frequently asked questions (F.A.Q.)


 

1. How can I start researching my German-Russian family?
2. What is the correct spelling of my family's name?
3. When and why did German Russians go to Russia?
4. When and why did the German Russians leave Russia?
5. Where did the German Russians settle in the Americas?
6. Where is village xyz on a current map of Russia?
7. Why were there so many Germans in Poland?
8. What connections do German Russians have to Prussia?
9. Why didn't my grandparents talk about their German-Russian heritage?
10. Why did my relatives speak German instead of Russian?
11. What books will help me research my German Russian heritage?
12. What happened to the Germans living in the Soviet Union prior to and during World War II?
13. How do I get in contact with my relatives who stayed in Russia? How do I find if I even have any relatives there?
14. Is/Are the German-Russian village(s) still there and can I visit them?
15. Are there tours to Russia to the place(s) where my ancestors lived?
16. What other research tools for German Russians are available to me on-line?
17. How do I get a hold of familial records in Russia?
18. Where did my ancestors come from in Germany?
19. How do I become a member of AHSGR and what does membership mean?
20. What is a village coordinator?
21. What census lists are available for research?
22. Why isn't this information available from the Russian Archives now?
23. Are there any Germans still living in Russia and if so where?
24. What is the basic German genealogical vocabulary?

1. How can I start researching my German-Russian family?

Beginners should do two things when beginning to research one's family: interview relatives and read a book on performing genealogical research. It is very important to talk to your relatives while they are still living, as they know more about your family than any other source. Check out a comprehensive book on genealogy research from the library to give yourself a basis for your research and to familiarize yourself with the various documents used in genealogical research.

Gather all information you already have from various sources. If you use a computer, you may wish to purchase genealogical software to aid in organizing your information. There are many on-line sites that can be helpful in researching your family history as well. AHSGR's homepage address is http://www.ahsgr.org/. Document all sources you utilize, as this helps you to direct your research more efficiently.

Keep in mind a general rule of genealogy is to go from the known to the unknown and not the other way around. Begin your research with yourself and the family history that you know of or can obtain from living relatives. Use the family Bible, census or birth records to fill gaps you may have in your family tree. Attempt to find out when your relatives immigrated to the Americas and where they lived in Russia before you seek to obtain information from Russia.

Another general rule is to do as much research locally as possible. Use your local LDS Family History Center, library, interlibrary loan, genealogical society, etc., to their fullest extent before you write or travel to distant archives or churches. It is usually cheaper and often more efficient, and it will make subsequent research more productive.

2. What is the correct spelling of my family's name?

It is often very difficult to determine the original spelling of a surname or first name, for a number of reasons. If one is researching Russian records, oftentimes the German surname of an individual was recorded by a Russian official in the Cyrillic alphabet. The dialect spoken by the Germans in Russia also provides for variations of spellings in both German and Russian. When taking the English transliteration of these German or Russian spellings, more changes commonly occur and, of course, when individuals came to the United States names were written as understood by the immigration official.

In researching ancestors' first names, it is also helpful to consider the second name as well as nicknames and alternate spellings, as many families gave the same first name to more than one son or daughter.

3. When and why did Germans go to Russia?

Although Germany was not unified as a nation until 1871, the German principalities and kingdoms have historically shared an inextricable link with Russia. For centuries Germans have lived within the borders of Russia. The Germans were especially prominent in the Baltic States where they were the landowners. During the time of Peter the Great, many Germans were appointed to government advisory positions. However, under Elizabeth I, government positions were purged of their foreign, primarily German, officers.

On December 4, 1762, Catherine the Great issued a Manifesto inviting Western Europeans to settle in Russia. However, it was her second Manifesto of July 22, 1763, which offered transportation to Russia, religious and political autonomy, and land that incited many Western Europeans, mostly Germans, to migrate to Russia. This Manifesto was issued after the end of the Seven Years' War in which German peasants suffered many losses. Conditions among the German people were very unstable. At that time, the area that is now Germany was a conglomeration of more than 300 principalities and dukedoms which frequently changed hands, and therefore religions, as well. Many German peasants, seeking a way to practice their chosen religion and to improve their social standing, accepted the offer to settle in Russia.

