Germans from Russia Symposium
North Dakota State University
Fargo, North Dakota
Migration from Alsace to the Black Sea Region and the Location of
the Genealogical Materials in the Homeland Area
Professor Jean Schweitzer
Let us have a look at the map of the Black Sea German colonies.
We can easily recognize several place names of Palatinate: Landau,
Kandel, Speyer, Worms; of the duchy of Baden: Rastatt, Karlsruhe,
Mannheim, Heidelberg; and moreover of Alsace: Elsass, Strassburg,
I -Alsace, The Homeland
A) Geography of the emigration area.
To begin, I want to destroy a kind of myth. Too often we hear
or read about, 'Alsace-Lorraine'. I think it is indispensable
to give a clear definition of the reality.
Contrary to the opinion of many people even in France, Alsace
and Lorraine are two distinct provinces, each having its own political
The twin expression Alsace-Lorraine began in the period of 1871-1918
when these two provinces came back to Germany under Bismarck and
had a common German administration. Anyway, it's not the whole
province called Lorraine that we are concerned with, but only
the northern part of Lorraine around the capital town Metz which
is in the département de Moselle, the other three départements,
the French speaking area, remained with France.
As for Alsace, it is the name of an eastern province of France,
rather small in size, about 3,200 sq. miles. It stretches almost
200 km (125 miles) in length along the western bank of the Rhine
River from Basel, Switzerland, to South Palatinate in the north.
This river officially separates France from Germany. In the east
it is limited by a mountain range called the Vosges, (Vogesen
or Wasgau in German), the Northern extension being the Pfalzer
Wald. The twin range of mountains on the eastern bank of the Rhine
is called Schwarzwald, Black Forest or Foret-Noire (in French).
For our thesis, it must be added that only the most northern
part of Alsace near the Palatinate border was concerned with the
emigration to Russia. Only this extreme northern nook of Alsace
was involved, roughly speaking, the district of Weissenburg, where
the population is of franconian descent, whereas the larger part
of Alsace is of Alemanic origin. This explains some characteristic
features of its dialect.
B) Historical background and administration today.
Because of its geographical location Alsace has always been a
crossing country and has seen many invaders come and go during
the 2,500 years of its known history.
The first known invaders were the Celts, followed by the Romans
who occupied Alsace for about 500 years (58 BC -ca 450 AC).
The Romans were "rolled back" by Germanic tribes. The
first ones were the, Alemannen ' followed by the 'Franken' in
the late 5th century.
This later event will be of greater importance for Northern Alsace,
where the emigrants to Russia came from, because it explains the
characteristic features of this area where the political and religious
parameters had been changing for centuries, and where the dialect
limits were fixed over a thousand years ago. Here in this little
area of Northern Alsace, the dialect is a franconian one like
in Palatinate, whereas, in all the other parts of the province,
they speak the Alemanic dialect (about 85% of the population).
The most important historical period relating to the emigration
to Russia is the French Revolution. A period of confusion, big
changes and great turmoil, which caused an important emigration
across the Rhine, but not yet to Russia. The fatal date was December
23, 1793 when over 20,000 people (some historians estimate even
30,000) only from Northern Alsace, the region of the future emigration
to Russia, fled when Revolutionary armies invaded the territory
.Its deeply religious population now feared the anti-religious
revolutionary troops and the guillotine.
Upon returning home some years later, many of these exiled people
were ruined because their goods had been confiscated by the new
political regime. Moreover the troops too often plundered the
country: the peasants had to furnish provisions and animals, give
extra horses and wagons, perform enforced labor, pay war tribute,
suffer the quartering of soldiers etc. There is no doubt that
there was a great dissatisfaction in the country. Thousands and
thousands of families felt depressed and discouraged. Another
inequity was the confiscation and selling of church properties.
This brought many a family a shortage of farmland. Catholic families
were forbidden by the ecclesiastical authorities to buy confiscated
church property, which consequently was bought cheaply by the
local protestant farmers. For those Catholic farmers working mainly
on rented church-owned land this meant economic ruin.
The Revolution years were followed by the conquests of Napoleon
who ruled over a great part of Europe from 1805-1814. His campaigns
and conquests added much to the turmoil in this region. And it
is easy to imagine why many young men avoided enlisting.
These few main reasons added to many others were combined with
overpopulation, which periodically causes an important emigration.
It must be pointed out that these reasons -political and economical
-were closely interrelated. And in many cases we may add secondary
reasons, such as domestic, family or law troubles etc.
Some important remarks to conclude this historical paragraph:
-The Alsatian emigrants at that time were not Germans but French
citizens. But though of French citizenship, these people were
not at all conversant with the French language.
-Moreover in these times the South Palatinate, comprising 30 communities,
came under French rule, being annexed to Alsace till 1813-1815.
Therefore, the people living in this area were a French population
too, and also ignorant of the French language.
-The immigration to Russia at that time was not merely an event
of Alsatian history; it affected a much larger area of the Upper
Rhine including South Palatinate, and Central and North Baden
on the Eastern side of the Rhine as well.
-You must consider that there has always existed relationships
of many kinds with these two neighbors, such as economical, social,
and even family relations. And mostly they all spoke, and still
speak, the Franconia dialect which they took with them to the
Black Sea region, the same as their descendants did in the late
19th century when homesteading in the New World.
C) Administrative organization.
Many descendants of Alsatian emigrants have but a hazy idea of
the former and the present administrative divisions of Alsace
when writing their family history. Just a rough outline on this
Before the French Revolution in 1789 France was divided into
about 20 provinces such as Alsace, Lorraine, Brittany etc. The
French Revolution abolished the provinces, which were replaced
by 83 smaller departments (about 90 now). Though still a geographical
notion, today Alsace is divided into two departments, a type of
Bas-Rhin = Unterelsass = Lower Rhine,
Strasbourg being the administrative center;
Haut-Rhin = Oberelsass = Upper Rhine,
Colmar being the administrative center.
Each department has a governmental representative called 'prefet.
' The chief administrative official is appointed by Paris.
Each department is divided into several intermediate districts
called 'arrondissements' = Kreise in German = circles county in
English, e.g. Weissenburg and Hagenau in Northern Alsace.
The intermediate middle districts are divided into little districts
called ' canton'. Thus the district of Weissenburg is composed
of the cantons of Selz, Weissenburg, Lauterburg, Sulz, Woerth.
(Beware: a Kanton in Switzerland may be compared to a French department
or sometimes to an old province).
Nearly all the Alsatian emigrants to Russia came from the northern
circle of Weissenburg, and a lesser number from the district of
As to the emigration itself, two years must be remembered: 1804
and 1808. Because emigration was forbidden in those days by the
French government, the Alsatians had to leave secretly. When the
authorities got wind of the mass exodus in 1804, they tried desperately
to stop the emigration. For a while, it seemed that the Alsatian
exodus had ended in a fiasco. It was only a setback. The second
wave in 1808 was much more important. Many of these emigrants
got their passports from the Jewish banker Bethmann in Frankfurt/Main,
who was appointed the Russian consul in this big city.
A good overview of the exodus and the routes of the emigrants
through Central Europe is given in Height's book, Paradise on
the Steppe. Many examples of passports of Alsatian emigrants are
to be found in Stumpp's Die Auswanderung aus Deutschland nach
Russland in den Jahren 1763-1862.
Nearly all the Alsatians were settled in the Black Sea region:
Beresan, Liebenthal and chiefly in the Kutchurgan district. Therefore,
it is not amazing that a many colonies were given Alsatian names:
three of five Kutchurgan colonies had Alsatian names: Elsass,
Selz, Strassburg; Kandel belongs to south Palatinate and Mannheim
was taken over from Baden. And when nearly a century later their
descendants came over to the new world, they brought many an Alsatian
place name with them such as Strasburg and Selz in North Dakota
and in Saskatchewan.
II The Sources
A) Printed sources
1.0 General information
1.1 Biographical works
1.1.1 Michael M. Miller, Researching the Germans from Russia:
Annotated Bibliography of the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection.
North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, North Dakota State
University, 1987, 224 p.
1.1.2 Dr. Karl Stumpp: Schrifttum Uber das Deutschtum in Russland.
2nd. Edition enlarged, Tübingen, 1970, 74 p.
Chapter C, Schwarzmeerdeutsche p. 42-58
1.2 General historical background
Adam Giesinger (ancestors of Alsatian origin): From Catherine
to Khrushchev: The Story of Russia's Germans. 2nd. ed. 1980
This is the basic general history of Germans in Russia, as Michael
states in his bibliography.
1.3 General repertory
Dr. Karl Stumpp: Die Auswanderung aus Deutschland nach Russland
in den Jahren 1763-1862. English edition: The Migration
from Germany to Russia in the Years 1763-1862. With maps.
1018 p. Tübingen, 1972.
A 'must', Michael M. Miller writes about No.21 p. 5 in Researching
the Germans from Russia: "This monumental work is the fruition
of 40 years of research; invaluable to the genealogical researchers.
But we sometimes must be cautious. In a work of this size we
inevitably meet with lots of mistakes and misspellings.
2.0 Titles on Black Sea Germans
2.1 Older titles
2.1.1 Johannes Brendel: Aus deutschen Kolonien im Kutschurganer
Geschichtliches und Volkkundliches. Stuttgart, 1930, 108 p.
(Miller No.13 p.4)
It includes the 1811 census lists of the people in the villages
of Baden, Kandel, Elsass, Selz, Mannheim, except Strasbourg, we
don't know exactly why; (maybe lost during the Revolution years?)
This booklet is out of print. Anyway it has been translated by
Father Thomas Welk under the title: "The German colonies
in the Kutschurgan Region", in Heritage Review starting
in April 1979.
2.1.2 Father Konrad Keller: Die deutschen Kolonien in Südrussland.
2 vol. 1804
Vo1.I: The Liebental district: Kleinliebental, Josefstal, Mariental,
Vol. II: The Beresan district: Landau, Sulz, Katharinental, München,
Speyer, Karlsruhe, Rastatt
It has been translated by Anthony Becker in 1968. The second
edition, partially revised by Dr. Adam Giesinger, was published
in 1980 by the Historical Society of Germans from Russia, Lincoln,
2.1.3 Mgr. Anton Zerr: Einwanderungsgeschichte der Familie
Zerr in Russland. Odessa 1914.
This pamphlet by the retired bishop Zerr of Tiraspol deals with
his ancestors' emigration from Neeweiler near Lauterburg in Alsace
to Franzfeld. It includes the colonists' listing in this village
with dates of baptism, marriages and deaths to 1835. Several mistakes
concern the ancestors of Neeweiler.
2.2 Recent titles
Essentially the three books of Professor Joseph Height are worth
2.2.1 Paradise on the Steppe. A cultural history of the
Kutschurgan, Beresan and Liebental Colonies. 1804-1945.
Several editions (Miller No.36 p. 8)
It deals in considerable details with the Catholic mother colonies
in the Odessa area. Much interesting information with the listings
of the founders of the different colonies.
2.2.2 Homesteaders on the Steppe: Cultural history of the
Evangelical Lutheran colonies in the region of Odessa 1804-1945.
Bismarck, North Dakota, 1975 (Miller No.31 p. 7). It also includes
the listings of the founders of the different colonies.
2.2.3 Memories of the Black Sea Germans: Highlights of their
History and Heritage. Chelsea, Michigan 1979, 372 p. (Miller
No.75 p. 17)
His last work, published posthumously, includes the listings
of the families emigrated from different villages of Alsace. Unfortunately,
the emigrant village of Scheibenhard is missing.
2.3 Alsatian emigration to USA
Finally it would be interesting to mention a recently published
book, which may indirectly be useful to those who want to enlarge
their genealogical research. Cornelia Schrader-Muggenthaler: Alsace
Emigration book. Part One.
This book lists 12,500 emigrants from France and Germany to the
USA with places of origin researched from microfilms, pass lists,
ship lists and private sources. Time period 1817-1867. (NB -Meanwhile
a second volume has been published).
Why this book may be useful to Russian Germans descendants? The
best way to explain it, is to give an example: The Black Sea colonist
Salvey/Solvay of Selz (census list No.5) came from Mothern in
Northern Alsace. Several, or maybe many, Salvey families living
in the Dakotas are descended from this Alsatian Russian ancestor.
Now in Cornelia Schrader's book, they may notice six Salevey/Salvey
from Mothern who all immigrated from Mothern directly to the States
in 1868 or 1869. Distant cousins who immigrated to the New World
at different times on different routes. The same could be said
on the Keller family of Winzenbach where the ancestors of the
most popular descendant of Russian Germans in the States, Lawrence
Welk, came from.
3.1 Bulletin du Cercle généalogique d'Alsace
This is the title of the magazine published every three months
by the Genealogical Association of Alsace in Strasbourg. (With
its seat at the Archives départementales = General Record
Office). It is one of the most important societies of this kind
in France nearly 1,500 members, over 20 of the United States,
several of Canada, but neither one of Russian Alsatian origin
nor one of the Dakotas.
We publish this quarterly review in French, some articles are
also written in German and from time to time a few notes are in
3.2 Christian Wolf: Guide des recherches genealogiques en Alsace.
2nd edition. Strasbourg 1975, 272 p. + annexes.
It is a basic work, well documented with much information, but
remember it is only a guide and must be used accordingly.
3.3 Claude R. Roll: Manuel illustre pour la généalogie
et l'histoire familiale en
Alsace. Edit. Le Verger, Strasbourg 1991,464 p.
A monument which includes the new techniques such as computerization.
3.4 Norbert Layburn (a journalist): L'émigration Des
Alsaciens et Des Lorrains du 1& au 2lk siècle.
Strasbourg 1986, 2 volumes.
An interesting book for Alsatian history, picturesque glance
at the Alsatian emigration all over the world, chiefly to the
western hemisphere. A too vast enterprise. Thus his chapter on
the emigration to Russia, merely based on Stumpp's and Height's
books, brings nothing really new.
3.5 Encyclopédie de l'Alsace. 12 volumes.
Strasbourg, from 1982 to present
A monumental work entirely in French, with many hundred articles.
The volumes have the size of those of the British Encyclopedia.
Every village has its little monography. The chapter on Alsatian
emigration to East Europe (Danubian countries and Russia) is outlined
by the present-day Alsatian speaker.
B) Archive sources
You can easily imagine that many American citizens in search
of their ancestors on the border of the middle Rhine area -not
only of Russian-German origin -write to Alsace. As anyone knows,
the main sources are (without any contest) the church registers
or parish books, continued by civil registers.
1.0 The main sources
1.1 Church registers (ecclesiastical records)
They are centralized at the" Archives départementales"
in Strasbourg for Lower Alsace and in Colmar for Upper Alsace.
They begin most rarely in the late 16th, much more frequently
in late 17th century, about 1680. It must be said that the reason
of introduction of the parish books was never a genealogical but
a purely ecclesiastical one: To have records of baptism, marriage
and burial of persons living within a certain parish.
There is a very good detailed repertory in 3 volumes of all the
parishes of Lower Alsace in the reading room of our Record Office,
but it may also be purchased for about 100 francs.
These parish books may be consulted under the mark (série)
3 E + the index number of the parish. Let us take for example
Beinheim (where nearly 20 families emigrated from, chiefly to
Mannheim or Elsass such as Vetter, Weber Tuchscherer etc.). Its
reference is: 3 E 25, 6 volumes beginning in 1689 and ending in
1793. On the other side the Protestant parish of Cleebourg (where
several families: Hausauer, Haller, Hagelberger etc. emigrated
from) bears the mark 3 E 73 with only 3 volumes (from 1756-1792).
