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Germans from Russia Historical Geography
As a result of wars, treaties, and political realignments, the internal and external boundaries of the Russian Empire have changed many times. This page describes the changes that have taken place in the provincial structure and external frontiers of the Russian Empire. This information will help you in finding records in the FamilySearch Catalog for the place your ancestors lived. This page will describe the jurisdictions used in the FamilySearch Catalog.
The territory of the Russian Empire has varied considerably over the centuries. Beginning in 1802 Russia gradually reformed the structure of the Empire using administrative divisions with called guberniias. Each guberniia had a governor.This reform continued until 1861 when Poland was finally divided into guberniias. During the Soviet era provincial boundaries were changed and called oblasts. An oblast did not have a governor.
The FamilySearch Catalog is based on Russian Empire jurisdictions as they existed before World War I (prior to 1914) regardless of later changes during the era of the Soviet Union. Soviet places that are now outside the Russian Republic are also cataloged under their present location, such as, POLAND, ESTONIA, LATVIA, LITHUANIA, BELARUS, UKRAINE, MOLDOVA, GEORGIA, and ARMENIA. The northern part of East Prussia is also listed in the catalog under the old German Empire (1871) jurisdictions, for example, GERMANY, PREUßEN, OSTPREUßEN, KÖNIGSBERG. The FamilySearch Catalog uses the older guberniias for most of the Empire, but places in Ukraine are listed under both their Empire guberniias and their Soviet oblasts.
Russian Empire Boundaries
The boundaries of the Russian Empire have changed many times since German-speaking people began settling there in large numbers starting in 1763, including borders of some areas where Germans settled. The earliest German settlements were along the Volga River in old Russia, near St. Petersburg, and near Belovesh in the Ukraine. As Russia expanded, Germans were also encouraged to settle newly acquired Russian lands sometimes named “New Russia.”
Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, and Finland. The Partitions of Poland expanded the Russian Empire into northeastern Belarus in 1772, further into Belarus and into the Ukraine in 1793, and after the defeat of a Polish uprising into Courland and Volhynia in 1795. In 1809 Russia took control of Finland. The Congress of Vienna in 1815 gave a revived but greatly reduced Poland to the Russian Tsar. Poland and Finland were allowed more autonomy than other areas. As a distinct entity within Russia, Poland was not at first divided into provincial units (guberniias) as the rest of Russia was gradually after 1802. In 1861 even Poland was divided into guberniias. Germans from Russian Poland are covered in greater detail on the Poland Wiki article.
Black Sea and Bessarabia. Russia first expanded to the Black Sea in 1774 in southeast Kherson (Ukraine), Tavrida (including the Crimea) in 1783, and northern Kuban in 1793. In 1792 the Jedisan in southwesterern Kherson was ceded by the Ottomans to Russia. During the 1806 to 1812 Russo-Turkish War the Russians occupied Moldavia and Walachia. These were returned to the Ottomans in 1812 except for the eastern part of Moldavia known as Bessarabia between the Dniester and Prut rivers. After the Crimean War in 1856 Russia turned over the Danube River delta and southern Bessarabia to Romania.
Caucasus. Russia began expanding into the Caucasus in 1783. By 1801 eastern Georgia was annexed. Piece-by-piece Russia took control of most of the Caucasus in ten separate annexations mostly by 1830. A few remaining portions of the Caucasus were not assimilated into the Empire until 1878.
Aftermath of the Russian Civil War. World War I began in 1914, and led to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, and Russian Civil War from 1917 to 1920. After the civil war, the Bolsheviks reconquered Georgia, the Ukraine, and eastern Armenia, and suppressed national independence movements in Belarus and central Asia. However, several former Russian territories were separated during these conflicts. Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania gained independence. Poland was given independence and territory which included the eastern third of Lithuania, and the western half of Volhynia. In 1917 Bessarabia declared independence from the Bolsheviks and in 1918 was joined to Romania. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was founded in 1922.
