14 March 2021

Russian Railroad Maps 1877-1912

This is a collection of German language Russian railroad maps between 1877 and 1912. This covers the period when there was mass German emigration from Russia to North America and South America. Those who are curious about how their ancestors made their way to ports in the west (Antwerp, Bremen, Hamburg, Libau, etc.) can use the map closest to the time period when your ancestor left Russia and trace the path back. 

The first railroads in Russia began running in 1838. Each tsar had a different impact on the expansion of railroads through the empire, the result of which you can see with increased private and freight railroads over time on the maps below. Some of the German colonies were on or near a railway, while a few had railway stops.  

Timeline of Railroads in Russia

1835    Tsar Nicholas I (26 December 1825 – 2 March 1855) approved construction of the first railroad in Russia. Through the reign of Nicholas I, railroads were built and administered by the State. 
1838    The first railroad between St. Petersburg and Zarskoye Selo began operating.
1851    The railroad segment between Moscow and St. Petersburg opened; Moscow became the central hub of the Russian railroad network.
1855    Through the reign of Alexander II (2 March 1855 – 13 March 1881), railroads were built and administered by private companies. Existing railroads were also administered by private companies.
1871    Railroad connections from Kiev to Moscow and Odessa were in place.
1874    The Moscow-Charkov-Simferopol railroad segment was completed.
1881    Through the reign of Alexander III (13 March 1881 – 1 November 1894), there was a return to the idea of ​​State railways and a large number of private companies were nationalized.
1891    Construction began on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.
1894    Through the reign of Nicholas II (1 November 1894 – 15 March 1917), there was a continuation of what Alexander III put in place with state railways, nationalization, and so forth. 
1896    In the Russian-Chinese mutual assistance pact, China receives a concession from Russia for the construction of the East China Railroad.
1898    Russia leased from China the Liaodong Peninsula, together with the port of Port Arthur (Lüshen), with the concession to connect it with the Eastern Railroad.
1904    The construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad was completed.


Title: “Eisenbahn Karte des Europäischen Russland” (Railroad Map of European Russia)
Date: 1877
Notes:  This was published as a supplement to the St. Petersburger Kalender (Beilage zum St. Petersburger Kalender). While previous editions of the St. Petersburger Kalendar had lists of Russian railroad lines in them, this was the first edition I located that included an actual map. It is the oldest map in this collection. The legend notes completed railroads, railroads under construction, confirmed railroads, and planned railroad lines. 


Title: “Neueste Eisenbahn Karte des Europäischen Russland” (Latest Railroad Map of European Russia)
Date: 1892
Notes:  This map has two smaller maps that show railroad lines through some of Central Asia and Far East Russia bordering China and the Sea of Japan. 


Title: “Eisenbahn Karte des Europäischen Russland” (Railroad Map of European Russia)
Date: 1909
Notes:  This was published as a supplement to the Neuen Haus- und Land-Wirtschafts Kalender (Beilage zum Neuen Haus- und Land-Wirtschafts Kalender). This map is accompanied by a list of fares that can be viewed here. 


Title: “Die russichen Eisenbahn” (The Russian Railway)
Date: 1912
Notes:  A very detailed map showing every stop on each railroad line. It shows state run railroad lines, private rail lines, and freight lines. It also includes several detailed maps of cities and regions. 

Learn More:


01 March 2021

Lustdorf, Liebental

Two views of the main street in Lustdorf, circa 1910. The top shows the church on the right. 

Lustdorf (also known as Kaiserscheim, Olgino and Khernomorka) was a Lutheran Mother colony in the Liebental district of Russia near the Black Sea. Among the earliest colonies in the Black Sea area, it was founded in 1804 or 1805 southwest of the city of Odessa. The closest German colony to it was Kleinliebental just 3.5 miles (5.7 kilometers) to the west. 

Lustdorf on an 1855 map of Lutheran settlements in Russia. 

Lustdorf on a 1910 map of the 3rd Military Survey of Austria-Hungary.

It became populated with skilled craftsmen who worked in Odessa, so less land was allotted to the colony for agriculture. In 1859, there were 45 houses in Lustdorf. The church was built in 1869/70. The congregation paid 39,832 rubles for it. It had 300 seats and Walker organ with 11 stops.  

