Charting German Settlements in the East via Google Maps

Bornemann, Brigitte. "Charting German Settlements in the East via Google Maps." Mitteilungsblatt, August 2017, 19-20.
This translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, CO, with editorial assistance from Dr. Nancy Herzog.

Where exactly are the villages of our forefathers located? This question was posed at the outset of a mapping project that can now be found at the [headquarters of the] Germans from Russia Heritage Society (GRHS) in Bismarck, North Dakota. This Association of descendants of Germans who once emigrated from Russia to America has produced several projects in order to make information available for family research in the Internet. Among them is a genealogy databank in which one can search for ancestral names and other biographical information.

The online map entry entitled “Germans from Russia Settlement Locations” shows the locations of all German settlements in the regions of the former Tsarist Empire and Austria, and the aim is to strive for completeness. Sandy Schilling Payne has been working on this monumental collection of Google maps information since February, 2016. Over several years, Dennis Bender has been providing underlying data using various older maps, including sources from the Bessarabian German Association [in Stuttgart]. In a blog, Sandy designates the state of the project as “a work in progress.”

Overall map of all German settlement areas covered.
Side box lists the number of villages in each of today's states: Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldavia, Poland, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine.

I was made aware of the project when in February of 2017 a Facebook announcement stated that the Bessarabia map was complete. Of course, we have had a printed map of Bessarabia with all the German settlements that has been used in various publications, but the digital version can certainly add insights. Just an initial glance at this map, which comprises a complete overview of all charted settlement regions, makes an enormous impression, which in part is likely due to the fact that every single locale is marked by the typical round “pin.” It is astonishing to note how many settlements there are, spreading from Galicia in the West across the Caucasus all the way to the Urals in the East. Some are bunched tightly together, others scattered loosely, and they appear together in color-coded regions. A count taken in April, 2017 indicated that the project had charted 3,140 locales by then. The names are limited to those founded since the 18th Century, and they therefore do not include the older German settlement regions in the East such as Siebenbürgen or East Prussia.

As is always possible with Google maps, one can easily switch between street views and land views, and it is easy to zoom from an overview to a detailed view at the level of individual houses—at least as far as sufficient satellite data are currently available. There are various search options to facilitate looking for information on the map. On the side, regions and locales are listed in alphabetical order, and a search field allows free input. After I have located my village (Fürstenfeld, my mother’s birth village), the locale is marked on the map, and the side box shows further information for the place, among them the founding year, the current name, and historic sources that were consulted. A video (in English) explains search options and how to use the program.

Consulting this data source is a good thing. In a Christmas 2016 year-end review (freely translated [and herein re-translated – Tr.]), the author writes:

“I grew up in the state of New Mexico in the Southwest of the United States. If other Germans from Russia were living in the area, they did not let on. My only contact with German culture was an annual trip to a small city in South Dakota where my parents were born and where some of the family still lives. They were all German. They even ate German. My paternal grandfather did arithmetic in German. His parents had home-schooled him because there were not enough children to open a country school. His parents had come from Glückstal near Odessa by the Black Sea. My grandmother’s family had come from Kassel in the same area. My maternal grandmother was the last one to arrive in America in 1913… Since I did not meet other German Russians growing up around me, I thought this was something special and unique. There couldn’t be many of our kind, I thought. And in the 1970s and 1980s the matter was not one to explain simply. After all, Russia was the Soviet Union at the time. …

… It meant a great deal to me to be able to find my place of origin and to see it on a modern map. I finally grasped the locality of my ancestors and of myself, geographically as well as historically. In a very real sense, it grounded me and tied me to the past, the present, and the future. … And now that I have seen this map we produced, with more than 2,600 localities in Russia, each marked with a pin by Google Maps, I no longer feel so special. There were, and there are many of us.”

Fürstenfeld II in Bessarabia, including location and pertinent information.

Although the makers of the map of Bessarabia have designated it as “complete,” Sandy’s blog states that work on details continues. The list of Bessarabian villages comprises 204 entries. Some names appear in duplicate. And the information details regarding specific places could be made clearer. For the founders of the project it was first a matter of determining the coordinates of the locales and to enter all into a digital map that is available to anyone. Further extension can certainly stand further attention. Cooperation is clearly desirable.

Appreciation is extended to Dr. Nancy Herzog for editing and to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller