24 September 2021

I made a few changes on the map.

Over the course of the past several months, I’ve been removing the dust bunnies from the corners of the map. While doing this, I decided to entirely reorganize the map. You know when you start cleaning a drawer or a closet, and it leads to something else, and before you know it, you've rearranged the furniture, replaced the carpet, and have just dipped a roller into a tray of paint when another member of your household appears in the doorway and quietly asks, "Are you coming to bed anytime soon?"

This was like that. 

You may ask, "Why did you do this? I liked it the way it was."

The answer is pretty simple: I mapped myself into a corner, and the only way out was to rearrange the furniture. 

While the answer is simple, the thought behind it is a little more complex. 

In the early days of the map back in 2016, colors were used to show each group of well-known colonies per the research of Karl Stumpp, Joseph S. Height, Adam Giesinger and the like. The Black Sea area had a lot of colors (too many) because there were a lot of different documented groups of colonies. Other areas didn't have many. And aside from the largest and best known Mennonite groups, all the smaller Mennonite colonies all over Russia were not called out as settlement groups, or only vaguely referenced as such. This was an oversight I wanted to fix. But how could I do this without making the map look like Walt Disney threw up on it?

Part of the underlying problem was that I was following too closely the format of the researchers I mentioned who came before me. In fairness, genealogy organizations do the same thing. We all do the same thing by focusing on the Volga German story, the Black Sea German story, the Germans in Eastern European story, the Mennonite story, or some smaller subset of those stories. What do I do with German settlements or Russian towns with German residents that didn’t fit into those stories or enclaves and were nowhere near the Black Sea or the Volga?  

There had to be another way to look at this and to present it so that it made sense historically, geographically and genealogically. 

Georeferenced maps are all the rage now. I wish they were available this widely in 2016. Using them is like traveling back in time. I've been using a number of these maps to locate or confirm places. For years I've collected atlases of Russia. They're absolutely useless for locating German settlements, but the imagery on them is beautiful and ripe with symbolism. These, too, are now georeferenced, and I was using them to figure out historical districts. Stumpp recorded oblasts, districts and regions on his maps and village histories as they were in 1942, at the very end of Germans in Russia story. I'm more interested in what they were at the beginning. Does it matter what they were at the beginning? Probably not. I'm just curious. Like the internet meme: How it started. How it's going. 

While looking at the districts and adding German enclave and Mennonite colony names, I noticed that the boundaries of the provinces didn't align with what was in my data. My data was off in terms of "how it started." I needed to correct that. So I took apart the Black Sea area starting with Bessarabia and worked my way east to the Don, shifting locations into borders of their historical provinces instead of what Stumpp, et al. had published. In the end, there were a considerable number of changes. I wondered what South Russia would look like by historical Russian province instead of by German-Russian enclave. After seeing it, there was no going back.

Administrative/Geographic Regions

The map is now divided into geographic regions roughly by administrative regions from 1914. With the fall of the empire a few years away, and seemed like a good time period to use before everything changed. Generations of Germans had lived in Russia by then. No one was immigrating there any longer, and the mass emigration to the Americas winding down and about to come to an abrupt end. European Russia represents the majority of the map because of heavy German settlement there. Asiatic Russia all remains in one group. Deportation locations are in a separate grouping with no administrative region or province delineation. They will eventually be all over the map. 


The names of the provinces on the map are from the early 1800s. It didn't make sense to use earlier atlases since the Black Sea settlements weren't there yet, and a lot of the provinces in that area were created because of that settlement. In later years, some were combined or split. In the data for each colony, every attempt is made to accurately reflect what it was at the time of founding. Also, in the sources, a link to a province map or maps will be added. 

Enclaves, Colonies, Russian towns/cities/non-German settlements

German colonies were grouped in enclaves defined as "a distinct territorial, cultural or social unit enclosed within or as if within a foreign territory." Examples are the Kutschurgan, Beresan, Prischib and Mariupol enclaves. The Volga Germans were also an enclave, although I don't recall seeing them referred to as such. 

Mennonites were also in enclaves, but the terminology is a little different. They had settlements in named colonies,  For example, Lindenau, Lysanderhöh, Valuyevka were Mennonite settlements in the Am Trakt Colony (uppercase "C") right in the middle of the Volga enclave of colonies (lowercase "c"). Mennonites who lived in mixed colonies (i.e. not purely Mennonite but Mennonite and some other religious confession) were not a part of named Mennonite colonies. Named Mennonite colonies are well documented and sourced. 

