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Stories of the Germans from Russia

Dr. Edward Brandt (EB)
Speaker, Germans from Russica Heritage Society Convention,
Pierre, South Dakota
July 7, 1995

Transcription by Hope Wald
Edited by Linda Haag


EB: I’ve got an auditorium voice, so it shouldn’t be too bad and have bum legs, so that is why I am sitting down. I’m sure that you thought that the topic today was The Locked Doors, rather than The Opening Doors. Anyway, what about those opening doors in what used to be the Soviet Union? I’m almost tempted to say that they’re wide ajar. That isn’t quite true yet because there are still some obstacles in the way. What is fair to say however, is that today the biggest problem is not getting in the door, but finding and reaching the treasure. We found a lot of it, and we’ve got the tools in the forms of people and channels and resources to help us get some of it. But I’m sure that what we’ve seen so far is really only a fraction of what there is actually available. Now the biggest news of course in recent years has been the discovery, and the filming, and the cataloging, and now the indexing of the duplicate Lutheran parish registers for the consistory of St. Petersburg, which included the Black Sea area in Bolivia. But I assume that Gwen Prescow will cover that tomorrow in her usual full fashion, and obviously living like she does she has more up to date information than I do at the moment. So the question then is what else is there beside that?

Some of you that belong to both of the major German Russian Societies are aware undoubtedly of the work that Dr. Eger [?], the Dean of the faculty of History of [?] has done. He has among other things found some of both the Catholic and the Lutheran parish registers for the Volga. Some of these are apparently angles on opposite sides of the Volga River. Some of them are in Moscow, and I’m not sure weather or not any of them conceivably might be in St. Petersburg, although they really don’t belong there.

The Catholic registers were mandated in 1826. Like all of the other important public records for the Russian empire, they had to be in duplicate, and some of them even had to be in triplicate. So it seems rather improbable that all portions of both copies of those records have been lost. So there’s something they’re still waiting to be found, only it’s a good hide and go seek game. As an example of how this can work, let me site what is available with respect to Mennonite records. So far, as I know at present, no Mennonite church books have been uncovered. However, a few years ago, Dr. George App of Winnipeg, and Dr. Harvey Dick of the University of Toronto, independently, but more or less simultaneously, discovered a huge collection which has become as the Peter Ann Brown collection, and a building in Odessa that was supposedly housing Jewish papers, and the archivists there were totally unaware of it’s existence. It doesn’t have parish registers, but it has a couple of hundred thousand pages of other material that was accumulated by a Mennonite teacher and school administrator during the Russian Civil War, confiscated by the Russian authorities, or the soviet authorities more accurately, and disappeared until all of a sudden it was found. So there’s a lot of that there.

The Jewish registers were mandated in 1835. But very frequently Jewish genealogists and genealogical societies are in the forefront about finding out what is going on there and uncovering it for perfectly understandable reasons because they want to find out while people are still alive and know about their ancestral village or their relatives that may have perished in the Holocaust, before these people have died. But apparently there are relatively few records actually available, or that have actually been found until about 1885. These are in various areas for Ukraine, for example many of them are in Keeve, and some of them are in other places as well.

Civil registration was mandated in 1879. I have not yet heard of the discovery of any Russian civil registers. However, it seems likely that they should exist because they would have been, properly speaking, in St. Petersburg. Unless by some chance, well no I have to take that back, they could have possibly been kept at local civil registry offices. But if that was the case, they couldn’t all have been destroyed. These are particularly useful of course for Germans who came from Bauhinia, because migration to Bauhinia on a large scale did not start until the early 1860’s, which is after the last previous revision was established.

It might also be helpful for that minority of immigrants who came here form the rest of the Russian empire after that date; well again I’m saying I’m overstating it a little bit. The really heavy flow of immigration started about 1874, but I guess in the Dakotas an awful lot of them were in the 1880’s. In western Canada a lot of them were in the 1890’s. So to the extent that we're able to locate those records, they may be valuable for any marriages or births or deaths that occurred not too many years before people came over here. Once you have that information, often getting information in the collateral line turns out to be useful in tracing your own line.

Besides the parish and in Russia to a less important extent the civil registers, the second really major source of genealogical information are the so called “revision lists”. They were registers of property owning households. However, most of those in the 19th century were very complete and detailed. They listed the names and ages of all of the members of the household; which could include of course a parent or maybe even parents of old age residing in the household of the farm that now had gone to the son, or occasionally in some instances to the son-in-law perhaps. It has one wonderful aspect to it for our genealogical purposes, and that is that these records list the Russian middle names, so that once you discover the name of the head of the household you automatically know who the father was. Since many of these names were typed, and there were a lot of people with the same name, that could be very important information. Regrettably of course in those days, less attention was paid to the women. The earliest of the parish registers which would be applicable to the Volga Germans didn’t even include the women. But the one’s that I have seen for the 19th century did, however they did not include the maiden name of the wife. So you have the name and the age and then your sort of left hanging. There’s one other very positive feature to the ones that I have seen, and that as a general rule they list what happened to the previous land owner since the last revision was made. Did he die? If so, when? Did he move away? If so, to where and when?

