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Glückstal Colonies Deaths: 1833 - 1900

Review by Jim Gessele, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Ehrman, Harold M. Glückstal Colonies, Deaths: 1833-1900. Redondo Beach, California: Glückstal Colonies Research Association and North Dakota State Libraries, Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, Fargo, North Dakota, 1998.


The value of death records cannot be overstated. Drawing on personal experience with old church death records of our ancestors in Russia and Germany, one is struck by the wealth of recorded information, from the obvious to the obscure. With but a second look at the facts, one begins to gain insight into the human condition of the time. Other clues begin appearing and the genealogist is off and running on a new course.

The Glückstal Colonies Research Association's (GCRA) latest publication, Glückstal Colonies Deaths, 1833 -1900, is one to give family researchers such new impetus. The substance of this work is the almost 10,000 death entries found in Lutheran Church records for the colonies of Glückstal, Neudorf, Bergdorf, Kassel and daughter colonies in the Cherson Region of South Russia. The new compilation is a companion volume to GCRA's earlier "Glückstal Colonies Births and Marriages" and appears to be the concluding extraction effort with Glückstal documents found on the St. Petersburg microfilms.

The first instinct upon opening the book is to find one's favorite ancestor out of the alphabetized listing of decedents. "Bass uf!" as they used to say back home. You may overlook something if you do not note that the book is in two parts: part I lists adult deaths (those older than 20 years at time of death or those 20 years and under if married); part 2 lists child deaths. In both instances decedents are alphabetized by surname and given name.

The adult compilation features references to a spouse, place of birth, death date, place of death and marital status. Additionally, there is a column devoted to the editor's efforts to form associations between the listed decedents and Karl Stumpp census data. A final column in the decedent database contains source information based on the microfilms themselves. Child death listings vary slightly in that parent information is supplied instead of spouse data.

The work concludes with several appendices: a male name to female name cross reference; place of origin and name list of colonists who immigrated to the Glückstal colonies; a short extraction of June 1826 colonies births; an 1821 voting list; a brief history of the colonies supported by village church photos then and now.

As in the case of its companion births and marriages volume, this collection is simply loaded with information. Both casual and serious researching will be made so much easier by what is found here. But the work's value transcends its sheer volume of data. There are countless nuggets to be found using the book, clues to our ancestors' past that can open whole new paths to tracing family roots, some straight across geographic boundaries of old South Russia.

Just how unlikely these turns can take is demonstrated by the writer's summer, 1998 experience in Germany. While visiting a chapter meeting of the Hoffnungstal, Bessarabia interest group in the vicinity of Stuttgart, two German "cousins" sadly announced their research had reached an impasse. Their ancestors had emigrated from somewhere in Germany, settled originally in the Glückstal Colonies, then resettled in Hoffhungstal in 1843. Unfortunately in both cases the Bessarabian church records made no reference to the families' place of origin in Germany and they had no access to Glückstal information on the St. Petersburg films. Here were two Germans who could not find their ancestral villages! Luckily a preview issue of the deaths book had been packed as a gift but was now quickly consulted to provide some clues. Indeed, the Elsass villages were uncovered to their amazement, leading to the one comment, "And how many times have I driven past that town not knowing its significance?"

The scope and detail of Glückstal Colonies Deaths is astounding. As with the first volume, this compilation required enormous effort and dedication. And as with the first, Harold Ehrman has provided skillful talent to pull it off, along with the very able assistance of Ed Schulz in proofing and reading of old records, the dedicated contributors, and the full resources of the GCRA organization. The fruit of this combined effort is a noteworthy publication that certainly deserves space on every Germans from Russia library shelf.

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