Germans from Russia Symposium

North Dakota State University
Fargo, North Dakota
July, 1990

The Migration from Alsace to the Black Sea Region and the Location of the Genealogical Materials in the Homeland Area

Professor Jean Schweitzer
Strasbourg, France

Let us have a look at the map of the Black Sea German colonies. We can easily recognize several place names of Palatinate: Landau, Kandel, Speyer, Worms; of the duchy of Baden: Rastatt, Karlsruhe, Mannheim, Heidelberg; and moreover of Alsace: Elsass, Strassburg, Selz, Sulz.

I -Alsace, The Homeland

A) Geography of the emigration area.

To begin, I want to destroy a kind of myth. Too often we hear or read about, 'Alsace-Lorraine'. I think it is indispensable to give a clear definition of the reality.

Contrary to the opinion of many people even in France, Alsace and Lorraine are two distinct provinces, each having its own political evolution.

The twin expression Alsace-Lorraine began in the period of 1871-1918 when these two provinces came back to Germany under Bismarck and had a common German administration. Anyway, it's not the whole province called Lorraine that we are concerned with, but only the northern part of Lorraine around the capital town Metz which is in the département de Moselle, the other three départements, the French speaking area, remained with France.

As for Alsace, it is the name of an eastern province of France, rather small in size, about 3,200 sq. miles. It stretches almost 200 km (125 miles) in length along the western bank of the Rhine River from Basel, Switzerland, to South Palatinate in the north. This river officially separates France from Germany. In the east it is limited by a mountain range called the Vosges, (Vogesen or Wasgau in German), the Northern extension being the Pfalzer Wald. The twin range of mountains on the eastern bank of the Rhine is called Schwarzwald, Black Forest or Foret-Noire (in French).

For our thesis, it must be added that only the most northern part of Alsace near the Palatinate border was concerned with the emigration to Russia. Only this extreme northern nook of Alsace was involved, roughly speaking, the district of Weissenburg, where the population is of franconian descent, whereas the larger part of Alsace is of Alemanic origin. This explains some characteristic features of its dialect.

B) Historical background and administration today.

Because of its geographical location Alsace has always been a crossing country and has seen many invaders come and go during the 2,500 years of its known history.

The first known invaders were the Celts, followed by the Romans who occupied Alsace for about 500 years (58 BC -ca 450 AC).
The Romans were "rolled back" by Germanic tribes. The first ones were the, Alemannen ' followed by the 'Franken' in the late 5th century.

This later event will be of greater importance for Northern Alsace, where the emigrants to Russia came from, because it explains the characteristic features of this area where the political and religious parameters had been changing for centuries, and where the dialect limits were fixed over a thousand years ago. Here in this little area of Northern Alsace, the dialect is a franconian one like in Palatinate, whereas, in all the other parts of the province, they speak the Alemanic dialect (about 85% of the population).

The most important historical period relating to the emigration to Russia is the French Revolution. A period of confusion, big changes and great turmoil, which caused an important emigration across the Rhine, but not yet to Russia. The fatal date was December 23, 1793 when over 20,000 people (some historians estimate even 30,000) only from Northern Alsace, the region of the future emigration to Russia, fled when Revolutionary armies invaded the territory .Its deeply religious population now feared the anti-religious revolutionary troops and the guillotine.

Upon returning home some years later, many of these exiled people were ruined because their goods had been confiscated by the new political regime. Moreover the troops too often plundered the country: the peasants had to furnish provisions and animals, give extra horses and wagons, perform enforced labor, pay war tribute, suffer the quartering of soldiers etc. There is no doubt that there was a great dissatisfaction in the country. Thousands and thousands of families felt depressed and discouraged. Another inequity was the confiscation and selling of church properties. This brought many a family a shortage of farmland. Catholic families were forbidden by the ecclesiastical authorities to buy confiscated church property, which consequently was bought cheaply by the local protestant farmers. For those Catholic farmers working mainly on rented church-owned land this meant economic ruin.