Obviously in those days, especially in the earlier days of the settlement out there, people didn’t move around as much as were accustomed to. But nevertheless is I get more deeply involved in genealogy I’ll begin to realize that there are more and more exceptions to what we sort of take for granted as the natural rules of the day. By the later censuses it may be a bit more of a problem. I say censuses because it was a census, but it was a census of tax owners really. But they were very detailed, they included a lot of information for example that’s not particularly of genealogical value, but that may be of interest to you, you know like the amount of property they owned, did they have a horse, did they share a plow with a neighbor, how many stacks of grain did they have, and things of that nature. So they’re thorough in that particular respect as well.

By about the 1850’s or certainly the 1860’s, a large majority of the Germans in Russia were landless. These of course would not be included in the revision list unless they happen to be living in the household of a property owner if the one brother inherited the farm, and the other one stayed with him and worked for him, which sometimes happened, then they might be.

The other thing which probably isn’t relevant to very many of you is that the revision list excluded those people that were exempt from taxation, essentially the privileged in society. The nobles, the high church officials, the more well to do and if you had any ancestors from the Baltic’s, and I don’t know if there’s anybody here who does, then this would be a pertinent consideration. But among those of Germans who moved to the Black Sea and to the Volga areas, I am not aware of there having been any German nobles over there. There were certainly German nobles that were representatives, and supervisors of the Czar, and had a lot of contact with them, most of whom were of Baltic origin. Some of the early revisions list the village from which the immigrants came. For example, the 1880 revision list has that information. That fortunately was published in Germany. Some of these records fell into the hands of the German army when they advanced very rapidly in Ukraine in World War II. To my understanding that these records that were taken by the German government have been returned to the Russian, or Ukrainian authorities, nevertheless a least some of them were microfilmed before that happened, and they in fact already had been microfilmed even before the war is over, I’m not quite sure what the time table was.

One of the disadvantages of the revision lists is that they are in the Russian language, and they are in the Suroric script. So unless you’re one of those rare birds who know Russian, it’s quite a task to get. The records that I seen were written in what was obviously pretty good penmanship because you could just sort of tell by the regularity of the stroke that they looked a lot better than some of the examination papers of some of the students which I used to read. But even so, the letters are strange, and they may be a little similar, so it’s quite a task.

When I went up to Winnipeg where the microfilmed Brown collection records are, as well as in Ontario, I came back with about 70 pages of material, but I took along a lady from Russian, a former college instructor who was here, just in order to help identify the names that might perhaps fit in the family tree. So far I have found neither the time nor the money to really get it translated to find out which ones are really in there.

Now it may be worth while to mention the numbers and the dates of the censuses because in many instances it may be easier for archivists to find those records for you by giving them the number of the revision list that you would like to have searched, than the date. Another thing to bear in mind is that generally speaking and at least certainly in the earlier censuses of the 19th century, the actual reporting did not take place in the same year in the Volga area and in the Black Sea area, which doesn’t necessarily mean that it occurred in the entire black sea area during the same year either. The dates that I have received from a variety of sources as to when these revisions were made are not entirely consistent. Therefore what I have chosen to do is to give you the broadest span that I have read about or heard about from people knowledgeable in this area.

For those with the Volga ancestors, the first two censuses that would be of value would be the third census, and 1761-1767, which might or might not have some information, but the Volga settlement took place during those years so it probably does.

The fourth census in 1778-1787, as we go on you will see that generally speaking, although with some exceptions, the time period required to complete the revision was not as great in later years as in earlier years for understandable reasons; you know difficulty of transportation for one, and perhaps fewer skilled personal available to take care of it.

The first one for the Black Sea area that would also include the Volga area was taken between 1794 and 1808. As I mentioned the Mennonite list for that one has been published in the book by Benjamin Heimvic Unrue, and published in Carlsberg, Germany.

The sixth census, 1811-1812, was left incomplete because it was interrupted by the Napoleonic war, and obviously that took priority over getting records. As important as it was to get them because the reason why these revision lists were made in the first place is because (?) constituted the basis for taxation, and you wanted to have reasonable up to date lists in order to gather revenues that were due to the Czar and his government.

The next one, the seventh one, apparently lasted from 1815-1825. Some of these have been published by Carl Stump and his book on the immigration from Germany to Russia in the year 1763-1862. They are not readily identifiable as such so you have to go through the book a bit carefully to claim the pertinent headings. By the way I heard that there was a lady in California who was planning to index that book, so that would certainly be marvelous if that were the case.

The ninth census was in 1850-1852.

The tenth and last one occurred in 1857-1858. By that last revision the Volga area had been split into two governed provinces, with one of the including the newer German colonies farther up the Volga river near Samara, which had been founded in the 1850’s. I have not heard of anything of these later revisions being found, but that doesn’t mean that somebody may not have discovered them. (?) of the Archives of Russia Society Limited, which is the genealogical partner with the National Archives Volunteer Association and the Russian American Genealogical Archival Service, spoke to us at the convention of the Federation of East European Family History Societies in Salt Lake City, and Maine, for which has served as the program chair. He says in addition to these countrywide revisions there were supplementary revisions made, but they’re very hard to find because they are on index.

