The John Schmaltz family of Emmons County: from Ukrainian Steppes to Dakota Prairies

Schmaltz, Eric. "The John Schmaltz family of Emmons County: from Ukrainian Steppes to Dakota Prairies." Emmons County Record, 2 October 2008, 13.
(Editor's Note: This is part nine of Eric Schmaltz's history of the John Schmaltz family.)

Village of Kandel: On the Banks of the Dniester River

Ethnic-German families owned farmland that surrounded the village, and often the entire family camped out in their field during harvest season. Therefore, these concentrated communities made it easier for villagers to interact with one another and better retain their German dialects, customs, and food ways. Also, they could better preserve their German names and intermarry within the ethnic group. On a more negative note, personalities in large families could clash when living next door to each other all the time. Not least of all, such arrangements produced problems of overcrowding and land shortages, and agricultural land was purchased either from the Russian government or Russian landholders and distributed to the older sons every 20 to 25 years.

Black Sea Germans handed down the family farmstead, which was not allowed to be partitioned, to the youngest son, a traditional practice called “entailment.” The rightful heir also had the sacred obligation to fulfill his social responsibilities toward the parents who could no longer work or toward family members who might be sick or disabled. Russian census records reveal that extended family relations—grandparents, nieces, nephews, younger siblings of the married couple of the household—often lived together. This practice held true for the Schmalz family in Ukraine. For instance, my direct ancestor Ludwig (b. 1820) was most probably the youngest male child of the Schmalz founders in Kandel. In the 1852 census, his 71-year-old mother Ursula (Josef’s widow) was living with his young family at the time.

For younger extended family relations living in the home, they also had the opportunity to learn a family trade, and even relatives from a nearby village came to stay. For example, the Russian census of 1882 shows that 16-year-old Peter Fischer lived in the home of Johann and Rosina Schmalz and their children in Kandel. Most probably Rosina’s younger brother from Selz, he is listed as an apprentice to his uncle, the blacksmith.

Eric Schmaltz. The author is immigrant Johann Schmalz’s great-grandson.  Born in Minot, North Dakota, in 1971, he is Assistant Professor of History at Northwestern Oklahoma State University, where he teaches Modern European and World History.  He expresses his eternal gratitude to old issues of the Emmons County Record as well as various extended relatives by blood or marriage who have assisted him with family history research over the past two decades, in particular Bro. Placid Gross, Mrs. Mary Lynn Axtman, Mrs. Nicole (French) Bailey, Prof. Amy Deibert, and Prof. Michael M. Miller.

Especially in Ukraine, Catholic Germans often named their villages after ancestral villages or regional cities in Germany, as was the case of the Schmalz village of Kandel. For more than a century, these familiar German names served as reassuring reminders of the former homeland. Protestant Black Sea Germans, however, usually “christened” their new villages in recognition of their natural surroundings or in honor of Russian monarchs, leading Russian officials, and famous military battles in Russian history (the village of Borodino in Bessarabia, for example, in commemoration of the Russian victory against Napoleon).

German Catholics were “conservative” in the sense that they created a substitute German homeland on the Ukrainian steppes, something that was comforting to them. The downside was that these foreign-sounding names later made the German-Catholic villages targets of suspicion and even hostility for Russian nationalists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In time, however, with growing assimilation and a gradual decrease in religious fervor, the German Catholics altered the traditional naming practice for their “daughter colonies,” as their names more often reflected the local environment.

Reprinted with permission of the Emmons County Record.

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