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Village Coordinators of the Month
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Village Coordinators of the Month

Every month we feature two Village Coordinators, to recognize the work they do for AHSGR and give members an opportunity to become more familiar with their Village Coordinators.


March 2017

Steven Grau


Steven Grau has been the Village Coordinator for Nieder-Monjou, along with his brother, Michael, since 2002.

Grau had done some genealogical research about his ancestors from Nieder-Monjou before becoming VC. Another researcher shared a genealogy of his great-great-grandfather which had been prepared by Schulmeister Hummel in 1910 during a return visit of his great-great-grandfather to Nieder-Monjou.

“I was one of the lucky few who could trace lineage in a direct line all the way back to an original colonist of Nieder-Monjou without the aid of any other information from Russia,” Grau said.

“When I first started as Village Coordinator, I had very little information about Nieder-Monjou,” he said. Over time he has accumulated many historical books about the colonies, basically anything that mentions Nieder-Monjou. He has all available census translations for Nieder-Monjou, as well as censuses of some nearby colonies and a couple of daughter colonies. Church records, including transcriptions of church records and church anniversary booklets have been valuable tools. He has collected as many records as possible from churches in central Kansas frequented by Volga Germans and their descendants.

As a Village Coordinator, Grau decided he would actively search for immigrants from Nieder-Monjou and their descendants. He has found immigrants from Nieder-Monjou in Argentina, South Africa, and of course the United States. “But I did not initially realize the time and effort involved.”

“One of the benefits of being a Village Coordinator is that family connections that benefit one's own research can be discovered through the exchange of information with others,” Grau said.

“Though not absolutely necessary, it is helpful for a Village Coordinator to know a little German and to be able to transliterate Fraktur and the old German script for the times that you are able to get church records from the United States, Russia, or Germany,” he said. “Knowing a little Russian (which I do not) would also be a plus.”


Karen Sudermann Penner

Molotschna / Chortitza

 Karen Sudermann Penner has been village coordinator since the summer of 2012 for the Molotschna Colonies in the Taurida region in the Ukraine (56-60 colonies/villages) and the Chortitza Colonies in the Ekaterinoslav region of the Ukraine (20 colonies/villages). Both are Mennonite settlements.

 Karen was genealogy chair of AHSGR and sought to become more involved when the VC program became part of the committee’s agenda.

 “Also, I have volumes of information on these areas and have visited both settlements two times,” she said.

 Karen’s library includes family histories, books, maps, census lists as well as books on the general history of the areas. She also has access to two large historical libraries through we she can help people with research: the Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies (CMBS) at Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kan., and the Mennonite Library and Archives (MLA) at Bethel College in North Newton, Kan. She notes there also is a vast amount of Mennonite family histories available online.

 Karen’s husband also is 100 percent GR and she’s found that being a VC – in addition to allowing her to help others – also has helped her learn more about her own family. Several inquiries in the last year involved ties to several of her families, as well as her home church, the first Mennonite Brethren Church in North America – Ebenfeld, Hillsboro, Kan. – which all four of her great-grandparents helped found.

 She recommends others consider the VC role.

 “It is a rewarding way to make people more interested in AHSGR and to promote our wonderful organization,” she said.

 Karen can be reached at


February 2017

Jorge Bohn

Streckerau / Marienberg / Neu-Kolonie

I am currently Coordinator for Streckerau villages(Штреккерау), Marienberg(Мариенберг)and Neu-Kolonie (Кустарево-Краснорыновка).

Before becoming Coordinator, I studied my ancestral villages for several years: Keller, Neu Kolonie, Kohler, Vollmer, Husaren, Dehler, Streckerau and Marienberg. Thus, in the search for contacts, I opened my first page at, dedicated to the village from which my direct ancestors set out for the Argentine Republic. On the same page I also published notes, comments, records, photos and others from the village Marienberg, neighbor of Streckerau, where also lived ancestors.

One of the friendships that emerged from maintaining that activity was to get in touch with, and eventually become a friend and counselor of Dodie Rotherham. She was the one suggested to me and asked if I could consider applying for coordinator of Streckerau. So I did, and it was the beginning of this adventure through the corners of our history. This happened about five years ago. Soon after, because the intimate interconnection between both villages, I applied to be coordinator of Marienberg.

