Germans From Russia and the Settlement in the State of Washington, USA

Schmoll, Betty L. "Germans From Russia and the Settlement in the State of Washington, USA." Unsere Zeitung Newsletter 25, no. 3, May/June 2000.

Migration from Germany to Russia

Altogether more than 100,000 Germans migrated to Russia from 1763 1871: 27,000 settled in 104 Volga River colonies; 500,00 in 200 colonies by the Black Sea and 28,000 started 139 villages in Volhynia west of Kiev. Two powerful impacts started the migration. One was the despair of the Seven Years War, the other a dazzling offer of free land.

There was utter poverty after the Seven Years War. Germany was weak; it did not have a central government. It was a patchwork of 75 principalities, 51 imperial cities and 1,475 areas ruled by knights. Subjects were serfs.

Now Czarina Catharine II, a former German princess, offered a glittering proposal of privileges and free land. By her Manifesto of July 22, 1763, the settlers were promised payment of traveling expenses, freedom of religion, freedom from taxes for 30 years, exemption forever from military service, continuance of the native culture and language, internal self government and free homestead land.

The Manifesto elicited a wide response, from 1763 1767 more than 6,000 families (27,000 people), mostly from Hesse and Rhineland, immigrated to the Volga. Later (1812 1842) others from South Germany settled along the Black Sea. Then (1816 1881) more Germans settled in Volhynia

The Volga Germans, the first immigrants, boarded Russian vessels at Lubeck, Germany and sailed the Baltic Sea to St. Petersburg. From St. Petersburg, they took two routes to Saratov, Russia ... one by land, the other mostly by river. Winter overtook them, and they were quartered with local Russians. In the spring, as the ice vegan to melt, they set out again for Saratov. Here each family received 80 acres, a wagon, plow, horses and tools. They were then dispersed to areas in the half savage Volga region where they built sod houses for their first cold winter in Russia.

Colonists in Russia
(1763 1871)

In their new land they faced a multitude of hardships. Crop failures tended to follow year after year, until the colonists became acclimated and learned how to cope with the land, the Russians and the marauders.
During the first 10 years capable ministers from Germany and Switzerland came to the settlements and taught economic as well as religious principles. Churches were built and the young were taught to read and write German, in the land of the Slav and Mongol tribesmen.

By 1800 the colonies began to blossom and became the agricultural pacesetters of Russia. Now they were efficient farmers and cattle breeders. Gradually, windmills and steam driven mills for grain and weaving were built, and dye works came into existence.

Eventually unease settled in. The Czar talked of taking away their rights of selfgovernment. On June 4, 1871 Czar Alexander 11 repealed all privileges, making it compulsory for German youth to be conscripted into the Russian Army. This was the final blow and families began looking toward America, because of glowing promises of emissaries for the American railroads who were sent to Russia to offer jobs and homestead lands in the United States.

Colonists left Russia

Slowly at first the Germans left Russia. The first group came to the Dakotas in 1872, then more to Nebraska in 1873, and the migration to America continued for the next 40 years. By 1920, nearly 300,000 Germans from Russia came to America. Of these 19,000 settled in Nebraska, 16,000 in Colorado, and 11,000 in Washington and Oregon. Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, Central California, Montana, Ohio, and the Dakotas, also had populations of these Germans. About 7,000 settled in South America; Canada claimed about the same number.

Those remaining in Russia were to suffer loss of homes, dispersion, purges and famine under Bolshevik and Communist rule. In 1941, when Hitler invaded Russia, Stalin put an end to the whole German settlement. Some were executed, the rest were moved eastward to Siberia. Their villages were taken over by the Russians; churches became community halls, and farm lands became communal.

Since the fall of Communism, the Germans have been allowed to return to their villages, however few have done so. The younger generations have intermarried with Russians and remained in Siberia or moved to larger cities for better job opportunities. Many of those who have retained their German culture and customs are moving back to Germany after enduring months and years of red tape in connection with immigration.

Russian Germans in Washington State

In 1882 a group of 16 Russian German families arrived in Washington Territory. The immigrants traveled by train from North Platte, NE to Ogden, Utah where they formed a
wagon train of 40 wagons and followed the Oregon Trail to Walla Walla, arriving in late summer of 1882. Surnames of those families making the trek were: Amen, Bastrom, Bauer, Dewald, Kranzler, Kembel, Kiehn, Michel, Miller, Oestreich, Rosenoff, Shaefer, Schoessler, Thiel, Wagner and Wolsborn.

