Germany, Russia, California

Pioneers on Two Continents

In California, the predominant migration patterns were from the Volga region in Fresno and from the Black Sea and to Lodi.

The story of the Germans in Russia is a long and interesting one. It began with Czarina Catherine the Great - herself a German princess from Anhalt - and her manifesto of 1763. Their manifesto offered special privileges and inducements to potential emigrants. It was announced in Germany by French agents hired by the Czarina as recruiters, and from 1764-1767 nearly 30,000 subjects from many regions of Germany were enrolled as "colonists" and transported to Russia. Catherine's grandson, Czar Alexander I, perpetuated the recruitment process. In fact, migration from Germany into various regions of Russia continued until 1862.

Germans were settled into enclaves first along the Volga River near Saratov, then later north of the Black Sea and in the Crimea, in Bessarabia, the Caucasus and Volhynia. Their privileges included grants of land, freedom from military service, religious freedom and other special benefits such as retention of their German language and customs.

Though the original settlers represented many professions, they all became farmers - industrious farmers who started with nothing, but whose efforts turned virgin Russian steppes into productive farmlands. This led to a prosperity that far exceeded that of the indigenous Russian population for whom the German colonists had been intended to serve as living examples. But their numbers increased very dramatically. They experienced overcrowding and land shortages after the middle of the 19th Century. Their prosperity and determination to retain their ethnic identity led to jealousies and hostilities. In 1871 the last of their original privileges were rescinded. Many German-Russians colonists began to search for new lands where they might again enjoy freedom and independence.

Thus, another migration was initiated, this time from Russia to America where they pioneered on a second continent. Once again they began with nothing, but transformed vast expanses of never-tilled prairies into prodigiously fruitful cropland. The years of emigration began in 1872 and continued until the approach of World War I, first to the mid-western states, then later, to locales on the Pacific Coast. Destinations also included South America, especially Argentina and Brazil.

In California, the predominant migration patterns were from the Volga region to Fresno beginning in 1887, and from the Black Sea area to Lodi. This Black Sea emigration often included in intermediary sojourn to the Dakotas.

Today, descendants of these sturdy pioneers are both grateful for the sacrifices and accomplishments of their pioneering ancestors, and proud to be a part of this distinct Germanic cultural group known as the Germans from Russia.

Reprinted with permission of the Golden Gate Chapter, American Historical Society of Germans from Russia.

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