Soviet Union and World War II. At the start of World War II in 1940 the Soviets annexed Bessarabia and northern Bukovina, but lost them back to Romania when the Nazi-Romanian alliance invaded in 1941. All Soviet territory claimed in 1940 was recaptured and restored to the Soviets at the end of the war by treaty in 1947. The Soviets also took over the northern part of the German territory of East Prussia including Königsberg/Kaliningrad, the eastern part of Poland including central Lithuania, western Belarus and Volhynia, eastern Galicia, and a part of eastern Czechoslovakia called Transcarpathia (Subcarpathian Rus’). German settlements are located in all of these areas, but those from East Prussia, Galicia, Transcarpathia, and Bukovina are normally not considered Germans from Russia because they were first acquired during the Soviet era.
Commonwealth of Independent States. On January 1, 1992, the former Soviet Union was dissolved. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania become independent countries. Russia was joined by Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova (much of Bessarabia), Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and several other former Soviet republics in Asia to form the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The borders of these states are largely the same as they were under the Soviets.
In addition provinces [guberniias] have been reorganized, changed names and boundaries, and local place-names have changed. You may need to determine previous boundaries and jurisdictions to locate your ancestors' records. German-speaking people tended to give German language names to places they settled even when Russian names for those places already existed. Gazetteers and histories are helpful sources of information about a these changes. The following list describes the location of selected guberniias.
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Arkhangel’sk Far northern province and city on the White Sea. In the St. Petersburg Consistory.
Astrakhan Vyshek Province and city at the mouth of the Volga River on the Caspian Sea. In the Moscow Consistory.
Bessarabia [Bessarabien] Province on the Black Sea, southwest of the Dnestr River, now in Moldova. In the St. Petersburg Consistory.
Chernigov Province on the Dnepr River and city about 110 km northeast of Kiev, now in Ukraine. In the St. Petersburg Consistory.
Kherson [Cherson] Province on the Black Sea and city at the mouth of the Dnepr River now in Ukraine. In the St. Petersburg Consistory.
Kiev Province and capitol city of Ukraine on the Dnepr River. In the St. Petersburg Consistory.
Kostroma Province and city on the Volga River about 300 km northeast of Moscow. In the St. Petersburg Consistory.
Kronstadt Island city in the Gulf of Finland near St. Petersburg. In the St. Petersburg Consistory.
Krym Crimean peninsula on the north side of the Black Sea. Southern part of Tavrida province, Ukraine.
Kuban District on the eastern shore of the Sea of Azov and northeast shore of the Black Sea reaching the northern Caucasus mountains. In the Moscow Consistory.
Narva City near the border with Estonia about 110 km west of St. Petersburg. In the St. Petersburg Consistory.
Novgorod Province and city on Lake Ilman and the Volkhov River about 150 km south of St. Petersburg. In the St. Petersburg Consistory.
Olonets Province and city on Lake Ladoga about 150 km northeast of St. Petersburg. In the St. Petersburg Consistory.
Podolia Province between the Dnestr and Bug Rivers and city on the Dnestr River about 300 southwest of Kiev, now in Ukraine. In the St. Petersburg Consistory.
Poltava Province on the Dnepr River and city 300 km southeast of Kiev, now in Ukraine. In the St. Petersburg Consistory.
Pskov Province and city on Lake Peipus [Chudskoye] about 220 km southwest of St. Petersburg. In the St. Petersburg Consistory.
Smolensk Province and city on the Dnepr River 350 km west of Moscow. In the St. Petersburg Consistory.
Sanktpeterburg [Sankt Petersburg, St. Petersburg, Leningrad] Major port, capital city and province on Finnish Gulf of the Baltic Sea.
Tavrida [Taurida] Province on the north side of the Black Sea include the Crimean Peninsula [Krym] now in Ukraine. In the St. Petersburg Consistory.
Volhynia [Wolhynia] Province including the headwaters of the Pripet river 140 km west of Kiev and now in Ukraine. In the St. Petersburg Consistory.
Vologda. A vast northern province about 400 km north of Moscow and 450 km west of St. Petersburg. In the St. Petersburg Consistory.
Yaroslavl [Jaroslavl] Province and city on the Volga River about 250 km northeast of Moscow. In the St. Petersburg Consistory. Now Dnepropetrovsk in Ukraine.
