Family History Book Shows Woman's Migration From Russia to Lodi

Gokhman, Jennifer. "Family History Book Shows Woman's Migration From Russia to Lodi." Lodi News-Sentinel, 28 June 2006.

What started out as some family history research for Ren Urdahl became a book five years later. She first started doing research as a gift to her grandmother Clara Schmollinger, who lives in Lodi.

The book is mainly about her great-grandmother, Johanna Maria Engel Trick, and how her family migrated from Germany to Russia, and she to North Dakota, and then Lodi. This is a story familiar to many Lodi families who have German ancestors who came from Russia.

Clara Schmollinger, 89, of Lodi, holds up a copy of her granddaughter's book. She says she is a lot like her mother, Johanna Engel Trick, who is featured in the book. (Jennifer Gokhman/News-Sentinel)

Urdahl, of Livermore and formerly of Lodi, started gathering information about five years ago. It took her two years to collect the photos, get stories from family members, and do research on the Internet, in libraries, archives in the U.S. and other countries.

Once she started doing research about what her family and others went through in Russia, she was hooked. She wanted to keep digging up her heritage.

"I started seeing that they weren't just hard-working; they were a determined, family oriented and God-fearing culture that stuck together and helped others from their heart, even in the most extreme conditions," she said in an e-mail.

What was challenging for her was getting accurate information about Johanna's siblings, as most were left in Russia when she came to the U.S. The second challenge was interviewing family members, especially because some had difficulty remembering stories.

Writing the book was a life-changing experience for Urdahl, and she felt relief and peace when it was finished. Urdahl sent a copy to the North Dakota State University Library for the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection in Fargo, N.D.

"Through my interviews with Grandma Trick's daughters, it was so clear that she was a great mother, grandmother, aunt, cousin, neighbor and friend. She would give the clothes off her back to help someone in need. It was those that would not fend for themselves when they were able that she didn't like. ... She was an amazing woman through and through," Urdahl wrote in the book.

Urdahl could see where her great-grandmother got her strength from her faith in God.

"I can't stop thinking about how helpless Grandma must have felt all those years receiving little or no information about her parents and siblings. She didn't get to go back and bury her mother or her father. How horrible that must have been for her. She never went back to visit him, and from what I can see the only ones who really kept in touch with her was her brothers Ed and Carl," Urdahl wrote.

Urdahl says it's important to learn about family heritage. She said her views on life changed when she saw what her ancestors went through.

More details

There were enough Germans and German-owned shops in Lodi that people could survive without knowing English.

People had their own whiskey stills in early Lodi.

Friends would get together at a local farm to make sausage.

Several people helped with jackrabbit eradication in Lodi; about 50 to 60 people participated and went to the vineyards and brought the tail back to officials. (Trick's son Carl, about 8 or 9, helped.)

Carl and his friends used to hitchhike to Terminous to go fishing. They also caught eels at Woodbridge Dam and traded them at a Chinese restaurant for a chow mein dinner.

They also used to visit the Moritz family in Galt and plucked the down feathers of geese to make pillows and comforters.

With early refrigerators, people had to put coins in to operate it in order to pay the bill each month."We don't have a clue what hard work is compared to that," she said.

She enjoyed learning about her great-grandmother's life. Some of the things she found out she wouldn't have hard otherwise because her great-grandmother didn't complain. Urdahl has also met people through her research with whom she is still in contact, and she has become closer with some of her relatives, with whom she previously didn't see often.

"What kept me going was my Grandma Trick's legacy, my faith in God who laid it on my heart and kept me going, my parents, my grandma (Clara Schmollinger) and my awesome husband John who put up with all the countless hours I spent on it," she said.

The book meant a lot to Clara Schmollinger and her four sisters and two brothers, all of whom are in their 80s and 90s.

"They say I'm so much like my mother," Schmollinger said. "I'm very independent; I don't like to ask for help. I love to be out in the garden."

And like her mother, she worked hard all her life. She did housekeeping for 32 years among other jobs like working in packing sheds.

She said her mother worked until she the year she died. Johanna would go out to visit her brother in Colorado every year, and he paid her way, but she worked to make up for it. She made German meals on a wood stove for all the people who worked for her brother, collected the wood for the stove, milked the cows and made the beds.

"She'd be so tired at night she crawled to bed," Schmollinger said.

History in brief

The Engel family went from Germany to Hungary in the early 1800s and to southern Russia in the late 1800s.

When Catherine the Great reigned, she set up colonies for Germans in Russia. They received seed grain, potatoes, vines, seedlings, etc. to get started.

By 1897, almost two million Germans lived in Russia. Most of these settlers were Lutheran.

By the 1900s, the Russian government abolished Catherine the Great's doctrine, and colonist privileges were taken away. The settlers had to decide whether or not to stay. The emigration of most of these Germans started in 1873 and went until World War II.

Johanna Maria Engel was born in 1891. At age 22, she left for the U.S. She became an indentured servant to make immigration easier. She went on rail to Germany and then on steamship to North America.

Her husband, Theodor Trick, was born in 1840 in Russia. He moved to the U.S. in 1910. He was a farmhand in North Dakota when he met Johanna. They were married in 1914.

In 1920, they took the train to California and lived with some friends on Stockton Street in Lodi. They moved to a shack and later a two-room house on Hilborn Street.

Theodor Trick had several jobs: He worked in vineyards, at the railroad, did landscaping and finally owned a shoe shop from home.

His son Carl did several jobs before joining the National Guard in the 1930s. He was a golf caddy, sold the newspaper, helped in vineyards, mowed lawns and raised rabbits and sold the best ones to the local meat markets. Johanna Trick had a job at the cannery, was a housekeeper for the Angiers family, a cook at Ruby's Restaurant, a salad maker at Croce's Restaurant, and she worked in packing sheds and vineyards.

Reprinted with permission of the Lodi News-Sentinel.

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