Retracing Their Steps Area Women Travel to Germany and Russia to Explore Heritage

Cantlon, Cleo. "Retracing Their Steps Area Women Travel to Germany and Russia to Explore Heritage." Minot Daily News, 2 June 1996 .

The first two "Journey to the Homelands" tour to Germany and Russia are expeditions of discovery, not of a new world, but the old world which produced ancestors of many North Dakotans.

LaRose Detterling of Mercer and Rollin and Ione Metz of Minot will join the first tour, which leaves from Minneapolis June 8. Tour director Michael M. Miller, Germans from Russia bibliographer at North Dakota State University Libraries said a second group leaves June 17.

Visiting villages

Miller said tour members will visit different villages. "Some want to see former Lutheran villages, while others' ancestors came from German Catholic villages."

"A visit to the Ukraine and our ancestral villages is an answer to a dream," Ketterling said. The retired dietitian will visit Borodino and Hoffnungstal villages in Bessarabia and Gluckstal and Kassel in the Gluckstal enclave. Three of her grandparents, born in South Russia, arrived in South Dakota in 1884 and 1889. Her father's family came to Mercer in 1906.

The visited the former Soviet Union in 1976 and got as close as Kiev, but the political climate at the time made it impossible to travel to her family's villages.

"Genealogy had been my fervent hobby for many years because of my father's interest in it," Ketterling said. "My grandmother taught me to read and write German and I have a minor in German from UND," she said.

Ancestral homes

Minot business owners Rollin and Ione Metz and other members of their family will visit ancestral homes now located in southern Ukraine: Alt-Elft, Arzis, Borodino, Beresina, Brienne, Friedensfeld, Katzbach, Klostitz and Krasna in Bessarabia.

The Metz group, originally from the Garrison area, also will include former Minoter Gerald "Jerry" Metz and his wife Johanna of Tempe, Ariz., and his son Ron Metz of LaHabra, Calif.

Rollin and Ione Metz are in the retail liquor business in Minot and the retail business in Arizona where they spend winters.

A difficult identity

Jerry Metz commented it was hard to have a strong sense of ethnic identity in America during the world wars when German ancestors were "not something to brag about" and ir wasn't cool to be Russian during the Cold War.

Finally, in the 1970s, with Ron Metz's growing interest in family history, the Metzes began to remember the stories and seek the facts. The Metz grandparents and Rollin and Jerry's father, Christian, all born in Bessarabia, homesteaded in Coleharbor in 1905.

Ketterling, who taught at UND, has helped collect school supplies for Ukrainian children. Miller said generosity of people who heard about the needs in those classrooms has outstripped suitcase space of tour members who will take supplies in luggage. He said remaining supplies will be delivered to schools another way.

Ethnic gathering

On June 22, Homelands Journey tourists will take part in the Bundestreffen German-Russian gathering in Stuttgart, Germany, where about 70,000 people are expected. Many of them will be ethnic Germans returning from Siberia and Kazahkstan who hope to contact North American relatives from whom they were separated by the wars.

Miller and NDSU Libraries will sponsor the "America House for the Black Sea Germans" with music and presentations by tour group members.

Miller is taking advantage of opening of travel and records in the former Soviet Union to visit and learn about German-American ties. In addition to upcoming exhibits of the Kempf family display, "Germans from Russia Weavers on the Dakota Prairies," the historian wants to borrow family pictures. "We are trying to collect photographs of weddings, homemaking, farming, military and family photos while they are still available to us," he said.

Other Homeland tours are planned for May and the autumn of 1997, Miller said.

Reprinted with permission of the Minot Daily News and Cleo Cantlon, Correspondent.

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