Nuss / Nusz Family Heritage
Johann Jacob Nuss &
from Germany to Russia
The Protestant Reformation began in 1517 when Martin Luther published
The Ninety-Five Theses, and it concluded in 1648 with the Treaty of
Westphalia that ended years of European religious wars, including the
Thirty Years' War. However, the war-ravaged effects of the
Reformation continued to be felt by the European nations. On
July 22, 1763, Russian empress Catherine II issued a manifesto inviting
foreigners to settle in Russia. This was an Old Russian
custom, and this new manifesto was a skillful propaganda effort at an opportune
time. The Russian government encouraged immigration by
offering a house and a farm to each immigrating family, and it seemed like a great
opportunity for the residents of Western Europe, where they could be
free from the threats of religiously driven wars conducted near their
homes, high taxes and, military conscription.
Russian emigration agents assisted thousands of impoverished farmers,
tradesmen, and soldiers to immigrate to Russia from Western Europe, and
most came from the German-speaking lands. These areas were in
very unstable condition as a result of the Seven Years War, and to
those living there, Russia seemed like the promised land.
1764 and 1767, some even thousand families brought between 25,000 and
27,000 of their family members from Germany to Russia. Our
ancestors, and other Germans that emigrated to Russia, came to be known
as the Volga Germans, settling the original Volga German
colonies. In the latter half of the 19th century, many of our
Nuss ancestors then immigrated to the U.S.
Johann Jacob Nuss was born in Isenberg, Germany in 1716, and he married
Anna Elisabeth (maiden name unknown). The Nuss family started
Germany-to-Russia journey at Isenburg, Germany in 1766, and the trip
was accomplished in several stages. They first traveled
Germany to the port cities, and then boarded a Hanseatic or English
ship crossing the Baltic Sea to the Russian port of
They were then transported to Oranienbaum, just west of St. Petersburg,
where they lived in temporary housing, or with Russian families,
through the winter months. It usually took about a year from
time they arrived in Oranienbaum to arrive at their destination
village. Johann Jacob Nuss, his wife Anna Elisabeth, and six
children (including George Ernst Nuss) arrived in Oranienbaum, Russia
When weather permitted, they were transported by boat to St.
Petersburg. A military officer was assigned to each group to
protect them and lead them to the settlement sites. The Nuss family was
part of a colonist group of 898 people, led by Russian Lt.
Shchirokov. They proceeded by various water courses to
where they disembarked to continue by transport wagons overland to
Torshok. The Colonists boarded ships at Torshok or other
and journeyed down the Volga to Saratov.
Our ancestor Johann Jacob Nuss died on the leg of the trip between
Oranienbaum and Saratov, en route to Messer, most likely due to cold
and hunger. If a death occurred while traveling by transport
wagons, the colonists would stop along the way and bury their
dead. If a death occurred while on board a boat, they would
along the river bank to bury their dead, then the relatives would
hastily erect a rough-hewn cross above the grave, and scurry back to
the ship so that the journey could continue for the others, and to
avoid robbers who were often hiding in the dense forests along the
Volga. Of the 7,501 original settlers, 1,264 (16.9%) of them
en route from various causes.
On September 14th, 1767, our Nuss ancestors arrived at their settlement
area in Messer, Russia on the western side of the Volga
this time, the family included widow Anna Elisabeth and her six
children, including George Ernst Nuss.
Saratov is the city nearest the designated settlement areas.
Between 1764 and 1766, a total of nine colonies were established by
Lutheran Germans on the west side of the lower Volga River, as
1) Dobrinka (Nishnaya Dobrinka): 29 June 1764
2) Galka (Ust-Kulalinka): 12 Aug 1764
3) Holstein (Verkhnaya-Kutalinka): 26 May 1765
4) Shcherbakovka (Tcherbakovka): 15 Jun 1765
5) Schwab (Buiyakov Buyerak): 8 Jul 1767
6) Mueller [Müller] (Krestovoi-Buyerak): 16 Aug 1767
7) Kraft (Verkhnaya Grasnukha): 18 Aug 1767
8) Stephan (Vodyanoi Buyerak): 24 Aug 1767
9) Dreispitz (Verkhnaya Dorbinka): 16 Sept 1767
Most villages were established on the Volga River or upstream on brooks
which ran into the Volga. Kraft, established on a brook which runs into
the Jiowija (Liolwa) River, is furthers west of the nine villages.
