First to Denmark, then to Russia

By Maggie Hein | December 19, 2022 | Denmark

A few years before Catherine the Great invited colonists to settle in the Volga region, King Fredrick V of Denmark invited colonists to settle in Schleswig-Holstein. Many of the colonists were unhappy in the Danish colonies and emigrated to Russia when given the opportunity.  Wayne Bonner has done extensive research on these colonists and has given presentations on this topic for AHSGR. With Wayne’s permission the following is reprinted from the introduction to one of his presentations:

“Although virtually all members of AHSGR have heard the story of Catharine the Great and her Manifesto of 1763 inviting settlement in Russia, not everyone is aware of the population movements that occurred prior to that epic migration. Numerous Germans, primarily from the present German states of Baden-Wurttemberg and the Palatine (Pfalz), relocated to Brandenburg beginning in the 1740s where Frederick the Great was building his new capital of Berlin and required skilled laborers. Still others, estimated to have been at least 5,000, answered the invitation of Frederick V of Denmark beginning in 1759 to settle unimproved land in the regions of Jutland and the Duchy of Schleswig.”

“The Danish settlement movement has been studied for some time, but most of the works were written in German or Danish and not generally available to researchers in North America. However, in 2012 Drs. Alexander, Jacob and Mary Eichhorn produced a volume that will stand for years as the principal investigation of the Danish ‘experience’ as I call it.”

Wayne’s presentation focused on the specific parish records that he and other researchers had found:

“The parish records of Denmark, which at the time included much of present-day Schleswig, were researched for clues to events associated with the German ‘Colonists’ as they were designated.  During this period, children were born, marriages were performed and colonists died. By examining virtually all of the currently accessible parish records of Jutland and Schleswig for the time span between 1759 and 1766, Mike Meisinger, Herb Femling and I have been able to identify some 500 entries that can be tied to specific German-Russian settlers. Not only has this project identified these records and therefore added to the growing list of origins for many Volga settlers, but also provided important clues to some of their origins in Germany.”

If your ancestors migrated first to Denmark and then to Russia, there are resources available to help you with your genealogy research:

  • If you are an AHSGR member, the results of Wayne, Mike and Herb’s research in Danish parish records are available on the AHSGR web site under “Research”, “Danish Birth, Marriage, and Death Records”.
  • The book The Immigration of German Colonists to Denmark and Their Subsequent Emigration to Russia in the Years 1759-1766 by Drs. Alexander, Jacob & Mary Eichhorn is recently back in print and available for purchase from AHSGR
  • Gerhard Lang has posted a list of families who had initially been colonists in Denmark and later went to the Volga region on his web site.
  • The exact origin locations of many of these families have been identified.  These pages are updated as new information is found.