Doctor Seeks out his Germans-From-Russia Heritage Overseas

Holland, Deb. "Doctor Seeks out his Germans-From-Russia Heritage Overseas." Rapid City Journal, n.d.

This woman was hoeing near a town named Eigenfeld. She stopped to chat with Vogele and others on the trip. (Photos courtesy of Ken Vogele)

RAPID CITY -- Genealogy can be addictive. Just ask Rapid City physician Ken Vogele.

As a young man growing up in Aberdeen, Vogele discovered a book that listed the founding families of villages in the Black Sea region of the former Soviet Union.

"We had this book knocking around our house for years," Vogele said. "It listed a Michael Vogele. I thought he was probably my relative, but I never researched it further."

That was until March of 2000, when Vogele ventured to North Dakota State University to peruse the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection.

Vogele found lineage dating back to the 1600s, thanks to documents available there and through the Mormons' Family History Library system.

"I had been bitten by the genealogy bug," he said. "I've gone 10 generations back - that's 1,024 different people. I take it with a grain of salt because it's just names and dates. I have the begats, now I'm in search of the stories."

A trip to the Ukraine and Moldova in May of 2002 only fueled the fire for Vogele.

Through the trip, Vogele was able to find documents that clarified family relations back at the turn of the century. He even found some distant cousins still living in the Black Sea region.

"They would be, like, my fourth cousins. But it's really quite a feeling to be in the same village as my ancestors, knowing that they walked the same streets I walked," he said.

Vogele booked the tour through North Dakota State University. It is led by Michael M. Miller, Germans-from-Russia bibliographer for the NDSU Library.

During the trip, Vogele wrote letters to his father, who lives in Aberdeen.

"I have just finished a whirlwind tour to at least 12 former German colonies. Dad, you would feel very much at home here - gently rolling hills, crops very similar to those in South Dakota. Nice stands of wheat, some rye. Even though it is dry, corn will be knee high by the 4th of July," he penned on May 26, 2002.

After traveling with other members of the group for the initial part of the trip, Vogele was allowed to hire an interpreter and return, with his wife, Cathy, to the areas in which he believed his family may have lived.

People in the village directed the group to an older man who supposedly knew everything about the community. He sent them in search of Steinbachs, Vogele's ancestors, who lived in Freiburg near Hoffnungstal. The trek uncovered long-lost cousins Gresha and Marie Steinbach.

Vogele was fascinated not only with the family but also with their "hof," or lot.

The house situated on the lot was small and was adjoined by the barn. A separate summer kitchen and cellar were situated near the house, as were a storage shed and outhouse.

"It's like a you're in a time warp. Everything is very simple," he said.

He learned through the interpreter that the cousins each get pensions of about 130 grivnas a month (equivalent to $25 in U.S. currency).

"Many people in Ukraine and Odessa are extremely poor," Vogele said. "People begging are fairly common, and you see people digging through Dumpsters."

Vogele's quest for ancestors also took him to Odessa, where he met another cousin, Anna Steinbach, and her sister, Zina. They shared stories of their heritage with Vogele.

"Until I got into the genealogy, my family was known only back to my great-grandparents. And initially, the names and dates we were using were wrong," Vogele said.

Vogele's grandmother came to the United States in 1884 and his grandfather, in 1892.

"They both came to the Eureka area. My grandma's dad homesteaded there, and my grandfather homesteaded near Lowry," he recalled.

Vogele's advice to others who may want to learn about their heritage: "Start interviewing family members now before they, and their stories, are gone."

Reprinted with permission from the Rapid City Journal , Rapid City, South Dakota

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller
North Dakota State University Libraries
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
NDSU Dept #2080
PO Box 6050
Fargo, ND 58108-6050
Tel: 701-231-8416
Fax: 701-231-6128
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Director: Michael M. Miller
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