Several Catholic villages are north of Kraft. Along the Volga, north of
Danilovka are numerous Russian villages. Starting in 1846, daughter
colonies were established to the southwest and on the eastern or Samara
side of the Volga. As a result of increased population, many residents
of the colonies moved to the newly established daughter colonies. There
was a great deal of travel, communication, and marriage between
residents of these villages.
After the Russian Revolution in 1918, all Germans who had any means had
everything taken from them and were sent to Siberia. In world War II,
starting September 1941, all remaining Germans were relocated. In
December 1941 and January 1942, all men of 18 years and older were
taken to the labor front (Trudarmee). In 1942 and 1943, all women of 18
years and older were also taken to forced labor camps. Only women with
children under two, people over 50 years of age, and children were
left. Families were separated and scattered throughout Russia. Many
people died of cold and hunger.
Times were very hard during the first year. The Colony did
receive their promised supplies for housing, so the Russians taught the
German colonist how to build dug outs that they used for their homes
during the first year. Other provisions did not arrive
as well, and they had to eat their wheat crop that was needed for
seed. Once they received got their provisions to build proper
housing and tools to work their crops and the seeds to plant, they
became very self-sufficient, and they were envied by the neighboring
Finally, after a decade of drought and poor harvests, in 1775 they had
a good crop. They replaced their Russian Sokhi with
iron-tipped ploughs so they were able to plough more acreage. They
practiced a three- and four-year crop rotation on several large fields in order
to help yield better crops. They also began breeding better
draft horses to pull their tilling equipment.
The farm year began in March and April when sunflowers, potatoes,
millet, barley and oats were planted. The Sunflowers were
processed for oil in the mills. Millet was used to make a
coarse porridge called Hirsche. Rye flour was planted in late August
following summer rains, and flax and hemp were also grown for their
clothing needs. Cabbage, melons and pumpkins were grown in
the communal garden near the villages. In the fall, sauerkraut
Vegetable gardens were grown in the Hinnerhof (the yard next to each
home), and the vegetables included carrots, onions, sugar beets,
tomatoes and cucumbers. They also planted apple, pear and
cherry orchards, and most fruit was preserved through sun-drying.
Wild pear trees, strawberries, and other berries were common, and mushrooms
were harvested in August. Also in the fall, licorice root was
harvested to make Steppetee—a favorite Volga German
When the harvest and fall planting had been completed, and the produce
sold or stored, they gather for a bounty celebration called the
Kerb. This event signaled the end of the field season as the
people prepared for the long Russian winter. Although quite
isolated, they became quiet self-sufficient until the next
spring. In early winter, the families would gather to butcher
livestock, and fruit tree cuttings were used to smoke the sausage and
other meat products. During the spring thaw, along the banks
of the Volga and the mill ponds, they would collect irregular blocks of
ice, insulated them with straw, and stored them in large cellars in
order to preserve their dairy products and fresh meat during the hot
In an effort to avoid repetition of the religious conflicts of central
Europe that had plagued most of the eighteenth century, the Volga
German colonists were assigned to colonies based largely upon their
religious affiliation. One, therefore, finds colonies made up
primarily or exclusively of one of three religious groups: Evangelical
(Lutheran); Reformed; and Roman Catholic. Despite the
preponderance of Protestants among the colonists, few pastors came to
minister to them. Those who came were faced with meager
salaries congregations often numbering over 2,000 souls scattered in parishes
across the Russian steppe. The lack of pastors became an
acute problem, exemplified by the fact that in 1805 one finds only fourteen
resident pastors among the entire Volga German colonies: Messer, Grimm,
Beideck, Galka, Dietel, Frank, Norka, Stephan, Yagodnaya Polyana,
Rosenheim, Warenburg, Bettinger and two in Katharinenstadt.