Germans also lived in existing villages and cities that were there long before they arrived and generally had a mix of ethnicities and religions. Sometimes these villages were a part of a parish in a German colony. These were not German colonies. Germans did not settle them and don't meet the definition of "enclave," therefore they are not a part of whatever enclave is nearby. They are still on the map, but they're not listed as a part of an enclave. 

Is this splitting hairs? I don't know. Maybe. Seems logical to me. 

I put a matrix together that shows administrative/geographical regions, provinces within those regions, and the enclave/colonies within those provinces. Province maps will be created, the "colony group" name will be replaced with enclave and Mennonite colony name. Those that don't exist yet will be created.  All will be linked to this matrix which will be added to the Maps page on this site. This should be very easy to get to a specific set of colonies. 

Great RussiaEast RussiaSouth Russia
Chernigov ProvinceAstrakhan ProvinceBessarabia Province
— Belowesch enclaveOrenberg ProvinceDobruja Region
— Hutterite Colony— Orenberg ColonyDon Cossacks Host
Kharkov Province— Neu-Samara Colony— Mariupol enclave
Moscow ProvinceSamara ProvinceEkaterinoslav Province
Nizhegorod Province— Alt Samara Colony— Baratov Colony
Novgorod ProvinceSaratov Province— Bergtal Colony
Poltava Province— Arkadak Colony— Borissovo Colony
Pskov Province— Am Trakt Colony— Borozenko Colony
St. Petersburg Province— Volga enclave— Chortitza Colony
Voronezh Province— Hutterite Colony
Asiatic Russia— Ignatyevo Colony
Northwest RussiaCaucasus Province (N Caucasus)— Jakowlewo Colony
Minsk Province— Kuban Colony— Jewish Agricultural enclave
— Olgino Colony— Kronau enclave
Southwest Russia— Terek Colony— Mariupol enclave
Kyiv Province— Suvorovka Colony— Mariupol enclave
Podolia Province— Tempelhof Colony— Markuslandt Colony
Volhynia ProvinceGeorgia (S Caucasus)— Memrick Colony
Central Asia (provinces TBD)— Nepluyevka Colony
Western RussiaSiberia (provinces TBD)— Neu Rosengart Colony
Russian Poland— Barnaul Colony— Schlachtin Colony
— Vistula— Schumanovka Colony— Schönfeld Colony
— Usman Colony— Tcheroglas Colony
— Tas-Kuduk Colony— Yazykovo Colony
— Mosde-Kul ColonyKherson Province
— Tursun-Bay Colony— Beresan enclave
— Savitaya Colony— Glückstal enclave
— Jewish Agricultural enclave
— Kronau enclave
— Kutschurgan enclave
— Liebental enclave
— Schwedengebiet enclave
— Zagradovka Colony
Taurida Province
— Crimea enclave
— Fürstenland Colony
— Hutterite Colony
— Molotschna Colony
— Prischib enclave

Geography & Genealogy

But, but, but...what about the Black Sea area? 

As a historical region that crosses administrative and geographical areas, being mostly in European Russia but also partly in Asiatic Russia, it has a real loosey-goosey definition of its northern and eastern borders. How far from the Black Sea do you need to be to still be a Black Sea German? Regardless, the Black Sea area map will continue to be maintained. It will probably include Dobrudscha, Bessarabia, Kherson, Ekaterinoslav, Don, Taurida, Caucasus, Georgia, and probably Podolia since the settlements mostly border Bessarabia and Kherson and have parish ties to German colonies in those areas. I'm open to suggestions. 

Final Notes

Information: For each region, an information pin will be added. There are a few there now. These contain a brief description of the area and its German settlement history. It also includes a list of German-Russian organizations to contact to help people find their ancestors assuming they found their ancestral colony. 

Tutorial: A new YouTube tutorial will be recorded soon that will be a long overdue replacement of the old one. It will cover what the map is all about, how to use it and what new data is included. 

Bibliography: I'll be replacing the Sources page with a bibliography. It includes all the sources cited on the map as well as materials I used to educate myself on all the subjects needed to create what you see here. I'll link it in the description of the map. At a later date, I'll update the bibliography with an annotated and tagged version.

Austro-Hungarian Empire: I anticipate having to remove the Austrians at some point. There is already a separate map of those villages.

That's enough for now. Go play with the map now. 


29 August 2021

Alt Schwedendorf, 29 August 1942

To imagine the lives of our ancestors in Russia, we sometimes can turn to the modern art of the period. Photography was rare even into the early 20th century. Russian artists in the 1800s captured their world in strokes that coincided with the realism and impressionism art movements, leaving us with a soft, gauzy view of landscapes and life...even though we know it was probably anything but. 