In many German magazines you find a little notation there that something like, something I just happen to find while looking at their records. Well, in the years to come we may find some of these in Russia and Ukraine, and Moldova, not very many in Balouderles, possibly some in the Baltic’s.

The third part of the four and the fifth revision list are in the Russian Central State Archive of Ancient Acts, as they like to call those archives in Eastern Europe, in Moscow. However, David Schmidt of California went through my work in coauthoring an article last year, indicated that there was information suggesting that the Volga records for the fourth census had been destroyed; so the parts that have been found may not be applicable to that.

The eighth census for the Mennonite Mulunshna colony, that is the 1835 one, is not only in microfilm now, but actually on paper at the Mennonite Heritage Center in Winnipeg, that being the closest of the several places where the information is.

Parts of the sixth and the seventh, as I think I mentioned were published by Carl Stump.

The parts of the eighth, ninth, and tenth have been found in Calatow and Engles, which used to be one of the few cases where the name was changed from a Russian name to a German name for what I guess are understandable reasons.

So far as I am aware of, the one’s that have been found only apply to the Volga area because you wouldn’t expect to find those for the Black Sea or Bauhinia, or the Caucasus, in the Volga archives up there. But sometimes strange things did happen. Many of the revision lists were in the capitals of the various (lubernias?-may be German), or provinces in Russia. For the Black Sea they included Ceresin, (Ecadarinaslav?), (Tarbida?), Keeve, Bessarabia, (Padonia?), and (Karcov?); seven different (lubernias?), and there were a greater or lesser number of Germans in all of these. There was a separate one for Bauhinia, and there were also three in the Caucasus region. One for the Bubaren River area, one for the Terek region, and one for the Tera area south of the Terek region, which is where you would have found the early settlers. The one’s farther to the north were essentially daughter colonies founded later by the Volga and Black Sea Germans, especially, but not only those from the eastern part sea region. (Lubernias?) were broken down into further units, and the days of the Russian empire, this further subunit was known as (?), today it’s known as an oblast. However, they are not at all the same in size or boundaries or names. So that may require a little bit of searching, and I haven’t heard of anybody that has actually uncovered these records in the (lubernia?) capitals although it may have happened.

Now the pre 1850 revision lists, which would be a whole except the last two, were generally kept in local archives, where as the last two were generally kept in central archives. The central archives for the Soviet Union were of course in St. Petersburg and in Moscow. However, the central state archives for Ukraine today are in Keeve and in Leviv, know to Germans as Lamberg, Pol’s as Lavoov, and the Russian pronunciation is almost the same. This was very important for many reasons, and they have more microfilming crews there than anyplace else. With one reason being that this was essentially a processing center for immigrants. You had your passport stamped there so anybody going to Russia from the southern Germanic areas probably would have gone through Landberry, and there might be some kind of passport records in that area.

There was only one census in the modern American sense of the word that is including everybody taken under the former Russian empire, and that was in 1897. This could be quite useful for the Bauhinian Germans who started migrating there in large numbers in the 1860’s, and sort of continued up until about 1910, or there about although the flow was heavier in the 60’s and the 70’s than it was in the later years. Bauhinia is also almost the only place where you found a significant amount of in-migration and out-migration taking place at the same time. So the very earliest Buauhinans might have actually arrived in North America or Brazil before that date, although not many of them did. Unfortunately some, such as in the case of my father-in-laws families, they apparently arrived in Bauhinia in 1898, and left in 1905, so I’m out of luck in that one. There are archives in Warsaw that have some of these records, but so far I have received no response to my request for information from them.

They are divided between two different archives. One of which is a part of a polar state historical archival system, and therefore relatively easily acceptable. The other one of which is a separate archive, and which will not as a rule allow you to actually do on the spot research but they seem to take their time in answering and maybe they don’t answer if they don’t find anything. Maybe it’s just as it’s true in so many other places, they’re so short of staff and there are a great many other problems that occur. They’re generally worse in Russia than in Poland, and worse in the Ukraine than they are in Russia. The 1897 census does however give us an accurate count of the Germans in the Russian empire. Even though in some rural areas there was a lot of opposition to this because of the presumed purposes of it, taxation and military service and so on, but the Germans with their usual, what should we say, fastidiousness, as the sense of the word.

So we know that in 1897 there were nearly 1.8 million Germans in what was then the Russian empire. The three largest groups, each of which had around 400,000 people or a little bit less than that, 375,0000-400,000, were the Volga region, the Black Sea region, and Russian-Poland. Of course today when we talk about Russian-Poland normally we don’t think of records that we expect to find in Russia-Ukraine, even though it is certainly possible that some of them are there. The next two largest groups, which had about something like a 165-170,000 people, were in Bauhinia, the latest of all the German immigrants. The Baltic’s, by far were the earliest of the German immigrants because they went back already to several centuries back into the middle ages. They, quite unlike the ones that you’d find in Bauhinia for example, generally had a privileged status, but it was very different from the privileges that were recorded to our ancestors in the Black Sea and the Volga regions. Namely they were the conquerors, and they were the rulers, and they were the upper class, and they continued to serve as the ministers, and ambassadors, and generals, and counselors to the ruler weather the area was later ruled by Poland, or by Sweden, or by Russia.

