Recent Microfilm Acquisitions from the Odessa Archives and Related Mennonite Research
Copyright 2006, Tim Janzen, M.D.

Presented at the GRHS Convention in Portland, Oregon on July 14, 2006

    Historians and genealogists with an interest in the German Russians who lived in South Russia generally had little access to documents stored in archives in the Soviet Union prior to 1990 due to governmental restrictions.  However, efforts have been underway since the early 1990s by various German Russian organizations to acquire copies of material housed in various archives in Ukraine.  Of the large archives in Ukraine one of the most cooperative archives for German Russian organizations to work with up this point has been the Odessa Regional State Archive. 

    The first major microfilming project in that archive after the collapse of the Soviet Union was carried out in 1990 and 1991 under the direction of Harvey Dyck from the University of Toronto in which a large group of documents from the Peter Braun Archive in Fond 89 were microfilmed on 77 reels of microfilm.  The documents that were microfilmed had been originally collected by Peter Braun, a Mennonite teacher in the Molotschna Colony.  They fortuitously survived the turbulent years following the Bolshevik Revolution and somehow came to be deposited in the Odessa Archive.  The documents found in that microfilm collection have provided significant insight into the history and development of the Molotschna Colony.  Among the most important documents found in the collection is a census of the entire colony that was taken in 1835 and a large collection of school records for the colony that date between 1853 and 1896.

    Beginning in 1996 the Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies in Fresno, California began a cooperative project with the Odessa Archive to microfilm additional documents housed in the archive, with a focus on Mennonite related materials.  Paul Toews, who is the director of the CMBS Fresno, developed a close working relationship with the director of the Odessa Archive, Vladimir Malchenko, and the other archivists.  As a result of this relationship Paul Toews has been able to organize a series of microfilming projects at the archive.  Paul has been coordinating the efforts of a consortium of Mennonite archives that have been having the Odessa Archive microfilm a large collection of Mennonite related materials found in Fond 6, Inventories 2, 3, 4, and 5 microfilmed.  The archivists at the Odessa Archive, Lilia Belousova in particular, have been compiling inventories written in English of the files from Inventories 2 through 8 that contain Mennonite related materials.  The files found in these inventories predominantly date between 1847 and 1870 with a few files dating earlier to as early 1819.  As a result of this cooperative venture one group of Mennonite related files has been microfilmed annually since 1999.

    In addition to the microfilming that has been carried out at the behest of the consortium of Mennonite archives, since 2000 I have been coordinating the microfilming of the Mennonite related materials found in Fond 6, Inventory 1 working in conjunction with Paul Toews.  I have been reviewing the inventories of the files found in this fond that have been published in Russian by the Odessa Archive in coordination with Alfred Eisfeld of Germany.  So far 6 volumes of inventories for Inventory 1 have been published which span the years 1799 through 1841.  Hopefully additional volumes will be published in the near future, but the exact status of Alfred Eisfeld’s preparation of the indexes is uncertain at this time.  I have been reviewing each of these six volumes as they have been published in recent years and have been selecting the files that appear likely to contain Mennonite related materials based on their file descriptions and have been donating the funds to the California Mennonite Historical Society so that Paul Toews can order the microfilming of the files selected.  Tatyana Makarenko of Houston, Texas and Sergey Yelizarov of Odessa have translated many of the file descriptions into English and their work has been quite helpful to me in determining which files to have microfilmed.  Tatyana’s translations of the file descriptions for those files that have been microfilmed have been placed on the Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta by Judith Rempel so that they are available for any researcher who wants to use them.

    So far a total of 33 rolls of microfilm containing a total of over 101,000 pages of documents have been produced from files found in Fond 6.  Fourteen reels of microfilm have been produced taken from files found in from Fond 6, Inventory 1, five reels have been produced taken from Inventory 2, four reels have been produced taken from Inventory 3, eight reels have been produced taken from Inventory 4, and two reels from Inventory 5.  All the microfilming has done on 16 mm microfilms using a relatively new high quality Canon microfilm camera.  Each microfilm contains about 3000 frames of material. 