The first wave of migration occurred in the Volga River region beginning in 1764. By the late 1760s some isolated settlements were already founded in South Russia. Hutterites first settled in Russia in 1770 and Mennonites began to settle in Russia by 1789. In 1803, Alexander I reissued the Manifesto of Catherine II, prompting another wave of migration, primarily into South Russia. By the mid-nineteenth century the areas of Volhynia, Crimea, and the Caucasus were being settled by Germans. Beginning in the late nineteenth century and continuing into the first decade of this century, settlements were being founded by Germans in Siberia. At the end of the nineteenth century Russia had a population of approximately 1.8 million Germans

See our store or our Books page for a listing of books available for sale or a comprehensive list of books on this subject.

4. When and why did the German Russians leave Russia?

When Alexander II revoked the privileges offered to the Germans who had settled in Russia more than a century earlier, such as exemption from military service, the emigration of the Germans from Russia to the Americas began. 1872 was the beginning of a large wave of emigration of Germans from Russia as a result of the social conditions in Russia. There was a growing sentiment of hostility towards foreigners, particularly Germans, and a policy of Russification was adopted to make the populations in the empire more Russian. Later emigrants left Russia due to worsening living conditions, caused by war and famine. See our store or our Books page for a listing of books available for sale or a comprehensive list of books on this subject.

5. Where did the German Russians settle in the Americas?

The first settlers came to the Midwest of the United States Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas, and the Dakotas as this region resembled the areas they had left behind in Russia. These immigrants spread out to settle in Colorado, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Oklahoma and Texas. Immigration to Canada, Brazil and Argentina quickly followed. Many who immigrated to South America had first attempted to settle in North America but were turned away due to disease.

6. Where is village xyz on a current map of Russia?

Many German villages no longer appear on present-day maps of Russia, as most were destroyed as a result of the 1941 deportation of the German populations in Russia to work camps in Siberia and Middle Asia. Those villages that were not destroyed either deteriorated with time or were resettled by non-German populations. Due to the many changes that have taken place in Russia this century, these villages seldom appear as they did when inhabited by their German populations.

However, we have a number of maps and map indexes which indicate the German settlements in Russia and their (former) location, as well as a number of maps for specific villages that depict the village layout, occasionally listing surnames of former inhabitants.

See our maps available for purchase.

7. Why were there so many Germans in Poland?

People of Germanic origins lived throughout the regions which are now Poland and the Baltic States. A large part of Poland was once within Prussia's boundaries, and until the end of World War II, the eastern border of German lands extended much farther than this border today. Germans settled the former Polish area of Volhynia heavily from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries, largely due to the Russian abolition of serfdom and the second Polish Insurrection.

8. What connections do German Russians have to Prussia?

Prussia was initially inhabited by Slavic tribes and later settled by Germanic tribes. These tribes in turn were conquered by the Teutonic Order, which brought Christianity to the region. Prussia at one time was incorporated into Poland but was never part of Russia. Prussia grew significantly in influence and power under the leadership of Frederick the Great in the eighteenth century. The regions enclosed by Prussia's boundaries under Frederick's rule included Brandenburg, Pomerania, Silesia, Danzig, West and East Prussia. The Prussian Prime Minister, Otto von Bismarck, implemented the unification of the German states following Prussia's victory in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, establishing the German Empire.

The Mennonites who settled in the Black Sea region of Russia emigrated from West Prussia. Following Germany's defeat in World War I, the Danzig Corridor of Prussia was granted to Poland, thus dividing Prussia. After World War II, most of the lands that were once within the borders of Prussia were granted to Poland.

