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Researching the Germans from Volhynia
A guide by Dave Obee, Victoria, B.C.

Photo: Berdichevskaia Street, Zhitomir

Start at the present and work backwards, gathering information as you go. Collect all of the information you can on this side of the ocean first, from family, local resources, and the Internet. Do not be in a rush to cross the ocean -- there is much to learn before you try to take your family back to Volhynia.

A superb site for researchers is Familienforschung in Wolhynien by Irene Koënig. It is primarily in German. An English-language site is Odessa, A Digital German/Russian Online Library. An organization dealing with Volhynia, among others, is the Society for German Genealogy in Eastern Europe. The SGGEE website includes a variety of extracted records. Check as well the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, by the North Dakota State University Library. It has mailing lists, newspaper articles, and more.

zhitomir train station Relatives

People close to you are the standard starting point for genealogical research. Check for documents and information from family sources. Ask your immediate family, as well as cousins and second cousins. Don’t forget the people from Kasakhstan who arrived in Germany since the collapse of Communism.

Also, try former residents of your ancestral village. Your relatives might not remember, but others might surprise you with the amount they know about your family. Again, try the recent arrivals from Kasachstan. And it pays to look beyond your own family; this page has a list of residents of some villages in the area northwest of Zhitomir.

Immigration / Emigration records

U.S. passenger lists can help. There are lots to choose from, many of them indexed, and covering arrivals up to the Second World War. You’ll find them in the Family History Library Catalog. The Ellis Island website has an index to arrivals at New York 1892-1924. Also check Ancestry for more comprehensive records. Another source is Dr. Steve Morse's Ellis Island search tools.

Canadian passenger lists are also available. Ancestry has the most comprehensive collection of records. Also check the CanGenealogy for a summary of sources for arrivals in Canada.

Many U.S. naturalization records are at the FamilySearch library in Salt Lake City, although many more are still held in regional archives. If you’re lucky, you’ll find an index. There are a couple of good books to accessing U.S. naturalization records, including one entitled They Became Americans. Some of these records are available on Ancestry.

Border crossing records, between the United States and Canada, can give valuable clues to origins, destinations and the like. They are available for people going either way. Check Ancestry as well as FamilySearch.

Holland America records are on microfiche at Salt Lake City and at the city archives in Rotterdam, Netherlands. These records contain passenger lists for one of the lines that brought many Germans from Russia. Also check the Unofficial Holland America Line Home page.

Captured German documents (EWZ)

The single most important resource for Volhynian researchers, and helpful for those working on any area. The collection is on microfilm at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland and in paper form in Berlin. Some of the films are available through the Family History Library system.

The collection includes copies of the forms filled out by refugees from the Soviet Union when they arrived on German soil during the Second World War. These people were required to give details of their ancestry, to prove they were not Jewish, Polish, or whatever. As despicable as that process was, it has given family historians a few breaks today.

Along with ancestral information, the refugees were required to say where they lived, from birth to the date they filled out the form. They gave details about their families. If they already had relatives in Germany, they gave names and addresses. Many files include life stories, written by the refugees themselves. You can also find photographs.

Why are these films so valuable to Volhynians? The area was settled by Germans later than other parts of Russia. These forms will therefore provide the links back to Germany or Poland for many.

More information on the Captured German documents is on the Einwandererzentralstelle page on this site.

Church records

Extracts from Lutheran records are available for up to 1885 through the FamilySearch library in Salt Lake City and on the FamilySearch website. Indexes are on two sites: Odessa and SGGEE.

The website has an excellent chart (in PDF format) showing the evolution of the Lutheran church in Volhynia. Transcripts from 1885-1920 have been found in the St. Petersburg city archives, but there are no plans to film them in the near future. Some records are, however, in the Zhitomir archive, and a list of these records is available. There is also a list of Zhitomir church members in 1933.

Records up to 1895 for Roshischtsche, in the Lutzk area, are available on microfilm through the FamilySearch library in Salt Lake City.

So far, no Baptist records have been found, but hope springs eternal. Information on Baptist pastors is available on this site and through Don Miller's In the Midst of Wolves.

Records in North America

The U.S. Social Security Death Index is available on several genealogy websites. It covers most adult deaths in the United States from 1962 to the present.

State or provincial archives might also help you to find missing relatives, or obtain information provided at the time of their death.

