|The old Home Town
Olsen, Debbie. "The
old Home Town." Red
Deer Advocate, 24 November 2007.
Genealogical research is a popular pastime that
often involves travel to distant locales. There is
a special kind of pleasure derived from seeing an
ancestral cottage, finding a gravestone in a hometown
cemetery, or searching out a record that somehow
links you to those who have gone before you.
Unfortunately, some homelands are easier to visit
Before the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991,
it was virtually impossible for people of Russian
descent living outside the country to visit their
Over the past 10 years, these areas have opened
up to visitors and genealogy tours to the area have
North Dakota State University Libraries organizes
genealogical tours for Germans whose ancestry traces
to Russia and these tours have resulted in a number
of Albertans finding their ancestral homes.
Diane Lewis of Louisiana recently returned from
a genealogy tour that took her and 17 U.S. travelers
to areas of Germany and what is now the Ukraine,
where her great-grandfather and great-grandmother
lived before they immigrated to North Dakota and
later to Medicine Hat.
Lewis has been researching her genealogy for more
than 30 years, so visiting her ancestral homeland
had special meaning for her.
“I didn’t like history when I was in
school, but genealogy has made it come alive for
me,” says Lewis. “I had heard and read
a great deal about the villages where my great-grandparents
grew up, but I learned so much more by actually being
The first stop on the tour was the city of Odessa
on the Black Sea in Ukraine.
After enjoying the beach and being royally wined,
dined and entertained in authentic Russian fashion,
Lewis visited the historic Gluckstal Colony area
of the Ukraine with nine other people whose ancestry
can be traced to the region.
This area of the Ukraine is no longer inhabited
by Germans, because they were killed, fled, or were
exiled during the Second World War.
“It’s a beautiful country, but very
primitive in many ways,” she says. “There
is still no running water inside the homes and people
survive by subsistence farming. Everything is done
by hand, so it’s like stepping back in time.
Staying with host families provided an opportunity
to really see what life there was like.”
The main village of interest was Neudorf, where
her great-grandfather lived until 1885.
“I took pictures of the house, which was built
in a typical German elongated style, and we went
to a former Lutheran church building in the village
that is now a Russian Orthodox church,” says
“They were in the middle of a service when
we walked inside. I was surprised when a Russian
woman approached me, spoke to me in English, and
invited me to meet the priest. I had brought five
Russian copies of the New Testament and was able
to give them to him before we left to spend the evening
in the nearby village of Gluckstal with a local family.”
In Gluckstal, they visited the local museum and
an American monument, as well as the former Lutheran
church in the village of Kassel.
“I was saddened to see the Kassel church in
ruins,” admits Lewis. “During the Second
World War, many German churches and cemeteries were
ransacked and destroyed. Others were converted into
places of worship for other sects and nationalities.”
Another highlight of the journey was a stop in Bessarabia
and Liebental districts, where Lewis identified three
ancestral homes on her grandmother’s side in
the tiny village of Freudental.
Having a translator helped her communicate with
the occupants of these homes and other people in
“With the assistance of the translator, I
was able to have a short visit with the Russian families
who are currently living in the houses,” says
“Both were very hospitable and helpful with
information and I left with a gift of a large homemade
“The Edwin Kelm Museum in Friedenstal was
worth visiting. I was able to meet the mayor and
priest of the village of Friedenstal, Leibental,
and leave some more Russian Bibles at the church.”
After the Ukraine, the group traveled to the Stuttgart
and Wiesbaden areas of Germany, where Lewis hired
a German/English speaking taxi driver to take her
to three German villages where her ancestors had
lived prior to moving to Russia in 1804.
“The highlight of my day was a visit at the
village administration office in Murr,” says
“I was escorted to the basement vault and
shown the tax roles for the Mutzenberger family,
which date to back 1692.”
The group ended their tour by attending the German
Bundestreffen in Wiesbaden. “The music and
dancing was excellent and the venue was enormous,” says
“I met many people and had more opportunities
to learn about German/Russian history and make contacts
with other village people from New Russia. The entire
trip was an experience I won’t forget.”
Lewis will make a presentation about her trip to
the Red Deer Genealogical Society on Wednesday, May
28, at 7 p.m.
Visitors are welcome to attend the meeting, which
will be held at the Red Deer Museum and Archives.
If you go:
The North Dakota State University Libraries will
sponsor the 14th Journey to the Homeland: Germany
and Ukraine Tour on May 20 to 30, 2008.
The tour includes May 21 to 25, Odessa, Ukraine,
and the former Bessarabian, Black Sea and Crimean
German villages; and May 25 to 30, Stuttgart and
Leading the tour will be Michael Miller, director
and bibliographer, Germans from Russia Heritage Collection,
The tour costs US $4, 850 per person and includes
accommodations, tour guides and some meals.
For 2008 tour registration information, visit: http://library.ndsu.edu/grhc/outreach/journey/index.html
or contact Michael M. Miller, NDSU Libraries, PO
Box 5599, Fargo, N.D., 58105-5599 (Tel: (701) 231-8416;
More information for Germans from Russia can be
found at: http://library.ndsu.edu/grhc/
A number of companies offer genealogical tours to
various homeland destinations, so you need not be
of German-Russian descent to participate in a tour.
Explore the web to find other tours relating to you
One interesting site is: www.hookedongenealogytours.com
Genealogy – getting started
Start by tracing backwards. Contact any living relatives
and find out what they know.
Try to establish as completely as possible the basic
genealogical facts (date and place of birth/baptism,
date and place of marriage, and date and place of
death/burial) of as many of your near relatives as
See what documents you can find (certificates, letters,
newspaper cuttings, family Bibles, photograph albums,
diaries, etc.). Ask for photocopies of material from
Document your sources (census records, church records,
tax records), so that someone else can verify your
Keep a careful record of what searches you have
done, so that you don’t end up searching the
same source again.
Check to see if the research has already been done.
You may be able to link into other research performed
by distant relatives. An excellent list of genealogy
websites can be found at: www.cyndislist.com
Search the international genealogical index at:
www.familysearch.org (website produced by the family
history library of the Church of Jesus Christ of
This site contains millions of entries, mainly of
baptisms and marriages, many of them taken from parish
Visit the Genealogy Library, which is housed in
the Red Deer Archives and is open Monday to Friday
from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Wednesday evenings from
7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The library is located at 4525 47th A Ave. in Red
Join the Red Deer branch of the Alberta Genealogical
Society. Meetings are held at the Red Deer and District
Museum’s Stewart Room (4525 47A Ave.) at 7
p.m. on the fourth Wednesday of every month (except
July, August and December).
Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe based freelance writer.
Lewis has her photo taken with a Russian
family in Freudental,
It was the
home built by Diane’s ancestors in the
This Lutheran Church in the village of Kassel
could once sit 800 at worship, but now it stands
in ruins. During the Second World War, the German
community fled the area, and the Russian Army
took over the building, using it as headquarters.
A farmer tills long rows of corn by hand at
former German village of Bergdorf, Ukraine.
Roadside markets are common in the Ukraine.
Here, the woman is keeping the flies off her
fish with a homemade swatter, a plastic bag tied
on a stick.
stock: old German records of 1719 in
crops grown by Diane’s
ancestors, the Mutzenburgers, and the taxes
A common sight is a horse-drawn wagon returning
home with a load of hand-cut hay for the family
Reprinted with permission of the Red Deer Advocate.