Thursday, August 8, 2013

Being German in Tsarist Russia -- Why They Left

This post is about the families of Wilhelmina Schalin and Gustav Lange (my maternal grandparents) and why they emigrated from Russia, to Canada and then later to the U.S. It's a chance to put my love of history to good use!

Both the Schalin and Lange families consistently referred to their nationality as German on official documents.  When they immigrated to Canada, they still spoke German, attended German schools, and practiced their religion in German-speaking churches.  Both families also came from the Volhynian Governorate, which was created by the third partition of Poland in 1975. It was part of the Russian Empire.

Gustav Lange was born in Lutsk and Wilhelmina Schalin's family lived near Rovna, having moved there some time between 1861 and 1863 from Maliniec, which is now part of Poland. At the time the Schalins lived in Maliniec, it had been Prussian territory since 1720.

Maliniec is the red dot just under the word Poland

My assumption is the Schalin family is of Prussian descent and moved into Polish territory newly acquired by Prussia. It was the policy of Prussian leaders to "colonize" acquired lands. But I have not yet been able to track them any farther back in time and place than Maliniec.

Wilhelm Schalin, my great grandfather was born in Maliniec, moved near Rovna, and then to Alberta, Canada

So why did they leave their farms in the Volhynia and move nearly 5,000 miles to western Canada from the 1890s up until the eve of the First World War?

When German families moved to Volhynia, the Tsar of Russia was Alexander II. He was tsar from 1855 until he was assassinated on 13 Mar 1881. He was known as the "Liberator" because he emancipated the serfs in 1861. As a result boyars, the land-owning class, lost their free workforce and many put some of their land up for sale.

Alexander II in 1870

This part of Ukraine has been called the breadbasket of Europe for centuries. So I believe my ancestors settled there because good land was available for a price, and many developed prosperous farms.

Combination house and barn common in German settlements in Volhynia
Picture courtesy of Lucille Fillenberg Effa

Alexander III became tsar upon the assassination of his father.  Alexander was the second son and was never supposed to be the ruler of Russia.  His older brother, the Tsarevich Nicholas, died in 1865. Alexandar III bore little resemblance to his father in appearance or outlook. He was a reactionary conservative and undid many of the reforms his father implemented.

 Alexander III in Copenhagen in 1893 with his wife, Maria.  She was originally his older brother's fiancee.

He believed that the country was to be saved from revolutionary agitation by remaining true to "Russian Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality," the ideology introduced by his grandfather, Tsar Nicholas I. Alexander's political ideal was a nation composed of a single nationality, language, and religion, as well as one form of administration. He attempted to realize this by the institution of mandatory teaching of the Russian language throughout the empire, including his German, Polish, and other non-Russian subjects with the exception of the Finns; the patronization of Eastern Orthodoxy; and the destruction of the remnants of German, Polish, and Swedish institutions in the respective provinces, including the Volhynian Governorate.

Practicing any other religion was illegal and ministers of other religions were hunted down and imprisoned when they tried to meet with their flocks.  The German schools that educated their children were forced to teach in Russian. Land became more difficult to purchase if you were not Russian.  

So my Schalin ancestors decided to leave. They traveled with several other families to Leduc, Alberta, Canada.  I described their journey in this post.

Gustav Lange's father died he was young. He left Lutsk in about 1906 and went to Essen, Germany, to work and save up money for his move to Canada.  He boarded the White Star Line's S/S Teutonic In Liverpool, England, on 12 Aug 1911 and arrived in Quebec City on 20 Aug. He traveled west to Winnipeg where he settled. 

Gustav Lange as a young man


  1. Welcome to Geneabloggers!! There is no doubt the roots and trees and sometimes tangled. That is the fun of family history. Some time you can untangle them. :-). I've been a members for about a year and have found this to be a great blogging community.

    Regards, Grant

  2. Welcome to the GeneaBloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories" and family saga novels:
    "Back to the Homeplace" and "The Homeplace Revisited"
    The Heritage Tourist at In-Depth Genealogist:

  3. Thanks for the welcome, Grant and Dr. Bill. I've enjoyed discovering your blogs as well.