VOLGA GERMAN GENEALOGY
The article below was written by our expert Volga German genealogist, Maggie Hein, for the Volga Germans website (July 2019). Maggie is one of the administrators of the excellent Frank-Kolb database and the Volga Germans Facebook page. We are grateful that Maggie's research has pinpointed the place of origin for many Volga German families.
Some people grow up knowing that their ancestors were Volga German, and many learn about their Volga German ancestry for the first time while doing genealogy research.
Successful genealogy research requires obtaining information about important events in your ancestors’ lives. These events may include births, marriages, deaths, confirmations, migrations, and military service. You should start with what you know, and work your way back through the generations, gathering all available information and documentation.
Researching your Volga German ancestry can be broken into three separate phases:
1. Research in your home country;
2. Researching your ancestors during the time that they lived in the Volga German colonies; and
3. Researching your ancestors in Europe prior to their immigration to Russia
Research in your home country
Whether your Volga German family migrated to the U.S., Canada, South America, or Germany, or remained in Russia, you need to gather as much information as possible before attempting to locate information in Russian archival sources. What are your parents, grandparents, and great grandparent’s names and birth dates? Did they leave Russia, if yes where did they migrate to? What Volga village(s) did they come from? Search for immigration, census, and naturalization records, and locate obituaries and vital records. These documents will provide you with information that will be essential for further research.
Some pointers for researching people who settled in the U.S. and Canada can be found here:
Researching your ancestors during the time they lived in the Volga German colonies
Colonization of the Volga German region began in 1763 after Catherine the Great issued her Manifesto.
The German presence in the region was almost completely eliminated by the 1941 Deportation. The records available between those two points in time vary depending on the colony. Records that may be available include Census (Revision) Lists, Church records, Family Lists, Communion Registers, and Military Draft Lists. Not all record types are available for all colonies.
The primary repositories for Volga German records are the Russian Archives at Saratov, Engels, Volgograd, and Samara. Saratov, Engels, and Volgograd have not made any of their records available online and obtaining records from those archives generally requires contacting the archive directly. Some microfilming was done by Family Search at the Samara Archive, and those records can be accessed online. Some records for the Black Sea and Bessarabian regions are also available from Family Search (the St. Petersburg Lutheran Consistory collection).
The most widely available records for Volga German colonies are Census Records, also called Revision Lists. The First Settler’s Lists (1764-1767) are available for most villages. A census of all the Volga Villages was taken in 1798, and several versions of those lists have been published. There were also censuses in 1775, 1811, 1816, 1834, 1850, 1857, and 1897. Not all of these records have survived to the present day. Of those that are available, many have been obtained and translated.
Church records, Family Lists, Communion Registers, and Military Draft Lists may be available for your village of interest. Not all of these records exist for every village.
Researching your ancestors in Europe prior to their immigration to Russia
Our Volga German ancestors came from all over Europe. Most of the settlers came from areas of Europe that were German-speaking, and at that point in time Germany as a country did not exist. As you research your ancestors, you will find that many of them came from the present-day German states of Baden-Württemberg, Hesse, and Rhineland-Palatinate. Don’t be surprised if you also discover that you have ancestors who originally came from France, Sweden, Poland, or somewhere else in present day Europe.
Many origin locations have already been documented. You can see which families have already been researched here:
Identifying and documenting the origin location for your ancestors can be challenging, but also rewarding.
Essentially, there are two steps: (1) Identify a possible location to research using available records, and (2) review the church/parish records for that location to determine if your ancestor can be found in those records.
You can find more information about how to locate and document the origin location for your ancestor here:
Read an article by Maggie Hein titled "Where did my ancestors live before migrating to Russia?"