And relatively recently, and at the suggestion of the same friend, I applied to be the coordinator of the village Neu-Kolonie (where my first ancestor of German origin died.

Over the years I have collected a huge amount of material (books, censuses, notes, comments, records, photos) that I regularly share on my internet sites, which are several:

Russiangermans Repository:


Jorge Bohn Notes:

And one very dear to my affections, dedicated to the colonies founded by Germans of Russia where I was born:

Pueblo San Jose, Buenos Aires, Argentina:

Thanks to the courtesy of Ted Gerk, I am co-manager of the Volga Germans Research Community page:

And I co-administered, at the  invitation of its founder, the Facebook site dedicated to Neu-Kolonie:  and Russian Germans International group: / Groups / russiangermansinternational/

All this activity has been beneficial, not only for allowing me to be in contact with people from different countries (Argentina, United States, Canada, Germany and Russia), but also to receive from each and every one of them, as well as from other coordinators, valuable information not only useful for my research, but to help many people who communicate from almost all those countries in search of information about their ancestors.

In 2016 I was fortunate to be able to attend the Annual Convention of the AHSGR, where I presented a work, an experience that has not only nurtured and strengthened my work, but also allowed me to share beautiful moments with people I only knew by correspondence or being contacts in the different social networks and lists of communication.

All this leads me to advise anyone who has a sincere love and desire to know more about his ancestral village, as well as acquire the knowledge that allows all of us to cooperate with so many descendants that live throughout our world. And you will have the benefit of having all the help you will receive from the AHSGR staff in your task.


Sylvia M. Hertel

Bergdorf / Marienberg / Teplitz (Black Sea)

Sylvia Hertel has been a village coordinator for about a year. Her reasons for volunteering were her love for doing family history, her desire to contribute to the preservation of our culture, to help others find their family history and to find some of her own in the process.

She depends heavily on the GCRA publications: Glueckstal Colonies, Births and Marriages: 1833-1900 and Deaths: 1833-1900 (two books); The Emigration from Germany to Russia in the Years 1763 to 1862, by Karl Stumpp; The Glückstalers in New Russia and North America: A Bicentennial Collection of History, Genealogy and Folklore, also published by the GCRA; Marienberg: Fate of A Village, by Johann Bollinger and Janice Huber Stangl, pub. in 2000 by the GRHC in Fargo, North Dakota, Colony Teplitz, by Herbert Weiss, pub. 1978?, by the GRHS, this book is not copyrighted and is a translation of the German version History of the Colony Teplitz, by T.J. Schmierer; Teplitz, Bessarabia: 1835 and 1850 Censuses (two books), compiled jointly by the GRHS and Heimatmuseum der Deutschen Aus Bessarabia. Along with these, she has the 2015 GCRA data stick, which contains images of the civil records for the four mother colonies in the Glückstal District, which includes Bergdorf, and many records on DVDs for the Bessarabia District. On occasion, she also has consulted town jubilee books from North and South Dakota. 

For the purpose of sorting out surnames and their various spellings, and translation of documents and records in German, she uses the Deutsches Namenlexikon, by Hans Bahlow (1967), by Keysersche Verlagsbuchhandlung GmbH, München, Deutschland, pub. 1972 in Frankfurt a/M, Deutschland; Langenscheidt's Standard Dictionary, of the English and German Languages, by Professor Edmund Klatt, 6th Edition by Dr. Dietrich Roy, (1970), by Langenscheidt KB, Berlin and Munich, printed in Great Britain, second printing in 1974. These books were handed down to her, but she later discovered that they are highly recommended by professional genealogists. Another aid for translation purposes is It is a site for languages all over the world that includes examples of both printed and handwritten alphabets.    

The benefits stem from the fact that Sylvia's own family lines come from these villages. Benefits include meeting "new" cousins, adding family to and finding errors in her own lines, but also just enjoying the research aspect of doing genealogy (puzzle solving/detective work). She describes herself as "an incorrigible history addict," so she enjoys learning more about the history of her Black Sea villages and her family who lived there.

