Germans From Russia and the
Settlement in the State of Washington, USA
Schmoll, Betty L. "Germans From Russia and the
Settlement in the State of Washington, USA." Unsere Zeitung Newsletter 25, no. 3, May/June 2000.
Migration from Germany to Russia
Altogether more than 100,000 Germans migrated to Russia from 1763
1871: 27,000 settled in 104 Volga River colonies; 500,00 in 200
colonies by the Black Sea and 28,000 started 139 villages in Volhynia
west of Kiev. Two powerful impacts started the migration. One was
the despair of the Seven Years War, the other a dazzling offer of
There was utter poverty after the Seven Years War. Germany was
weak; it did not have a central government. It was a patchwork of
75 principalities, 51 imperial cities and 1,475 areas ruled by knights.
Subjects were serfs.
Now Czarina Catharine II, a former German princess, offered a glittering
proposal of privileges and free land. By her Manifesto of July 22,
1763, the settlers were promised payment of traveling expenses,
freedom of religion, freedom from taxes for 30 years, exemption
forever from military service, continuance of the native culture
and language, internal self government and free homestead land.
The Manifesto elicited a wide response, from 1763 1767 more than
6,000 families (27,000 people), mostly from Hesse and Rhineland,
immigrated to the Volga. Later (1812 1842) others from South Germany
settled along the Black Sea. Then (1816 1881) more Germans settled
The Volga Germans, the first immigrants, boarded Russian vessels
at Lubeck, Germany and sailed the Baltic Sea to St. Petersburg.
From St. Petersburg, they took two routes to Saratov, Russia ...
one by land, the other mostly by river. Winter overtook them, and
they were quartered with local Russians. In the spring, as the ice
vegan to melt, they set out again for Saratov. Here each family
received 80 acres, a wagon, plow, horses and tools. They were then
dispersed to areas in the half savage Volga region where they built
sod houses for their first cold winter in Russia.
Colonists in Russia
In their new land they faced a multitude of hardships. Crop failures
tended to follow year after year, until the colonists became acclimated
and learned how to cope with the land, the Russians and the marauders.
During the first 10 years capable ministers from Germany and Switzerland
came to the settlements and taught economic as well as religious
principles. Churches were built and the young were taught to read
and write German, in the land of the Slav and Mongol tribesmen.
By 1800 the colonies began to blossom and became the agricultural
pacesetters of Russia. Now they were efficient farmers and cattle
breeders. Gradually, windmills and steam driven mills for grain
and weaving were built, and dye works came into existence.
Eventually unease settled in. The Czar talked of taking away their
rights of selfgovernment. On June 4, 1871 Czar Alexander 11 repealed
all privileges, making it compulsory for German youth to be conscripted
into the Russian Army. This was the final blow and families began
looking toward America, because of glowing promises of emissaries
for the American railroads who were sent to Russia to offer jobs
and homestead lands in the United States.
Colonists left Russia
Slowly at first the Germans left Russia. The first group came to
the Dakotas in 1872, then more to Nebraska in 1873, and the migration
to America continued for the next 40 years. By 1920, nearly 300,000
Germans from Russia came to America. Of these 19,000 settled in
Nebraska, 16,000 in Colorado, and 11,000 in Washington and Oregon.
Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, Central California, Montana, Ohio, and
the Dakotas, also had populations of these Germans. About 7,000
settled in South America; Canada claimed about the same number.
Those remaining in Russia were to suffer loss of homes, dispersion,
purges and famine under Bolshevik and Communist rule. In 1941, when
Hitler invaded Russia, Stalin put an end to the whole German settlement.
Some were executed, the rest were moved eastward to Siberia. Their
villages were taken over by the Russians; churches became community
halls, and farm lands became communal.
Since the fall of Communism, the Germans have been allowed to return
to their villages, however few have done so. The younger generations
have intermarried with Russians and remained in Siberia or moved
to larger cities for better job opportunities. Many of those who
have retained their German culture and customs are moving back to
Germany after enduring months and years of red tape in connection
Russian Germans in Washington State
In 1882 a group of 16 Russian German families arrived in Washington
Territory. The immigrants traveled by train from North Platte, NE
to Ogden, Utah where they formed a
wagon train of 40 wagons and followed the Oregon Trail to Walla
Walla, arriving in late summer of 1882. Surnames of those families
making the trek were: Amen, Bastrom, Bauer, Dewald, Kranzler, Kembel,
Kiehn, Michel, Miller, Oestreich, Rosenoff, Shaefer, Schoessler,
Thiel, Wagner and Wolsborn.
