Video Features Germans From Russia
North Dakota State University Germans from Russia bibliographer Michael Miller and Prairie Public Television producer Bob Dambach will come to Lodi this weekend with a dual purpose.
They are visiting Lodi to promote a television documentary featuring a group of Americans of Russian German descent visiting the former homes of their mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers in southern Russia. Lodi residents Hiller Goehring, Victor Goehring and Leah Grasmick were members of the group.
But the filmmakers also hope that the video display will energize Lodians into doing their own genealogical research. Victor Goehring, who has done extensive research on Russian Germans in Lodi, estimates that nearly 40 percent of the early settlers of Lodi were of Russian German heritage.
Lodi still boasts an active chapter of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia. The club will sponsor Saturday's event.
"We would like to talk to Lodi residents about the projects we are going to pursue, oral history interviews, the preservation of photographs and collecting textiles and folk traditions," said Miller in a telephone interview from San Diego where he was speaking to another group of Russian Germans.
The North Dakotans will visit Lodi at 2 p.m. Saturday, making their presentation at a private residence at 2401 W. Lodi Ave. The program will be open to the public.
The documentary poses one of the first recorded accounts of the Russian Germans, an ethnic group whose story is one of the more extraordinary in American history, said Miller, himself a Russian German.
"It's interesting to trace their roots," he said. "They are, perhaps, the only ethnic group that settled in another country away from their home before coming to America.
Lured by German-born Russian Empress Catherine the Great's promise of free land, Germans moved from Alsace and southern Germany in the 18th century to Russia, now the Ukraine and Moldava. A century later, Czar Alexander I decreed that all minority groups learn Russian and their men serve in the Russian army. At that time, Russian Germans prepared to move to the United States. They settled in rich, rural agricultural areas such as North Dakota and Saskatchewan.
"They kept their food ways and their cultures well into the 1950s," said Miller. "There are still many people in North Dakota who speak German.
And many Russian Germans headed to the warmer climes of California, Oregon and Washington.
Miller wants Northern Californians to learn of the role that their local friends and relatives played in the emigration from Russia. If the documentary does air, Dambach plans to include a segment on the lives of Russian Germans who settled on the West Coast
"We want to ask why did these people come to California and are they keeping their roots," said Miller.
But first Miller and Dambach need to complete fund-raising efforts to ensure that the documentary will air. In their travels across the southwestern United States they are hoping to raise $200,000 for the production as well as other Russian German genealogical work.
Whatever the outcome of the television documentary, Miller has ensured that the story of the Russian Germans will be known to Internet users. He has set up a web site, (http://library.ndsu.edu/gerrus), offering genealogical and general information on the ethnic group. North Dakota State University, with its Russian German resources, has been cited by the National Archives as a model for the promotion of genealogical resources on-line.
"The young community is getting more and more interested." he said. "The Internet and the World Wide Web are helping out a lot."
Miller and Dambach also will appear at 2 p.m. Sunday at St. John's Lutheran Church, 1701 L St., Sacramento.
For more information about the researchers' Lodi visit, call Florence Wheeler at 334-4080.
Reprinted with permission of the Lodi News-Sentinel