Nearly all the church registers of Alsace were being filmed by
the Latter Day Saints (LDS). A copy of each film is kept in our
Record Office and is easily accessible. The reading apparatuses
allow instant photocopies. On the whole the Protestant parish
books written in old style German give more information than the
Catholic registers written in Latin.
1.2 Civil registration
1.2.1 In Alsace, whereas, the old parish books were physically
transferred to the 'mairie' (municipal house or town hall) and
later to the" Archives départementales" in Strasbourg,
the civil registration was introduced in Alsace like in all other
provinces of France in September 1792. Under the control of the
political power, municipal officials were entrusted with writing
the different acts of birth, marriage and death into different
With this new system called 'Etat civil ' each act is written
down into two identical registers. The first copy remains at the
office of the civil registrar in the municipal house forever.
At the end of each year, the second copy must be deposited at
the law court of the department where it is kept and withheld
for hundred years. Then this second copy is transferred definitively
to the" Archives départementales" in Strasbourg,
available for consulting, under the mark (série) 4 E 1793-1890.
Beinheim e.g. is No.4 E 25 for B-M-D from 1793-1890.
The Archives have also several hundreds of microfilms taken by
the Salt Lake City genealogical Society, very easy to consult.
Death acts now must state date and place of the deceased.
1.2.2 In Germany
Civil registration, called 'Standesamt' was introduced much later.
On the west side of the Rhine river the French introduced general
civil registration already in May 1798, whereas it was adopted
but in 1870 in the Grand Duchy of Baden on the east side, where
most of the parish books are still kept in the parish houses.
2.0 Secondary sources
The diligent genealogist cannot be confined merely to parish or
civil registration. A variety of resource material may help him
to complete his genealogical research or his family history.
2.1.1 Inventories after death (solicitor's or notary's acts)
At the" Archives départementales. " They enumerate
the heirs, who normally are the children of the deceased person
and may be of great assistance in pinpointing an ancestor family.
With this list you sometimes might take your family tree back
a couple of generations at least. Moreover it is very important
to consult them, if the parish book is lost.
2.1.2 Title deeds (titres de propriété)
In certain circumstances they may also replace church registers.
2.1.3 Archives of the notaries public
They may be consulted at the" Archives departementales.
" They date back to the middle or the end of the 18th century
and sometimes will give help. Here is a good example concerning
an Alsatian emigrant to Russia, who settled his affairs at home
before leaving his homeland:
The notary office of Selz, Alsace, contains the selling act of
the properties of Egidius Schwengler, "ackersmann zu Selz,
ebenfalls erschiene Caspar Schwengler von Schaffuausen, Des Verkaufers
Vater" (the seller's father) Date 15 ventose An 11 (6 March
Egidius Schwengler is the colonist No.61 in Elsass/Odessa, where
he is declared as a tiler (Ziegler).
Unfortunately there is neither repertory nor index, so it is
very time consuming to consult these documents.
2.1.4 Répertoire Desémigrants de décembre
A typewritten book with hundreds of names from Northern Alsace
and South Palatinate presented in alphabetical order. A second
volume presents in alphabetical order the different villages with
the alphabetical lists of its emigrants. These repertories are
very interesting, because we find many a name of these people
in the census lists in the Black Sea region. These two volumes
are available in the reading room of the ABR, but only for domestic
use. Unfortunately you cannot get photocopies of them.
2.1.5 Registers of law courts deliberations (ABR)
These records of the court deal mainly with disputes, for instance
over inheritance. Just an example also concerning colonist families:
In 1809 the family Bosch from Salmbach in Northern Alsace emigrated
to Karlsruhe/Odessa, with his unmarried relative Georg Bosch.
In 1812 this Georg was allowed to return to Alsace for a while.
In 1815 he introduced at the civil court in the district town
of Weissenburg a dispute for two colonist families. He was delegated
by Henri Weber, colonist in Selz Odessa (census list No.16 and
by Senger Damien, colonist in Strasburg (census list No. I) whose
interests he defended in front of the judge.
2.1.6 Parish records
Before the French Revolution, the parishes had periodically to
draw up a description of the parish with the land they owned and
the population. The wealthy parishes often lent money to their
parishioners who in return pawned several of their acres. A good
example is given in the description of the parish of Salmbach
in 1747, which lists each family of the village (ABR série
2.1.7 Confirmation and communion lists
In many an old parish record or register, it is possible to find
nominal lists of confirmation or communion (Catholic as well as
2.1.8 Allegiance lists
In ancient times after the death of the sovereign, the population
of his territory had to swear allegiance to his successor. Let
us take the Protestant parish of Cleebourg as an example.
Before the French Revolution, the area around this village belonged
to the Duke of Zweibrücken. After the death of the older
ruler, the population had to swear allegiance to the new duke.
Lists of each village were established. They mention but the family
heads and the sons over 18. The list of Cleebourg includes several
families Hailer and Hausauer. Descendants of these two families
were: Hailer Georg, colonist in Bergdorf/Odessa, census list No.51,
Hausauer Jacob in Glückstal No.110 and Hausauer Balthasar
in Kassel No. 4.
2.1.9 Census returns
Many of you expect information about census returns. Indeed,
they start with the year 1800 and take place every 5 years. Needless
to say that they are highly interesting for genealogical research.
Unfortunately, they are far from being complete before the year
2.2.0 Documents after 1790-1810 (when the emigration stopped)
at the ABR, there is a very extensive range of manuscripts concerning
this period classified under the letters K to Z. It is not possible
to give here a detailed enumeration of all the content of each
series. Just remember series Q e.g. which deals with confiscated
goods of the emigrated persons during the French Revolution.
2.2 Secondary sources in Paris
2.2.1 Archives Nationales (ANP)
Some years ago, I discovered in the AN in Paris a reference concerning
the emigration to Russia in early 19th century. At that time the
regional police in Strasbourg referred regularly to the 'Ministère
de l'Intérieur' (Home Office) in Paris. They became alarmed
at the secret emigration problem. Sometimes they joined (to) their
reports a list of persons intending to emigrate. They also mention
people of south Palatinate. I think I will be able to publish
an article on this matter in 'Heritage Review' with different
lists of names.
2.2.2 Archives historiques de Vincennes
If you find a French soldier among your distant Alsatian ancestors
you may apply to the historical archives of the army in Vincennes,
near Paris. It is indispensable to indicate the regiment and the
period concerned. Almost all military papers are listed by regiments.
So if you are unaware which regiment is involved you will have
to do some allied research first.
2.3 Secondary sources in the border areas in Germany
220.127.116.11 Landesarchiv in D 67346 Speyer (Otto Meyer Strasse 9)
They moved from downtown to the edge of the city in 1987
Bibliography: H. Hess: Die Stadtarchive von Rheinhessen und der
pj'alz in DAs Landesarchiv Speyer`, 1987.
18.104.22.168 Bistumsarchiv Speyer (Diocesan Archives) D 67346 Speyer,
Unlike in Alsace, the parish books often remain in the parish
itself. Presently there is a tendency to microfilm and centralize
all these books.
22.214.171.124 Evangelische Landeskirche D 67346 Speyer, Domplatz 6
Bibliography Eger: Verzeichnis der protestantischen Kirchenbücher
der pjalz; Koblenz.
126.96.36.199 Heimatstelle der Pfalz D 67657 Kaiserslautern
(Cultural Center o Palatinate)
It has many files concerning the emigration in general.
188.8.131.52 Pfalzische Familienkunde in D 67061 Ludwigshafen
(Stadtarchiv, Rottstrasse 17)
This is the review of the genealogical association of Palatinate.
2.3.2 Hessen : D 60311 Frankfurt am Main (Stadtarchiv)
The Bethmann-Holweg Archives are kept here. He was the Russian
consul who delivered the passports for many Alsatian emigrants
in the years 1804 and 1808 Unfortunately the big capital register
concerning all these names has disappeared during the last war.