The Revolution years were followed by the conquests of Napoleon who ruled over a great part of Europe from 1805-1814. His campaigns and conquests added much to the turmoil in this region. And it is easy to imagine why many young men avoided enlisting.

These few main reasons added to many others were combined with overpopulation, which periodically causes an important emigration. It must be pointed out that these reasons -political and economical -were closely interrelated. And in many cases we may add secondary reasons, such as domestic, family or law troubles etc.

Some important remarks to conclude this historical paragraph:

-The Alsatian emigrants at that time were not Germans but French citizens. But though of French citizenship, these people were not at all conversant with the French language.
-Moreover in these times the South Palatinate, comprising 30 communities, came under French rule, being annexed to Alsace till 1813-1815. Therefore, the people living in this area were a French population too, and also ignorant of the French language.
-The immigration to Russia at that time was not merely an event of Alsatian history; it affected a much larger area of the Upper Rhine including South Palatinate, and Central and North Baden on the Eastern side of the Rhine as well.
-You must consider that there has always existed relationships of many kinds with these two neighbors, such as economical, social, and even family relations. And mostly they all spoke, and still speak, the Franconia dialect which they took with them to the Black Sea region, the same as their descendants did in the late 19th century when homesteading in the New World.

C) Administrative organization.

Many descendants of Alsatian emigrants have but a hazy idea of the former and the present administrative divisions of Alsace when writing their family history. Just a rough outline on this matter.

Before the French Revolution in 1789 France was divided into about 20 provinces such as Alsace, Lorraine, Brittany etc. The French Revolution abolished the provinces, which were replaced by 83 smaller departments (about 90 now). Though still a geographical notion, today Alsace is divided into two departments, a type of little counties:

Bas-Rhin = Unterelsass = Lower Rhine,
Strasbourg being the administrative center;
Haut-Rhin = Oberelsass = Upper Rhine,
Colmar being the administrative center.
Each department has a governmental representative called 'prefet. ' The chief administrative official is appointed by Paris.

Each department is divided into several intermediate districts called 'arrondissements' = Kreise in German = circles county in English, e.g. Weissenburg and Hagenau in Northern Alsace.

The intermediate middle districts are divided into little districts called ' canton'. Thus the district of Weissenburg is composed of the cantons of Selz, Weissenburg, Lauterburg, Sulz, Woerth. (Beware: a Kanton in Switzerland may be compared to a French department or sometimes to an old province).

Nearly all the Alsatian emigrants to Russia came from the northern circle of Weissenburg, and a lesser number from the district of Hagenau.

As to the emigration itself, two years must be remembered: 1804 and 1808. Because emigration was forbidden in those days by the French government, the Alsatians had to leave secretly. When the authorities got wind of the mass exodus in 1804, they tried desperately to stop the emigration. For a while, it seemed that the Alsatian exodus had ended in a fiasco. It was only a setback. The second wave in 1808 was much more important. Many of these emigrants got their passports from the Jewish banker Bethmann in Frankfurt/Main, who was appointed the Russian consul in this big city.

A good overview of the exodus and the routes of the emigrants through Central Europe is given in Height's book, Paradise on the Steppe. Many examples of passports of Alsatian emigrants are to be found in Stumpp's Die Auswanderung aus Deutschland nach Russland in den Jahren 1763-1862.

Nearly all the Alsatians were settled in the Black Sea region: Beresan, Liebenthal and chiefly in the Kutchurgan district. Therefore, it is not amazing that a many colonies were given Alsatian names: three of five Kutchurgan colonies had Alsatian names: Elsass, Selz, Strassburg; Kandel belongs to south Palatinate and Mannheim was taken over from Baden. And when nearly a century later their descendants came over to the new world, they brought many an Alsatian place name with them such as Strasburg and Selz in North Dakota and in Saskatchewan.