After wintering in Walla Walla, some of the settlers moved on to Ritzville in the spring of 1883. By 1891 all the original members of the wagon train had moved to Ritzville. An annual reunion of the descendants of the wagon train is held in Ritzville on Memorial Day weekend each year. A horse drawn wagon and plaque in metal, sculpted by Lamar Thiel, have been placed near the old train depot in Ritzville as a memorial to the wagon train families.

Many more settlers came to Washington State... from the Volga colonies (1881, Liebental colonies (1890), Beresan Colonies (1891), Bessarabia (1892), the Volynian Swiss Mennonite colonies (1899), the Chortiza Mennonite colonies (1902), the Gluckstal colonies (1909) and the Hutterite colonies (1958). They came halfway around the world to find a better life.

While railroads and spurs were being built, town sites of Russian German settler sprang up... Odessa, Ritzville, Harrington, Marcellus, Packard, Krupp, Wilson Creek, Batum, Schrag, Endicott, Colfax, Lind and many more. The railroads needed the farmers and the farmers needed the railroads; thus with cooperation between the two, farming became beg business.

Just as the Germans had planted and prospered in the loamy soil of the Russian steppes in the 1800's, so 200 years later their descendants are the majority of farmers in Eastern Washington today.

There were also settlements in Western Washington, mainly Tacoma, Seattle, Bellingham, Ferndale, Dryad, Ridgefield, and Vancouver. The Germans in these towns found employment with the railroads, in lumber and sawmills and in factories.

The story of the AGSGR

A group of 42 descendants of Germans from Russia, interested in preserving their heritage, met in Denver, Co. on Sept. 8, 1968. After numerous meetings, the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia was formally incorporated on Dec. 20, 1968.

The early organizers were soon to find that there would be an overwhelming response to AHSGR. The first chapter was formed in Lincoln, NE in 1970 with over 100 charter members. New chapters soon began forming throughout the United States and Canada. Today there are 60 chapters in the United States, eight of them in the state of Washington.

Research and publishing are a major part of the AHSGR's work. The Society was formed primarily to record the history of its people, as records were not available from Russia
under the Communists. Members born in Russia and family memories were the main sources of information.

At the fall of Communism researchers quickly began to communicate with archives in Russia, and exchange was established... funds from the Americans to Russia, and records (as they were located) from the researchers in Russia to America. RAGAS (RussianAmerican Genealogical Archive Service) was established in 1992 and is a non profit organization registered with the Moscow Ministry of Justice. Many reports and records have been received through this service. Also there are individual researchers who have been sanctioned by the AHSGR, and many members have received family tree charts tracing their German Russian families back to their origins in Germany.

The AHSGR Heritage Center

In June of 1983 the AHSGR formally dedicated a new headquarters building at 631 D St., Lincoln, NE. 68502 1199. This building provides space for thousands of genealogical records as well as office and display space. This genealogical library houses the most extensive collection of Russian German information in the world. Records are continuously arriving from Russia, being translated from German or Russian by the Heritage Center, the Nebraska Historical Society and the University of Nebraska.

Property adjacent to the Heritage Center has been purchased, and a museum developed, including a restored summer kitchen, a chapel, and other buildings. Free tours are conducted daily. The location is in the heart of the South Bottoms, a preserved historical district where many of the Germans resided when they arrived from Russia.

The AHSGR and the Heritage Center have been created and perpetuated to assure that the history and culture of the Germans from Russia will be permanently preserved.

Other Russian German Societies

Germans from Russia Heritage Society (GRHS) 1008 East Central, Bismarck, No. Dakota 58501 (Black Sea Germans)

Society for German Genealogy in Eastern Europe (SGGEE) PO Box 72074, Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2V 5119 (Volhynian & Polish)

Mennonite Heritage Center PO Box 393, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada R3C 2116

Sources for this history of the Germans from Russia are from information and articles

Paper compiled by Betty L. Schmoll, Seattle, Washington May 2000

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