2.3.3 Baden- Wurttemberg
184.108.40.206 Generallandesarchiv (= GLA) D 76133 Karlsruhe (Gross
Hildepromenade) It keeps also lots of documents concerning the
Palatinate, chiefly of the diocese of Speyer which at that time
stretched out on both sides of the Rhine.
Bibliography (for historical background) Habler R.G., Badische
Geschichte. Karlsruhe 1956. (a team) Unser Land Baden-Wiirttemberg,
1986. Konrad Theiss, Stuttgart. (for emigration)
Hassler Joseph: Die Auswanderung aus Baden nach Russland und Polen
IM 18. und 19. Jahrhundert. 1959 Hacker Werner: Die Auswanderung
aus Baden und dem Breisgau. Stuttgart 1980
220.127.116.11 Landsmannschaft der Russlanddeutschen, Raitelsbergstrasse
Stuttgart 1, Germany
This organization is associated with the Germans from Russia
18.104.22.168 Institut fur Auslandsbeziehungen, Charlottenplatz 17,
70173 Stuttgart 1,
22.214.171.124 Landsmannschaft der Bessarabiendeutschen, Florianstrasse
Stuttgart 1 (Florianstrasse 17) (includes museum)
Beware, in Germany, the zip code will change from top to bottom
on July 1, 1993.
III Difficulties And Practical Advice
1.0 Some of the various difficulties
If a relative or a friend succeeded easily in tracing his ancestors
you imagine your enterprise could be realized in the same manner:
Far from the country o your ancestors and records regarding them
you cannot be aware of the difficulties we too often meet while
searching. Remember the period of emigration followed the French
Revolution, which was a time of considerable turmoil.
The former and the present boundaries have not much in common.
Remember territorial changes at the time of emigration: South
Palatinate belonged to Alsace. More than one declared Alsatian
emigrant was born in a village beyond the Alsatian border.
The diocese boundaries also changed. Northern Alsace belonged
over thousand years to the diocese of Speyer. Only in 1803, when
the limits altered it became part of the diocese of Strasbourg.
Many a place name vanished, chiefly isolated farms. A good example
is given with the Bechhof, near Kaidenburg and Trimbach, where
the RIEHL family lived, maternal ancestors of the Giesinger emigrant
from Kaidenburg to Mannheim/Odessa
The name of a village could have changed. Fort-Louis, from where
several families emigrated to the Black Sea region was called
Fort-Vauban during the Revolution period.
1.3 The Republican calendar
What a mess! A real headache for most genealogist, or better
say, for everyone. The Republic era begins with the first vendemaire
of the year one of the Republic one and indivisible (22 September
1792). It lasted over 13 years till the end of 1805. Fortunately
we do have good conversion tables or repertories.
Add to this puzzle the fact that from September 1798 to April
1800 the marriages had to take place at intervals in the little
district centers such as Lauterbourg, where they were performed
on a certain day in series for several couples of the neighboring
villages. These acts are registered in special books called 'Registres
1.4 Beginning of Civil registration
The registrars have mostly been appointed because of their political
opinion and not for their qualifications. Many of them in the
villages were not accustomed to drawing up this kind of acts.
So you find sometimes a meaningless squiggle.
All the acts of that period are completely handwritten and can
be difficult to decipher, partly also because of poor or old-fashioned
writing and partly because they have sometimes faded. Many records
are very eye straining, and on the whole research becomes a very
Many acts of that period are stuffed with fanciful dates when
compared to the dates of parish books. What is the right or the
wrong date? In most cases we never know.