The Lutheran church in Lustdorf, circa 1910. 

By the late 1800s, Lustdorf had developed into a sea-side resort, spa and sanatorium, and soon, a tram from the great fountain in Odessa to Lustdorf brought Russian visitors directly to the colony for rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation.

Lustdorf was incorporated into the city of Odessa after 1945. Today it’s a neighborhood in the city named Chornomorka. The name Lustdorf hasn't been lost to history. There is still a tram stop named “Lystdorf Settlement.”

• • •

My personal connection to Lustdorf is my 4x great-grandfather, Johann Martin Schilling. He was my first ancestor to arrive in Russia. The month of March marked both a beginning and an ending for Martin. In March 1809, Martin and his family travelled from Steinsfurt near Sinsheim in Baden to Frankfurt am Main. There they stayed between 23 March to 4 April waiting to begin their journey to Russia. They arrived in Glückstal in July 1809. He was 42 years old. On 3 March 1848, Martin Schilling died in Lustdorf where he was living with one of his younger sons. He was 81 years old and had lived in Russia nearly half of his very long life. 

I imagine Martin as an old man by the sea looking out over the water. He stands tall with still mostly dark hair that he rakes back with his fingers as the wind gusts. He rubs his tired blue eyes and remembers where he came from, how far he has come, and he reassures himself, “I did the best I could.” I have heard these words from his descendants time and again; I hear his baritone voice supporting theirs, a major chord across time. We all do the best we can. No man can ever judge if it was enough.



22 February 2021

Gnadental, Bessarabia

Plat map of Gnadental, Bessarabia circa 1920 published in 1930.

The following translated excerpts came from and article entitled “Die Gemeinde Gnadental” by Friedrich Rüb, which appeared in the 1930 edition of Deutscher Volkskalender für Bessarabien. 

“The founding of the community of Gnadental coincides with the end of immigration of German colonists in Russia, namely in the period when official advertisements for emigrants in Germany to move to Russia had stopped ten years earlier. The settlers were, therefore, uninvited, free emigrants to whom the Russian government did not give any support, neither for the journey, nor for the first establishment. Gnadental is the 21st German community in Bessarabia.”

Map showing the land plot that would become Gnadental, Bessarabia. Date is unknown, but it was likely before 1830 given the other colonies noted on the map.

“The settlement took place in the years 1830-1833 on land which had been made available to Provost Lindl in 1822. From a petition from the Sarata school board 29 April 1829, the Welfare committee approved the establishment of the colony as per letter dated 14 May1829 [document] No. 716.... At the time of settlement, the land was leased...to some Moldovans, who used it as pasture for their sheep...”

During the first years, Gnadental was officially named “Sarata No. 2”. 

“In the second year of the settlement (1831), cholera prevailed in Gnadental as in the whole area, which demanded many victims. The merciful averting of this evil gave reason to name this colony ‘Gnadental’ [Mercy Valley]. This name was presented to the municipality through the Sarata Territorial Office for the Welfare Committee for confirmation, which was done, and granted dated August 1832 [document] No. 1043.”

An 1872 Austrian military map showing Gnadental with its former name. 

“In the spring of 1830 the settlement was started with 10 families, to which, in the same year another 12 families were added. These 22 families were joined by another 12 families in 1831, so that towards the end of that year, the colony had 34 families with a total of 168 souls. Two families ceded their farms soon after their arrival. In 1832, another 37 families settled, and in 1833, the last 11 families arrived. The settlement of the colony was completed in 1833 with 80 families and a total of 455 souls. The settlers of Gnadental did travel as an organized group. They came from 40 villages in Württemberg, mostly did not know each other before settlement, and came to Gnadental over the course of four years.”

Church exterior (left) and interior (right). Built in 1880.

The first church services were held in a private house. In 1833, the first prayer house was built on the square where the church stands today. The original church was replaced in 1880 by master builder Klaus Lorenz, a German citizen from Odessa, for 25,000 rubles. 

Top: The old school house built in 1847. Bottom: The new school house built in 1862.