II The Sources

A) Printed sources

1.0 General information

1.1 Biographical works

1.1.1 Michael M. Miller, Researching the Germans from Russia: Annotated Bibliography of the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection. North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, North Dakota State University, 1987, 224 p.

1.1.2 Dr. Karl Stumpp: Schrifttum Uber das Deutschtum in Russland.
2nd. Edition enlarged, Tübingen, 1970, 74 p.
Chapter C, Schwarzmeerdeutsche p. 42-58

1.2 General historical background

Adam Giesinger (ancestors of Alsatian origin): From Catherine to Khrushchev: The Story of Russia's Germans. 2nd. ed. 1980
This is the basic general history of Germans in Russia, as Michael M. Miller
states in his bibliography.

1.3 General repertory
Dr. Karl Stumpp: Die Auswanderung aus Deutschland nach Russland in den Jahren 1763-1862. English edition: The Migration from Germany to Russia in the Years 1763-1862. With maps. 1018 p. Tübingen, 1972.

A 'must', Michael M. Miller writes about No.21 p. 5 in Researching the Germans from Russia: "This monumental work is the fruition of 40 years of research; invaluable to the genealogical researchers. "

But we sometimes must be cautious. In a work of this size we inevitably meet with lots of mistakes and misspellings.

2.0 Titles on Black Sea Germans

2.1 Older titles

2.1.1 Johannes Brendel: Aus deutschen Kolonien im Kutschurganer Gebiet:
Geschichtliches und Volkkundliches
. Stuttgart, 1930, 108 p. (Miller No.13 p.4)

It includes the 1811 census lists of the people in the villages of Baden, Kandel, Elsass, Selz, Mannheim, except Strasbourg, we don't know exactly why; (maybe lost during the Revolution years?)

This booklet is out of print. Anyway it has been translated by Father Thomas Welk under the title: "The German colonies in the Kutschurgan Region", in Heritage Review starting in April 1979.

2.1.2 Father Konrad Keller: Die deutschen Kolonien in Südrussland. 2 vol. 1804
Vo1.I: The Liebental district: Kleinliebental, Josefstal, Mariental, Franzfeld
Vol. II: The Beresan district: Landau, Sulz, Katharinental, München, Speyer, Karlsruhe, Rastatt

It has been translated by Anthony Becker in 1968. The second edition, partially revised by Dr. Adam Giesinger, was published in 1980 by the Historical Society of Germans from Russia, Lincoln, Nebraska.

2.1.3 Mgr. Anton Zerr: Einwanderungsgeschichte der Familie Zerr in Russland. Odessa 1914.
This pamphlet by the retired bishop Zerr of Tiraspol deals with his ancestors' emigration from Neeweiler near Lauterburg in Alsace to Franzfeld. It includes the colonists' listing in this village with dates of baptism, marriages and deaths to 1835. Several mistakes concern the ancestors of Neeweiler.

2.2 Recent titles
Essentially the three books of Professor Joseph Height are worth mentioning:

2.2.1 Paradise on the Steppe. A cultural history of the Kutschurgan, Beresan and Liebental Colonies. 1804-1945.
Several editions (Miller No.36 p. 8)

It deals in considerable details with the Catholic mother colonies in the Odessa area. Much interesting information with the listings of the founders of the different colonies.

2.2.2 Homesteaders on the Steppe: Cultural history of the Evangelical Lutheran colonies in the region of Odessa 1804-1945. Bismarck, North Dakota, 1975 (Miller No.31 p. 7). It also includes the listings of the founders of the different colonies.

2.2.3 Memories of the Black Sea Germans: Highlights of their History and Heritage. Chelsea, Michigan 1979, 372 p. (Miller No.75 p. 17)

His last work, published posthumously, includes the listings of the families emigrated from different villages of Alsace. Unfortunately, the emigrant village of Scheibenhard is missing.

2.3 Alsatian emigration to USA

Finally it would be interesting to mention a recently published book, which may indirectly be useful to those who want to enlarge their genealogical research. Cornelia Schrader-Muggenthaler: Alsace Emigration book. Part One.