AHSGR has some resources for researching emigrants from Prussia to Russia. We do not have resources for researching those who emigrated directly from Prussia to North America or elsewhere. If you are interested in receiving more information on groups that emigrated directly from Prussia, contact the sites or organizations listed below:
Germanic Genealogy Society
Or e-mail Polish Genealogy Society at: pgsamerica@aol.com.

9. Why didn't my grandparents talk about their German-Russian heritage?

During World War I and World War II there was a great deal of animosity towards German immigrants and German-speaking immigrants in this country. Many states passed legislation restricting the use of the German language as a measure to curtail the influence of their German populations. Either forcibly or voluntarily, many German-speaking citizens restricted or concealed their "Germanness." After World War II came the Red Scare, and although most of the German-Russian immigrants entered this country before the Bolshevik Revolution and implementation of Communism, the fact that they were from Russia was reason enough for antagonism to be brought against them. Many German-Russian families found it easier to conceal their origins rather than endure the prejudices that a large part of society held towards their language, culture and country. As a result, many descendants of Germans from Russia are learning, late in life, of their heritage and origins.

10. Why did my relatives speak German instead of Russian?

One of the provisions of the Manifesto issued by Catherine the Great in 1763 was that the colonists would be able to maintain their German language and culture, as well as their own schools and churches. Thus, until the twentieth century, when an active policy of "Russification" was adopted, the German colonists spoke primarily, oftentimes exclusively, German. The dialect spoken by the various groups of Germans in Russia is an interesting subject as these dialects are very distinct from the dialects now spoken in Germany. When the German colonists immigrated to Russia, their language was not subject to the same influences as other German speakers and was more or less isolated, resulting in a dialect that has survived for more than 200 years.

11.What books will help me research my German-Russian heritage?

There are a number of books covering a number of topics concerning the history and culture of Germans from Russia. For a comprehensive and detailed history concerning all groups of Germans in Russia, From Catherine to Khurschev by Adam Giesinger is suggested. The Emigration from Germany to Russia in the Years 1763 to 1862 by Karl Stumpp also gives pertinent historical information and documents regarding the settlement of Russia by German colonists. This text also provides original settler lists, primarily for the Black Sea regions, and revision (census) lists. These books are also available for purchase in diskette form and are available through the interlibrary loan service at your local public library. These are just two of many informative books available to researchers. Our Annotated Bibliography of books provides you with information on more books. AHSGR houses the largest library collection of German-Russian materials in this country. See our Store for a list of books available for purchase for more information pertaining to your subject of interest.

12. What happened to the Germans living in the Soviet Union prior to and during World War II?

On August 12, 1939, Stalin and Hitler signed a non-aggression pact. As a result of this, Germans living in Bessarabia, Bukovina, Dobruja, Galicia and Polish Volhynia were repatriated to Germany. They were first settled in the western part of Poland, but as the German Army retreated, they moved farther westward into western Germany. Because of the earlier agreement and the fact that they had German citizenship, they were not forced back to the Soviet Union at the end of the war.

Beginning with the Crimean Germans on August 20, 1941, Germans living in areas not overrun by the German Army were deported to Siberia and the Asiatic Republics. There they were sent to labor camps and kept under close supervision until 1956. These deported Germans were from the area east of the Dnieper River, the Volga Region (September 1941), the South Caucasus (October 1941), and Leningrad (now Petersburg, March 1942). Germans living in the cities were also deported to labor camps.

The Germans living in the area of the southern Soviet Union which was overrun by the German Army retreated with the German Army as they were losing the war. At the end of the war, approximately 300,000 of these people were in Germany; 200,000 of them were forcibly repatriated to the Soviet Union, where they joined the other Soviet Germans in labor camps.

A Light in the Darkness is a video presentation depicting the plight of these Germans at this time. For information on obtaining this video, please visit our online Store or the Interlibrary Loan page.