Canadian Second World War registrations were compiled in 1940, after the start of the war. For $45.00 plus tax, you can get a copy of a registration. Information is on the Statistics Canada website.

Local church records might have information on where your ancestors came from and when they arrived. Check for the points of origin for the other arrivals from Russia - people often moved in groups.

Try newspapers for items such as obituaries, marriages and passenger ship arrivals. Don't forget to look in ethnic and church newspapers; in many cases, obituaries would appear there but not in local daily or weekly newspapers. A guide to digitized newspapers in Canada is found on the CanGenealogy website.

Der Sendbote obituaries can be a valuable source if your ancestors were members of the German Baptist church. The AHSGR has a fine collection of these obituaries.

Records in Germany

The Deutsches Ausland Institut has information collected on Germans living outside Germany. Includes an index by village. The microfilms are at Salt Lake City, and some information from them appears on the Odessa website.

An Index to German war memorials. is on the Volksbund website. This is a great source to confirm place and date of death for our relatives who joined the German army.

Bundesarchiv in Berlin, Germany has a lot of good material, if you can convince the staff that you need it. This is where you will find the original paper documents of the EWZ files. The Bundesarchiv also includes the records of villages in Western Volhynia listed on this site.

The Deutsches Zentralstelle für Genealogie is in Leipzig, Germany. FamilySearch has already filmed most of the good stuff. If you can’t read the Salt Lake films, though, you’ll be pleased to note that the Leipzig ones are much clearer.

Records in Ukraine

The archives in Ukraine take money, patience, and someone who speaks the language. Remember that standards are different around the world. Do not expect to get the same level of service that you get in North America. That said, the archives staff members are normally friendly and as helpful as they can be, given the circumstances.

In Zhitomir, look for the seven boxes of file cards to do with Germans. Insist on seeing them all, even when the staff denies they exist. These cards result from major indexing projects within record series, primarily land records and enumerations of the citizens. (Note that the first formal census of Volhynia took place in 1897.)

Zhitomir oblast archives (in Ukrainian)
Volyn oblast archives (in Lutzk) (in Ukrainian)
Rowno oblast archives (in Ukrainian)

The Zhitomir archives has the original copies of the Volhynian Guerian News, which was published in Zhitomir and included lists of German landowners in eastern Volhynia in 1915. Several researchers have sets of these lists, as does the AHSGR. An index by Brent Mai has been published by the AHSGR; some names are found on this site.

Civil registration started in Ukraine in 1920. The records are to be open for public research after 75 years. Check local archives or local civil registration offices; they are organized by rayon, an administrative unit within each oblast. (Think of counties within states or province.)

Military records are not available.

Compiled works on families and regions

History of the Germans in farming villages near Kiev -- Compiled by Bill Remus

Escape from the "Red Paradise" -- By Erica Margita Neumann

The story of the Harbin, China, Lutheran refugees -- Virginia A. Less

Ed Koeppen's Family History Page -- Koeppen, Bunkowski und Freigang families

Dwayne Tiede's web page -- Information from the Zhitomir area

Finding aid to the Herb Poppke collection (PDF)

Zhitomir visit, 1995 -- Dave Obee

Before Volhynia

Most Germans in Volhynia went there in the 1860s or 1870s from Poland or the German areas of East Prussia and West Prussia. If you can take your family through Volhynia, you might need resources such as these.

Poland archives database
Index of Polish marriages to 1899
Steve Danko's Genealogy Blog about Polish research

East and West Prussia
Sample page from Kartei Quassowski -- A reference for roots in East or West Prussia
Kartenmeister -- for finding places in former German territories

Other resources of note

Dr. Steve Morse's One-Step tools:
  • English to Russian Transliteration
  • Russian to English Transliteration
  • Russian Cursive to Print
  • Russian Print to Cursive
  • Russia's Fallen (English)
  • Russian Google

    The Germans from Volhynia and Russian Poland
    From the University of Alberta website

    The mutilation of names
    By William Hoffman (PDF - requires Acrobat)

    Bund Evangelisch-Freikirchlicher Gemeinden in Deutschland
    Baptists in Germany today

    JewishGen Volhynia home
    A goldmine of regional information

    Mennonite Genealogy
    Richard Thiessen's site

  • Google

    Dave Obee's websites: > Volhynia > CanGenealogy > Dave Obee

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