Germans from Russia History

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Germans from Russia
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Alexanderwohl Church.jpgAlexanderwohl Mennonite Church in Goessel, Kansas
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Timeline[edit | edit source]

As Imperial Russia expanded, a great need developed for capable and industrious workers, especially farmers, to settle these new and often unsafe lands. Many Germans, eager to improve their positions in life, began to colonize in Russia. As their colonies grew, the Germans developed more land and established "daughter colonies." Many of these Russian Germans later emigrated to the United States, Canada, and South America. Below are some key dates and events in the history of Germans from Russia:

1762 Catherine the Great issues first manifesto inviting foreigners to settle in Russia. No response.

1763 Catherine the Great issues second manifesto inviting foreigners to settle in Russia. This time it attracts thousands of colonists from Germany, largely because of the following incentives.

  • Free transportation to Russia
  • Large tracts of free land, plenty of water, free timber
  • The free exercise of religion
  • Interest-free loans for purchasing equipment
  • Freedom from taxes for ten to thirty years, depending on the area of settlement
  • Exemption from military service for themselves and their descendants
  • Local self-government in colonies

1764-1768 German colonies are founded along the Volga River. Isolated colonies are founded in the Ukraine (including Belovesh) and around St. Petersburg.

1786 The first Black Sea colony, Alt Danzig, is founded.

1789-1790 German Mennonite colonies are founded in the Khortitsa district in the south Russian province of Tavrida.

1804 Czar Alexander I invites colonists to settle in the Black Sea region of South Russia.

1804-1810 German colonies are founded in the Black Sea region. Colonies are established in the Odessa and Beresan districts of Kherson province, in the Molotschna district in Tavrida, and in the Crimea.

1813 Alexander I invites colonists to settle in Bessarabia province. (This was territory acquired from Turkey in 1812.)

1814-1834 German colonies are founded in Bessarabia.

1816 Two German colonies are founded in eastern Volhynia near Novograd-Volynskiy.

1817-1818 German colonies are founded in the North Caucasus (also called Trans-Caucasia) and South Caucasus.

1822-1832 German colonies founded in the Molotschna area of eastern Ukraine near Berdyansk on the Black Sea and in the Mariupol district (also called Planer or Grunau district).

1831-1832 Germans from Russian Poland settle in western Volhynia near Lutsk and Rovno.

1849 A group of German colonists from the Beresan district emigrates to Ohio.

1854-1859 German Mennonite colonies founded near Samara on the Volga river.

1861 Russian serfs are emancipated.

1860-1875 Germans settle in the Volhynia in large numbers. They are encouraged by Russian noblemen needing peasants to farm their lands. But they do not enjoy the favored status offered to earlier German colonists.

1871 The Imperial Russian government repeals the manifestos of Catherine the Great and Alexander I. The German colonists were to lose their special status and privileges and become subject to Russian military service after a ten-year grace period.

1872-1873 Several groups emigrate from the Odessa area to Nebraska and the Dakotas. Scouts from other Black Sea colonies and the Volga colonies investigate opportunities in America.

1874 The Imperial Russian government amends the 187l decree and institutes compulsory military conscription of German colonists immediately.

1874-1914 Thousands of German colonists emigrate from Russia to North and South America.

1914 The First World War begins.

1917 Political unrest in Russia leads to two revolutions and the beginning of Soviet communist rule.

1919 The United States government enacts strict immigration laws which greatly slow the tide of immigrants. Canada continues to receive German immigrants from Russia.

1920-1923 Famine in Russia. Over l50 thousand Volga Germans die of starvation.

1928-1940 German farms and property are confiscated by the state and Germans are forced onto collective farms.

1939-1945 The Second World War. Germany is at war with the Soviet Union. Germans are persecuted and many are moved to Siberia and the central Asian republics. Many who have the opportunity flee to Germany.

1991 The communist party falls from power and the Soviet Union breaks up into independent states.

1992-1996 Many Russian Germans emigrate to recently unified Germany where they were offered citizenship.

Local Histories[edit | edit source]

Some of the most valuable sources for family history research are local histories. They describe the settlement of the area and the founding of churches, schools, and businesses. You can also find lists of early settlers, businessmen, local leaders, and civil officials. Even if your ancestor is not listed, information on other relatives may be included that will provide important clues for locating the ancestor. A local history may also suggest other records to search.

Published histories of towns, counties, and states usually contain histories of families. Some county and town histories include separate sections or volumes containing biographical information. These may include information on as many as ninty-five percent of the families in the locality.

A special type of local history book called a Ortsippenbuch (village lineage book) is available for many towns in Germany, and a few towns in Russia. These give extensive genealogical information on almost all inhabitants of the town. For more information about these books see the “Genealogy” page of this article.

In addition, local histories should be studied and enjoyed for the background information they can provide about your family's life-style and the community and environment in which your family lived. Examples of this kind of history are:

  • Scheuerman, Richard Dean, and Richard D. Scheuerman. The Volga Germans: Pioneers of the Northwest. Moscow, Idaho: University Press, 1980. (FHL book 979.5 F2v; computer number 58887). History including German origins, Russian colonies, settlement in Kansas and Nebraska, and move to Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alberta.
  • Sallet, Richard. Russian-German Settlements in the United States. Lavern J. Ripplley and Armand Bauer. Fargo, N. Dak.: North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, 1974. (FHL book 973 F2rs; fiche 6089058; computer number 104509). History of Lutherans and Catholics in the Black Sea and Volga regions, and their settlement in America.