13. How do I get in contact with my relatives who stayed in Russia? How do I find if I even have any relatives there?

Many people have had great success by putting notices in a German-language newspaper in Russia as well in a German-Russian publication called Volk auf dem Weg published by the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland (Society of Germans from Russia) based in Stuttgart, Germany. Ask them to put a notice in their publication requesting "people with any knowledge of the ABC family from the XYZ village" to contact you. The editor of Volk auf dem Weg is fluent in English and will be able to translate your request for you. Include at least three International Postal Coupons in order that they may notify you of any charges. The pertinent addresses are:

Volk auf dem Weg
Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland
Raitelsbergstrasse 49
70188 Stuttgart, Germany; Neues Leben
Bumashny Proyesd 14, GSP-4
Moscow, 101461 Russia

14. Is/Are the German-Russian village(s) still there and can I visit them?

There are still villages in Russia that have ethnic German populations. These villages are located in the Black Sea and Volga regions, Siberia and Middle Asia. Before traveling to Russia expecting to visit a specific village, you will want to research the present status of that village. Contacting the tour coordinators listed in question 14 may help determine the village's accessibility.

15. Are there tours to Russia to the place(s) where my ancestors lived?

For information on tours to the Volga and Black Sea region, contact John Klein
824 S. 16th Street
Lincoln, NE 68508
Tel: (402) 475-7932
Fax: (402) 434-5379

For information on tours the Black Sea region, contact Michael Miller at: North Dakota State University
P.O. Box 5599
Fargo, ND 58105-5599
Tel: (701) 231-8416
Fax: (701) 231-7138
mmmiller@badlands.nodak.edu

As many of the German villages were destroyed or deserted following the 1941 deportation of Germans to Siberia and Middle Asia, the village inhabitants now are typically non-German, although many ethnic Germans within Russia are relocating to the original settlements of their ancestors.

16. What other research tools for German Russians are available to me on-line?

AHSGR's homepage provides information about the GER-RUS & GER-RUS2 Listserves and the Odessa Digital Library, as well as the chapters of AHSGR that maintain their own homepages. You might also want to check out the German Russian Heritage Society Homepage.

17. How do I obtain familial records in Russia?

Independent researchers in Russia, who may also be contacted to obtain information from Russia, primarily from the Volga region. The Russian Archive Records service is another available resource. Researchers are also encouraged to contact their Village Coordinator for other options that may be available to them.

For more information on these services for Russian archival research, contact AHSGR via email or visit the Russian Archive Records web site.

18. Where did my ancestors come from in Germany?

This is the question most genealogy researchers of German Russians seek to answer. The Emigration from Germany to Russia, by Karl Stumpp, provides original settler lists for many villages in the Black Sea region, which list the origins of the settlers in many cases. A few original settler lists are also available for the Volga region in this book. See our Store or our Books page for information on purchasing this book, which is also available on diskette and through the interlibrary loan service at your local public library.

Many of the German settlers in Russia were from then regions of Hesse, Baden, Wuerttemberg, the Palatinate, and other southern regions of what is now Germany. Most of the Mennonites who settled in Russia were from West Prussia, now part of Poland.

19. How do I become a member of AHSGR and what does membership mean?

To become a member, see our Membership page to access the membership enrollment forms. Membership is $50 annually and provides you with quarterly issues of the Journal of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, the Newsletter of AHSGR, and an annual edition of Clues, which contains the Surname Exchange, a genealogical index. Membership also provides you with translation services, purchases of books or maps, reduced registration rate at our annual convention, and access to our archival information and assistance with genealogy and historical research. Our library is available to everyone through the interlibrary loan service at your local public library. Membership in AHSGR also makes you a part of a worldwide network of researchers of varying disciplines and a variety of people interested in learning about and sharing information on the German Russians.

20. What is a village coordinator?

Village Coordinators (VCs) are current members of AHSGR who volunteer to correspond with others interested in the ancestral villages they are researching. This provides a network of researchers who can share information, thus enhancing everyone's knowledge of the German communities in Russia. Many VCs work together and in groups to obtain information from Russia and many also publish their own newsletters, compile databases, and maintain web sites.