This book lists 12,500 emigrants from France and Germany to the USA with places of origin researched from microfilms, pass lists, ship lists and private sources. Time period 1817-1867. (NB -Meanwhile a second volume has been published).

Why this book may be useful to Russian Germans descendants? The best way to explain it, is to give an example: The Black Sea colonist Salvey/Solvay of Selz (census list No.5) came from Mothern in Northern Alsace. Several, or maybe many, Salvey families living in the Dakotas are descended from this Alsatian Russian ancestor.

Now in Cornelia Schrader's book, they may notice six Salevey/Salvey from Mothern who all immigrated from Mothern directly to the States in 1868 or 1869. Distant cousins who immigrated to the New World at different times on different routes. The same could be said on the Keller family of Winzenbach where the ancestors of the most popular descendant of Russian Germans in the States, Lawrence Welk, came from.

3.0 Varia

3.1 Bulletin du Cercle généalogique d'Alsace

This is the title of the magazine published every three months by the Genealogical Association of Alsace in Strasbourg. (With its seat at the Archives départementales = General Record Office). It is one of the most important societies of this kind in France nearly 1,500 members, over 20 of the United States, several of Canada, but neither one of Russian Alsatian origin nor one of the Dakotas.

We publish this quarterly review in French, some articles are also written in German and from time to time a few notes are in English.

3.2 Christian Wolf: Guide des recherches genealogiques en Alsace. 2nd edition. Strasbourg 1975, 272 p. + annexes.

It is a basic work, well documented with much information, but remember it is only a guide and must be used accordingly.

3.3 Claude R. Roll: Manuel illustre pour la généalogie et l'histoire familiale en
Alsace. Edit. Le Verger, Strasbourg 1991,464 p.

A monument which includes the new techniques such as computerization.

3.4 Norbert Layburn (a journalist): L'émigration Des Alsaciens et Des Lorrains du 1& au 2lk siècle. Strasbourg 1986, 2 volumes.

An interesting book for Alsatian history, picturesque glance at the Alsatian emigration all over the world, chiefly to the western hemisphere. A too vast enterprise. Thus his chapter on the emigration to Russia, merely based on Stumpp's and Height's books, brings nothing really new.

3.5 Encyclopédie de l'Alsace. 12 volumes.
Strasbourg, from 1982 to present
A monumental work entirely in French, with many hundred articles. The volumes have the size of those of the British Encyclopedia. Every village has its little monography. The chapter on Alsatian emigration to East Europe (Danubian countries and Russia) is outlined by the present-day Alsatian speaker.

B) Archive sources

You can easily imagine that many American citizens in search of their ancestors on the border of the middle Rhine area -not only of Russian-German origin -write to Alsace. As anyone knows, the main sources are (without any contest) the church registers or parish books, continued by civil registers.
1.0 The main sources

1.1 Church registers (ecclesiastical records)

They are centralized at the" Archives départementales" in Strasbourg for Lower Alsace and in Colmar for Upper Alsace.

They begin most rarely in the late 16th, much more frequently in late 17th century, about 1680. It must be said that the reason of introduction of the parish books was never a genealogical but a purely ecclesiastical one: To have records of baptism, marriage and burial of persons living within a certain parish.

There is a very good detailed repertory in 3 volumes of all the parishes of Lower Alsace in the reading room of our Record Office, but it may also be purchased for about 100 francs.

These parish books may be consulted under the mark (série) 3 E + the index number of the parish. Let us take for example Beinheim (where nearly 20 families emigrated from, chiefly to Mannheim or Elsass such as Vetter, Weber Tuchscherer etc.). Its reference is: 3 E 25, 6 volumes beginning in 1689 and ending in 1793. On the other side the Protestant parish of Cleebourg (where several families: Hausauer, Haller, Hagelberger etc. emigrated from) bears the mark 3 E 73 with only 3 volumes (from 1756-1792).

