The Grenz Journey.....from Russia To America

By Christa Grenz

          You need to be courageous and adventuresome to be an immigrant, to leave family and friends and possessions and venture into unknown territory. And our wandering Grenz ancestors certainly had an abundance of both qualities. In 1796, our earliest known ancestor, Samuel Grenz, was born in Prussia. He was an unmarried teenager in 1813 when he emigrated from the district of Posen in Prussian Poland to Russia with his older brother Gottlieb aged 27 and his wife Maria age 21. Imagine being so young, and leaving everything behind to embark upon such a journey into unknown territory! Despite the efforts of many, it has not yet been possible to pinpoint exactly where in Posen, which is now a part of central Poland, the Grenzes came from. It is almost certain that Posen was a temporary home and that a number of years before the move to Russia, perhaps as long as a few generations, the Grenz families originated somewhere in Wuerttemberg or Bavaria in southern Germany as most of the Germans from Russia did. That, however, is yet to be discovered and proven.                        

          Catherine the Great of Russia, a German princess, had issued a Manifesto on Dec 4, 1762 inviting Western Europeans to settle in Russia to populate her vast land, especially the land in southern Russia, that she had recently obtained from the Turks. There was a very little response. Her second Manifesto, however, issued July 22, 1763, a few months after the close of the Seven Years’ War, was accompanied by a massive propaganda effort throughout war-scarred western Europe. It offered new incentives such as transportation to Russia, religious and political autonomy, and land which incited many Western Europeans, mostly Germans, to migrate to Russia. So many Germans left their homeland, that by the end of the nineteenth century, Russia had a population of about 1.8 million Germans. The immigrants settled in a number of regions in Southern Russia in which villages were segregated according to Catholic, Mennonite or Lutheran religion. Our Grenz ancestors settled in Lutheran villages near the Black Sea.

          At the beginning of the 1800's, many changes were taking place in Russia. Catherine had died in 1796 at the age of 67. Alexander I, her grandson, became czar of Russia in 1801 upon the murder of his father, the unpopular Czar Paul I. Alexander was at first immobilized and devastated by the death of his father, but with the help of counselors, he issued a manifesto in 1804 that brought more German farmers to Russia. It was a reissue of the 1763 document and everything would be as in the time of his grandmother Catharine. He promised the colonists freedom of religion, exemption from military service, freedom from taxes for 10-30 years, and reforms such as pardoning political prisoners, getting rid of torture and opening up Russia’s borders to books, music, trade and travel. He and his Minister of the Interior took special interest in the Ukraine in southern Russia and his intention was to bring the fertile steppes to food production. They issued instructions to the governors and other crown officials regarding the reception that was to be accorded to the German immigrants, the financial support that was to be given them, the areas in which they were to be settled, and other pertinent details.

          It is interesting to note that while Alexander gave the colonists new freedoms, he also imposed restrictions so that they could serve as models for the other peasants. They were to improve agriculture and promote trade and handicraft.  They were


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