One pastor was also located in Saratov, for a total of fifteen serving in
the Volga German settlement area. The University of Dorpat
(now Tartu) in Estonia was the nearest theological seminary, but during the
early settlement years the distance and expense prevented enrollment by
all but a few Volga German men.
The church was an important part of the colonist's intellectual world,
their moral standards, their language, and ethnic character.
Practically all of the colonists claimed a religious affiliation,
usually characterized by ethical purity, inward devotion, charity, and
even mysticism. By decree of January 31, 1764 (Comp. Coll. Of
Laws, No. 12322), it was ordered "To build in every settled district
one church complete with all necessary furnishings and a suitable home
for the pastor, at the treasury expense for the inhabitants of the
entire district, exempting those expenses for the course of the
privileged years from each household at an equal number."
This was done because the colonists, "in view of their poverty, are not in a
position to construct them." In the early years after the
founding of the original colonies, there were 16 churches and their
pastors' homes and schools were based on the number of parishes: eleven
Protestant and five Catholic. Among the first parishes was
Protestant: Talovka, Lenoi Karamysh, Podstepnaya and
Sebastyanovka which were established in 1767. Ust-Kulalinka,
Medveditskii Krestovy Buyerak, DeBoff (in Oleshnya), Norka and
Beauregard (in Katharinenstadt) were established in 1768. Le
Roy (in Privalnaya) was established in 1770 and Vodyanoi Buyerak in
1771. By decree of the Governing Senate on May 14, 1767
surveyors were instructed to set aside land for each church at 609 desyatina (a
Russian measure of land where 1 desyatina equals roughly 1.1
hectares). The first church in Norka was built with pride as
the centerpiece of the colony. It was the largest and best
building in the village.
In the early years, separate church services were held for the Lutheran
and Reformed faith families. Both services were performed by
either a Lutheran or Reformed pastor in the colony. After
years of socialization and intermarriage, religious differences were set
aside and they worshiped together. Church life was the center
of community affairs and as such the church building was located in the
middle of the colony with homes surrounding it. Across the
street from the church was the parsonage, the pastor's fruit garden, the
schoolhouse, an old cemetery and the bell tower. The seating
arrangement commonly practiced in the Volga German churches dictated
that the men sat on the left and women and children on the right of the
main floor. The second floor held the choir voices and the great pipe
organ (if they were effluent enough to have such in their village).
The church grounds were enclosed by a fence and planted with beautiful
shrubbery and trees. Church services lasted one hour and
forty-five minutes. The choir consisting of unmarried men and women
would sing two or three selections aside from the congregational
singing. The choir had a leader, known in German as the
Chorleiter. The Chorleiter's job was to give the choir or
congregation the musical pitch by striking a tuning fork against the
metal music stand and then raising it with all to listen to carefully
and hum the tone in their heads, thus giving the musical pitch for all
the basses, tenors, altos and sopranos to be in harmony (a four part
harmony). Then the organ began to play and either the choir
and/or the congregation chimed in with the singing of that specific
hymn. The Chorleiter's role was very significant and
necessary. His job was to lead the singing but also to bring the singing together
in a harmonious tonal quality.