Nearly all the church registers of Alsace were being filmed by the Latter Day Saints (LDS). A copy of each film is kept in our Record Office and is easily accessible. The reading apparatuses allow instant photocopies. On the whole the Protestant parish books written in old style German give more information than the Catholic registers written in Latin.

1.2 Civil registration

1.2.1 In Alsace, whereas, the old parish books were physically transferred to the 'mairie' (municipal house or town hall) and later to the" Archives départementales" in Strasbourg, the civil registration was introduced in Alsace like in all other provinces of France in September 1792. Under the control of the political power, municipal officials were entrusted with writing the different acts of birth, marriage and death into different books.

With this new system called 'Etat civil ' each act is written down into two identical registers. The first copy remains at the office of the civil registrar in the municipal house forever. At the end of each year, the second copy must be deposited at the law court of the department where it is kept and withheld for hundred years. Then this second copy is transferred definitively to the" Archives départementales" in Strasbourg, available for consulting, under the mark (série) 4 E 1793-1890. Beinheim e.g. is No.4 E 25 for B-M-D from 1793-1890.

The Archives have also several hundreds of microfilms taken by the Salt Lake City genealogical Society, very easy to consult.

Death acts now must state date and place of the deceased.

1.2.2 In Germany

Civil registration, called 'Standesamt' was introduced much later. On the west side of the Rhine river the French introduced general civil registration already in May 1798, whereas it was adopted but in 1870 in the Grand Duchy of Baden on the east side, where most of the parish books are still kept in the parish houses.

2.0 Secondary sources

2.1 Alsace
The diligent genealogist cannot be confined merely to parish or civil registration. A variety of resource material may help him to complete his genealogical research or his family history.

2.1.1 Inventories after death (solicitor's or notary's acts)
At the" Archives départementales. " They enumerate the heirs, who normally are the children of the deceased person and may be of great assistance in pinpointing an ancestor family. With this list you sometimes might take your family tree back a couple of generations at least. Moreover it is very important to consult them, if the parish book is lost.

2.1.2 Title deeds (titres de propriété)

In certain circumstances they may also replace church registers.

2.1.3 Archives of the notaries public

They may be consulted at the" Archives departementales. " They date back to the middle or the end of the 18th century and sometimes will give help. Here is a good example concerning an Alsatian emigrant to Russia, who settled his affairs at home before leaving his homeland:

The notary office of Selz, Alsace, contains the selling act of the properties of Egidius Schwengler, "ackersmann zu Selz, ebenfalls erschiene Caspar Schwengler von Schaffuausen, Des Verkaufers Vater" (the seller's father) Date 15 ventose An 11 (6 March 1803)

Egidius Schwengler is the colonist No.61 in Elsass/Odessa, where he is declared as a tiler (Ziegler).

Unfortunately there is neither repertory nor index, so it is very time consuming to consult these documents.

2.1.4 Répertoire Desémigrants de décembre 1793

A typewritten book with hundreds of names from Northern Alsace and South Palatinate presented in alphabetical order. A second volume presents in alphabetical order the different villages with the alphabetical lists of its emigrants. These repertories are very interesting, because we find many a name of these people in the census lists in the Black Sea region. These two volumes are available in the reading room of the ABR, but only for domestic use. Unfortunately you cannot get photocopies of them.

2.1.5 Registers of law courts deliberations (ABR)

These records of the court deal mainly with disputes, for instance over inheritance. Just an example also concerning colonist families: In 1809 the family Bosch from Salmbach in Northern Alsace emigrated to Karlsruhe/Odessa, with his unmarried relative Georg Bosch. In 1812 this Georg was allowed to return to Alsace for a while. In 1815 he introduced at the civil court in the district town of Weissenburg a dispute for two colonist families. He was delegated by Henri Weber, colonist in Selz Odessa (census list No.16 and by Senger Damien, colonist in Strasburg (census list No. I) whose interests he defended in front of the judge.