“At the same time as the colony was founded, school life also began. Since there was no school house, school was held in a farmhouse. The settlers created the school they were used to from Germany and which corresponded to their religious attitude. It was a distinctly religious school. In 1833, the third year of the settlement, a special school class was built under one roof with the prayer house, in which school was held until 1846. The first 17 years, the teachers were local landlords. A turn for the better came in 1846, when an expertly trained teacher in the person of Johann Jakob Koch was employed, and the first school building was erected.... Until 1861 all pupils from the age of 8-15 were were accommodated in one classroom....the more talented pupils were not sufficiently engaged....but attendance was compulsory until confirmation.”

Street view in Gnadental. Western half of main street, circa 1930.

Today Gnadental is called Dolynivka, Odes'ka, Ukraine.


16 February 2021

1890 Map of German Land Ownership in the Kherson Governorate

Map legend with translation.

The last set of maps I shared was a collection of Lutheran maps from 1855. This is another period map that some may find useful in illustrating family histories. This is from 1890 with updates apparently made in 1942. By this point, many German colonists in this area had already begun emigrating from Russia to North and South America. 

I found this map while going through the last film of the German Captured Documents Collection, Reports from Ethnic German Communities in Ukraine 1940-44 on FamilySearch a few weeks ago. I've been stitching together all of the maps from that collection when I need a break from other research work.  

This map is titled the Schematic map of German land ownership in Kherson Governorate in 1890, and it was found on the last film, #8878483. On the map, the source is listed as “L. Padalka, Landbesitz der ehm. deutschen Kolonisten im Gouvernment Cherson 1891, edited by Karl Stumpp, 1943.” Stumpp was in this area between 1942 and 1943 while he was working for Reichsministerium für die Besetzten Ostgebiete (Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories). At this point in this project, I thought I had seen all of Stumpp’s maps, but this is the first time I've seen this particular map. And Ive not found a reference to it elsewhere as of this writing. 

Although this map only covers the Cherson area, it is interesting because it outlines the areas that were initially allotted to the German colonists by the Crown and additional land that had been purchased. Many of the German daughter colonies are shown as settlements among the native population, and probably colonies of other ethnicities as Germans were not the only group invited to settle in Russia. 

Also of interest are the names of the places. The enclaves of this area are fairly well-represented based on what is known from other sources. There are several settlements that had the same name—not unusual at all. But there are many I've never heard of before, are not on Stumpps other maps, and that do not show up in the German-Russian Handbook. Below is an alphabetical list so that Google can index them.