    In the spring of 2005 the Odessa Archives began having difficulties with their microfilming department, so we encouraged the archive to switch to digital photography.  The archive purchased a Canon 20D digital camera and began creating digital photos in the summer of 2005.  This winter the first set of digital photos were acquired for about 8300 pages from Inventory 1 on 4 DVDs and for about 4000 pages from 5-8 on 2 DVDs.  The images are JPEG files and range in size between 700 and 3500 kilobytes.  Digital photography will continue in the upcoming years until we have obtained microfilms of all known Mennonite related files in Fond 6.  Hopefully, we will be able to complete the digital photography of all Mennonite related files in Fond 6 within the next 3 to 4 years.  The period for which we have not yet obtained microfilms or digital photos is between 1842 and 1846.

    The Mennonite archives participating in the microfilming of the Mennonite related files from Inventories 2 through 8 include the Mennonite Heritage Center and the Center for M. B. Studies in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the Mennonite Historical Society of British Columbia, the Center for M. B. Studies in Hillsboro, Kansas, and the Center for M. B. Studies in Fresno, California.  I have been providing funding so that a larger number of archives are receiving complimentary copies of the microfilms from Inventory 1.  The archives receiving copies of the microfilms from Inventory 1 include the Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta, the Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan, the Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario, the Mennonitische Forschungstelle in Weierhof, Germany, the Archivo Mennonita and the Archivo Colonia Fernheim in Paraguay, the Germans from Russia Heritage Society in Bismarck, North Dakota and the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia in Lincoln, Nebraska, in addition to the previously mentioned archives that are participating in the microfilming of Inventories 2, 3, 4, and 5.

    All of the materials that have been microfilmed since 1999 have been taken from a large group of files found in Fond 6 in the archive.  This fond contains the records of the Board of Guardians for Foreign Settlers in South Russia and contains 15,227 files in 9 different inventories.  The Board of Guardians was the governmental agency responsible for overseeing all of the foreign settlers in South Russia, many of whom were of German background.  This board was established in 1800 and continued to function until 1871 when it was disbanded and its functions were absorbed by other governmental agencies.  Inventory 1, which is the largest of the different inventories with 5737 files, spans the years 1800 to 1846.  Individual files may contain as few as 3 or 4 pages of documents or in some cases may contain 1000 or more pages.  Most files tend to have between 20 and 100 pages of documents in them.

    The records of the Board of Guardians are a treasure trove for any genealogist or historian interested in the German Russians who lived in South Russia during the 19th Century.  The files found in Fond 6 contain many different types of documents.  These records include censuses, vital statistics such as birth, marriage, and death records, immigration records, estate records, voting records, orphan records, passport records, transfer records generated when people moved from one village to another, court records of various types, economic, agricultural, and population statistics, reports of accidents and natural disasters, and many other types of records.  Not surprisingly, the vast majority of the records are written in either Russian or German although some documents are written in other languages.  In many instances reports or letters written in German that were received by the Board of Guardians were translated into Russian so that both the original version written in German and the Russian translation appear in the same file.

    Some of the court records are quite interesting and seem rather humorous today.  For example, in Inventory 1, File 8 we find that in 1800 a complaint was sent from the New Russia Lower Court to the Guardianship Office about the fact that farmers are not allowed to inspect hot wine and to review seals on barrels in German settlements.  A warning was sent to all leaders of German settlements about the fact that this was illegal of this fact.  Johann Wiebe, the Elder of the Chortitza Church, submitted a report that described the rude behavior of farmers.  Another court case in 1814 found in Inventory 1, File 827 deals with the fact that some horses trampled down a portion of some cornfields in the Molotschna Colony and the Mennonites sought payment from the owner of the horses for the damages the horses had done.  File 87 discusses an order by the Board of Guardians in 18001concerning the eradication of gophers by flushing them out of their holes.

    One of my ancestors, Joseph Nowitzky, seems to appear in these records more frequently that he probably should have.  A court case found in Inventory 1, File 879 describes how he was arrested in Ekaterinoslav in 1814 for not having a written residence permit.  Fortunately this brush with the law doesn’t seem to have slowed him down much as File 919 states that he was granted a passport to leave the Chortitza Colony on business in 1815 and File 928 contains documents in which he pleads innocence to owing a debt to the merchant Basil Bobrov of Alexandrovsk in 1815. Details such as these do much to add spice to family histories as well as provide insight into the history of all the Mennonite colonies.