See our Village Coordinators page for a listing of AHSGR Village Coordinators, their postal addresses and email addresses.

21. What census lists are available for research?

The 1775 and 1798 census lists for many villages in the Volga region are available for purchase from AHSGR. A list of these available census lists may be found on our Census page.

AHSGR also possesses microfilms of the 1834 census for the Volga villages of Basel, Orlovskaya, Paulskaya, Pobochnya, Schwed, Straub, Yagodnaya Polyana, Zuerich and Zug, which we are able to research by individual family. Copies and translations of these lists are not permitted per the agreement with the archive.

The census lists for the nineteenth century are not available in full due to the conditions of the Russian Archives that house them. These archives must contend with a variety of economic challenges, and because of this, obtaining information can be very difficult at best. Some individuals utilize a research contact in Russia to research such records that are not yet available outside of Russia. See question 17 for more information on such contacts.

22. Why isn't this information available from the Russian Archives now?

Due to the many changes that have taken place in Russia this century, obtaining information from Russian archives is a difficult task for a variety of reasons. Presently, the archivists in Russia work with little or no pay. The archives have extremely limited resources, often having only one photocopier or computer, which may or may not actually function. Many archives charge very high prices for obtaining records or utilizing their services, due to the instability of the economy. For these reasons, AHSGR seeks to establish and maintain amicable and mutually beneficial relations with the Russian archives in order to obtain as much information pertinent to the German populations in Russia as possible. Some individuals utilize a research contact in Russia to research such records that are not yet available outside of Russia. See question 17 for more information on such contacts.

23. Are there any Germans still living in Russia and if so where?

There are many Germans living in Russia, however, these people, although ethnically German, are more assimilated into Russian culture than in previous centuries. Many of these Germans, with the exception of the older generations, no longer speak German and do not live in the Black Sea or Volga regions, which were once heavily populated by Germans, rather they are dispersed throughout Russia. Germany is granting citizenship to ethnic Germans from Russia and provides them with the social assistance needed in relocating to Germany, including housing, stipends, and language instruction.

24. What is the basic German genealogical vocabulary?

birth geburt
born geboren, geb
baptism taufe
baptized getauft, get
marriage heirat, hochzeit, trauung, vermaehlung
marry heiraten, verheiraten, verh., vermaehlen, verm., trauen, getr
death tod
died gestorben, verstorben, gest
burial beerdigung, begraebnis
buried beerdigt, beerd., begraben, begr
father, mother vater, mutter
parents eltern
husband mann, ehemann, gatte, ehegatte
wife frau, ehefrau, gattin, ehegattin
married couple ehepaar
son, daughter sohn, tochter
child kind
brother, sister bruder, schwester
siblings geschwister
uncle, aunt onkel, tante
cousin cousin, cousine (often times vetter, halbbruder or halbschwester in German-Russiandialect
grandfather grossvater
great-grandfather urgrossvater
great-great-grandfather ururgrossvater
grandson enkel
granddaughter enkelin
nephew, niece neffe, nichte
sponsor/godparent gevatter, gev., pate, patin
day of the week wochentag
days of the week Sonntag, Montag, Dienstag, Mittwoch, Donnerstag, Freitag, Samstag (Sonnabend)
month monat
months Januar, Februar, Marz, April, Mai, Juni, Juli, August, September, Oktober, November, Dezember
year jahr
date datum
place ort
residence wohnort
village dorf
community/congregation gemeinde
city stadt
county kreis
duchy herzogtum
grand duchy grossherzogtum
principality fuerstentum
kingdom koenigreich

Sources utilized in compiling these questions:

German Genealogy FAQs On-line by Jim Eggert
From Catherine to Khrushchev by Adam Giesinger
Collaborations among AHSGR Research Staff