“Hollyhocks in the Saratov Province” (Мальвы в Саратовской губернии), 1889.

“Rye” (Рожь), 1881.

“Noon. Herd in the Steppe” (Полдень. Стадо в степи), 1895.

Fast forward to 1940. The maps below are sections from both a 1941 Russian map and a 1942 German map of some of the German colonies near the city of Beryslav. Alt Schwedendorf (founded 1782) is shown in the green crosshair on the right side of the maps. To the north of it was Klosterdorf (1804),  to the south in the curve of the Dnieper River was Mühlhausendorf (1804) followed by Schlangendorf (1804) to the west along the river. 

In August of 1942, Dr. Karl Stumpp was in this area compiling information on what would end up being 99 detailed colony descriptions for the SS Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories (Reichsministerium für die besetzten Ostgebiete), or RMO. All in all, there are close to 300 colonies mentioned in the RMO documents and along with hundreds of maps, some detailed, some perfunctory

One such map was that of Alt Schwedendorf, drawn on 29 August 1942. 

This map struck me when first saw it because it didn't seem to be the quick sketch like all the others. There was some thought and even artistry put into it with unexpected details such as trees and the locations of the wells (nicely represented) and public fountains. And in the Dnieper, it shows what looks like someone in a boat...fishing. Truly one of the oddest maps in this collection, which was drawn on this day 79 years ago. 


16 August 2021

A Little August Update

Yes, I'm still kicking!

There has been a lot of map work going on the past several months with a big update coming in a few weeks. I'm taking a breath today since friends and followers of this project get concerned when I go silent for long periods of time and reach to ask if I'm okay. I am. I'm just happily immersed in old maps, data, and thought. :)

Current work includes using georeferenced maps to more accurately describe in what provinces the colonies were originally settled rather than descriptions of where they were during and after WWII, or more recently. A lot of sources focus on where you can find the place now, or 10, 20, 80 years ago and not where it was when colonies were initially founded. I get it. It's easier to state where they were places were the last time they were inhabited by Germans. As of last year, districts have changed or been dissolved in Ukraine in favor of a more simple structure. These changes haven't been reflected on Google Maps yet, but Wikipedia has them. Maybe to most, it doesn't really matter as long as the coordinates are correct. And this is absolutely true. But I have this long-standing curiosity of wanting to know "what was there before" and "what it was called at the beginning." Much of this project is to satisfy my own curiosity beyond coordinates. I share it with the hopes that others might benefit.

Also a lot of work is being done on disassembling the "Black Sea" and reassembling it (and more) into "South Russia." South Russia is a term many of our ancestors used to describe where they came from, and a term that causes consternation with some people now who are irked by the term. "We're getting pretty far north. Is it still South Russia?" or "It doesn't border the Black Sea. Are they still Black Sea Germans?" Like salted butter, I'm bringing back "South Russia."

There is other re-arranging of data that will hopefully help make the maps more useful and easier to quickly find the place you're looking for.

More to come on all of this in the coming weeks.


06 July 2021

Welcome back, Niu-York!

Earlier this year, I posted about an article about how the  town of Novhorodske in eastern Ukraine was trying to restore its name back to its original name: New Yorkthe name of the settlement given to it when German Mennonites purchased the land and formed the Ignatyevo Colony in 1892.

The votes were in favor of the change, and on 1 July 2021, the name was officially changed from the 1950s Soviet-era Novhorodske to Niu-York. A few days ago, the change started showing up on maps, Google Maps and OpenStreetMaps being the first. It hasn't cascaded through all the online maps and names databases yet, but in time it will.

Today, as a keeper of then and now, I updated the Germans from Russia Settlement Location maps to reflect the change and restored the record of a little bit of German history in town far away.

Below are several articles and YouTube videos about the New York, its history, and current challenges.

Learn More:


16 June 2021

16 June 1871—Tsar Alexander II Revokes German Colonists' Privileges

“Until 1871, an upward movement in all areas of life among German-Russians was to be noted. There was a growth of prosperity which found its expression in the acquisition of land; the cultural condition also improved (well developed school system, cultural associations). But it was precisely this progress that became a thorn in the eye of panslavic circles. A movement arose which opposed the further expansion of the Germans in Russia. The German minority was regarded as a foreign factor of a cultural and economic kind within the national body politic, and this, it was felt, had to be opposed. On June 4, 1871, these circles succeeded in bringing about the abrogation of the Codex of the Colonists that had assured them certain important rights at the time of settlement. Thereby the era of self-administration came to and end, and the colonists were made subject to the Russian Ministry of the Interior.”
                                          Karl Stumpp
                                          The German-Russians: Two Centuries of Pioneering (1967)

Things were going well up until they weren’t.