2.1.6 Parish records

Before the French Revolution, the parishes had periodically to draw up a description of the parish with the land they owned and the population. The wealthy parishes often lent money to their parishioners who in return pawned several of their acres. A good example is given in the description of the parish of Salmbach in 1747, which lists each family of the village (ABR série G 5828)

2.1.7 Confirmation and communion lists

In many an old parish record or register, it is possible to find nominal lists of confirmation or communion (Catholic as well as Protestant).

2.1.8 Allegiance lists

In ancient times after the death of the sovereign, the population of his territory had to swear allegiance to his successor. Let us take the Protestant parish of Cleebourg as an example.

Before the French Revolution, the area around this village belonged to the Duke of Zweibrücken. After the death of the older ruler, the population had to swear allegiance to the new duke. Lists of each village were established. They mention but the family heads and the sons over 18. The list of Cleebourg includes several families Hailer and Hausauer. Descendants of these two families were: Hailer Georg, colonist in Bergdorf/Odessa, census list No.51, Hausauer Jacob in Glückstal No.110 and Hausauer Balthasar in Kassel No. 4.

2.1.9 Census returns

Many of you expect information about census returns. Indeed, they start with the year 1800 and take place every 5 years. Needless to say that they are highly interesting for genealogical research. Unfortunately, they are far from being complete before the year 1836.

2.2.0 Documents after 1790-1810 (when the emigration stopped) at the ABR, there is a very extensive range of manuscripts concerning this period classified under the letters K to Z. It is not possible to give here a detailed enumeration of all the content of each series. Just remember series Q e.g. which deals with confiscated goods of the emigrated persons during the French Revolution.

2.2 Secondary sources in Paris

2.2.1 Archives Nationales (ANP)

Some years ago, I discovered in the AN in Paris a reference concerning the emigration to Russia in early 19th century. At that time the regional police in Strasbourg referred regularly to the 'Ministère de l'Intérieur' (Home Office) in Paris. They became alarmed at the secret emigration problem. Sometimes they joined (to) their reports a list of persons intending to emigrate. They also mention people of south Palatinate. I think I will be able to publish an article on this matter in 'Heritage Review' with different lists of names.

2.2.2 Archives historiques de Vincennes

If you find a French soldier among your distant Alsatian ancestors you may apply to the historical archives of the army in Vincennes, near Paris. It is indispensable to indicate the regiment and the period concerned. Almost all military papers are listed by regiments. So if you are unaware which regiment is involved you will have to do some allied research first.

2.3 Secondary sources in the border areas in Germany

2.3.1 Palatinate Landesarchiv in D 67346 Speyer (Otto Meyer Strasse 9)
They moved from downtown to the edge of the city in 1987
Bibliography: H. Hess: Die Stadtarchive von Rheinhessen und der pj'alz in DAs Landesarchiv Speyer`, 1987. Bistumsarchiv Speyer (Diocesan Archives) D 67346 Speyer, Domplatz
Unlike in Alsace, the parish books often remain in the parish itself. Presently there is a tendency to microfilm and centralize all these books. Evangelische Landeskirche D 67346 Speyer, Domplatz 6 Bibliography Eger: Verzeichnis der protestantischen Kirchenbücher der pjalz; Koblenz. Heimatstelle der Pfalz D 67657 Kaiserslautern
(Cultural Center o Palatinate)
It has many files concerning the emigration in general. Pfalzische Familienkunde in D 67061 Ludwigshafen
(Stadtarchiv, Rottstrasse 17)
This is the review of the genealogical association of Palatinate.

2.3.2 Hessen : D 60311 Frankfurt am Main (Stadtarchiv)
The Bethmann-Holweg Archives are kept here. He was the Russian consul who delivered the passports for many Alsatian emigrants in the years 1804 and 1808 Unfortunately the big capital register concerning all these names has disappeared during the last war.