Akerman, Alexanderhilf, Alexandrija, Alexandrowka, Alexandrowka, Alexandrowka, Alexandrowka, Alexandrowka, Alexfeld, Alt Danzig, Ananjew, Andrijaschewka, Annental, Antonowka, Antonowka, Antonowka, Baden, Balta, Bendery, Beresnegowataja, Bergdorf, Berislaw, Biziljewka, Blumenfeld, Blumenfeld, Blumenort, Bogdanowka, Boska, Brinowka, Cherson, Danilowka, Deutsche Güter, Deutsche Güter, Deutsche Güter, Deutsches Gut, Deutsches Gut, Dodonowka, Dubossary, Eigendorf, Eigenfeld, Eigenfeld, Elsass, Felsenburg, Felsenburg, Franzfeld, Freudental, Friedenfeld, Friedental, Fürstental, Gawrlowka, Georgiental, Glückstal, Golowlewka, Grossulowo, Grus Kaja, Güldendorf, Gut Ambarow, Gut Ambarow, Gut Hofmann, Gut Linke, Gut Nam, Gut Udatschnyj, Güter Dauenhauer, Güter Guhl, Güter v. Domauer u. Schart, Halbstadt, Helenowka, Hoffnungsburg, Hoffnungstal, Hoffnungstal, Jelisawetgrad, Jelisawetpol, Jeremejewka, Jewgeniewka, Jewstafjewka, Johannestal, Johannestal, Josefstal, Josefstal, Jsbaschewka, Jshitzkaja, Jsmailowka, Jwanowka, Kandel, Karlsfeld, Karlsruhe, Kassel, Katerinental, Katerinental, Kellerhausen, Kerstinowka, Klein Bergdorf, Klein Liebental, Klein Neudorf, Kleinendorf, Kleinfeld, Kleinfeld, Klosterdorf, Kopeikina, Krementschug, Kriwoj-Rog, Kronau, Landau, Landau, Lichetenfeld, Ljubomichailowka, Lustdorf, Malaja Jschetschelewka, Mannheim, Mariental, Mesendewka, Milaljubowka, Mülhausendorf, München, Nadeschdowka, Nasarow Jar, Neu Berlin, Neu Danzig, Neu Freudental, Neu Glückstal, Neu Kronental, Neu Lustdorf, Neu Odessa, Neu Schönsee, Neuburg, Neudorf, Neufeld, Neuheim, Neusatz, New Beresinna, Nikolaidorf, Nikolajewka, Nowakowka, Nowo Ukrainka, Nowobiziljewka, Nowomannilowka, Nowomirgorod, Noworushino, Odessa, Olgina, Olwiopol, Otradnajadolina, Otrodowka, Otschakow, Owidiopol, Petersfeld, Peterstal, Petratjewka, Petrowerowka, Petrowka, Platonowka, Podmogilnaja, Pondik, Prijut, Protopopowka, Rastadt, Reimarowka, Rohrbach, Rosenfeld, Sacharowka, Sakretarowka, Sawitschewka, Schlangendorf, Schöntal, Selz, Skarbnaja, Sofijewka, Sofronowka, Sokolowka, Solnzewka, Speier, Steinbach, Steinberg, Steingut, Stepkowka, Strassburg, Stschasliwka, Sulz, Taschlyk, Tiege, Tiraspol, Trudoljubowka, Viktorowka, Wassiljewka, Waterloo, Werchnjednjeprowsk, Weselyj Kut, Worms, Wosnjassensk, Zybulewka

09 February 2021

"Welcome to the Big Apple...in eastern Ukraine"

Scrolling through my Twitter feed last night, I saw these words: “Welcome to the Big Apple...in eastern Ukraine.” 

It was an article in Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty about the town of Novhorodske in Ukraine voting soon to restore its name back to its original name: New York. According to the article, it was changed in 1951 due to Cold War tensions with the United States.

I immediately thought, I know where New York is. That was a German Mennonite colony.

This morning, I looked it up on my map, and, indeed, it was a Mennonite daughter colony. The land was purchased by the Chortitza colony. 

AHSGR map #24Map of the German settlements in the Stalino region (former East part of the governorate of Jekaterinoslav and West part of the Don region), including the German villages in the eastern part of the Kharkov region

From the German-Russian Handbook (pp.564-565).
New-York, Don, Donets’k, Dzerzhinsk, Shelesnaya. The village was located on the Torez River and a steep mountain slope. #C 4. Founded in 1889. Mennonite; parish: New-York, also Mennonite Brethren; parish: Nikola(y)evka. A small number were part of the Nikola(y)evka Brethren community. A junior high school was founded in 1905, and a secondary school for girls (Progymnasium) in 1912. School for those unable to pay tuition, steam and rolling mills (Unger and Dyck, the owner and founder(s)), agricultural machinery factory (Niebuhr), brickyard (Unger), bookstore (Hamm); according to another source: cooperative and/or cooperative store, school with grades one to seven (as of 1926.) The mother colony of Khortitza bought the estate for people without land. Acreage: 3,138 dessi. Population: 426 in 1911; 926 in 1913; 926 in 1914; 926 in 1918; 953 in 1926. Also see York, New-.
Ignatyevo Colony from the Mennonite Historical Atlas, pg 31.

According to William Schroeder and Helmut T. Heubert’s Mennonite Historical Atlas, New York was a part of the Ignatyevo Colony.

New York was founded in 1889, one of the first six villages of the Ignatyevo Colony. It was situated along the banks of the Krivoy Torets River, close to the town of Zheleznaya. The name “New York” was in response to a request by the wife of Count Ignatieff (from whom the land was purchased), who, being an American, was likely pining for some reminder of her homeland. 

