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Tumbling Around These Prairies

Cory, Bob. "Tumbling Around These Prairies." Minot Daily News, 6 July 1974, 5.


At Rugby this week the North Dakota society of Germans from Russia met in an area where the names of several towns are the same as of cities in Germany, and the same as of German settlements in Russia. This triplication of geographic names--the originals in Germany and copies in South Russia and in the United States--attests to the trail of German migration.

South of Rugby, for example, is the hamlet of Selz. The name originates in the old German province of Alsace, and there was a village of Selz in the Odessa district of Russia.

Similarly in nearby McHenry County, Karlsruhe bears the name of the old capital of Baden. This is also the name that German settlers gave to a village in Taurien north of the Sea of Azov. Some distance from Rugby, and north of Devils Lake, is Munich, named for the great Bavarian city, which in German is called Munchen. In Russia a Munchen was established northeast of Odessa.

It would far oversimplify truth to leap to a conclusion that Selz, North Dakota was settled by Germans from Selz, Russia, and that they were descendants of people from Selz in Alsace. Or to guess that Karlsruhe in Germany furnished the colonists for Karlsruhe in Russia, who in turn migrated to Karlsruhe, North Dakota. It just did not happen in that fashion. The trail from Germany to the United States was more complex. Besides not all towns in North Dakota with German names were settled by Germans who came via Russia.

Readers are free to point to other examples in this triplication of place names, linking Germany with Russia and with North Dakota. A possible example, I thought, might be Newburg in Bottineau County, Tradition says, however, that the Bottineau County village was named after a township which in turn was named for Andrew Newborg, an early settler. One is tempted to dispute this, finding a Neuburg northeast of Augsburg in Germany, and another Neuburg southwest of Odessa; and knowing that there were Germans (though not from Russia) among earlier homesteaders of Bottineau County.

It seems clear that the founders of early German colonies in Russia chose the names of their settlements. Not always, however, was their choice the name of the German community of their origin. The Mennonities from Germany commonly chose the name of their home community, which they had loved and left under political duress. Frequently, though, southern German emigrants were poverty-stricken, depressed people who although they loved the German language and culture were disposed to want to forget the places where they had much unhappiness. They did, normally, select familiar German names for the settlements they established in Russia. In the United States (and in North Dakota) immigrants from Russia may have been privileged to choose the names of a few settlements. More often the German names were picked more or less at random by railroad immigration agents or platters of townsites, thinking any German name would appeal to German speaking newcomers.

The Russo-Germans of North Dakota chose for their convention a city which lays claim to the geographical center of North America. That center, anyhow, is not far from the heart of the major concentrations of their ethnic group in the United States.

States receiving the greatest numbers are North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado. The largest concentration of all was in North Dakota.

Germans from Russia began entering Dakota Territory in 1873, first in what is now South Dakota. From the southern part of the territory they filtered into what became North Dakota starting in 1884. Between 1884 and 1920 the influx into North Dakota, including immigrants and their children, totaled nearly 70,000. By comparison Kansas in that year had 31,512, South Dakota 30,937, Nebraska 22,421 and Colorado 21,067.

The preponderance of Russo-Germans in the Dakotas as of 1920 was of immigrants classifying as Schwarzmeer Deutsch; that is, persons who came from near the Black Sea.

Anyhow, as of today, Germans from Russia constitute the liveliest ethnic group on North Dakota. They have their own state-wide historical society. They have their own historians and their own periodical, entitled "Heritage Review." Their society maintains an affiliation with the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

The senior historian of Germans from Russia, anywhere you find them in the United States, is Dr. Karl Stumpp, native of a village near Odessa. He took his doctorate in Tubingen in Bessarabia. For seven years he was director of German-Russian research in "Deutsches Auslandsinstitut" in Stuttgart.

At present the interest of the members in North Dakota runs strongly to family histories and genealogies.

The bible for family research is Dr. Stumpp's 1,020-page tome, "The Emigration from Germany to Russia in the Years 1763 to 1862." The edition of this work used in the United States is one published by the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, Lincoln, Nebraska.

This work is remarkable for its compilation of names, dates and places of settlement derived from passport and census records that were found in archives in Dnepropetrovsk; plus lists of names from church and community records compiled in Europe; plus data from family Bibles and personal records and correspondence. The labor that went into the book is tremendous. It is comprehensive, and yet as selective as the angel's book of gold in "Abou Ben Adhem."

The energetic editor of "Heritage Review" and an effective booster of the North Dakota society is Arthur Leno of Bismarck.

Reprinted with permission of Minot Daily News.

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