination.
    2. A careful inspection of the eyes by another uniformed doctor, who is looking especially for trachoma or any contagious eye-disease. Those whose cases seem doubtful are also marked with chalk and sent to the detention-room.
    3. The immigrants pass up to the table of the inspector, who asked them the questions given below. He has before him the papers on which the answers they have already given to the same questions at the the place where they embarked. If their answers are satisfactory, and if they agree with those on the paper before him, they are marked “O.K. for New York,” or “O.K. for the Railroad,” or “O.K. for the West,” or wherever they are going.
    If any immigrants are not able to give satisfactory answers to the question, or if for any reason the inspector does not dare to admit them on his own responsibility, they are marked “F. I” (Further Investigation), of “S. I.” (Special Inquiry), and are sent to the detention-room. 
Questions to be Answered by all the Immigrants.
  1. What is your name?
  2. How old are you?
  3. Where did you live before coming here?
  4. Who paid your passage?
  5. Where are you going?
  6. Have you a ticket?
  7. What is your business?
  8. How much money have you?
  9. Can you read and write?
  10. Were you ever in prison or an almshouse?
  11. Are you an anarchist or polygamist?
  12. Are you under a labor-contract?
  13. Who is to meet you here?
• • •
On 1 January 1892, Ellis Island Immigration Station opened. It was named for Samuel Ellis who owned the island in the 1700s. During the 62 years it was in operation, more than 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island.

The original Ellis Island Immigration Station on Ellis Island, circa 1896. The following year, this building would be completely destroyed by fire. Source: WikiCommons

The original building was built from Georgia pine, and it was completely destroyed by fire on 15 June 1897. No lives were lost in the fire. While a new fireproof building was constructed, immigration intake was moved to the U.S. Barge Office on the southeastern tip of Manhattan in Battery Park.

Ellis Island Immigration Station with a ferry docked at the adjacent pier taken between 1902-1913.
Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections. 

Among the millions who passed through Ellis Island, many were our immigrant Germans from Russia ancestors, who began coming to the United States in the early 1870s after the privileges granted by Empress Catherine the Great and Alexander I were revoked in 1871 by Alexander II. They came seeking land and a new life. 


1855 – Between 3 August 1855 and 18 April 1892, Castle Garden, located on the southwestern tip of Manhattan in Battery Park, was used for immigrant intake in New York Harbor. Prior to 1855, there was no central immigrant processing center in New York. Each wharf kept their own custom passenger lists. 
1890 – 19 April 1892, immigration intake was moved to the the U. S. Barge Office on the southeastern tip of Manhattan in Battery Park. 
1892 – 1 January 1892, Ellis Island Immigration Station opened on a a small island off the New Jersey coast in New York Harbor.   
1897 – 15 June 1897, a fire destroys the Ellis Island Immigration Station. Immigration intake moved back to the U.S. Barge Office from 15 June 1897 through 16 December 1900.
1900 – 17 December 1900, the new fireproof Ellis Island Immigration Station opened and was in operation until late 1924 after the Immigration Act of 1924 (The Johnson-Reed Act).  

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