After the abolition of serfdom in Russia in 1861, the zemstvo system of local self-government was put into place in 1864. It applied to all villages in Russia except the German colonies.  The German colonies continued to self-govern under something called the Codex of the Colonists written in 1842.  Based on the promises granted in Catherine the Great’s manifesto of 1763  and Tsar Alexander I's manifesto in 1804, his was a set of Russian laws that pertained to the rights, responsibilities and privileges of German colonists living in the Russian Empire, which by then also encompassed the Black Sea/South Russia area.

On 16 June 1871 (4 June on the Julian calendar), Tsar Alexander II, revoked the Codex of the Colonists.  This act by Alexander II was the beginning of the undoing of the work of his of his great-great-grandmother, Catherine the Great, and his grandfather, Alexander I. And it was the beginning of the end of German immigration to Russia.  Control over the local government in the German colonies was abolished and replaced with the same zemstvo system that was in place elsewhere in Russia. The Colonist Welfare Office was shut down because the Germans in Russia were all now subjects of Russia.

It didn’t end there. In 1872, Tsar Alexander I issued a ukase (an edict) ending the German colonists
 freedom from military service beginning in 10 years. Service in the Russian army at that time was for a period 25 years for draftees. Rarely did they come home the men they were when they left, if they came home at all. After discussion, re-evaluating and “modernizing” military service, in January of 1874, the Russian government announced a new military law that went into effect immediately that required that all medically fit male Russian subjects (including the Germans, now Russian subjects) to serve in the Russian army for six years when they reached the age of 20.

The Germans who immigrated to Russia had a tradition of antimilitarism. Their families had endured five generations of war beginning with with the Thirty Years
’ War in 1618. One of the promises made to them as colonists in Russia was that they were free from military conscription “forever.” The word “forever” was later re-defined to be 100 years. This did not settle well among the German colonists. They regarded this new development as a breach of faith in the promise that was made to them. As conscientious objectors, the German Mennonites who had fled Prussia to Russia to avoid conscription were particularly disturbed by this development. An exception was made, and they were allowed to perform their service by reforesting South Russia.

There was no registration for the draft. To compile a list of men of age, the Russian government turned to parish records. Germans were/are impeccable at keeping records, and churches were required to provide a list from baptismal records of men who were of age. If any had died on that list, proof and affidavits had to be provided of his death when his year came up. In addition to the names of the young men, the names of their fathers and younger brothers were also recorded for future drafts. 

When colonists were called up for service, it happened quickly. A document from the Odessa State Archives from 1885 lists Benedikt Schlosser, a resident of Baden in the Kutschurgan district, who was born on 1 January 1864, as eligible for military service. It also listed his younger brother, Rochus, age 12, and his father, Konrad. Benedikt received his military card “No 2738” on 25 October 1885. He was obligated to show up for duty at the conscription station in the village of Mannheim, no later than 8 a.m. on 16 November 1885.

Some German colonists sent their sons away before they could be drafted. According to a timeline in The Glückstalers in New Russia and North America, in 1885, the Glückstal colony of Kassel was “unable to produce any men for the military draft. Without exception, all of them had gone to America in the spring of that year.” Sending sons of age to America continued for years. Karl Martel left Kassel and arrived in the United States alone in 1903, at the age of 20, with $2.50 in his pocket. It was either immigrate or serve in the Russian military. 

In 1874, Germans across Russia began immediately looking for opportunities to move elsewhere. Emissaries were sent from colonies in Bessarabia to investigate migrating to nearby Dobrudscha, in what is now Bulgaria and Romania, and, at the time, a part of the Ottoman Empire. They found it a suitable place to move and left Russia to settle in both existing and newly founded villages. Others migrated to recently opened areas in Central Asia and Siberia, where, although still a part of Russia, there was plenty of land and the laws weren’t strictly enforced yet. The colony of Rosenfeld in the Caucasus, which had been established just a few years prior, tried to make the best of the situation and petitioned to govern themselves in 1879. 

But most enticing was the propaganda coming from North and South America where there was cheap or free land for the taking. A conference was called in the Catholic Volga colony of Herzog and in the Protestant Volga colony of Balzar to determine where would be best for Volga Germans to immigrate.