There are nobility records in St. Petersburg should anybody have ancestors from the Balkans. In addition to this there are passenger lists for the Volga Germans, generally known as the Googard lists. These were recorded at Barameban, the port arrival near St. Petersburg. Some of them have been found, in fact my friend David Schmidt has uncovered two separate copies of those lists from two separate sources. These are not identical, and that probably shouldn’t be too surprising because if and when we reach the state where we might find both copies of some of the parish registers, were likely to find the same thing. The duplicate was made later on at the end of the year perhaps, sent in later, there were errors in copying, and things of that nature. I have seen many films, though more from Poland than I have from Russia really, where there were such duplicate registers. Even from Germany where there were such duplicate registers, and they were not identical. But that can have it’s advantages as well as it’s disadvantages because if you find a record and it’s missing you still got some hope that it’s going to show up someplace else.

For the Volga settlers, or incidentally these Googard lists also apply to the small number of Germans that settled in the St. Petersburg area, Yumburg area, and a few that went to Lafea, as well as balk who went to Volga, and incidentally until nationalism hit the Russian empire. Justification became the policy of the empire as it was in the Russian empire, as it was in the Hungarian part of the [?] monarchy, but not as in Austria or the Austrian portions. I lost my train of thought there for a moment. That’s what happens when you get half a nights sleep. Anyway, the only one of the promises that were made to these settlers under the manifestos that were not kept until the 1870’s and 1880’s, was with respect to the Volga group, and it dealt with the question of where did you go? They had been promised the right to settle anywhere they wanted to. The Volga settlers did not choose to go there, they were transported there.

There was the Mennonite group who also did not get to go where it wanted to go. That
was because there was another Turkish war going on and it was too close to the battle zone at the time, so there were extenuating circumstances in that particular case. There are also records of permission to emigrate if you can find where they are located, then you might get the passport obligations. These would be fairly complete for the Germans, with the exception of those who fled from the Soviet Union in the 1920’s, where a large number of people applied for passports to leave, about half of them received passports to leave. A large number also immigrated illegally across the border into Iran. We don’t exactly think of as a place of refuge today, but it was, or across the Caspian Sea where they would have been even harder to detect at crossing the border. As in the case of one former neighbor I know, taking the trans-Siberian railroad all the way across to the east, crossing the Omar River and going to Harbin, Manchuria and getting to North America and South America that way.

Obviously the illegal refugees aren’t going to be in the government records, but the other ones should be. Now the counselor records of the Russian-Czar government, in the United States and Canada, were discovered a number of years ago. There is now a catalog and an index to these records that has been compiled by Sally Ann Ambrosac, and Susan Wynn, two of the most noted Jewish genealogists. There may very well be some record relevant for your ancestors in there. For example, if they went back to Russia to visit, as a few of them did, they would be in there. If they applied for a passport to go there and changed their mind or decided they couldn’t afford it, they might be in there. In other words, if they had any kind of business that went through the Russian government, then these counselor records might have useful material. I know of an acquaintance of in Alberta, Canada who indicated that he had found quite a treasure chest of information from these Russian counselor records.

How do we get these records? Well by now a number of channels have been established. Obviously as anyone who’s been involved with genealogy for any length of time knows the very first place you check of course is the family history libraries card locality index, because there has been a lot of microfilming going on in Russia, it’s more difficult in Ukraine, but there are at least four crews in Ukraine at the present time, and for those whose ancestors came from Poland to the Russian Empire.

Laze, Poland, I use it in kind of a generic sense because Poland as an independent, didn’t exist at the time when Germans went there. They went there from Polish speaking territory which belonged to Poland at one time or another. I heard that something like about 80% of the parish registers in Poland have now been microfilmed, which includes the German parish registers that have still been found in the Polish archives. It doesn’t necessarily include the one’s that found their way to the west. There may of course be some that are buried in the background by the minister or church secretary who hope to come back and never did and nobody knows where they are, and all kinds of things of that nature, but they can be valuable too.

A second important service about which many of you have undoubtedly heard, and some of you may have already used, is the Russian-American Genealogical Archival Service that I mentioned earlier generally know as “Aragus”. Originally it was “Sargus”, because it was established for (?) protocol, established with the then still soviet government, but after the days of (?) had occurred so that cooperative relationships were possible. The archivists are basically in Moscow and St. Petersburg. They do however have good relationships with many of the archives in Ukraine, as well as Belarus, and Estonia. Occasionally they have to travel there, which can be difficult given the infrastructure, given the weather, given the fact that with the breakup of the Soviet Union there are now all kinds of restrictions on foreigners, including Russians, going into Ukraine, which may make things more difficult.