Many of the Volga colony churches had a bell tower and Norka was no
exception. The structure had stairs leading up to the top level which
contained three different sized bells that served as a means of
communication for the people of the colony. The tower played
an important role in the community. On Sunday mornings, all of the
colonists in Norka were summoned to the church by the ringing of the
bells. It was a day to wear their best clothes as the strolled to the
church with their Bibles and Wolgagesangbuch (Volga Song Books) in
their arms. On Sunday evenings, the bells were rung to
announce the close of the Sabbath and the beginning of the weekly
Every evening at 7 p.m. a bell was rung to indicate that the work day
was ended. On Wednesday night, the bells served called the
people to the Versamlung or prayer meetings. The bells were also
rung to warn of a fire, to announce a death in the village and to call people
to a funeral service. During very inclement weather, such as
blizzards, the bells were rung steadily for hours to provide direction
to the colony for those who might be lost out on the wide open steppe.
It was customary for the church choir to gather on the bell
tower the evening before Easter and Pentecost to sing hymns.
George Ernst was born in Germany in 1749. In about 1774, he
left Messer, Russia and moved to Dobrinka, Kameka District, Saratov
Province, Russia. He married Elisabeth Knedler in
1775. Their five children included Johann Friedrich who was born on December
2nd 1794. Johann Friedrich married Eva Elisabeth Borger in
1812. Elisabeth was born February 17, 1798 in Holstein,
Russia, the daughter of Johannes Borger and Anna Catharina Fitzler. Johann
Friedrich and Eva Elisabeth had nine children, including Johann Adam
born Oct 17, 1815.
George Ernst Nusz died in Dobrinka in 1835.
Johann Adam married Regina Elisabeth Ernst the daughter of Johann Adam
Ernst and Elisabeth(unknown maiden name) Ernst. Regina Elisabeth was
born June 4, 1818 in Dobrinka, Russia. The 15 children of Johann Adam
and Regina Elisabeth Ernst Nuss include:
(Johann) George Peter Nuss (became Peter Nusz in USA) was born May 14,
1855 in Dobrinka, Russia; he died April 15, 1920 at Okeene, OK; married
in 1874 Maria Katharina Wolf (born May 2, 1858 in Dobrinka; daughter of
Georg Friedrich Wolf and Catharina Elisabeth Geier.
Hannah Nusz Kammerzell Weber told of how her papa George Peter Nusz
helped his Father Johann Adam Nuss do tailor work that her Grandpa
Johann Adam Nuss was a tailor by trade but also a farmer as was her
from Russia to the U.S.
Over the years, the special treatment for German immigrants to Russia
were revoked, the German men were called up for extensive military
service, and the sentiment in Russia became quite
anti-German. At the same time, the United States was attempting to attract settlers by
offering special treatment to immigrants similar to those of Catherine
the Great a century earlier. Some of the Volga Germans
gathered and chose delegations to sail across the Atlantic in order to examine
settlement conditions in the U.S. As a result, Volga Germans
began arriving in the U.S. in the mid-1870s, settling in diverse
regions such as Kansas, Washington, Oregon, California, Wisconsin,
Illinois, Michigan and Ohio. The Volga Germans often traveled
and settled together in the U.S. initially continued their pattern of
introverted closed German communities.
Some of the later settlers made their homes in Canada, Argentina, and
Brazil. There was also emigration to North Caucasus and to
Siberia in Russia. Still, many Volga Germans remained in
Russia, and the Volga German population increased to over 500,000 by
1914. Also, after the deportation in 1941, many were living
in Central Asia. During the 20th century, many also resettled in
their ancestral homeland of Germany.
Most of the Nuss lines left Russia between 1874 and 1913.
When leaving Russia, they first had to go to Saratov to ask permission to
leave. They often had to travel from Saratov to Hamburg by
train, boat, or wagon in order to have their documentation checked and to
receive stamps on their documents.
The following account was taken from the Germans from Russia Roots web
I can tell you what travel documents are in our families. My
Grandparents had passports that were stamped at various places along
their journey from Russia to the United States . My
husband's Great Grandparents had the same documents plus records from
the Evangelical Lutheran pastor in Frank which were in both German and
Russian and were for their new pastor in America primarily.
