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Andrew Ackermann Family History

Andrew Ackermann Family History

Written by Wilma Ackermann


Hard times had fallen on the war-weary German farmers during the 18th and 19th centuries. Catherine the Great had been a German princess who married Czar Peter of Russia. Upon her husband's death she became the Czarina, and was faced with the problem of feeding Russia's burgeoning poor and hungry in the large cities. Empress Catherine recalled the excellent farming practices of her native land. Knowing that the farmers facing hardships in Germany, if enticed to become Russian immigrants, could improve the cultural level of Russian peasantry. In July 1763, Catherine II published a manifesto inviting German farmers to settle on the steppes of Russia. Among the privileges promised were freedom from military service for their sons, and assurance of retaining their identity by keeping their German culture; food, customs, language, and choice of religious denomination. In the 1700's and 1800's, thousands of Germans left their homeland in groups to settle in Russia, mainly in the Volga River region, the area north of the Black Sea, and Crimean Peninsula.

In 1808 great-grandfather George Ackermann and wife Margret, along with friends, departed from their village Baden (near the present border of France), located in the province also named "Baden," to farm on the steppes of South Russia north of the Black Sea. They chose to live among former acquaintances from the nearby province of Rhineland-Pflaz, who had settled in the Black Sea area some years earlier and had established a colony which they named after their German village "Rorhbach." To promote peace and harmony, Catherine II required members of a certain church denomination to settle in the same village/colony. These German colonists faced great difficulties as pioneers in Russia, breaking the sod of the steppes to raise grain and planting vineyards, as well as constructing colony buildings of sod because of a scarcity of trees. With perseverance and strong belief in God's faithfulness, they flourished and created a satisfying life for themselves, producing the much-needed food in due time. As the years passed they grew to ten times their original number. Churches and schools were established by the German Russians. Their prosperity created jealousy between them and their Russian neighbors and trouble ensued.

Great-grandfather George Ackermann and wife Margret nee Voagt reared a family of seven sons who were all born in Rohrbach, South Russia. Grandfather Peter, their second son, was born in September 19, 1850. Over a century later, major changes took place in how the Russian government saw these German colonists. In 1874, during the reign of Czar Alexander II, new laws were enacted that restricted the original privileges promised these Germans; young men were constricted into service to serve in Russian wars. In addition, a decade later Czar Alexander III issued a policy which threatened the cultural identity of the German villagers. Fortunately, word reached these distant people that immigrants were welcome in America for an opportunity to settle and become owners of farmland in the Midwest Plains under the 1862 Homestead Act. Seeing a bleak future ahead for themselves and their children, many German-Russians emigrated from South Russia (presently the Ukraine) and the Volga River area (further north in Russia) in search of a better life in a land of promise; the United States of America.

(The above includes excerpts from an article "The Germans from Russia" by Edna Boardman, which follows this family history write-up.)

At age 36, Grandfather Peter Ackermann and wife Margret nee Boehlender immigrated to the United States with their family of eight children in October 1886, accompanied by his brother Jacob and family. They made their ocean voyage in the ship's steerage class and presumably landed at Ellis Island, where they then took the train west. Upon arrival at Chicago in November, the brothers parted and with their families went to separate Midwest locations. At that time, the U.S. government required new immigrants to have sponsors. In 1873, a group of German-speaking colonists from the Black Sea area had arrived in Sutton, Nebraska, settled north of town on flat land, and broke the prairie sod to start farming. Since several of them had been acquainted with our grandparents when they all lived in Rohrbach, South Russia, they agreed to sponsor this large Ackermann family. There was a verbal understanding with our grandfather that in future years their financial loan would be repaid with labor by his children. So, with help from these church friends, grandfather Peter was able to settle with his family on a farm near Lushton, Nebraska, within a year or two. Sometime in 1891 grandfather Peter Ackermann moved from the Lushton area to the farm four miles northwest of Grafton, Nebraska. Records show that he bought our ancestral farm on March 19, 1894. Grandfather's brother Jacob went to Yankton, South Dakota, with his family to join a German-Russian farm community, but later moved to Eureka, South Dakota, near the North Dakota border. A younger brother, Fredrick and family came to Sutton in 1903 and sometime later settled and farmed in Loveland, Colorado. Four of the Ackermann brothers and families were left behind in South Russia. Grandfather grieved over letters from them telling of the atrocities they were suffering. Money he sent to help them in Russia was confiscated by Communist authorities. (See attached information on Siberia gulags in 1930's.) For some time Dad had contact with relatives in South Dakota because two of his brothers had moved there. Before the arrival of automobiles, their visits were infrequent since travel meant a long trip by horse and carriage or buggy. (Railroads in Nebraska ran east and west, but at that time no trains in our area went north and south.)

