Our December genealogical society meeting was a presentation from the Germans from Russia Heritage Society. The speaker was Debbie Beick, with assistance from Wanda Huber Hopkins and Val Renner Ingram.
The vast majority of my ancestors were from Denmark or England so I have done very little German research. I really néed to do so, because I have found that I have a few German ancestors.
Debbie began by introducing a map of the German states in the 1700s. At that time, there were 300 states and each had their own laws and a Prince to run the state. During this period, the states were also fighting with each other, so the farmers of the land were always being pressed into being a soldier and also working hard on the land between conflicts.
Russia was looking for settlers to farm along the Volga River and in the area north of the Black Sea and they went to Germany and offered free land and would let the Germans run the villages, schools and churches in the area they settled with very little oversight from Russia, and the settlers would not have to serve in the military.
About 100,000 Germans moved to this area and set up villages of about 250 people per village. They ran the village; spoke German all the time, taught German in the schools, and all the churches spoke German. They spoke very little Russian, and all the records are in the old German Script until about 1900 when the Russians finally prevailed, getting the settlers to use the Russian alphabet.
In the mid 1800s the Russians tried to make the Germans more Russian. To do so they tried to get them to give up more control of the villages to Russia and these new rules caused a lot of the Germans to start looking for somewhere else to settle. In 1862, the USA started the Homestead Act granting 160 acres of land with a few strings attached. Soon after Argentina and Canada had free land acts similar to the USA. So 300,000 Germans left Russia most of them coming to the USA. Many of them settled in North Dakota and other plains states..
In Spokane in 1881, the Northern Pacific Railroad came from the west and by 1883, they had completed their trans-continental line. The Northern Pacific was given every other square mile of land along their tracks to pay for the building of the railroad, so they were advertising all over the USA for farmers and settlers, and when they got west of Spokane they had an area similar to the plains, so they sent recruiters to Russia looking for German farmers to buy the land and farm this area so the railroad would have crops to haul and markets for goods manufactured back east. I guess it worked as the area of present day Adams, Lincoln and Douglas counties in Washington were settled by a lot of Germans from Russia and even today their descendants still live there and have the most wonderful Oktoberfest.
Debbie went on telling about the fate of the Germans that stayed in Russia. During WWI, the Russians were worried the Germans would side with Germany against Russia and so they cut the Germans off from all outside contacts. When Lenin became the ruler of Russia, he declared an end to private ownership of land and the end of all churches. Debbie showed pictures where they removed the steeples form the churches, used them for community meetings, and destroyed many of the churches. Stalin was even worse, as those that defied him or those that he thought might defy him, were shipped off to the labor camps in Siberia. WWII was similar to WWI as the Russians were worried the Germans would side with Hitler, and so Stalin shipped most of the Germans to Siberia, but before all were shipped out, the Germans had captured this area and 200,000 Germans remained. After the Russians started to regain the land these Germans retreated to Germany ahead of the retreating German troops. By the surrender of Germany nearly 100,000 of the refugees remained alive. After the surrender, Russia scoured Germany looking for Russian and Germans from Russia and they shipped them back to Russia many to Siberia.
The German from Russia Heritage Society consists of two groups, one from the Volga River, and the other the Black Sea. Debbie, Wanda and Val ere all part of the Black Sea Germans. Each group has their own research site on the web so knowing where your ancestors settled in Russia will help your research. The web sites for each group are, Black Sea Germans, www.grhs.com and the Volga River Germans, www.ahsgr.org.