In numerous instances records have been obtained from Ukraine though Ragas. I also understand that at least a few records have been obtained from (Aserbaijauhn?). Most of the southern Caucasus colonists, the ones that went there from (Burgumberic?) in the early 19th century were either in Georgia, or in (Aserbaijauhn?). Well, there has been some fighting in both areas, and I don’t know how much of an effect this has had, but the willingness to cooperate appears to be there.

For those of you who also belong to AHSGR, you are aware of course of the work of Dr. Egger Playvin of Sarata University on the Volga Germans. Then you have read the article that he has written about the very difficult circumstances in which they have to work, the terrible shape in which the archives are the lack of finding these indexes in most cases, even the lack of knowledge that records exist in many cases, the gaps in the records. When you consider all of the enormous number of difficulties, it’s sort of like trying to trace genealogy in the American western, in the day of the fur traders almost, not quite, but almost. Considering all that, he has really done a magnificent job of getting information. I understand that he has put together a whole clan of lists that is the emigrant and all of the descendents who remain in that area, for something like 450-750 dollars. Well that may be pretty good money by Russian standards, its still, having been involved with professional genealogy myself, I know a bargain when I see one, and that’s a bargain.

There are now numerous commercial channels. The one that seemed to be most effective in producing results, was Herbana Technologies of Champagne, Illinois, which has however now been sold to facts online sometime during our past year or so, and I have not yet gotten any feedback on weather or not the good service that they provided has continued onto the new ownership or not. In addition to that, there is a German publication known as the (Latcaper?). It was published in 1992 by a husband and wife small firm. They have gotten so much more information now, that they are still the editors and compilers of the next issue, which is going to cover 1993 and 1994. It will now be published by the Ferock Daitner and Co., which is the largest genealogical publishing house in Germany. It obviously has the capability of publicizing what it has printed a great deal better than the small firms do as I’ve discovered in my own experience in selling a few books and things of that nature.

I would also like to draw your attention to the Federation of East European Family History Societies of which I am one of the cofounders, and the first Vice President. This is not an organization that will directly put you into touch with any researchers in Russia, or Ukraine, or Moldova, or other countries out there. It is essentially a federation of genealogical societies, and performs at clearing house functions. This is going to be important, because I’m working right now on revising the Yellow Cover Research Guide to German-American Genealogy, which some of you probably have. A lot of the information of that came from speakers at the Feeps Convention, or it came from periodicals of non-Germanic groups.

You have to remember that there are Russians, and Ukrainians, and Pols, and Byelorussians, and Jews, and Slovaks, and Hungarians who are often looking for some of the same kinds of records in some of the same kinds of places as we are. So what this federation, which provides for both individual, and organizational membership, and GRHS is joined, Puget Sound chapter of GRHS was the first Russian German genealogical member that we had. I hope that some of the other chapters will join, certainly if yours is as large enough to have a library or genealogical committee. It also has individual memberships. There’s a newsletter which has been published since December of 1991. The first bound volume is now available. I have one extra copy with me here that will be available at reduced price to members until September 1st. We now have an address book of officers, but more importantly it includes a resource guide of the organizations, the contact people, the representatives, the periodicals they have, and so forth. Well I can assure you from personal experience how valuable this can be. At last count I belonged to some 33 genealogical historical societies that were concerned in whole or in part with Eastern Europe including probably somewhere around about seven or eight of non-Germanic nature, plus several of them multiethnic nature. I have found many articles that have been useful I trying to get a bigger picture as to what’s available, and who as discovered what. You don’t have to join 33 societies, by meeting a number of peeps, you will find out about the resources that they have. We’re still in the process of course of developing our resources.

The first convention in May in Salt Lake City, I had about twenty five very prominent speakers from coast to coast in Canada, and the guest speaker from Russia. Because of course I know the people, and the Russian circles, German circles better than any of the others really I guess, and I served as the program chair. Problems dealing with them were adequately represented at the convention which had a very great diversity of topics there. Next year we are planning to hold a western regional convention in Calgary at the end of July, and an eastern regional convention in Cleveland at a date yet to be determined. I have some flyers pertaining to these, and I have application forms pertaining to these for any of you who may be interested.

I’m probably running way over the limits now. Let me just mention a little bit about the Ukrainian archives. The archives in (Poltava?) and (Karcov?) were largely destroyed during World War II. Most of the others however are relatively complete, and they include archives in Odessa, Keev, Leviv, or the former (Lemberic?), (?), and (Podalski?). Many of the ones where the largest concentrations of Germans were have been very cooperative in making information available. (?) actually has an index of German records as parts of eastern Ukraine of course. Which as something that is being developed throughout all of Eastern Europe today, but in most instances they do not yet exist, or they are incomplete, out of date, type written, in house copies. A few of them have been published and this is one of them. There are thirty-seven Ukrainian folk [?]........