Dad's parents, Peter and Margret Ackermann, had 15 children; six boys and nine girls, two having died in infancy and one girl at age 8. The oldest eight were born in Russia and the younger ones in the United States. Our father, Andrew was the second youngest of the children. Dad was born on December 22, 1891 at the farmstead home where he lived his entire life and died there. Grandmother Margret suffered a tragic death at age 53 near Fairfax, South Dakota, on March 19, 1905 during a visit with relatives on a farm. Sketchy information reveals that there was a prairie fire started in the area and everyone available helped beat out flames with wet sacks. From this exertion she became ill and soon died of pneumonia, undoubtedly from smoke inhalation, exhaustion, and overheating.

Grandmother Margret's grave site may be in South Dakota. Twelve years later on November 27, 1911, grandfather Peter married Margaretha Hust Rauscher. She was the widow of Peter Rauscher, whose seven out of eleven children were living on their own. Our second grandmother was the oldest sister of our grandmother Huber. They later moved to Sutton, spending retirement years in a house two blocks northeast of downtown. Grandfather Peter died February 2, 1936 at age 85. (It was reported that upon death there were a total of 942 descendants.) Second grandmother Margaretha died December 11, 1936 at age 84. They are both buried in the Sutton cemetery, but her grave lies next to her first husband.

Mother's parents were Peter and Elizabeth Hust Huber. Grandmother Huber, the youngest daughter of George Philipp and Elizabeth Woehl Hust, was born Rohrbach, South Russia, in August 30, 1873. She immigrated to Nebraska with her parents June 1877, and settled on a farm north of Sutton, this Hust family having been one of the early pioneers who broke the Nebraska sod. Out of the 12 children in the Hust family, seven survived; six daughters and one son. Great-grandfather George Philipp Hust died in their Sutton home in town on March 31, 1914 at age 83, having been married 64 years. Great-grandmother Elizabeth Hust died December 1, 1926 at the old age of 96 (almost 97). We older girls recall her as being an agile old lady in long black dress wearing a large crocheted black shawl on her head, giving us visiting kids orders while she was living her last years with our Huber grandparents on their farm. Upon her death in 1926, two church funerals were held for her the same afternoon because of her many descendants. The only information available on grandfather Peter Huber, Jr. is that he was born in Rohrbach, South Russia in February 21, 1869 and immigrated to Nebraska, probably in the 1880's, with his parents Peter Huber, Sr. and Anna Maria Hofmann Huber. He married Elizabeth Hust Huber on February 21, 1893 and they farmed 9½ miles northeast of Sutton in Fillmore County in School District #8. In 1898 they became charter members of the newly established Free German Salem Reformed Church. They had 14 children; eight sons and six daughters (one girl dying shortly after birth). Grandfather Huber died July, 27 1932 at age 69. Grandmother Huber lived on the farm with son Ruben until they moved to Sutton in 1945. In April 1965 she entered the Sutton Community Home and passed away just three weeks short of age 92 on August 9, 1965. She was mourned by ten of her children, 57 living grandchildren, 128 great-grandchildren and 12 great-great-grandchildren. Most early Huber relatives are buried in the Hofer cemetery adjoining the grounds of the Free German Salem Reformed Church approximately seven miles north-east of Sutton, Nebraska. (See book "The German-Russians: Those Who Came to Sutton.")

Our parents, Andrew Ackermann and Elsa Katherina Huber were married on March 28, 1916, at her parent's home in Fillmore County. Andrew Ackermann was born in Grafton, Nebraska, on December 22, 1891, and died on our farm on January 11, 1953 at age 61. Elsa Katherina Huber was born on her parents' farm in Fillmore County on November 11, 1895, and died on our farm near Grafton, Nebraska, on June 15, 1931, age 35.