Remember most of the priests in this era had emigrated for a
certain time. The supply priest did not or could not always register
the acts. And when the civil registration was introduced there
were inevitably some omissions for various reasons. Some declarations
or some acts have been omitted. We find them neither in the parish
nor in the civil registration. Moreover a younger emigrant of
the Revolution was married in a neighboring village or even beyond
1.4.3 The collection
Unfortunately, not all records survived for several reasons (wars,
negligence etc.). Just a few examples concerning some parishes
from where people emigrated to South Russia:
Cleebourg (3 E 73): The first parish book (Reformed) from 1685
to 1755 was still kept in the municipal house in 1863; it is lost
Siegen-Kaidenbourg (home parish of the Heit, Giesinger, Brinster
kinships) The parish books begin 1733. The first volume contains
the acts till 1757. The next volume (1757-87) is missing, we don't
know why. Thus it is very difficult to bridge this gap of 30 years.
Mothern. Nearly 30 families emigrated from here: Baumgartner,
Bechtel, Bertsch, Fettig, Hochmuth, Mastel, Schlosser, Solvay,
Streifel, Weissenburger etc.)
This parish offers the worst case. Its whole collection with
baptisms, marriages and deaths from 1696-1792 has been lost, although
these registers existed before WWII.
Take all these factors in account and you can deduce that it
is not always easy to arrive to the hoped result.
2.0 Practical advises
2.1 Wrong addresses
2.1.1 Diocese archives
Unlike in Germany, our diocesan archives in Strasbourg were plundered
during the French Revolution. They have no ancient documents left
concerning the emigration nor genealogical information.
Some American citizens of Alsatian ancestry write to our University.
This institution does not deal with genealogy. Anyway for some
historians, Northern Alsace is not worth studying and more or
less treated shabbily.
2.2 The right address
2.2.3 It is no doubt the" Archives departementales"
4, rue Fischart
6710 Strasbourg, France
2.2.2 Cercle généalogique d'Alsace (Genealogical
Society of Alsace.) Its seat is at the "Archives departementales"
(cf 211) with the same address as indicated above.
It should be remembered that the Archives cannot do any genealogical
research for private people, but can give only basic information
on what the researcher may find.
Many a correspondent gives but too hazy indications for starting
research. It must always be repeated: Please provide us with background
information. And don't forget to mention your ancestor's religion
because we have many mixed parishes in this emigration area and
every religion has its own parish books.
2.4 The possibilities
2.4.1 Consulting the archives is free of charge. If you come
for the first time you have to show your passport and fill out
a registration form.
2.4.2 All documents older than 99 years may be consulted.
There is no longer a possibility to get photocopies from parish
or civil registration books to preserve them from damage. Nor
is there any possibility of getting photocopies from old documents
in book form or of the library books in the reading room.
You can get instant photocopies of microfilms (e.g. nearly all
the parish books which were microfilmed by the Mormons).
You may also take pictures of many documents with your own camera,
but without flash.
2.4.4 Private research
If you cannot come to Alsace, the Archives can give you addresses
of private genealogists who can do research for you. They will
answer your letter in English and inform you on the possibilities
of engaging in your research along with their charges and conditions.
Our genealogical review, Bulletin du Cercle généalogique
d 'Alsace, has leads on queries and answers. The queries are
free of charge for every member.
Nearly every genealogist passes through ups and downs while collecting
information of his family history .If genealogical research may
be disappointing in some cases, there are also examples of great
The little story I would like to tell you now is a wonderful illustration
how a mere number may be of capital importance in tracing an ancestor.
Several years ago, an American citizen wrote to the" Archives
departementales" in Strasbourg. His only reference was a draft
number of his Alsatian ancestor Jacques Gros who emigrated from'
Alsace' to America in the 19th century. When this ancestor was nearly
20 years old, the military service was not compulsory .At that time
the young men had to draw lots. Only the low numbers were enrolled
to the army. These numbers were printed on little sheets with the
indication of the district, e.g. canton de Hochfelden and the class
1828. These mere indications gave an utmost trace. Referring to
this conscription list of 1828, one could quickly pinpoint the true
emigrant. Moreover were also indicated his birthday and his physical
constitution. Now it was a rather easy task for the American correspondent
to complete his pedigree chart. Needless to say he was lucky .To
all my American friends, I wish such happy moments with their genealogical
Jean Schweitzer, Professor Emeritus, Strasbourg,