For some localities, especially in the United States, there may be more than one history. Thousands of histories have been written about local towns and communities in the United States and Canada, dozens about communities in Russia. Although fewer local histories have been published for towns, counties, provinces, or regions in Russia, a careful search for available histories for your ancestor's locality is well worthwhile.

For further information about finding local histories which may include Germans from Russia in the United States or Canada see the “History” pages of the United States Wiki article, and the Canada Wiki article.

The Family History Library has some local histories for German villages in Russia. Similar histories are often available at major public and university libraries and archives, as well.

Some examples of material containing collections of local histories with a significant population of Germans from Russia include:

Other Sources[edit | edit source]

Russia[edit | edit source]

  • Arends, Shirley Fischer. The Central Dakota Germans: Their History, Language, and Culture. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown Univ. Press, 1989. (FHL book 978 H2as; computer number 536438). Includes a brief history of Black Sea and Bessarabian places of origin.
  • Auerbach, Hans. Die Besiedelung der Südukraine in den Jahren 1774-1787 (History of the colonization and development of the souther Ukraine from 1774-1787). Veröffentlichungen des Osteuropa-Institutes Müchen; Bd. 25. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1965. (FHL book 947.71 H2a.) Indexed.
  • Wagner, Immanuel. Geschichte der Gründung derKolonie Sarata 1822-1832 (History of the founding of the Colony of Sarata 1822-1832). Stuttgart/Mühlacker: Heimatmuseum der Deutschen aus Bessarabien, 1967. (FHL book 947.71/S1 H2w).

United States[edit | edit source]

In North America, the Germans from Russia were attracted to the great prairies, which were not unlike the steppes of Russia where they had been farming for generations. Volga Germans settled mostly in Colorado, Nebraska, and Kansas. The greatest concentration of Black Sea Germans is in the Dakotas. German Mennonites from Russia settled in Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, California, and Manitoba. Most Volhynian Germans settled in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Western Canada.[1]

  • Rife, Janet Warkentin. Germans and German-Russians in Nebraska: A Research Guide to Nebraska Ethnic Studies. Lincoln, Nebr.: Center for Great Plains Studies, Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln: Nebraska Curriculum Development Center, Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln, 1980. (FHL book 978.2 F23r; computer number 380921). Sources regarding history, churches, communities, museums, and newspapers.

Both Russia and Germany[edit | edit source]

  • Brendle, Johannes. Aus deutschen Kolonien in Kutschurganer Gebiet (German Settlements in the Kutschurgan District). Stuttgart: Ausland und Heimat Verlags-A.G., 1930. (FHL book 943 W2sd; computer number ???). Describes Catholic settlements with lists of settlers for each village with ages, relationships and places or origin in Germany.

Both Russia and the United States[edit | edit source]

  • Aberle, George P. From the Steppes to the Prairies: the Story of the Germans Settling in Russia on the Volga and Ukraine, also the Germans Settling in the Banat, and the Bohemians in Crimea: Their Resettlement in the Americas, North and South American and in Canada. Dickinson, N. Dak.: Aberle, 1964. (FHL book 947 F2a.)
  • Keller, Conrad. The German Colonies in South Russia. [Saskatoon: N.p., 1968, 1973]. (FHL book 947.7 F2k; film 873989.) Volume 2 includes details about the Beresan Catholic colonies, including lists of inhabitants in 1839-1840, their ages, relationships, and places of origin in Germany.
  • Rath, George. The Black Sea Germans in the Dakotas. Freeman, S.Dak.: Pine Hill Press, 1977. (FHL book 978 F2r; film 1036735 item 2; computer number 5099). Includes origins in dozens of Russian communities, immigration, settelement in the Dakotas, church history, and brief Dakota community histories.

A helpful bibliography of local histories in the Dakotas is:

Calendar Changes[edit | edit source]

The Gregorian calendar is the calendar in common use in the world today. It is a correction of the Julian calendar that had been in use since 46 B.C. Leap years had been miscalculated in the Julian calendar. By 1582, the calendar was ten days behind the solar year.

In Germany the switch to the Gregorian from the Julian calendar was determined by local politics. Therefore, some parts of Germany switched as early as 1582, other parts of the country waited until 1700, and many places switched somewhere in between. For further details about calendar changes in Germany and how it affects genealogists, see the Germany History Wiki page. The British Empire, including Canada and the United States, switched to the Gregorian calendar in 1752. Russia did not switch to the Gregorian calendar until the Russian Revolution of 1917. In 1929 the Soviets instituted yet another calendar designed to remove religion from it. Click here to read about the Soviet Calendar. The Russian Orthodox Church still uses the old calendar to calculate holidays.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. The Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "Germans From Russia: Genealogical Research Outline," Word document, private files of the FamilySearch Content Strategy Team, 1999.