After wintering in Walla Walla, some of the settlers moved on to
Ritzville in the spring of 1883. By 1891 all the original members
of the wagon train had moved to Ritzville. An annual reunion of
the descendants of the wagon train is held in Ritzville on Memorial
Day weekend each year. A horse drawn wagon and plaque in metal,
sculpted by Lamar Thiel, have been placed near the old train depot
in Ritzville as a memorial to the wagon train families.
Many more settlers came to Washington State... from the Volga colonies
(1881, Liebental colonies (1890), Beresan Colonies (1891), Bessarabia
(1892), the Volynian Swiss Mennonite colonies (1899), the Chortiza
Mennonite colonies (1902), the Gluckstal colonies (1909) and the
Hutterite colonies (1958). They came halfway around the world to
find a better life.
While railroads and spurs were being built, town sites of Russian
German settler sprang up... Odessa, Ritzville, Harrington, Marcellus,
Packard, Krupp, Wilson Creek, Batum, Schrag, Endicott, Colfax, Lind
and many more. The railroads needed the farmers and the farmers
needed the railroads; thus with cooperation between the two, farming
became beg business.
Just as the Germans had planted and prospered in the loamy soil
of the Russian steppes in the 1800's, so 200 years later their descendants
are the majority of farmers in Eastern Washington today.
There were also settlements in Western Washington, mainly Tacoma,
Seattle, Bellingham, Ferndale, Dryad, Ridgefield, and Vancouver.
The Germans in these towns found employment with the railroads,
in lumber and sawmills and in factories.
The story of the AGSGR
A group of 42 descendants of Germans from Russia, interested in
preserving their heritage, met in Denver, Co. on Sept. 8, 1968.
After numerous meetings, the American Historical Society of Germans
from Russia was formally incorporated on Dec. 20, 1968.
The early organizers were soon to find that there would be an overwhelming
response to AHSGR. The first chapter was formed in Lincoln, NE in
1970 with over 100 charter members. New chapters soon began forming
throughout the United States and Canada. Today there are 60 chapters
in the United States, eight of them in the state of Washington.
Research and publishing are a major part of the AHSGR's work. The
Society was formed primarily to record the history of its people,
as records were not available from Russia
under the Communists. Members born in Russia and family memories
were the main sources of information.
At the fall of Communism researchers quickly began to communicate
with archives in Russia, and exchange was established... funds from
the Americans to Russia, and records (as they were located) from
the researchers in Russia to America. RAGAS (RussianAmerican Genealogical
Archive Service) was established in 1992 and is a non profit organization
registered with the Moscow Ministry of Justice. Many reports and
records have been received through this service. Also there are
individual researchers who have been sanctioned by the AHSGR, and
many members have received family tree charts tracing their German
Russian families back to their origins in Germany.
The AHSGR Heritage Center
In June of 1983 the AHSGR formally dedicated a new headquarters
building at 631 D St., Lincoln, NE. 68502 1199. This building provides
space for thousands of genealogical records as well as office and
display space. This genealogical library houses the most extensive
collection of Russian German information in the world. Records are
continuously arriving from Russia, being translated from German
or Russian by the Heritage Center, the Nebraska Historical Society
and the University of Nebraska.
Property adjacent to the Heritage Center has been purchased, and
a museum developed, including a restored summer kitchen, a chapel,
and other buildings. Free tours are conducted daily. The location
is in the heart of the South Bottoms, a preserved historical district
where many of the Germans resided when they arrived from Russia.
The AHSGR and the Heritage Center have been created and perpetuated
to assure that the history and culture of the Germans from Russia
will be permanently preserved.
Other Russian German Societies
Germans from Russia Heritage Society (GRHS) 1008 East Central,
Bismarck, No. Dakota 58501 (Black Sea Germans)
Society for German Genealogy in Eastern Europe (SGGEE) PO Box 72074,
Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2V 5119 (Volhynian & Polish)
Mennonite Heritage Center PO Box 393, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Sources for this history of the Germans from Russia are from information
Paper compiled by Betty L. Schmoll, Seattle, Washington May 2000