2.3.3 Baden- Wurttemberg Generallandesarchiv (= GLA) D 76133 Karlsruhe (Gross Hildepromenade) It keeps also lots of documents concerning the Palatinate, chiefly of the diocese of Speyer which at that time stretched out on both sides of the Rhine.

Bibliography (for historical background) Habler R.G., Badische Geschichte. Karlsruhe 1956. (a team) Unser Land Baden-Wiirttemberg, 1986. Konrad Theiss, Stuttgart. (for emigration)
Hassler Joseph: Die Auswanderung aus Baden nach Russland und Polen IM 18. und 19. Jahrhundert. 1959 Hacker Werner: Die Auswanderung aus Baden und dem Breisgau. Stuttgart 1980 Landsmannschaft der Russlanddeutschen, Raitelsbergstrasse 49, 70188
Stuttgart 1, Germany

This organization is associated with the Germans from Russia Heritage Society. Institut fur Auslandsbeziehungen, Charlottenplatz 17, 70173 Stuttgart 1,
Germany) Landsmannschaft der Bessarabiendeutschen, Florianstrasse 17, 70188
Stuttgart 1 (Florianstrasse 17) (includes museum)
Beware, in Germany, the zip code will change from top to bottom on July 1, 1993.

III Difficulties And Practical Advice

1.0 Some of the various difficulties

If a relative or a friend succeeded easily in tracing his ancestors you imagine your enterprise could be realized in the same manner: Far from the country o your ancestors and records regarding them you cannot be aware of the difficulties we too often meet while searching. Remember the period of emigration followed the French Revolution, which was a time of considerable turmoil.

1.1 Geography

The former and the present boundaries have not much in common. Remember territorial changes at the time of emigration: South Palatinate belonged to Alsace. More than one declared Alsatian emigrant was born in a village beyond the Alsatian border.

The diocese boundaries also changed. Northern Alsace belonged over thousand years to the diocese of Speyer. Only in 1803, when the limits altered it became part of the diocese of Strasbourg.

1.2 History

Many a place name vanished, chiefly isolated farms. A good example is given with the Bechhof, near Kaidenburg and Trimbach, where the RIEHL family lived, maternal ancestors of the Giesinger emigrant from Kaidenburg to Mannheim/Odessa

The name of a village could have changed. Fort-Louis, from where several families emigrated to the Black Sea region was called Fort-Vauban during the Revolution period.

1.3 The Republican calendar

What a mess! A real headache for most genealogist, or better say, for everyone. The Republic era begins with the first vendemaire of the year one of the Republic one and indivisible (22 September 1792). It lasted over 13 years till the end of 1805. Fortunately we do have good conversion tables or repertories.

Add to this puzzle the fact that from September 1798 to April 1800 the marriages had to take place at intervals in the little district centers such as Lauterbourg, where they were performed on a certain day in series for several couples of the neighboring villages. These acts are registered in special books called 'Registres cantonaux'.

1.4 Beginning of Civil registration

1.4.1 Presentation

The registrars have mostly been appointed because of their political opinion and not for their qualifications. Many of them in the villages were not accustomed to drawing up this kind of acts. So you find sometimes a meaningless squiggle.

All the acts of that period are completely handwritten and can be difficult to decipher, partly also because of poor or old-fashioned writing and partly because they have sometimes faded. Many records are very eye straining, and on the whole research becomes a very tiring job.

1.4.2 Content

Many acts of that period are stuffed with fanciful dates when compared to the dates of parish books. What is the right or the wrong date? In most cases we never know.

Remember most of the priests in this era had emigrated for a certain time. The supply priest did not or could not always register the acts. And when the civil registration was introduced there were inevitably some omissions for various reasons. Some declarations or some acts have been omitted. We find them neither in the parish nor in the civil registration. Moreover a younger emigrant of the Revolution was married in a neighboring village or even beyond the Rhine.