Their nine children are:

Name, Birth Date; Death Date

Lydia Ackermann, b. April 15, 1917; d. June 10, 1996

Sarah Ackermann, b. November 15, 1918

Luella Ackermann, b. April 8, 1920; d. January 9, 1921

Elizabeth Ackermann, b. October 25, 1921; d. September 28, 1991

Wilma Ackermann, b. April 7, 1923

Esther Ackermann, b. February 25, 1926

Rachel Ackermann, b. November 6, 1927

Gilbert Ackermann, b. September 7, l929

Benjamin Ackermann, b. June 15, l931

(For complete records of births/marriages/deaths, refer to genealogy books of Peter Ackermann, Sr. and George Phillip Hust, which some of our family members possess.)

After the death of our father, the eight living children had equal share of the 320 acres of farmland. Dad had made no will, but according to Nebraska State Law an equal inheritance was decreed. Court records show the Andrew Ackermann estate land value in 1953 at 1/8 interest was $8,000. Dad owned 240 acres but there was still a mortgage on the "South 80" located two miles southwest of our farm. We asked Henry Rath, a neighbor and good friend to Dad, to be our Executor. He strongly encouraged us to buy this land. After some deliberation, our decision was unanimous to sell this eighty acres since each of us was unwilling to borrow money to pay off our share of its mortgage. We sold it in 1953 to Henry Rath at the land value stated by the court. The money received was divided equally, each one of us receiving 1/8 share of the South 80. That year we had a farm sale of most of the furniture and machinery, equipment, etc. Gilbert purchased what he needed in order to continue to work the farm as our renter. Oscar Roemmich agreed to be our Agent since he was best qualified to handle our farm business and provide guidance to Gilbert before, during and for a few years after his return home from service in Korea. Gilbert bought the 160 acres, on which the homestead was located, in the spring of 1960 for the amount of $16,000 at appraised land value of $100 per acre. The seven of us each a received a check of approximately $2,200 (legal fees deducted). He did not purchase the eighty across the road to the south of the farm quarter section. (This land from grandfather Ackermann's estate had been purchased by Uncle Karl Neuharth in 1936. He held the mortgage for some years while Dad worked the land until he eventually purchased it when there were years of higher crop yields.) Gilbert farmed these eighty acres as our renter, all of us retaining equal share for over 20 years.

In 1974 Lydia asked Gilbert to purchase her ten acres, and he agreed to buy her share at a price she and husband Oscar offered, the transaction being handled by a lawyer. Then in 1976, Elizabeth asked Gilbert to buy out her share, and Gilbert legally bought her ten acres at the price she quoted. Sarah, Wilma, Esther, Rachel, Gilbert and Benjamin each held on to their inherited ten acres for over 40 years. Our annual checks for being land owners averaged between $350 and $450. In late 1995 Gilbert informed us that he had been approached by Jack Kness with a good offer to purchase our eighty acres and asked if we might consider selling. We had an amicable group discussion in a meeting with a Sutton lawyer, with Ben absent but giving his consent by phone/mail. All signed the legal document after reaching an agreement to sell the land to the potential buyer at his quoted price. The court procedure was handled by the lawyer and the land sale was closed on February 27, 1996, the six of us each receiving a check in amount of $13,538 (legal fees deducted). Gilbert was able to continue working the land now owned by Jack Kness. After his retirement, Gilbert sold his farm (farm buildings now badly deteriorated and fallen house debris removed) to the Hahn Brothers in the spring of 2000, the value of land per acre having increased considerably since 1960. It is to be noted that all land transactions were handled by lawyers, the involved parties agreeing on the land values at time of sale. As you can see, none of us got rich when we sold our shares of Dad's farm. Nevertheless, we cherish our memories of this place we called home for so many years and "letting go" gave us a feeling of nostalgia and loss. This farm located 4½ northwest of Grafton, Nebraska, was the Ackermann ancestral farm for 106 years, having been purchased by grandfather Peter in 1894 and sold by brother Gilbert in 2000; now our "land legacy lost."

(The following is information from Internet websites which is regarding the plight of German-Russians throughout the years. Also, there are many books in libraries that can be checked out, the names of which can be found listed on the Internet.)