To prospective VCs, she says, "If you have the desire, go for it."

Contact Sylvia at


January 2017


Judy Remmick-Hubert

Borodino / Bess

Judy has been a Village Coordinator with AHSGR since the 1980s. She became interested in being a VC because her maternal grandparents were born in Borodino in 1885.

She says the following of her collection that she uses to help others with their research: "I have just completed 38 booklets that deal with the genealogy of the first colonists of Borodino, and have used all kinds of material including letters from descendants of others who are linked to Borodino."

On the benefits of being a Village Coordinator with AHSGR: "I have gained many friends, and have a better look at history of not just family members but also of Russia."

To someone considering becoming a Village Coordinator: "It takes a lot of time if a person wants to collect all the material of their village. The cost can be as little or as as much a person can afford. There are many of us who can help them get started. Just the gaining of new friendships is worth all your efforts. And the wealth of learning about the general history of German-Russians will open up a person's eyes about ourselves, This includes such things as "Why do we celebrate Christmas with the traditions we do? And why do families have different traditions than they do? Has their family ever hidden a pickle in their Christmas tree or baked gingerbread men because that's what they did when they were kids?"


Gary Martens

Dobrinka, Galka, Holstein, Mueller, Neu-Weimar, Wiesenmueller,

Alt-Schilling, Schilling, Neu-Schilling I and Neu-Schilling II

I became as VC for Alt-Schilling in late 1997. I wanted to find out more about the village where my great-grandfather was born. After several years of research, I was able to help others with ancestors from Schilling enabling them find out more about their ancestors. I took over as VC of Schilling when the first VC, Samuel Sinner needed time to do research for his Master’s and Ph.D degrees at the University of Nebraska. Samuel's research led to the publication of the landmark book detailing the genocide of German-Russians in Russia between 1915 and 1949, “Open Wound: The Genocide of German Ethnic Minorities in Russia and the Soviet Union: 1915-1949 and Beyond”.

I became a VC for Dobrinka and Galka about 15 years ago. In 2008 I acquired all available church records for those two villages, and spent several thousand hours translating the records. The acquisition of those records from the Russian Archives was made possible by contributions from over 50 people.

I maintain websites for Schilling:, Dobrinka:, and Galka:

In 2016 I became the VC for Holstein and Mueller. These villages are part of the Lower Volga Village Project: I am the webmaster for that website, and am in the process of building a database for the 10 villages in that project.

I became the VC for Neu-Weimar several years ago. Neu-Weimar was the home of some of my grandmother’s relatives and family from Dobrinka.

I became the VC for Wiesenmueller several years ago, and the interest in that village was the connections to many people in the Lower Volga Village Project. Church records for Wiesenmueller are very limited.

Most people, when they start researching their German-Russian ancestors, don’t know which village they lived in before immigrating. How easily a person can connect to families in Russia first depends on the village, and further research will depend on whether the village was an original village or a daughter colony (village). There are church records for many of the original villages, from 1857 to the 1890’s. For most daughter colonies, the only records are the first settler list when the daughter colony was created, but church records usually are limited to several years after 1900. The most important thing people need to realize is that purchasing records from the Russian Archives is extremely expensive, nothing like researching people living in the US.

If people are interested in learning more about how people lived in Russia, they need to become members of AHSGR, and start acquiring information on the history of the German-Russians. There are many excellent articles in the AHSGR Journal that have been published since the founding of AHSGR in 1968. Copies of the Journals are available from the AHSGR online store. A history of the German-Russians can found in “From Catherine to Khrushchev: The Story of Russia’s Germans” by Adam Giesinger, and several other books. An excellent website about Volga Germans is The Center for Volga German Studies: There are Facebook pages for some villages, and the content depends on the village.

My biggest benefit in being a VC is being able to help people from the US, Canada, Germany, Russia, Argentina and other countries in researching their German-Russian ancestors. Researching German-Russians can be a monumental and costly undertaking for individuals.

If a person is considering becoming a VC, acquire all the information you can about the village of interest, and genealogy information about people who settled in the village and lived there, and be willing to help people in a timely manner.

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