Sunday, January 11, 2015

52 Ancestors #2: Fleeing a Tsar

Ancestor Name: Wilhelm Schalin (1859-1952)

We know the Schalin family considered themselves German, but we have no idea from where in Germany they originated. Wilhelm Schalin's great grandfather married Anna Dorothea Rosnian in 1791 at Wladylawowo, Poland, which is located on the shores of Gdansk Bay. Prussia, Austria, and Russia had taken chunks of the country in 1772 in what became known as the first Polish partition. In and 1795 the three countries partitioned Poland again until it was erased from the maps of Europe.

Wladylawowo, Poland, the first reference of the Schalin family in Poland

When Prussia took over their Polish territories, they discovered about 1,500 German villages had already been established. During Prussia's rule, they established more settlements. In 1806, Napoleon created the Duchy of Warsaw. But it was short lived. Russia pushed Napoleon out of Poland in 1812-1813. In 1815 Congress Poland was created, but its foreign affairs were controlled by Russia. Portions of Poland that were under Austria's control were added to Congress Poland and German settlement spread to those areas. By the mid 1800s, there were about 325,000 Germans living in what is now Poland's western half of the country. In 1831 there was a Polish uprising and Russia took full control of the country.

Russia had also acquired the Volhynia region of what is now Ukraine during the Polish partitions and controlled its destiny for 120 years. The vast areas of the region were largely unsettled wilderness which had never been cultivated by its former owners, Polish nobility. In 1862, Tsar Alexander II freed the serfs from the land and many left the farms for better work opportunities. The Boyar landowners were left with large tracts of land but no workers and no income from the land. The owners encouraged Germans living in Poland to lease their land. The Germans responded in large numbers. In 1861 there were less than 5,000 German families living in Volhynia. By 1915 there were 235,000 families. Wilhelm's father, Gottlieb Schalin moved his family to Volhynia between 1861 and 1863.

A German farmhouse in Volhynia; photograph courtesy of Lucille Fillenberg Effa

In 1881 Alexander III became tsar of Russia. Unlike his father, he was very conservative and reversed several of his father's liberal policies. He believed the country could only be saved by the political ideal of single nationality, language and religion. He attempted to realize this ideal by mandating the teaching of Russian throughout the empire, outlawing any other religion but Russian Orthodoxy, and weakening foreign institutions in whatever manner possible. Alexander III rescinded the ban on German men serving in the Russian army and levied new taxes on German communities. By this time many of the Germans living in Volhynia were German Baptists. Their religion was outlawed and their ministers arrested.

Wilhelm Schalin, my great grandfather

Wilhelm Schalin decided it was time to leave Volhynia. His family and several others traveled to Liverpool, England, and boarded the S/S Sarmatian on 21 April 1893. They arrived at the port of Quebec on 4 May 1893 and traveled by train to Winnipeg, Manitoba. After purchasing needed supplies, the families continued west and homesteaded land in the Leduc area of Alberta, Canada, which at the time was part of the North-West Territories.  Wilhelm Schalin homesteaded section SW15-T49-R24-W4. A year later my grandmother was born on 23 May 1894.

S/S Sarmatian

And that's how my Schalin family came to live in Canada.

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge optional theme King.

This post was originally published on 27 March 2014.

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History of Fredericksheim
Fearless Women: Religion
Differing Memories or Family Reunions Can Be Dangerous


  1. Great article! Love the background on the country as well as your family. Mine too came from parts no longer in existence.

    1. Keeping a map of Europe's changing boundaries beside my computer helps when researching my mother's side of the family that's for sure. As well as a general interest in central and eastern European history, which I read a lot about before starting genealogy.

  2. I agree... great background! Background can add so much to our family stories! Especially for those of us who don't have a lot of historical knowledge. I'm getting there, though!

    I didn't tie into a king or a tsar this week. I told the story of my grandmother's grandfather, a Methodist minister, who was murdered & his body was dumped in the Tennessee River!

  3. Thank you for dropping by my blog & for leaving the comment on my "52 ancestors" post. Yes, I'm participating in the 52 Ancestors, but I REALLY appreciate your letting me know that my links aren't on the recap! I went back to week 1, also, & my comment isn't there! I have left my 'recap' both weeks, so I'm not sure what's happening. I even tried to do it again & it appears to work but it isn't showing up. So, I've contacted Amy. Hopefully, we can figure it out!