Besides the usual agriculture, industry soon developed in New York, especially because of the proximity of the Khar'kov-Mariupol' railroad. A number of factories were built, among them that of the J.G. Niebuhr company, which manufactured a wide range of farm implements. There were a number of steam mills, brickyards, stores and even a windmill. By 1913, [the] total population reached 926.

There were two elementary schools in New York. In 1905 a secondary school (Zentralschule) was founded. The first teachers were Heinrich Funk and Gerhard Froese. A girls’ school opened its doors in 1907, the principal sponsor being J.J. Thiessen, the leading teacher, Viktoria Klein.

The New York Mennonite Church was organized in 1892, the first elder being Abraham Unruh. By 1905, including affiliates in Borissovo, Grigoryevka and the Azov Forestry Camp, the congregation numbered 2,275, although local baptized membership was only 600. There were undoubtedly Mennonite Brethren living in New York, but their house of worship was in Nikolayevka. 

New York suffered the same fate in later years as the rest of the Ignatyevo Colony...including difficulties...during the revolutionary period, a particularly heavy raid by Makhno [Nestor Ivanovych Makhno, Ukrainian anarchist revolutionary and the commander of an independent anarchist army in Ukraine from 1917–21] coming in February, 1919. There appeared to be some economic recovery in the 1920s, but in 1942, the entire population of the colony was evacuated by the Soviets before the German armies reached the area...

Plat map of New York from the Mennonite Historical Atlas, pg. 32

If the vote passes, I look forward to changing the name back its original and restoring a little bit of German history. 


01 February 2021

1855 Maps of German Lutherans in Russia

Recently, I ran across a German atlas of Lutherans in Russia, Atlas der Evangelisch - Lutherischen Gemeinen in Russland. It contained five maps that showed the consistories (administrative body of the church) of each area including some of the German colonies—not just the Lutheran colonies, but also colonies of Catholics, Mennonites, and other other denominations of Protestantism practiced among the German colonists in Russia at the time. 

The atlas was published in St. Petersburg by the Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Imperial Academy of Sciences) on 7 March 1855. The author was listed as anonymous, and there was a note that said it was allowed to be printed on the condition that a certain number of copies were sent to the Census Committee. 

Im sharing the maps here along with a few comments about things I noticed on the maps that I found interesting. To see the original, georeferenced scan of each map, click on the image. It will take you to the full atlas at the David Rumsey Map Collection


Karte des europäischen Russland 

The map of European Russia shows color-coded boundaries of Lutheran consistorial districts in1855. These colors carry through on the rest of the maps in the atlas. The districts include St. Petersburg, Moskau (Moscow), Kurland (Courland), Livland (Livonia), Ehstland (Estonia), and Oesl (Saaremaa, an Estonian island in the Baltic Sea). The Baltic area is heavily represented here likely because Germans had been living in the Baltic areas long before Catherine the Greats invitation in 1763. The Baltic states became a part of Russia in the early 1700s. The consistories of St. Petersburg and Moscow covered all of the Germans in Russia that followed the immigration stories that began in around 1763. Note on the upper right, there is a list of cities in Siberia along with the distance in versts (1 verst = .66 miles or 1.06 kilometers) to Moscow, their consistory. Also at the very top left, you see a note about a Russian city in North America, Neu-Archangelsk (Sitka, Alaska, USA today). It, too, was a part of the Moscow consistory at the time.


Karte der evangelisch-lutherischen Gemeinen in dem Gouvernement St. Petersburg 

This map show the parish districts around the city of St. Petersburg along with some of the German colonies. Most of the colonies around St. Petersburg were Lutheran. There were three colonies that had both Catholics and Protestants (Frankfurt, Luzk, and Porchowo) in the Jamburg district (V) , but they are not noted on this map. 

1855 map of the Lutheran parishes around the city of St. Petersburg. 


Die Kolonien in den Gouvernements Saratow and Samara 

This map shows the German colonies in the Saratov and Samara Governorates. Given the penciled in colonies, its likely that this atlas was owned at one time by a Volga German, who added what was missing on the map. One of my favorite librarians was named Helen Barber. I met her when I was a freshman in college and later worked with her when I joined the professional library staff at New Mexico State University. She wouldve had a heart attack over these pencil marks. I recall vividly the first time she helped me. Upon seeing a pencil mark in a book, she gasped and snarled, Barbarians! She snatched the nub of a pencil I would years later learn that she kept behind her ear at all times and erased the mark. In this case, the caretakers at the David Rumsey Map Collection embraced the additions as a part of the maps history. 