Yekaterinoslav [Jekaterinoslav, Dnepropetrovsk] Province and city on the Dnepr River about 400 km north of the Black Sea. In the St. Petersburg Consistory.
German-Speaking Settlement Groups in Eastern Europe
The following list describes various groups of Germans from Russia, as well as several groups that settled eastern Europe, but are not considered Germans from Russia.
Alt Danzig was the first Black Sea German colony (1786). It is in northern Kherson, Ukraine.
Baltic Germans. The Teutonic Knights from the time of the Crusades conquered and colonized parts of Prussia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Most of these Germans were Roman Catholics. Few left the Russian Empire and they are not considered Germans from Russia for this discussion.
Banat is an area of German-speaking people in southern Hungary east of the Tisza River. Germans from this area are not Germans from Russia.
Belovesh is one of the earliest German settlements (1766) in Chernigov, Ukraine.
Beresan is a southern district in the province of Kherson, Ukraine first settled by Black Sea Germans in 1804. In 1849 some of these settlers moved to Ohio in the United States.
Bessarabian Germans settled between the Dniester and Prut rivers near the Black Sea between 1814 and 1842.
Black Sea Germans settled along the north coast of the Black Sea starting in 1804 especially in Kherson, Tavrida, and Yekaterinoslav provinces in Ukraine and including colonies around Alt Danzig, Beresan, Bessarabia, Crimea, Dobrudja, Khortitsa, Molotscna, and Odessa. They were a mix of Evangelical Lutherans, Catholics, and Mennonites. In 1897 there were 345,000 settlers. Some migrated from these settlement to secondary settlements in the Caucasus region. The biggest concentration of Black Sea German emigrants to the United States is in North and South Dakota.
Bukovinia Germans. Bukovina is located between Galicia and Romania. Northern Bukovina become part of the Soviet Union (Ukraine) in 1940. Bukovina Germans are not considered Germans from Russia for this article.
Caucasus (North) Germans. From mother colonies on the Black Sea, Germans settled scattered, small colonies in the Kuban and Terek districts of Russia in 1817 and 1818.
Caucasus (South) Germans. In 1817 Germans migrated from mother colonies on the Black Sea to a large settlement near Tiflis city in Georgia (Tiflis).
Crimea (Krym), a peninsula on the north side of the Black Sea (Tavrida, Ukraine) was first settled by Germans in 1804.
Danube Swabians. Starting in the 12th Century Hungarian leaders encouraged German settlers. Again, starting in 1718 the Austria-Hungarian Empire encouraged settlers to repopulate areas of Hungary decimated by wars with the Ottoman Empire. German-speaking people (not just from Swabia) settled many parts of the Danube River basin of Hungary, especially areas south of Budapest. These are not Germans from Russia.
Dobrudja Germans settled the western shore of the Black Sea in what is now Romania. These are not Germans from Russia.
Galician Germans. Galicia lies south of Poland, north of Hungary, and west of Ukraine. Eastern Galicia did not become part of the Soviet Union until World War II. These are not Germans from Russia. «???Baerbel, do you agree?
Gottschee Germans settled in Croatia and Styria (Yugoslavia/Slovenia) and are not considered Germans from Russia.
Khortitsa (Chortitza) was settled by Mennonites from West Prussia in 1789 and 1790. It is in northern Tavrida, Ukraine. It is considered part of the Black Sea Germans.
Ingermanland was an area of early German settlement in 1764 and 1767 just southwest of St. Petersburg, Russia.
Molotschna is a district of Tavrida, Ukraine on the north shore of the Sea of Azov. It was settled by Mennonites from West Prussia in 1804. This colony is considered part of the Black Sea Germans.
Odessa. Germans settled near this Black Sea port in Kherson, Ukraine, starting in 1804. In 1872 and 1873 several groups from this area emigrated to Nebraska and the Dakotas in the United States.
Polish Germans. Poland did not exist as an independent nation between the Partitions of the late 1700s through to WW I. There were numerous German settlements throughout the Prussian, Russian and Austrian controlled regions. Roughly 75% of Germans in Volhynia migrated from Russian Poland throughout the 1800s. Although east-central Poland was controlled by Russia, Polish Germans are not considered Germans from Russia. Details about them can be found in the Poland Wiki article. The vast majority of Russian Poland Germans were Evangelical Lutheran.
Samara Germans. German Mennonites founded settlements north of the city of Samara, Russia between 1854 and 1859.
Sathmar Germans live in northeast Hungary and are not Germans from Russia.
Sudeten Germans settled in a ring around Bohemia and Moravia (Czechoslovakia). They are not Germans from Russia.
Transylvanian Saxons. In the late 1100s settlers from Flanders, Luxembourg, Mosel (now France), and the Rhineland region of Germany settled in the crook of the Carpathian mountains of eastern Hungary.
Volga Germans. Among the earliest and largest German settlements. A largely Catholic group of settlers founded large colonies along both sides of the Volga River north and south of Saratov city in the Saratov and Samara provinces of Russia between 1764 and 1768. After 1874 many Volga Germans emigrated to Colorado, Nebraska, and Kansas. Over 150,000 Volga Germans still in Russia died of starvation from 1920 to 1923 following the Russia Civil War.
Volhynian Germans. 1816 saw the first German settlements in eastern Volhynia, Ukraine (then a province of Russia). Germans who had previously settled in Russian Poland migrated to Lutsk and Rovno in Volhynia in 1831 and 1832. A much larger group of almost entirely Evangelical Lutheran Germans settled in western Volhynia between 1860 and 1875 without the benefits granted earlier German settlers. They rented or bought their land from Polish nobles. There were also several Baptist and Moravian Brethren German settlements in eastern Volhynia. In 1897 there were 170,000 Volhynian Germans. Volhynian Germans helped settle Michigan, Wisconsin, and western Canada but were also scattered in other areas as well.
Zipser Germans settled near the Carpathian mountains in northern Hungary in the 12th Century. They are not Germans from Russia.
For more about the history of German-speaking settlements in Russia see the “Emigration and Immigration” page of this article.
For a Village List of Germans in the Crimea go here.
The following atlases are the source of some of the information on this page and explain more about the historical geography of Russia and Germans from Russia. See also the “Gazetteers” and “Maps” pages of this article. You can find these and similar material at the Family History Library and many other research libraries.
Chew, Allen F. An Atlas of Russian History: Eleven Centuries of Changing Borders. Rev. ed. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1970. (FHL book 947 E3c 1970; computer number 272497). Includes a greater variety of maps but with less details such as rivers and towns.
Magoscsi, Paul Robert. Historical Atlas of East Central Europe. A History of East Central Europe; v. 1. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995 (FHL book 940 H2ho v. 1; computer number 714420). Excellent maps and text about the geographic history. The maps of “Germans in East Central Europe ca 1900" and “The evolution of German settlement” on page 105 are especially helpful. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
. Ukraine: A Historical Atlas. University of Toronto Ukrainian Studies; no. 1. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985. (FHL Q book 947.71 E7m; computer number 409943). Detailed maps, including “Minority populations in 19th century Ukraine” on page 18 showing German settlements. Maps often show areas beyond the Ukraine including most of the areas where Germans settled in Russia.
Stier, Hans-Erich. Westerman Großer Atlas zur Weltgeschichte (Westermann Atlas of World History). 8. Aufl. Braunschweig: Georg Westermann, 1972 (FHL book 940 E3we). Text in German. A very general worldwide atlas which includes a few maps showing the development of Russian borders. Good for annexation dates.
«??? Also get books with lists of settlements in either Emig, Gazetteers, or this page???
Other sources about boundary changes are found in the FamilySearch Catalog under:
- RUSSIA - HISTORICAL GEOGRAPHY
- RUSSIA - HISTORY
- RUSSIA, [PROVINCE] - HISTORICAL GEOGRAPHY
- RUSSIA, [PROVINCE] - HISTORY
Important information about German-speaking villages in Russia and eastern Europe is available via computer network Internet sites described in the “Archives and Libraries” page of this article.
- This page was last modified on 25 July 2014, at 18:15.
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