    Over the past several years other Mennonite researchers and I have been translating and transcribing as much material from these microfilms as feasible and have been placing transcriptions of the information onto the Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society and Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta web sites.  Among the most important documents we have translated and/or transcribed thus far include the 1801 Chortitza Colony Census, vital records for the Chortitza Colony for the years 1801, 1802, 1803, 1806, 1807, and 1813, the 1803 Radichev Hutterite Census, the 1809 Chortitza Colony Smallpox Vaccination List, the 1847 Molotschna Colony Voters List, the 1848 Chortitza Colony Heads of Households List, and the 1852 and 1860 Lists of People living outside the Molotschna and Chortitza Colonies.  In addition, Rick Rye has translated the 1812-13 passport records from photocopies that were purchased a number of years ago by Dale Wahl, although this file wasn’t microfilmed.  Many additional valuable documents of genealogical and historical value found in the microfilms remain to be translated or transcribed.  These include voters lists for the Molotschna and Chortitza Colonies that were compiled in 1863, many estate records, and transfer records.

    Although many of the documents found in these microfilms deal exclusively with matters related to Mennonites and Mennonite colonies there is a significant amount of material found in these files that relate to other German colonies in South Russia.  In particular, the passport files have much information about other German Russians.  One of the most significant documents of interest to genealogists interested in German Russians in South Russia is a document found in Inventory 3, File 15751 that includes lists of all German Russians who were living outside their home colonies in 1852.  Information from a large number of colonies including the Liebenthal, Helenenthal, Alt Danzig, Bessarabian, Jamburg, Neufreudenthal, Glueckstal, Josephstal, Hoffnungsthal, Kutschurgan, Prischib, Molotschna, Chortitza, Bergthal, and Crimean Colonies are included in this file.  The list for the Chortitza Colony contains 952 Mennonites or about 12% of the Mennonites probably living in the colony at that time and the list for the Molotschna Colony includes 318 people, or only about 2% of the Mennonites probably living in the colony at that time.  Thus the number of people listed from each colony is variable, but in aggregate there appears to be census data for about 5000 or more people found in this file.

    Another very important document of interest to genealogists interested in German Russians in South Russia is a document found in Inventory 4, File 23949 that includes lists of German Russians who were living outside their home colonies in 1859 or 1860.  Information is found in this file from a large number of colonies and villages including the following:  Grossliebental (144 families), Kleinliebental (80 families), Alexanderhilf (71 families), ___benau (41 families), Marienthal (25 families), Josephstal (24 families), Peterstal (27 families), Freudental (80 families), ? (40 families), Franzfeld (30 families), Petersdorf (52 families), Sarata (17 families), Gnadenthal (7 families), Lichtental (7 families), Hoffnungstal (11 families), Alt Danzig (11 families), Glückstal (25 families), Neudorf (18 families), Kassel (18 families), Kloestitz (6 families), Hoffnungstal (16 families), Borodino (6 families), Leipzig (5 families),  Beresina (3 families), Paris (3 families), Alt Ackutal? (6 families), Brienne (6 families), Friedenstal (5 families), Molotschna (181 families), and Chortitza (273 families).

    Many other interesting documents that pertain to non-Mennonite colonies may also be found in these files.  File 42 contains 1805, 1806, and 1808 Voters lists for the Danzig Colony and other colonies.  File 67 contains lists of the heads of households in the Jamburg Colony, the Josephstal Colony, and other colonies in 1801.  File 92 contains an 1801 census of the Jamburg and Josephstal Colonies.  Researchers interested in the Prischib Colony will be interested in the health records found in File 144 which includes medical reports that include the names of patients, their ages, and the diagnoses that they were being treated for in 1805.  File 600 contains information about people who were in the Prischib Colonies in 1812.  Files 773, 781, and 900 contain vital records for the Crimean, Swedish, and Prishib Colonies from 1813 and 1814.  File 12913 includes a complete 1850 census for the colonies of Klöstitz, Friedensthal, Hoffnungsthal, Borodino, Leipzig, and Beresina.  File 1077 will be of interest to historians as it contains copies of some of the early government documents that established the rights of the colonists who settled in South Russia.  These documents include a copy of Catherine the Great’s Manifest in 1763 and Alexander the First’s decree in 1804.

    In summary, there is a wealth of information to be gleaned from the Board of Guardians records that are found in these recently acquired microfilms from the Odessa Archive.  Translation and analysis of these records will occupy those of us interested in these records for many years.  It seems clear that this collection of documents from the Odessa Archive as well as additional collections that are being acquired from other archives will help refine our understanding of the history of Mennonite colonies and other German colonies in South Russia.

Odessa Archives, Fond 6, Inventory 1 file descriptions (on MHSA web site)

Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta

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