The map key color codes the Lutheran, Catholic, and Mennonite colonies, and also shows private land and land for sale to the colonists. 

1855 map of the German colonies in the Saratov and Samara Governorates.


Die Kolonien in Bessarabien un in dem Gouvernement Cherson 

This map shows the colonies in Bessarabia and Kherson Governorate is what was known as South Russia. The color-coded key indicates areas where there were Lutheran, Catholic, Separatist (Hoffnungstal), and Bulgarian colonies. I do not know why Bulgarian colonies were noted specifically on this map. Presumably they were Bulgarian Lutherans in Russia instead of German Lutherans in Russia.

German colonies in Bessarabia and Kherson Governorate


Die Kolonien in den Gouvernements Jekaterinoslaw und Taurien 

This map shows the colonies in the Ekaterinoslav and Tauria Governorates is what was known as South Russia. The color-coded key indicates areas where there were Lutheran, Catholic, Bulgarian (again), and Pietists colonies (Neu-Stuttgard, Neu-HoffnungstalNeu-Hoffnung, and Rosenfeld).

German Colonies in the Ekaterinoslav and Tauria Governorates


Overall, this was an interesting atlas. Useful for more than just showing where Lutherans lived in Russia in 1855 (the last five pages of the atlas provides statistics for each area), it would also make for some nice illustrations in family histories where you might want to show proximities of the colonies on a period map rather than on a modern map. 


28 January 2021

Lydia's Violets

Note: This post was originally published on January 28, 2021. It was updated on February 3, 2021 after more negatives showing the violets were found and scanned.

Lydia Martel Schilling with her violets on their original plant stand taken in Bowdle, SD.

In the early 1940s, my Schilling grandparents retired from farming and moved their family into town, to Bowdle, South Dakota. Sometime after, a neighbor gave my grandma, Lydia, some African violets. She had those violets (or their descendants) for the next 40 years, the remainder of her life. The brass plant stand with eight arms, each holding a pot of violets, was always in front of the window in the living room. 

After Lydia died in the spring of 1988, my grandfather, Jake, put the violets in the chicken coop. And there they sat for three years. Jake turned 90 in 1991, and so late that summer, the whole family convened in Bowdle to celebrate. While I was there, Grandpa asked if I wanted Grandmas violets. Of course, I said yes. I had driven up from New Mexico with my eldest brother in his truck, so we put the stand and the pots in the bed and covered them with a tarp for the 1,300-mile drive back. 

When I got them home to Las Cruces, I saw that the violets were very crowded in the pots, clearly root bound, yellowed, and emaciated from lack of sun and water. My brother said they needed a monsoon—his reference to rain in Africa, but, in fact, the desert southwest has a pretty reliable monsoon season, too. I monsooned them first to loosen things up, and then carefully divided each plant, pulling off little ones from the mother plants. I put all the South Dakota dirt that came with them into a bucket and mixed it with New Mexico dirt from my garden. I thought it was important that each pot had a little bit of South Dakota to remind them where they came from. From the four mother plants, I got at least 14 more daughter plants. Some of them were very tiny, but they seemed determined.

When I was a little girl growing up in Santa Rosa, my room had three large windows facing east. I loved playing in the dirt (still do). Although I dont remember where the first plants came from, by the time I was nine or ten, Id managed to propagate many jade, philodendron, and spider plants, to the point where all three windowsills were full of containers of plants. I named them. I talked to them. I read to them. We listened to disco music out of Oklahoma City together late at night on my 7UP can-shaped radio. We were friends. 

First, I filled up the brass plant stand with the mother violets and then lined up the rest along the windowsills of my sunporch. I had even more window sills in my sunporch than in the bedroom of my childhood home. My new friends were home. They flourished in the Southern New Mexico sun. The leaves turned verdant and fuzzy, and soon they had clusters of single, icy lavender-colored blossoms. They continued to multiply at a somewhat alarming rate. If they had ever been a hybrid, they had certainly returned to their wild state in my care. Within a year, I gave a half dozen each to my brother and my mom. And eventually, I started giving them away to everyone I knew. It's your birthday? Heres a violet. Got a new job? Heres a violet. Feeling blue? Heres a violet. 