What are some of the problems that are involved? Well, you can find individual researchers, in fact the newspaper that I mentioned lists quite a large number of English speaking researchers, not professional genealogists in the North American sense of the word because that wasn’t tolerated under communism. But archivists and historians, who are simply adapting the knowledge they had to a new field, to a new subject so to speak. The trouble is there isn’t any secure way of sending money anywhere to the commonwealth of any kind of states except to Moscow. For that reason it is at the pages to go through organizations like Ragas, or those commercial channels that prove to be effective. Many of these of course have start up problems because generally they have curvier service and e-mail and things of that nature. When I got a Russian language document from Poland, I showed it to a Russian instructor at the University of Minnesota and he just threw up his hands in horror. Russian, like German, has changed. One thing to bear in mind is that some of the pre-revolutionary characters in the Russian alphabet no longer exist. So somebody who knows modern Russian, but isn’t familiar with the way it was in the 19th century, may have difficulty even if they could otherwise decipher the records.

You do have, through practically all of Europe, Western Europe, and Eastern Europe, privacy laws that are generally similar to ours, sometimes even a little stricter, sometimes not so strict. This often makes it difficult to do research during the last 90 or 100 years. In some places you have the problem that the policies of access that are made I guess theoretically by the government, but frequently by the archivists, are subject to rather sudden and frequent changes. So one day they may be accessible, and the next day they may not, two weeks later again they may be. Of course if you have any idea of going there in person and trying to do something like that, which of course would require knowledge of Russian, even in Ukraine because Ukrainian had deteriorated almost to a dialect you might say in the days of the Soviet Union, or at least in the latter portion of it. Even if the records that you are researching are in German, and even if you know where to look for them, the file names are still going to be in Russian. Then of course some of these are very primitive. Things that we take for granted like zerox machines, and computers, either do not exist at all, or they are rare and precious commodities with limited time available. In some instances you could make notes about what’s in the records, but you can’t really copy them, so this complicates it. So there is somewhat less brief overview than I was supposed to give. I’m open questions.

Audience: When you went to Russia...

EB: No I went to Poland actually, but I saw Russian records in Winnipeg, and there are many in Salt Lake City as well.

Audience: Now next year if you were going to Russia, what would you do?

EB: Instead of go and travel in Winnipeg was the pioneer travel to what was then the Soviet Union, and I don’t know how much their tours have multiplied, but I think that the last count was something like about seventeen or eighteen different tours. Manitoba of course is a Mennonite stronghold, so quite a few of them are tours that sort of focus on the areas where they lived, but by no means all of them. By now they’ve become an all eastern European travel agency. There are numerous outer agencies that also have tours. If you know of one that is going to concentrate on the particular area where your ancestors lived, then obviously it makes sense to take that particular one. I’ve have a folder at home where I’ve tried to collect such information, but I never managed to keep it up do date anyway. There are frequently articles from genealogical periodicals, and sometimes historical periodicals and so on that mention things like that. But that’s certainly one place that has a lot of them. I know that there’s a former diplomat at the American Embassy in Moscow to gather weather Russian German has lead tours, and I can’t remember the name right off hand, but I’m sure that some of you know because I think that it appeared either in the Heritage Review, or the GRHS newsletter.

Audience: When you watched the (?), were you about to say that the passenger lists for the Volga’s were in German?

EB: No, what I was going to really say is I was going to talk about he privileges of the Germans. The ones that went to the Black Sea and to the Volga area in fact had a charter of eternal privileges. Of course in today’s world where we know whether the whole course of nationalism was aware that this couldn’t possibly remain eternal. That was the reason why most of our immigrant ancestors came on here. What I wanted to say is that the Baltic Germans had privileges of their own, but they were of a completely different nature. In a sense they were even more privileged, but they didn’t have the charter of privileges, they founded the place. They were in many instances they most well educated, the most well traveled, they most well to deal with people in the Russian empire. So a disproportionately large percentage of eye officials in the Czars government came from among these Baltic Germans. It wasn’t until after World War II, when these countries became independent and many of the larger estates were confiscated, that they lost their importance, although I suppose it’s fair to say that after mergers began the 1870’s, and really became much stronger in the 1880’s, that their relative importance may have declined somewhat.

Audience: It’s save to assume that the (...?)

EB: I’ll tell you who can give you that information. David F. Schmidt if any of you want to write this down, at 3428 Sugarberry Lane, Walnut Creek, California 94598; has gotten copies of those lists and is the source of my information about it. One of the reasons being that he sort of tended to concentrate more on the Volga Germans, and I tended to concentrate more on the Black Sea Germans, so we sort of have complimenting information. I’m sure that he told me about that, I do not remember for sure. I would not at all be surprised if they were in German, but I wouldn’t say for sure. Incidentally you can call him, although sometimes he can be hard to get a hold of because he works odd hours like I do many times. I’m sure that he wouldn’t mind my giving you his number, 512-937-2401, and his work number, 512-646-2057. In many instances what I have done is I have been so busy finding out about, and talking about, and writing about the different kinds and the different channels, that I don’t have the time to get around to actually using them. Need a longer time to actually use them.

Just some more information, how many of you have Volga ancestors? Not many. How many are from the western Black Sea? Yes, the Odessa area, Bessarabia, most of you would I thought. How many in eastern Ukraine? Ok, it’s about the audience I expected to have.