The decision was clear for some, and the response was swift. In the early spring of 1873, the city of Yankton, Dakota Territory became home to Black Sea Germans from Russia, the first of many. German Hutterites from Russia would follow soon after the next year and establish Bonn Homme Colony not far from Yankton, and Mennonites began settling in Kansas.

The events in the early 1870s along with the subsequent push of Russian nationalism and “Russification” of the Germans who lived there caused waves of both migration and emigration from Russia in the decades to come to countries in North and South America, and eventual pain and suffering for those who stayed through wars, resettlement, deportation, and worse.

 # # #

14 June 2021

The Kutschurgan Colonies 1908

"Views of the Selz Colony"
Top (L-R): Kutschurgan poorhouse, the interior of the Selz church, and the school in Selz.
Bottom: (L-R): Group celebrating the 100 year jubilee and the Selz parish church.

"Churches and school buildings in Kandel, Strassburg and Baden"
Top (L-R): Strassburg school, Strassburg church, and Baden school with part of the church.
Bottom (L-R): Kandel church, Kandel school, and the Baden church.

In 1908, the Kutschurgan colonies celebrated their 100th anniversary of founding. The following year, Deutscher Volkskalender für Stadt und Land : auf d. Jahr 1909 published an article about the colonies along with the images above.

For more about this celebration and other articles and photos, see The Founding of the Kutschurgan Colonies.


01 May 2021

2021 Conference Roundup

Real Picture Post Card (RPPC), circa 1910. 

Last year at this time, all in-person conferences and conventions had been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There were some online presentations, but for the first half of the year, there was little German-Russian-specific webinar content available. It got better in September with the ASHGR Edmonton Chapter’s hit 3-day conference. This taught the groups that always thrived on in-person conferences this important lesson: if you build it, they will come. 

This year, nearly all of the big Germans from Russia and Eastern European conferences that normally occur in the U.S. in the summer have decided to hold virtual conferences. Only one is doing a “hybrid” model of hosting the majority of the conference on-site and in-person while offering a number of presentations virtually for those who cannot or do not want to travel or have close contact yet. It’s good to see everyone accepted a new normal. And it’s good to see no one is going dark this year. 

Below is a quick round up of what’s going on, when, and who’s hosting/presenting. The costs vary and are included in the registration link. Compare what’s being offered with what you’re researching to get the most for your money. For those groups who haven’t announced their line up yet, keep checking their website for updates and early-bird or member discounts. 

Here’s what’s been announced as of May 1, 2021, in the order of when the events occur. 

Dates:July 13-15, 2021
Host Organization:American Historical Society of Germans from Russia (AHSGR)
Title:“Connections: Keeping Our German Russian Heritage Alive”
Presentation Schedule:To be announced
Registration Open?:Not yet
More information:https://www.ahsgr.org/page/Conventions
Perks:Everyone welcome. Discounts to members. AHSGR is the largest Germans from Russia genealogy and historical society in the U.S.
• • •
Dates:July 17-24, 2021
Host Organization:International German Genealogy Partnership
Title:2021 International German Genealogy Conference
Presentation Schedule:view schedule
Registration Open?:register here
More information:https://iggpartner.org/
Perks:Everyone is welcome. Lots of different packages at different price points. This is an international conference, and some presentations will be in the German language.
• • •
Dates:July 21-24, 2021
Host Organization:Germans from Russia Heritage Society (GRHS)
Title:“Embracing the Future”
Location:Ramkota Hotel, Bismarck, North Dakota, USA
Presentation Schedule:view schedule
Registration Open?:register here (mail in registration only)
More information:https://grhs.org
Perks:Everyone is welcome. Discounts to members. Free admission to those 18 years old and younger. This convention is the only one offered on site, but there will be some presentations offered virtually for two days. This is the 50th anniversary convention of GRHS (postponed from last year).
• • •
Dates:August 11-13, 2021
Host Organization:Foundation for East European Family History Studies (FEEFHS)
Title:FEEFHS Conference 2021
Presentation Schedule:view schedule
Registration Open?:register here
More information:https://feefhs.org/
Perks:Everyone is welcome. Free admission to full-time university or college students with a valid student-ID. Early bird discount.
• • •
Dates:September 18-19, 2021
Host Organization:Society for German Genealogy in Eastern Europe (SGGEE)
Title:“Finding Our Stories”
Presentation Schedule:To be announced
Registration Open?:Not yet
More information:https://sggee.org/convention/convention_news.html
Perks:To be announced