This page covers most of the vast region of the former Soviet Union. It specifically excludes the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania). Everything to the east of Poland and the Baltic States is included.
You may see references to Polish Volhynia, Russian Volhynia, or Ukrainian Volhynia. Such references only apply to the time period between World Wars I and II.
Description of the Research area
Hundreds of thousands of Germans have lived in the vast Russian regions for hundreds of years. The largest concentrations were in the Volga River Region, the Black Sea region, Bessarabia, and Volhynia. Smaller settlements existed in the Baltic area near St. Petersburg and the Caucaus. Later, many of these same Germans were exiled to the east and thus have connections to Kazakhstan and Siberia.
Most of these Germans were Lutherans and Mennonites. Other religions represented included Jews, Roman Catholics, Baptists, Reformed and Moravians. They had origins in many different German states. Some came from other east European countries like Poland and Hungary.
Because of the extensive size of the Russian nation, the history of the Germans within it is varied and complex. Germans had lived in various parts of the Russian empire for centuries so perhaps the best way to describe their history is through a description of the migration waves that occurred.
In 1763, Catherine II (Catherine the Great, German born empress of Russia) sent agents throughout Europe for the purpose of recruiting settlers under the terms of her new Manifesto. These colonists were to develop the fertile, uncultivated agricultural lands southeast of Moscow, specifically along the VOLGA River. Unknown to them, they would also provide a buffer zone between the Russians and the Mongol hordes to the east. There were several promises that made this offer attractive: freedom from various forms of taxes and customs duties, self government for the towns, freedom of religion, and freedom from military service, to name a few. It is easy to see how attractive this would be to Germans who were suffering from widespread poverty, malnutrition, and unemployment brought on by feudal infighting, wars, religious persecution, and the general politics of the day. The extent of this migration was so great (4000 families in 1767 alone) that further migration was forbidden by the German Emperor Joseph II. Migration to the VOLGA effectively ended at this time. During these 4 years it is estimated that over 25,000 Germans migrated primarily from Hesse and the southwest states but nominally from other areas as well.
In the next few years, Catherine the Great expanded Russian territory dramatically by conquering Turkish controlled land to the south and Polish land to the west. Catherine again wanted Germans to help in developing her new territories, especially around the north side of the BLACK SEA. This time she turned to the Mennonites of West Prussia. Mennonites are a pacifist denomination. Frederick William II was demanding payment of heavy fines in lieu of military service and forced the Mennonites to pay tithes to the established Lutheran Church on earlier land purchases from Lutherans. They were particularly attracted to Russia by the offer of freedom from military service. In 1789, 228 Mennonite families arrived at Chortitza on the Dnieper River. They had been preceeded to the general region by a smaller group of Lutherans. The Mennonite migration continued into the area for another 80 years with thousands more families answering the call. Thousands of other Germans followed the Mennonites. Lutherans and Catholics began flooding into the area, starting particular after the Napoleonic wars (1803 through 1810). They not only came from the southwest German states but also from West Prussia, Hungary, and Poland. Hundreds of German colonies sprang up in a semi circle around Odessa, now in the UKRAINE.
Another war with Turkey brought Russia more territory, the region of BESSARABIA on the west side of the Black Sea. By 1816, over 1500 German families moved into this area, most of them from Poland. Migration continued with population increases coming from Baden, Wuerttemberg, Hesse and Alsace. Further colonization took place north of the Sea of Azov, in the CRIMEA, and the CAUCASUS.
In VOLHYNIA, early German settlement was sporadic. One of the first colonies was at Koretz in 1783. A few Mennonite agricultural villages were established prior to 1793 but most of them moved on to the Black Sea region within a few decades. The first permanent settlement came in 1816 but significant migration into Volhynia did not occur until the 1830s. The migration to Volhynia occurred under vastly different circumstances than that to other parts of the Russian empire. Polish landlords who had retained land after the Russian occupation were looking for qualified farmers to develop and farm their land. No special priviliges were extended to these immigrants except for that which could be provided by the local nobility. It was the shortage of land in their old homes that drove most of the Germans into this region. By 1860, there were only about 5000 in 35 small villages. Then, with the abolition of serfdom in 1861 and the failed Polish Insurrection of 1863, Germans began to flood into this area. By 1871, there were over 28,000 and by the turn of the century, over 200,000 lived in Volhynia. Most of them had come from Poland with a minority from Wuerttemberg, Pomerania, East Prussia, Silesia, and Galicia.