There are tours going to Eastern Crimea. I just heard of one recently that focused on it, but off the top of my head I can’t remember who the sponsor of that was. By now there are no places that are off limits unless it happened to be an area where there’s a war zone. I don’t know what the situation is exactly right now, but of course there were hostilities along the Moldovan-Ukrainian border. Of course the northern part of Bessarabia and the western part of the (?) colonies were in that region. However, Miriam Weiner, who is a prominent Jewish genealogist who spends about 1/3 of her time in the Ukraine and has an apartment out there, has been reasonable successful in getting records from the Moldovan archives. It used to be called Moldavia, but like a lot of other places in the east they renamed it.

If any of you are still not aware of it, most of the Germans left in the commonwealth of independent states today are in the Asian area because the ones where the German armies advanced fled back to Germany, and some made it alive, and many of those were returned by virtue of the (?) agreement at long as we thought that Uncle Joe was our friend, and Germany was the enemy. The others were evacuated eastward by the Soviet government, and by large the men, and maybe some of the women, but especially the men, were sent to the mines of the cold region near the Artic near the northeastern part of Russia, which is European Russia, which is virtually inhabited, and others of course went to Siberia. The women and children, when the dust cleared in 1956 after Stalin’s death, turned out to be mostly in Kazakhstan in southwestern Siberia, more or less along the Kazakhstan border, although there were others also farther east along the trans Siberian railroads. Some of those settlements have been founded before 1900 already. The only Germans in European Russia, who are there and remain there throughout the whole war so far as I know, are those in the southeastern part near the Ural Mountains and the Orin Bird Perm area. Anyway, after the people in the forest labor camps were released, those that survived of course were looking for their families, and when they found them they almost invariably discovered them across the Ural range in Asia. So that’s where the overwhelming majority of Germans and the commonwealth of independent states are today. I’m not aware the Germans from these areas comprised any significant number of immigrants to North or South America. Incidentally a lot of these people went to Brazil and Argentina too; they didn’t all come to the United States and Canada.

I do not believe that there were sizeable German settlements in that area, although there were scattered settlements in Germany, and Germans practically everywhere in the Ukraine. It was not an area of concentration to the best of my knowledge because most of the ones were either somewhere not to far from the Black Sea that is southern Ukraine, or they were in Bohemia, which is northwestern Ukraine, or they were in the Caucasus, which includes the southern most part of European Russia, but also where there are native peoples who have their own autonomous regions and where there’s still some struggle going on, or in Georgia, with a few apparently in Armenia but not very many. In Russia of course, Russia proper is contrasted with Ukraine, by far the largest group of course with the Volga Germans, who had their own autonomous soviet socialist republic from 1924-1941, because final arts under the communist it didn’t matter what language you spoke as long as you said the right words and had the right ideas. Next to that there was of course a much smaller, but not insignificant group around St. Petersburg. There were a few of that original shipment that went to the Volga, who went to the Baltic’s. The earliest Germans in Russia proper were probable the merchants and traders in Moscow. But even though they played an important role event in history, and that they indirectly lead to the German immigration to the Russian empire, they were not really very numerous.

What I think I would do at this point is I would write to the embassy of Moldova in Washington. There is a publication that lists the addresses of all of the embassies, or as they call it “chanceries”. The reason being that in some instances you may have a diplomatic establishment that doesn’t have the full state of the embassies, or the missioner, a special missioner etc. and they’re all included in there. This is updated rather frequently. So one possibility would be to write to the cultural adashey of the Moldovan embassy in Washington, and ask him weather or not he could help. Second person who is definitely knowledgeable about the Moldovan empires, but has worked only with Jewish records, so she can’t even tell you what even kind of records there might be there for Christians. What she can do is tell you her experiences in working with the archivists in Moldova. It is Miriam Weiner. I have her address here. This address book comes in very handy when I’m on trips. It’s Miriam Weiner, and her address is 136 San Piperkey, Secaucus, New Jersey 07904. I don’t happen to have her telephone number with me. She was by the way one of the cofounders of Peeps as well. But she was so terribly busy that she just couldn’t do it. She’s a very gracious and helpful lady, and if you can manage to reach her by telephone when she’s at home I’m sure she’ll be glad to tell you everything that she knows.

There are also some publications, I don’t know any Russian genealogical periodicals in this country, but there are many Polish genealogical societies that have periodicals. Some of these have published the addresses of some of the archives in the former Soviet Union because there were after all a large number of Pols also in this territory that was transferred from Poland to the Soviet Union as a result of World War II. The Ukrainians were the majority but there was a large Polish minority, and in certain particular areas they may have been a majority. So they have an interest in these areas as well.
There are numerous places where you can get the maps. One of the best known ones is Genealogy Unlimited in Warren, Utah. I don’t remember their post office box from memory, but they have an 800 number and you should be able to find it in most recently published genealogical guides, it certainly is in our research guide to German American genealogy which I did remember to bring along here, and you’ll find it a lot of other places. There’s a place in Demoine, Iowa known as international maps. There’s a place in Seattle that I think is called something like Aropa Maps, or Aropa Publications. Ernest Thoughed of Marietta, Ohio whose address I may have, nope not transferred from my old book to the new one. He has maps. There is a new organization in Salt Lake City known as (Alice’s and Sestral Nostaldrium?), and she ran the corps door for us at the convention in Salt Lake City, she has maps. (Paracage Quess?) publishes a magazine but also has a book store in the Howard Johnson hotel downtown Salt Lake City, they have maps. In fact if you have a yellow colored research guide to German American genealogy, there are about ten or twelve places listed in there that are sources of maps. Another thing of course to bear in mind is that is you are anywhere close to a good University Library some of that have excellent aptilections too. I’m very fortunate that just a mile and a half from the main library up in the University of Minnesota has a portrait map library out there where it has just a fantastic variety of both old and modern maps. The university of Wisconsin has excellent map collections and I think this is true of the main campus in Madison, I know it is true of the campus in Milwaukee, and I think it is true of the campus in O’clair, it way also be true of others. I have no doubt that this is also true of other university libraries, but these are well known and I’m confiding with them.