THE GERMANS FROM RUSSIA

The Germans from Russia are a group of people, mostly farmers, who moved in the 1700s and 1800s from Germany to areas in eastern Europe near the Volga River, the Ukraine, and Crimea. Their numbers grew from 23,000 in 1768 to more than a million in the early 1900s. Beginning as early as 1849, about 300,000 immigrated to the United States and Canada, with similar numbers going to Central and South America. Today some 6,000,000 in North America trace their ancestry to Germans who were born in Russia. Since the fall of the communist system, thousands more have reclaimed their German identity and live in Germany.

On July 22, 1763, Catherine the Great of Russia published a manifesto inviting stressed, war-weary families from western Europe and the area that is now Germany to come to Russia. Catherine II, a princess from the German province of Anhalt-Zerbst, had become Russian as a consequence of her marriage to Czar Peter. After Peter's death, as Czarina, she was faced with the problem of feeding Russia's burgeoning cities. She believed Russia's steppes, vast areas of vacant land similar to the prairies of North America, could do this if farmed properly. Catherine remembered how excellent the farmers had been back in her home country and thought they could improve both the farming practices and cultural level of the Russian peasantry. The first arrivals settled along the Volga River and became known as Volga Germans.

In 1804, Catherine's grandson Alexander I again set up recruiting offices in Germany, this time aiming to populate the Crimean Peninsula and the area north of the Black Sea. Emigration from Germany to Russia continued for as long as a century, some recorded as late as 1862. The group descended from the families invited by Czar Alexander I identifies itself as Black Sea Germans.

After initial difficulties common to pioneering, their villages, often called colonies, flourished and grew from 300 to ten times that many. They created a satisfying life for themselves and produced the much-needed food.

At Czarina Catherine's insistence, each village was of the same religion. A little over a quarter were Catholic, and most of the rest were Lutheran, though some were Mennonite, Evangelical, Baptist, and a few others. Always they sought to keep their identity, which with time was no longer entirely German but never truly Russian either. Their distinctive culture (food, customs, language, musical style, attitudes) became remarkably similar throughout the villages.

After awhile, major changes took place in how the Russian government saw these
German enclaves. Some feared they were not entirely loyal to Russia. There was
jealousy among the Russian neighbors over the Germans' prosperity. In 1874, during
the reign of Czar Alexander II, freedom from military service was ended. The
colonists felt deeply betrayed by the suspension of this promise because it had been
embedded in both manifestoes and in a separate agreement with the Mennonites. Then
Czar Alexander III, who reigned 1881-1894, instituted a general Russification
policy, which threatened the cultural identity of the German villagers.

In 1862, the United States instituted the Homestead Act, and word reached to far-away Russia. It provided an alternative to the increasingly marginal existence in the colonies caused by the new laws and by a shortage of farmland. The act promised 160 acres of free land to current citizens and newcomers who would live on the land for five years and improve it. Similar calls from Canada and the countries of South America induced many colonists to move westward.

Those who immigrated to North America came first in a trickle. The very first became wine growers at Kelly's Island in Lake Erie near Sandusky, Ohio in 1849. California also attracted wine growers because grapes had been their favored crop in the far south of Russia. Around Fresno, California, they produced raisins, and some worked in the sugar beets in Colorado. The largest groups who followed settled primarily in the wheat growing areas of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, and Washington State. Some moved to Argentina, Paraguay, and Mexico.

Many of those who remained in Russia suffered intensely during the communist era. Collectivization of farms and enforced atheism undermined their way of life. Trains pulling boxcars full of Germans and other out-of-favor ethnic groups from the Ukraine snaked to icy Siberia, where they found themselves in primitive circumstances. Exact numbers are elusive, but scholars estimate that, during communist times in Russia, some one million ethnic Germans died of outright execution, starvation, and harsh conditions related to deportation and life in the labor camps.

Some Germans from the Ukraine survived and, as conditions improved, their numbers grew once more. In 1970 there were some 1,846,000 ethnic Germans living in the Soviet Union. Today large numbers emigrate to Germany. Others live throughout Asia in Siberia and the Asiatic republics, such as Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, the countries to which they had been deported.

As in Russia, in the Americas there was not enough farmland for all the children in the typically large German Russian families. So they moved on, taking their strong work ethic into other kinds of agricultural work, manufacturing, business, and eventually other professions careers and government.

Edna Boardman

October 19, 2002

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