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Trip Connects Bueling's Past to her Present

Grant, Barbara. "Trip Connects Bueling's Past to her Present." Daily News, 16 July 1997.


Mary Bueling displays some of the souvenirs she brought back from the Ukraine, including the hand-painted Matryoska Dolls which stack into each other and are a trademark of the area.

For some people, an ideal vacation is to cruise on a luxury liner or a week sunbathing on an exotic island. For Mary Bueling, a perfect vacation is one that has a connection to her family roots.

The Wahpeton educator embarked on just such a trip at the end of May. She participated in a "Journey to the Homeland" tour of the Ukraine area of Russia, which was sponsored by North Dakota State University May 17-31.

For Mary, who has been tracing her Russian-German family ancestry for years, this was a dream come true. All four of her grandparents had originated from the Ukraine, and since this area has opened up to visitors after many years, she was anxious to take the opportunity to learn more about her family's origins.

Mary Lou Leintz Bueling by the Black Sea near Odessa, Ukraine, May, 1997.

Encouraged by her husband, Lynn, she signed up for the trip last November. She went alone, since Lynn's heritage is Scandinavian. But she soon found kindred spirits on the trip who were also hoping to trace their families histories.

The tour started at St. Petersburg, Russia, where the group saw original art that had been collected by Catherine the Great. They saw the Museum of Russian Art, with works dating back thousands of years.

From St. Petersburg they traveled to Odessa in the Ukraine by Russia's Aeroflot. Each day the group would go out to Ukrainian villages of interest to them. Mary visited Selz, where her mother's parents, Frank and Catherina (Baumstark) Fergel were from. She walked on the street where her great-uncle had lived in 1940.

She learned that there were very few Germans in the villages. In 1940 most of them had been transported out to forced labor camps in Siberia, where many of them had died.

Church of the Assumption in Selz, Ukraine (today Limanoske). Mary Lou Bueling's grandparents Frank Fergel and Catherina Baumstark Fergel were married in this church in 1908. Circa May 23, 1997. Photo by Michael M. Miller, Fargo, ND.

Mary had many memorable experiences in Selz, including seeing the remains of the church (Church of the Assumption) where her grandparents had been married.

She remembered her grandparents talking about that church. "I could almost feel their presence."

She also visited Krasna, where her father's parents, Felix and Braxada (Volk) Leintz, had lived. The old German school that her grandparents had attended was still standing next to the new school built in the 1950s. She went to the chapel in the new school and found a list of "Leintz" family names from the 1940s. However, she was unable to make a direct connection with her immediate family.

Mary, a learning disabilities instructor in Wahpeton, took pen pal letters from the Wahpeton School to Krasna children. Third graders through high school students had received letters from the Ukrainian students, which were then interpreted here, and Mary had the privilege of hand delivering the Wahpeton letters to children in Krasna. The group also took much needed school supplies from this area, which were very much appreciated.

Old German school at Krasnoe, Ukraine (formerly Krasna, Bessarabia). Grandparents Feliz Leintz and Brafada Volk Leintz likely attended this school in Krasna. Circa May 26, 1997, Photo by Mary Lou Leintz Bueling, Wahpeton, ND.

Mary's grandparents had come to this country as teens or young adults to escape the poverty and unrest they experienced in Russia. Mary explained that the Germans had originally settled in the villages in the early 1800s at the invitation of Catherine the Great. They prospered for a time in their own settlements, unaffected at first by the rest of Russia. But by the turn of the century they had lost their right to govern and were requested to serve in wars. Their farms were taken away from them; they were forced into collectivism, and many started migrating either by choice or by force.

Mary has "dabbled" in genealogy for years. She became interested when assigned to do a paper in high school on the topic "Who We Were." So she began asking her grandfather for information to research that paper. She is very grateful because she was able to learn the name of the village her grandfather lived in and when he came to the United States. "That was the spark that got me going," she said.

The Bratan children of Krasna were very excited about receiving pen pal letters from children in North Dakota and the United States. Pictured from left to right: Viktor Krestinov, Nickolai Bratan (2), Mrs. Natalya Bratan, Alexander Bratan, Elena Bratan, Demitri Bratan, Eugeinia Bratan and Svetlana Bratan. Circa May 29, 1997, Photo by Michael M. Miller, Fargo, ND.

If it hadn't been for that experience, Mary fears much of the information would have been lost forever. She said her grandparents had come to North Dakota to start a new life, and didn't dwell on what they had left behind. Mary's grandparents settled in the Brisbane, Shields, and Raleigh area of North Dakota.

Mary Lou Leintz Bueling presents school supplies to the principal at Krasnoe, Ukraine. She receives fresh flowers. The school supplies were donated by the children in Wahpeton, ND. Circa May 26, 1996.

"They knew they'd never see their parents again, and they didn't talk about it a lot." Letters they sent to their homeland were not returned; efforts to send information or supplies failed, and soon all contact was lost.

Through her research, Mary was able to obtain one precious picture of her maternal grandmother in Russia. There are none of her dad's family. "They're lost forever."

But the trip helped her reestablish those important family ties, and she would like to return again sometime to strengthen the bond.

Mary Lou Leintz Bueling visits with the school librarian at Krasnoe, Krasna. Standing with American flag is the school principal. Mary Lou teaches special education in the Wahpeton Public Schools, Wahpeton, ND. Circa May 26, 1997.

The group also visited Stuttgart, Germany, where they visited museums dedicated to preserving the history of what happened to the Germans in Russia, expanding upon their knowledge of that time. Mary said a documentary is also in the process of being developed surrounding the "Journey to the Homeland" project which is spearheaded by Michael Miller of NDSU.

For Mary, it was an educational, emotional and enriching experience. "I felt like I had come full circle," she said, "connecting the past to the present."

Reprinted with permission from the Daily News, Wahpeton, North Dakota, Thursday, July 16, 1997, Page A-6

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller
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