In the fall of 1994, I took a temp job in Wisconsin. I filled my car up with necessities, including some violets, and headed north. 

In the spring of 2000, I left New Mexico and moved to Northern Virginia. I shipped everything ahead of time, but I drove east across the country with two cats and a box of violets.  

In the late summer of 2001, the Schilling family convened in South Dakota to celebrate Jakes 100th birthday. I brought him pictures of the violets in bloom. He seemed happy to see them again. They were his Lydias violets. 

Each time I divided them, I always included a bit of dirt from the mix of South Dakota, New Mexico, and, by then, Virginia dirt. I had rigged up a couple of bakers racks with grow lights since my living space never had enough windowsills to accommodate them. Each time I visited Grandpa, he would ask about Grandmas violets. 

Over time, two racks became one. In March of 2008, the last of the violets were doing very poorly. It seemed there was nothing I could do to keep them going any longer. Turns out, Grandpa, who by then was 106 years and 6 months old, was in the same situation as Grandmas violets. The violets gave out just before the vernal equinox, and Grandpa followed suit on April 1. 

After the funeral service at St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the burial at the cemetery, and the luncheon in the basement of church, my dad, his brother, and I were standing outside the church saying our goodbyes when my dad asked about Grandma's violets. You still got those? he asked. I hesitated for a moment and then told him that they died two weeks before Grandpa did. He looked at me, almost sad at first, but then he just smiled and said “Oh.”

Every time you uproot a plant, some of the soil still clings to the roots, no matter how hard you shake it. There is always a bit of where it came from going along with where it’s going. A piece of Germany. A chunk of Russia. A clod of South Dakota. A dusting of New Mexico. A lump of Virginia. 

Maybe there wasnt enough South Dakota dirt left in their pots after all those years to remind those violets where they came from. Maybe I was somehow keeping Grandpa alive by keeping Grandmas violets alive. Or maybe the other way around: Grandpa was keeping Grandmas violets alive. I'll never really know. But I do know this: I was happy to be their caretaker for 17 years. I havent had another violet since. 

Lydia sitting with her violets in her living room. 


27 January 2021

Finding a New Groove

Happy New Year! It's still the new year, right?

It has been a while since I've posted to this blog or updated maps. Last year, I wrote a lot, but I didn't post much of what I wrote. This project has been dormant for a few months, so I thought I'd take a moment to explain what's going on and what to expect this year.

2020 was intense in both local, national, and global events. You all were there, so you know. It was also intense in work on this project, in particular, the Germans from Russia in America map. It was full speed ahead for months on end with a backdrop of chaos in the form of a global pandemic, unrest in the United States, and local and nearby wildfires. The shadows that were cast were long. It was one gut punch after another. It was exhausting. Toward the end of the year, I found I needed to step back from everything for a while to reflect and re-evaluate. 

I'm fortunate to have the time to work on things in which I'm interested. I want to make sure to use this time wisely as long as I have it.

I'm involved with several volunteer activities in the Germans from Russia community. This month I took over as the editor of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society's quarterly journal Heritage Review after being its proofreader for six years. The editing work will occasionally take precedent over working on this project since a physical journal needs to be produced four times a year. I'm also working on the website for the Glückstal Research Colonies Association, a small but important organization that isn't represented well in the larger German-Russian historical societies. The Glückstal colonies are also some of my ancestral colonies. 

The Germans from Russia Settlement Locations project will continue as planned. Maybe not at the speed it has been going in the past, but it will continue. Instead of focusing entirely on the research into the maps on which I'm working, I'll be posting other maps, too. Since I am an avid collector of historical maps, I will be sharing more of them on this blog. Hopefully, they will be some food for thought and maybe help you illustrate your family history or other research projects. I will also post what I write more often rather than let the drafts pile up and go stale. 

Stick with me while I work out my new schedule in the coming months and find my new groove.