In my prior post I showed an example of a Geographical Pedigree chart (also shown below.) This is a classic pedigree chart format, but rather than focus on names, birth dates, and death dates instead it simply shows the birth locations of people from a specific number of generations. Each unique location is given assigned its own color which enables easy identification of groupings and trends in birth locations for successive generations.
As each line progresses backwards (to the right) the paternal connection appears in the upper box, while the mother’s line is the lower box. Based on this, the bottom half of the chart I prepared indicates four generations of my maternal line. In that group, within generations 4 and 5, there are many pink boxes marked "Ukraine". These boxes represent many of my maternal ancestors, many of which were born in the Ukraine. What makes this interesting, and even surprising is that I have always believed myself to be of predominantly German origin. So what gives? Am I wrong? Were the stories told to me by my parents, and grandparents wrong?
The answer is straightforward. The chart shows only birth location. It doesn’t show death location, nor anyplace else where the people represented in the chart may have lived. So in my own chart the aspect of history not shown is a piece of history that was unknown to me prior to doing research into my own origins, and it has to do with Russian royalty in the that in the 18th century.
In the mid 1700’s Catherine the Great opened up much of Southern Russia (and what is now Ukraine) to German colonists whom she specifically recruited. She encouraged them to move to the area, but allowed them to maintain their own language and culture, rather than integrate with Russian culture. My ancestors, with distinctly German surnames such as Bentz, Dietrich, and Weimar lived along the Volga River, near the Black Sea and were descendants of those colonists. The German colonists lived in that region, farming and growing their families for several generations. However, in the late 1800's and early 1900's many of these cultural German families left Russia to move to the United States, specifically to Kansas and the Dakotas. The grandparents of my maternal grandparents were among those that moved to the US, mostly in the 1880’s
Even though the colonists maintained their German culture and language, this century-long relocation to Russia did have an impact on my heritage. I have found evidence (with DNA testing as well as documents) indicating that one of my distant grandmothers was Christine Konstantin-tochter Brokowsky. In German Konstantin-tochter translates to "Konstantin's daughter," indicating that her father was Konstantin Brokowsky - a name which is very much NOT German.
I found this Russian connection when my maternal grandmother was still living and I asked her about it. She confirmed that her ancestors had lived in southern Russia. She also said that we don't talk about the fact that we are "Black Russians." The name confused me until I understood that the German colonists are also called "Black Sea Germans,” or "Volga Germans." You can likely imagine what drink I had to celebrate this newly discovered information.
In short, the "story" of the chart shows where my ancestors were born, but it doesn't indicate the nuance of heritage, culture, or language. Nor does it indicate the details of migration patterns - not even the migration happened in the US.
A similar example from my own history, but on my father’s side of the chart is that my paternal grandmother's mother was born in North Carolina, but what you don't see in the chart is that her parents and their four children moved to Arkansas when she was two years old, around 1904. After living there for many years, and after having ten more children, they moved on to California where they lived out the rest of their days. Their descendants, my immediate family as well as a number of cousins span the country, from the East Coast to the West Coast.
So while the Geographical Pedigree chart with birth location helps understand our origins, there are still many hidden and surprising details that help us understand our heritage and historical context. Gaining understanding of my origins, and helping other people do the same thing is one of the many reason I enjoy genealogical research.
American Historical Society of Germans from Russia
Germans from Russia Heritage Society
Black Sea Germans on Wikipedia