Monday, November 2, 2020

Volga Germans - Researching Norka Russia to Oregon


For Deep Diving Research|
As with all good research, we must be familiar with our subject: time, place, historical and social challenges and impacts and cultural groups to include religious followings and practices. So, in tracing German – Russians who settled in Oregon, led us to uncovering 6 generation ofrecords and documents. This Volga family, originally from 1725 Hessen, Germany settled in Oregon in 1887.

1-2-3 Begin in America
With my own family from central Kansas, midwestern Volga Germans were familiar. Matter of fact, the a3Genealogy team had worked on enough mid-western Volga German ancestral projects that it just seemed to be another group to settle in the plain states: the Swedish, Norwegians, the Irish, Germans, Italians and the Volga. These Russia Germans were our neighbors, our friends, and co-workers or local farmers. But Portland?

  •  Where Kansas settlers seemed run-of-the-mill, Oregon Volga Germans required us to ask a few questions: 1) why? 2) where? 3)when?

  • Why? As is the practice, we turned to reading all we could about this western settlement: newspapers, town and county histories and the timeframe. What we needed to know was twofold: was there a community church or community cemetery that could help explain the why? Of course, there is always a Who.  Who did they follow to Oregon? By learning how these ancestors  lived in their communities, will guide us to not only why they moved to a particular location, but from where did they come?

  • Where? From which Volga settlement did these Oregon settlers emigrate. 

They usually travelled across the water in groups or to meet up with family members? Generations before did this same group of families leave Germany to settle along the Volga River. Did they intermarry, and 5 generations later immigrate to the USA together? Did the group travel directly to Oregon? 
  • When? So many questions here. When did they arrive in Oregon? When did the travel to America? When did they arrive in Russia? And when did they leave Germany?

Yes, all of these questions were answered with the pulling of documents in all three countries, translations in two of them (German and Russia) and another one of Dr. I. E. Pleve detailed family charts.

Researching in Russia

A great place to start is with an earlier blog post entitled Researching Germans from Russia Ancestors? Researchers will find this article to be a primer that will discuss beginning your Russian research and 9 Places to Research Your German from Russia Ancestral Records. 

 After five generations of living in Russia, Volga Germans would consider themselves Germans. Matter of fact, in one generational stump, our in-house linguist (that would be me - Thank you University of Michigan) solved a conflicting surname through a translation brainteaser - Vögel to Fogel’ / Faglen by realizing the two were merely the same surname.  Same woman, but some in the community used the older-age spelling of her maiden name.

птицы (Russian: ptitsy”) equals birds in English or Vögel in German, or alternatively Fogel in Old High German.  These words translate to “birds”or fowl  in English. Etymology assisted: from Proto-Germanic fuglaz. Cognate with German Vogel, Dutch vogel, English fowl (bird) and Icelandic fugl.

Interesting Documents to Analyze
After exhausting the 9 resources suggested in the referenced earlier blog, the researcher will want to continue analyzing documents. In 1866 the Norka Village community gave permission for settlers (German descendants) to travel. The families had to meet qualifications however:

  1. Everyone who wanted to leave had to announce it at the village gathering and pay all their debts.
  2. Everyone leaving had to give his land to reliable people so that these people will pay all the duties current or future. If the person leaving had not found such a reliable person, then the land will be used by the community. If the person comes back, he or she can only get the land back, if they can pay all the duties.
  3. If there were no legal obstacles, then the person can go abroad. Keep in mind that “abroad” could mean to go from Russia to Germany or any other county that was not under the Russian government. 

Household Census: 
The household censuses were used for the purpose of keeping track men for the military service. So, family units were not captured for the same purpose as American census. These censuses were updated from the previous census. Most of these records are easy to translate, but sometimes, you may just wish to pay for someone else to struggle through the scribbles.  Household census records may also proffer information on the emigration of the family.  

The Passport: Passports were not only difficult to obtain, they came with strict guidelines.  It may have restrictions to where the family could travel: …family can go to different towns and villages of the Russian Empire till September 24, 1887Issued March 24, 1887. Has to come back after this time period otherwise will be punished by law Volost Chairman 

The Petition: Families had to petition separately to travel to the USA (or outside of the Russian Empire). If debts were settled, and they were granted permission, a fee was paid for processing and a passport to travel overseas was issued.  The petition of one such petition read as follows in the following translation: 

I need to visit the USA as my relatives live there so I am asking Your Excellency to allow me to go abroad for 6 months if there are no legal obstacles. I am enclosing an excerpt from the family list, certificate from the Kamyshin uyezd police department # 155 and Norka volost administration #467, passport #224 and copy of the decision of the community that there are no obstacles for me to leave #18, certificate of my transfer to the reserve and a treasury receipt that 5 rubles were paid for the passport form, and I am asking Your Excellency to grant me a foreign passport for the above mentioned period of time.

April 20, 1887
Passport #186 issued on April 21, 1887 

Although mentioned in the earlier Researching Germans from Russia Ancestors? researchers will want to check with the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia for a listing of  surname and location resources. 

And, if they have one of Dr. Pleve’s  hand-drawn charts for your ancestors be sure to purchase it.  I have one chart hanging in my office (48x30) because it is just delightful! 

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, accessible answers

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