Russian politics changed dramatically over these 100 years and it wasn't long before the Germans starting losing the freedoms and privileges extended to them. The Mennonites were first to leave in large numbers. They were being forced to provide military service to the Russians so in the 1870s, thousands of them moved on to both North and South America. Persecution continued with Germans losing their right to language and property ownership so many more soon followed them. Animosity towards the Germans peaked during World War I with most being expelled eastward to KAZAKHSTAN and SIBERIA. Some made it back to their homelands after the war. Others stayed in these new areas, hoping to establish a new life. Still others escaped eastward through China and on to Australia and the Americas. After World War II, the Germans were no longer allowed back to their homelands. They were forced to stay in the east or in some cases were expelled back to Germany.
Source: From Catherine to Kruschev, The Story of Russia's Germans; by Adam Giesinger; Published by the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia
For a more detailed discussion of the German migration to the east, see Drang nach Osten by Jerry Frank.
Genealogical and Historical Societies
- AHSGR the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia demonstrates expertise in the Volga, Siberia, and Kazahkstan regions but also serves all the other areas including the Black Sea region, Bessarabia, and Volhynia. They have a Topical Index available in the Odessa Pixel Library.
- GRHS the Germans from Russia Heritage Society focuses on the Black Sea and Bessarabian Germans but also helps those from the Caucasus, Crimea, and Volhynia. Their Topical Indiex is also on the Odessa Pixel Library.
- Volhynian Germans are seved by the Society for German Genealogy in Eastern Europe (in English) and by wolhynien.de (in German).
- A good place to start MENNONITE research is with the MENNONITE INDEX.
- Russian Mennonite Website of the Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society
- JewishGen.org Research for German JEWS in Russia is supported by the general Jewish genealogy groups.
Historical and other Societies
- LANDSMANNSCHAFT DER DEUTSCHEN AUS RUSSLAND, an organization that supports Germans with both Volga and Black Sea region origins.
Genealogical and Historical Records
Lutheran Germans who were expelled from BESSARABIA during World War II brought their church records with them. These have been microfilmed and are readily available through the Family History Centers of the LDS church. If information is missing there, it may appear in a duplicate set contained in the St. Petersburg Consistory microfilm series. These have been extracted and are available on the Odessa3 site.
Only the duplicate set of St. Petersburg Consistory records is available for Lutherans of the Black Sea region. These records are also microfilmed by the LDS church. Refer to above link for extracted records.
Church records for the eastern Volga, Kazahkstan, and Siberia regions are not readily available.
The St. Petersburg Consistory records mentioned above also apply to the Germans from Volhynia and have been fully extracted by the Society for German Genealogy in Eastern Europe.
See also the link to Mormon microfilms of the Ukraine:
Civil Registration Records
Extraction of data from recently obtained census lists of the VOLGA region is an on-going project of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia.
Various individuals are making contact with local archives in Odessa, Zhitomir, Rowno, and other locations with the revealation that there is much significant information to be found. However, the data is not readily available due to poor cataloguing and maintenance systems in these archives. This is slowly changing with the new freedoms and openness of the emerging east.
Villages and Maps
Gazetteers are not readily available for these areas but all the Societies have extensive village lists and other resources for assisting in locating German settlements. A Long Village List appears on the Odessa site covering all regions but it is not necessarily complete.
Extensive and detailed maps covering German settlements in most of these regions have been prepared by and are available through the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia. The different Societies publish detailed village maps of certain locations if resources allow. Detail maps of Volhynia and Congress Poland are also available through the Society for German Genealogy in Eastern Europe.
A variety of East European maps are available on line from the FEEFHS MAP ROOM.
In North America, there is at least one commercial resource for European historical and genealogical maps including the following. Details can be found at Genealogy Unlimited.
1:200,000 As far east as Kiew / Odessa
1:300,000 East Prussia, Pomerania, Silesia, Upper Silesia
1:25,000 & 1:100,000 German Empire of 1871
1:300,000 to 1:4,000,000 Euro-Reisatlas Russland (modern road map book)
Bibliography and Literature
Literature in English
Many books are available for the general history of Germans in Russia as well as for detailed local regions. They are often available through the various societies mentioned above. Primary resources include the following:
- Giesinger, Adam: From Catherine to Khruschev, The Story of Russia's Germans; American Historical Society of Germans From Russia - Lincoln, Nebraska 1981, ISBN 0-9142220-5-8
- Die Auswanderung aus Deutschland nach Russland in den Jahren 1763 bis 1862 (Also available in English under the title: The Emigration From Germany to Russia in the Years 1763-1862), Karl Stumpp / American Historical Society of Germans From Russia - Lincoln, Nebraska
- Die neiderlaendisch-niederdeutschen Hintergruende der mennonitischen Ostwanderungen im 16., 18. und 19 Jahrhundert, Benjamin H. Unruh / Karlsruhe, Deutschland: Im Selbstverlag 1955
Archives and Libraries
Russia adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1918, February 14 followed February 1.
Other Internet resources
Rootsweb Mailing Lists:
Interesting Internet resources
Tim Janzen's Mennonite sources: