Germans from Russia Church Records

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Germans from Russia
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Alexanderwohl Church.jpgAlexanderwohl Mennonite Church in Goessel, Kansas
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Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church at Goessel, Marion, Kansas was built by families who migrated from the Netherlands to West Prussia, to Molotschna in South Russia, to Kansas.

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Catherine the Great’s 1763 manifesto granted the freedom of religion and fostered the migration of Catholic, Lutheran, Hutterite and Mennonite colonists into the Russian Empire. Because civil records were not mandated in Russia until 1918, these various churches were primarily responsible for recording vital events. Churches typically recorded the ordinances of baptism, marriage and burial that are associated with birth, marriage and death. Many of these church records remain in Russian archives; however, there are some records available online or as published works. Understanding religious jurisdictions helps you understand what kind of records are available and where they ended up. Read on to discover information about Lutheran and Catholic religious jurisdictions.

Lutheran Jurisdictions and History[edit | edit source]

In 1832, Tsar Nicholas I created the General Evangelical Lutheran Consistory, which was divided into eight consistorial districts – six in the Baltics and two others: the St. Petersburg and Moscow Consistories. The St. Petersburg Consistory included the western part of the empire, extending down into the Black Sea area while the Moscow Consistory stretched eastwards into the Volga region, the Caucasus as well as Siberia and Central Asia (see the Lutheran Consistory Map below).

Each consistorial district contained individual parishes that often served multiple localities. Each parish was responsible for keeping records of baptisms, marriages and deaths. Beginning in January of 1833, parishes were also required to keep a duplicate copy of vital records to send to the consistorial headquarters. The St. Petersburg duplicate church book records are available through FamilySearch, while the location of the Moscow Consistory’s duplicate church records is currently unknown.

Map illustrating the Moscow and St. Petersburg Consistories. The Moscow Consistory extends to the eastern edge of the Empire.

Catholic Jurisdictions and History[edit | edit source]

Catherine the Great established the Catholic Archdiocese of Mogilev in 1772, which served all Catholics who lived within the Russian Empire (see the Catholic Diocese of Mogilev map located below). In 1848, the Diocese of Kherson was established and the boundaries of the diocese were drawn so as to include all of the German colonies. In 1852, the diocese was renamed and became the Diocese of Tiraspol (see the Catholic Diocese of Kherson/Tiraspol map located below). Individual parishes kept church records. Original church records for the Black Sea region are available at the State Archives of the Saratov Oblast, while select Catholic records for the Volga region are available through FamilySearch.org.

Map detailing the Catholic Archdiocese of Mogilev. Map of Catholic Diocese of Kherson which was later renamed diocese of Tiraspol in 1852.

How to Access the Records[edit | edit source]

Research techniques, strategies and resources vary depending upon religion and geographical area. To learn about records and resources available for your ancestor, find the source table below for your ancestor’s religion. Instructions on how to use these sources are found in the corresponding headings found in this Wiki page.

Sources for Lutheran Germans from Russia
Black Sea Region Volga Region
Lutheran Church Book Duplicates, 1833-1885 (FamilySearch) Russia, Samara, Church Books 1748-1934 (FamilySearch)
FamilySearch Catalog - Parish Records FamilySearch Catalog - Parish Records
Black Sea German Research (blackseagr.org) Published Translations
Odessa Digital Library (odessa3.org) Village Coordinators
Published Translations
Village Coordinators
Sources for Catholic Germans from Russia
Black Sea Region Volga Region
Black Sea German Research (blackseagr.org) Russia, Samara, Church Books 1748-1934 (FamilySearch)
Published Translations FamilySearch Catalog - Parish Records
Village Coordinators Published Translations

Village Coordinators
Sources for Mennonite Germans in Russia
Black Sea and Volga Regions
Mennonite Genealogy Resources (mennonitegenealogy.com/russia)
Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta (mennonitehistory.org/church-records)
Mennonite Heritage Center Archive
Published Translations
Village Coordinators

Lutheran Church Book Duplicates, 1833-1885[edit | edit source]

In 1832, Tsar Nicholas I created the General Evangelical Lutheran Consistory. The Consistory was divided into eight consistorial districts - six in the Baltics and two others: the St. Petersburg and Moscow Consistories. The St. Petersburg Consistory included the western part of the empire, extending down into the Black Sea area while the Moscow Consistory stretched eastwards into the Volga region, the Caucasus as well as Siberia and Central Asia. Within the consistories were individual parishes that often served multiple localities. These parishes were responsible for keeping records of baptisms, marriages, and deaths. Beginning in January of 1833, parishes were also required to keep a duplicate copy of vital records to send to the consistorial headquarters. The St. Petersburg duplicate church book records are available through FamilySearch, while the location of the Moscow Consistory's duplicate church records is currently unknown.

Duplicates of records kept by individual parishes were sent to the consistorial office in St. Petersburg. These duplicate records were stored in the Russian State Historical Archive in St. Petersburg and are now partially indexed and available through FamilySearch in the Russia, Lutheran Church Book Duplicates, 1833-1885 collection. To access this indexed collection, visit familysearch.org/search/collection/1469151.Search for your ancestor using identifying information such as first and last names, or birth, marriage and death information. This collection is only partially indexed and does not reflect all of the duplicate church book records available through FamilySearch. If you are unable to find your ancestor using the FamilySearch indexes, try searching the alternate indexes available through the Odessa Digital Library or Black Sea German Research. See the respective headings on this Wiki page to learn more. To browse images, scroll down to find View Images in this Collection. Select Browse. From here select the Province (gubernia), District (uyezd) and Town (parish). Alternatively, you can search for duplicate church records using the FamilySearch catalog. Instructions for using the catalog are found under the heading FamilySearch Catalog.

Russia, Samara Church Books 1748-1934[edit | edit source]

Catholic records are available for select parishes in the Novouzensk and Nikolaevsk uyezdi of the Samara/Saratov guberni (Volga Region). There are also some Lutheran records available (primarily for German Lutherans in the city of Samara). Many of these records – both Catholic and Lutheran – have been indexed in the Russia, Samara Church Books 1748-1934 collection. To access these indexes, visit familysearch.org/search/collection/1807365. Search for your ancestor using identifying information such as first and last names, or birth, marriage and death information. Please be aware that this collection is only partially indexed. To check to see if there are unindexed records for your ancestor’s parish, please see the heading FamilySearch Catalog and subheading Parish Records in this Wiki page.

Many records in this collection were written and are now indexed in Cyrillic. You may search using Latin search terms for names and places; however, search results will appear in Russian. Use Google Translate and websites such as stevemorse.org/russian/eng2rus.html to help you with translation and transliteration.

FamilySearch Catalog[edit | edit source]

Parish Records[edit | edit source]

To locate parish records using the FamilySearch Catalog, go to familysearch.org/search/catalog. In the Place box, type the name of the parish and select the corresponding entry from the drop-down box. You may also try using English, Russian, and German spelling variations as well as any alternate names you found in your previous research in online sources and gazetteers. Church records will be found under the heading Church Records. Click on the entry and scroll down to the section entitled Film/Digital Notes. In the Note column, you will find a brief description of the contents of the film. Search for the year and type of record (birth, marriage, or death) that you are looking for. The Location, Collection/Shelf, Film and DGS columns provide information regarding location. Pay special attention to the item number. There are often more than one type of record or time frame included on a microfilm and the item number indicates which item your selected record begins on. The final column, Format, shows availability. A camera icon indicates the record is available online, while a camera with a key on top indicates there are special viewing restrictions. A magnifying glass shows that the microfilm has been indexed. Finally, a microfilm or wheel icon means that the record is available to view at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Published Translations[edit | edit source]

Many Germans from Russia church records have been obtained by societies such as the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia (AHSGR) and the Germans from Russia Heritage Society (GRHS). These records have been translated into English and published. In the FamilySearch Catalog, published translations are also catalogued by place and will be found under the headings Church Records, Church Records – Indexes or Genealogy. These books are available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. If you are unable to visit the Family History Library, check your local or university library for availability, or check to see if the books are available through International Library Loan (ILL). Books may also be available for purchase through AHSGR or GRHS. If you are unable to find a book for your colony through the Family History Library, try checking ahsgr.org/store or grhs.org/pages/store for availability.

Church record publications do not follow a specific format; however, many authors have chosen to extract and translate the information into a table. Use the index which is typically located at the back of the book to search for your ancestor’s surname. Remember to watch for spelling variations.

Black Sea German Research[edit | edit source]

The Black Sea German Research website is an excellent resource for research in church records in the Black Sea area. To locate church record indexes, visit blackseagr.org. Under the research tab, select one of two options: Area/town/village specific or Church/Parish. An entry with a red asterisk (*) indicates that the item has recently been added to the website. The site is updated regularly, so be sure to check back often for more information. Clicking on the underlined link will open a PDF which can often be searched using the Ctrl-F feature. To use this feature, simply press the keys Ctrl and F (or Command and F for Mac users) at the same time and a search box will appear. Type what you are searching for into the box and it will locate the corresponding text on the page.

    • Area/town/village specific is divided up into several different areas. Underneath each heading, you will find links to indexes and records available for specific towns or parishes within the area. For example, under the heading Dobrudscha, select Jakobsonsthal births 1843-1879. This is an index of birth/baptism records for the village of Jakobsonsthal.
    • Church/Parish is a list of available church and parish registers in Germany, Russia and the United States. For example, click on Diocese of Tiraspol Roman Catholic Church Death Records to find indexes of Roman Catholic church records for various locations in the Black Sea. Partial indexes to the St. Petersburg Lutheran duplicate church records can be found under the heading St. Petersburg Church Records (Odessa area).

Odessa Digital Library[edit | edit source]

The Odessa Digital Library is a great website to help you with research in the Black Sea region. Visit odessa3.org and from the main page, select Collections. Church records can be found under the headings Bessarabian Collection, Church Records or St. Petersburg Archives. These collections can be browsed and searched using the Ctrl-F feature. You may also wish to search for your ancestor by using the Full Text Search option available at the top of the page. Type your search query into the box and select which data category (collection) you would like to search in. The search engine accepts a variety of wildcard searches. To learn more about getting the most out of your search on the Odessa Digital Library, please see odessa3.org/queryhelp.html.

    • The Bessarabian Collection is a great tool for research in Bessarabia. Within the Bessarabia Collection are several folders. Click on the name of a town/parish to access indexes or try searching the Bessarabian Index – an index of Bessarabian church records.
    • Church Records contains links to parish register indexes primarily in the United States; however, there a few records from German colonies in Russia. Check to see if your locality is included in this collection.
    • St. Petersburg Archives contains indexes from the St. Petersburg Lutheran church book duplicates. The collection is organized by region.

Mennonite Genealogical Resources Website[edit | edit source]

Access the Mennonite Genealogical Resources page at mennonitegenealogy.com/russia. Aside from the General tab, in which you will find general resources, links are organized by colony. Locate your colony of interest and look for keywords such as church records or birth/baptism, marriage, and death/burial. Most records are indexes and can be searched using the Ctrl-F feature.

Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta[edit | edit source]

Church record indexes for select areas in Russia and the Crimea have been published online by the Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta. Records can be searched with the Ctrl-F feature. To access these records, visit mennonitehistory.org/church-records.

Mennonite Heritage Archives[edit | edit source]

The Mennonite Heritage Archives is located in Winnipeg, Canada and holds an extensive collection of both Prussian and Russian Mennonite community documents. Visit their website at archives.mennonitechurch.ca/. An inventory of archival holdings can be found here. To view their Odessa (Kherson/Cherson) collection holdings, click here. Records are not available online but can be accessed by contacting the archive.

Village Coordinators[edit | edit source]

Many German colonies have village coordinators, or individuals with extensive knowledge of a specific colony. Village coordinators can be located through genealogical societies (AHSGR and GRHS) or a web search. Contact your town or parish’s village coordinator to see if they have any information regarding church records.

The Evangelical-Lutheran marriages in Smolensk 1834-1870[edit | edit source]

Smolensk became the home of many German officers, bureaucrats, merchants, craftsmen and many farmers just before WWI. They founded a church in 1857. In the year 1862 the parish of Smolensk had 403 parishioners. In 1941 there were three volumes of church records still in existence: Births 1834-1917, Marriages 1834-1918 , Deaths 1834-1918.

All registers, except the birth registers were then in good repair. Entries were made in German until 1891, from 1892 to 1918 the Russian language was used.

The author made a list of all marriage entries between 1834 and 1879, which he did in 1941. Mr. Seeberg-Elverfeldt remarks that not all marriages were performed in Smolensk but as far away as Moscow and St. Petersburg.

A complete listing of entries between 1870 and 1918 was not feasible in the author's opinion because the congregation was no longer purely Germanic (volksdeutsch). He points out, though, that the death registers are of great worth because the entries reveal a place of origin of the deceased.

Among the FHL films of the St. Petersburg Lutheran Consistory, of which the Smolensk Lutheran Parish was a part, records for seven years are totally missing. The article by the above author provides information of marriages for six of these seven years. Frequently, Mr. Seeberg-Elversfeldt lists a marriage or two more than the films show.

There are two different formats of marriage records on the film. Firstly, the main marriage records contain first and last names, civil standing, occupation, origins and names of fathers of bride and groom. Secondly, there are also lists giving only the first and last names of those getting married and reference numbers to the main marriage registers which do not exist on films after 1853. Mr. Seeberg-Elverfeldt's article gives the complete information of the main registers from 1834-1870, frequently augmented with information from birth and death records. [1] |}

Repositories[edit | edit source]

Three important repositories for Mennonites are:

Mennonite Heritage Centre
600 Shaflesburg Rd
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3P 0M4
Canada

In 1966 they filmed all the Mennonite records in Odessa for the southern Russian Empire, including revision lists.

Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies in Canada
169 Riverton Ave
Winnipeg, Manitoba R2L 2E5
Canada

Mennonite Library and Archives
Information and Research Center
Box 366
North Newton, KS 67117
USA

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Seeberg-Elverfeldt, Roland. "Evangelisch-Lutherische Trauungen in Smolensk 1834-1870", Archiv für Sippenforschung Jahrgang 19, Heft 5 (1942), starting on page 97. (FHL call no. 943 B2as)