1.4.3 The collection

Unfortunately, not all records survived for several reasons (wars, negligence etc.). Just a few examples concerning some parishes from where people emigrated to South Russia:

Cleebourg (3 E 73): The first parish book (Reformed) from 1685 to 1755 was still kept in the municipal house in 1863; it is lost since.

Siegen-Kaidenbourg (home parish of the Heit, Giesinger, Brinster kinships) The parish books begin 1733. The first volume contains the acts till 1757. The next volume (1757-87) is missing, we don't know why. Thus it is very difficult to bridge this gap of 30 years.

Mothern. Nearly 30 families emigrated from here: Baumgartner, Bechtel, Bertsch, Fettig, Hochmuth, Mastel, Schlosser, Solvay, Streifel, Weissenburger etc.)

This parish offers the worst case. Its whole collection with baptisms, marriages and deaths from 1696-1792 has been lost, although these registers existed before WWII.

Take all these factors in account and you can deduce that it is not always easy to arrive to the hoped result.

2.0 Practical advises

2.1 Wrong addresses

2.1.1 Diocese archives

Unlike in Germany, our diocesan archives in Strasbourg were plundered during the French Revolution. They have no ancient documents left concerning the emigration nor genealogical information.

2.1.2 University

Some American citizens of Alsatian ancestry write to our University. This institution does not deal with genealogy. Anyway for some historians, Northern Alsace is not worth studying and more or less treated shabbily.

2.2 The right address

2.2.3 It is no doubt the" Archives departementales"
4, rue Fischart
6710 Strasbourg, France

2.2.2 Cercle généalogique d'Alsace (Genealogical Society of Alsace.) Its seat is at the "Archives departementales" (cf 211) with the same address as indicated above.

It should be remembered that the Archives cannot do any genealogical research for private people, but can give only basic information on what the researcher may find.

2.3 Correspondence

Many a correspondent gives but too hazy indications for starting research. It must always be repeated: Please provide us with background information. And don't forget to mention your ancestor's religion because we have many mixed parishes in this emigration area and every religion has its own parish books.

2.4 The possibilities

2.4.1 Consulting the archives is free of charge. If you come for the first time you have to show your passport and fill out a registration form.

2.4.2 All documents older than 99 years may be consulted.

2.4.3 Photocopying:

There is no longer a possibility to get photocopies from parish or civil registration books to preserve them from damage. Nor is there any possibility of getting photocopies from old documents in book form or of the library books in the reading room.

You can get instant photocopies of microfilms (e.g. nearly all the parish books which were microfilmed by the Mormons).

You may also take pictures of many documents with your own camera, but without flash.

2.4.4 Private research

If you cannot come to Alsace, the Archives can give you addresses of private genealogists who can do research for you. They will answer your letter in English and inform you on the possibilities of engaging in your research along with their charges and conditions.

2.4.5 Queries
Our genealogical review, Bulletin du Cercle généalogique d 'Alsace, has leads on queries and answers. The queries are free of charge for every member.


Nearly every genealogist passes through ups and downs while collecting information of his family history .If genealogical research may be disappointing in some cases, there are also examples of great satisfaction.

The little story I would like to tell you now is a wonderful illustration how a mere number may be of capital importance in tracing an ancestor.

Several years ago, an American citizen wrote to the" Archives departementales" in Strasbourg. His only reference was a draft number of his Alsatian ancestor Jacques Gros who emigrated from' Alsace' to America in the 19th century. When this ancestor was nearly 20 years old, the military service was not compulsory .At that time the young men had to draw lots. Only the low numbers were enrolled to the army. These numbers were printed on little sheets with the indication of the district, e.g. canton de Hochfelden and the class 1828. These mere indications gave an utmost trace. Referring to this conscription list of 1828, one could quickly pinpoint the true emigrant. Moreover were also indicated his birthday and his physical constitution. Now it was a rather easy task for the American correspondent to complete his pedigree chart. Needless to say he was lucky .To all my American friends, I wish such happy moments with their genealogical hobby.

Jean Schweitzer, Professor Emeritus, Strasbourg, France


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