Tales of Immigrants’ Past
may Have a Future:
Nixon, Lance. "Tales of Immigrants’ Past may Have a Future." Grand Forks Herald, 29 December 1992, sec. 1B & 3B.
A government worker stopped to visit Martin Wald of Strasburg,
N.D., for two days in May 1939 and again for three days in June
1939. As a part of a Works Progress Administration project in North
Dakota, the federal government was paying such workers to interview
immigrants about history. They filled out forms that asked immigrants
the names of the villages they had come from, the names of family
members, even the ships on which they had come to America.
As part of the interview, the worker gathering the information
– in this case a man named Ernest Borr – sometimes wrote
a short biography of the person.
As it happened, Martin Wald had a good memory. Born in a German
settlement called Selz in czarist Russia, he had come to the United
States on board a ship that arrived in New York City Oct. 19, 1888.
Three days later, on Oct. 22, he arrived in Eureka, Dakota Territory.
He stayed there for three days inquiring about land, sleeping nights
in the hay loft of a livery station.
He found work on a ranch for a year, then in the Kalbrearer coal
mine near Hazelton. He filed his first land claim in Emmons County,
N.D., on Feb. 3, 1890, and built an 8-by-12 sod house on it. He
remembered that he plowed and sowed 22 acres to flax and reaped
40 bushels for a harvest. He filed a different claim later. Then
on Dec. 28, 1892, he married Magdalene Keller. Father Bernard, the
missionary at Fort Yates, performed the ceremony.
There wasn’t so much else to tell. He told the interviewer
that in 1908, he hauled 32 loads of wheat to Eureka, S.D., by ox
team and wagon. It was a distance of 50 miles. He told about the
barn made of rocks, logs, and prairie sod.
There were more than 5,000 such interviews done in North Dakota
between 1936 and 1940, some more complete than others. The pioneer
biography files, as they are called, are at the State Historical
Society’s archives in Bismarck.
The files have been used occasionally by researchers, but now for
the first time, there’s a move to publish some of them.
Michael Miller, the Germans from Russia bibliographer at the North
Dakota State University libraries, and his colleague Corinne Becker,
an independent researcher, are selecting the interviews that were
done with German immigrants from Russia and having the information
entered into a computer system.
If NDSU’s Institute of Regional Studies takes up the project,
they hope to begin publishing the interviews – probably in
a softbound book – by the fall of 1993. The interviews from
Emmons County will be first, followed by those from McIntosh, Grant
and Logan counties.
“We pulled out the Norwegians and the Danes and the Scots,”
Becker said. “We deal with the Germans from Russia. That’s
why we’re narrowing the field.”
Becker said the interviews may be significant because the so-called
Black Sea Germans, from such places as Bessarabia, Crimea and Odessa,
have not been researched so thoroughly as those Germans from Russia
who came from the Volga River region. North Dakota has many people
who trace their roots to the Black Sea region.
Invaluable for family researchers
The interviewers will be invaluable for family researchers because
of the family data and the place names they give, Becker said.
But there are problems with the interviews. Perhaps because Ernest
Borr and others like him were not Germans themselves, or perhaps
because the people being interviewed didn’t always know how
to spell things, the interviews contain a lot of misspelled place
names or family names.
“I have to decide whether to leave the spelling which is
wrong or when I can go back find the correct spelling of the village
or whatever it is,” Becker said. “What I’ll probably
end up doing is including both. I’ll give the correct spelling
as an editor’s note.”
There are few interviews with women. Among the 28 interviews with
Germans from Russia from Emmons County, only one is with a woman
– Sophia Kallenberger Beck of Linton, N.D.
“It’s the problem of history,” Becker said. “The
women get lost in the shuffle.”
Those Germans from Russia Interviewed
Here’s a list of the Germans from Russia included in the
Works Progress Administration interviews from Emmons County. Some
NDSU researchers are hoping to publish the interviews with German
immigrants from Russia, beginning with Emmons County in 1993.
• Baumgartner: Franz, Johannes, Joseph.
• Bauman, Sebestian.
• Beck, Sophia Kallenberger
• Bechtle, Daniel.
• Brossart, John.
• Burgad, Joseph.
• Dockter, Gottlieb and Martin.
• Feist, Jacob.
• Fischer, Jacob.
• Flegel, August.
• Geffre, Joe.
• Keller: Egidi, Max, Peter, Phillip.
• Mossbruker, Peter J. Ochsner, Philip.
• Pudwill, Heinrich.
• Reich, Mathias.
• Roehrich, Frans.
• Schneider, Albinus.
• Schulz, Henry.
• Senger, Anton.
• Wald, Martin.
• Welk, Ludwig.
• Worst, John H.
An immigrant cemetery on the North Dakota prairie.
Reprinted with permission of the Grand Forks Herald.