If there’s anybody here from the eastern states, I think Penn State University has it because they recently established a mock Scotty institute for German American studies. The first one was at the University of Wisconsin. There are now three, one at the Wisconsin, one at Penn State, and one at the University of Kansas, which might be the easiest place for some of you to get to. Of course when the new institutes are established the question is, are they already building on an already large existing collection, or are they beginning to collect it? I don’t know the answer to that in all cases.

Audience: Do you belong to the (?) geological society? If so, have you gotten a publication and do you find it useful?

EB: I haven’t joined yet. They do have a quarterly that was supposed to come out in Polish, Esperanto, German, and English. The first English addition was supposed to come out in January, but it has been delayed because of the tremendous startup costs, and because of the very small number of North Americans subscribing to the ad which made it financially very difficult to actually do this. John Warbius of Davis, California is another co-vice president of Peeps, has had a lot of contact with them, and publicized them and said well, “I gave you the publicity, you need to produce now”. There are good explanations for the delays, but it didn’t come out at the time when it was supposed to. It is however valuable for German research because among other things it also includes research on the Germans from (?) that ended up in Saligea when the war ended. In fact there are actually I think three different societies there, the Saligen Genealogical Society, and two Serian Societies which are all added by the same individual. If not he himself, then at least the members of his family, maybe his wife, are desenate of those Germans.

I’d just like you to bear in mind that when you need to deal with east Europe you have to have some patience. You need to be patient with central Europe, like Poland, because the mails much slower and because they don’t have to kind of genealogical experience that you have. It’s much worse once you get east of the Polish border, but you know Ragwus, which I think is generally new, is being more of the best sources of information. It was slow getting in off the ground. The first couple years nothing very much really happened. Then when they really got going of course they were overwhelmed with requests and they didn’t have a large enough number of archivists to handle them. So it took quite a lot of time to get around to it and the mail is slow. You do have to have patience, but bear in mind that I was searching for my father-in-laws ancestors in Poland for more than two decades before I found anything. But once I got the key the treasure poured out. So don’t give up hope, but recognize that things are going to take time.

Audience: ?

EB: They probably still have to put it into print there. I don’t know for sure weather Peeps really has the capability of doing that at the present time because a relatively small number of individuals have done most of the work so far, and frankly after that convention I suffered from acute burnout. I think some of the other key people have also overloaded themselves quite a bit. What we need is not only members, but also members that are going to be givers as well as receivers, people who will volunteer to say ok I’ll do this, I’ll do that, I’ll do the other. One of the things that we hope to do is find people who would repute both English and foreign language publications and then send in a little note to the editor of the Peeps newsletter about what kind of an article appeared in what publication, American or foreign, that might be of interest to groups other than the ones that would be most likely to subscribe to that newsletter. We haven’t really gotten very far with that yet, but we encourage you to do it. I hope that maybe GRHS, and those of its chapters with newsletters, when they run across some new information of this kind, please write up a little article and send it to (?), editor in Salt Lake City, and she’ll be delighted to publish it.

The flow of information has been a little uneven, at times there’s plenty, and at times you can use a little bit more. If you send it in at a time when it’s not to amble it will get in there in the very next issue. If it is a time when it is amble it may be abbreviated, or it may be postponed an issue. I’d really like to see more done, because I’ve noticed that GRHS, AHSGR, Puget Sound and other chapters as well have all published articles about the Lutheran parish registers for example, and identified some of the films.

Originally they were cataloged as they were filmed, which was by year of arrival in St. Petersburg, which wasn’t even necessarily the same as the year to which the records applied. I understand that by the end of the year there is now going to be a catalog, a 400 page catalog, available, and there will also be a microfiche. It really would be very helpful for more people to take the initiative and say, “Ok, we’ve discovered this, we’ve done that, let’s send it into Peeps and put it into the newsletter” because that’s what we’re looking for. We are trying to share the members of societies, and share both individual and organizational members. The most frequent form of doing that is the news letter. Just take the initiative, send it in. Other questions? Ok, I’ve exhausted you. I’ll stick around. I do have application forms and flyers for Peeps here if any of you are interested. I have a sample copy of the resource guide.

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