[1890s] They listed births, deaths, marriages, confirmations,
baptisms, etc. I think a lot of people believe it was easy to immigrate
to America and that governmental bureaucracies are a modern
development. All of the census materials in Russia where the
government kept track of people and their belongings and the process
they had to go through to get permission to leave indicate
otherwise. And this was not limited to Russia. Some of my
German ancestors who came from Germany to America instead of to Russia in the
1700's had to pay a manumission tax to leave. They were literally
property of some Duke who had to give them permission to leave - after
they paid the fee of course. The taxing systems and land use
fee systems helped pipe the money from the lowest levels to whoever was in
charge of that particular kingdom or dukedom. The noblemen
used the money to wage war or whatever they desired. So they kept track of
people and things. I had one of the passports translated from
Russian and there was a lengthy list of items that could not be taken
out of Russia including sable fur, certain gemstones, etc.
The passport was stamped at various places along the journey and it was
examined at various points before they could go to the next leg of the
journey. Lauren Brantner
We cannot be sure of all of the details of how our Nusz ancestors left
Russia. However, from an account told by Rachel Nusz Heibert
to her daughter Henrietta: Rachel's father, George Peter Nusz
told Rachel that the Dobrinka police took them at night (sneaking them out
so that Russian officials would not know they were leaving) to catch a
boat on the Volga to go up to the seaports).
We do know that they traveled via steerage class aboard the SS Rhaetia,
a trans-Atlantic passenger ship that could accommodate 1,300 passengers
and crew. They took very few belongings, and the ship sailed
from Hamburg, Germany to Havre, France before arriving in New York City, NY
on April 18th, 1887. Many Germans from Russia were seasick
for the entire voyage. Nusz family members on this trip
included: George Peter Nusz, age 31; wife Marie Katharine,
age 28; and their first seven of their 14 children: George
(Peter), age 11; Katy, age 11; Amalie (Mollie), age 6; David, age 4; Andreas
(Andrew), age 3; Alexander, age 1; and Johannes (John), age 3
months. John took ill and they thought he was going to
die. He slept in their clothing trunk. The family took a boat from
Ellis Island to the Port of New Orleans where they went by train to
The Johann Friedrich Nusz descendants settled in Marion County,
KS. All of the George Peter Nusz descendants went on to
Oklahoma when land opened there. Railroads sometimes provided
temporary housing until Russian-Germans could purchase land. Our Nuss
ancestors became farmers, but many also accepted the offer of free land
for working on the railroad. George Peter Nusz worked on the
railroad section in Kansas, earning ten cents per hour, and working
10-hour days. His wife, Mary Katharine worked for a banker's
family, earning 25 cents per day.
Farming in Kansas was much like farming along the Volga River in Russia
because of the similar lay of the plains, prairie-style agriculture,
and crops, such as Turkey red wheat. However, they adopted
some new strategies, such as an increased reliance upon corn and livestock,
in order to compete in the marketplace, but they also retained a number
of elements from their Russian experience.
Russian-German communities survived many challenges in the twentieth
century. The anti-German sentiment of two world wars
suppressed their language and many of their customs. The automobile and
other technological advances increased outside influences on their
communities. Also, Russian-Germans themselves have sought a
more active role in the larger American society. However, through
their gradual entry into mainstream American life, the Russian-Germans
have maintained the Old World flavor of their culture and traditions.
On March 20th, 1890, the Topeka Daily Capital wrote, "Whereas 200 years
in Russia left them unchanged from what their fathers were--less than
ten years in the great state of Kansas... finds them with landed
estates, herds of cattle and horses and finer houses than they or any
of their fathers ever hoped to occupy in Russia."
The Volga Germans were slow to adopt American customs and
manners. Just as they had done in Russia, they settled in
close-knit rural communities and remained somewhat isolated, preserving
their language and traditions for decades, entering mainstream American
life only gradually. Accustomed to severe Russian winters, they wore
coats and head coverings much heavier than the Kansas climate
required. The women wore simple dark dresses and shawls
occasionally decorated with colorful embroidered flowers.
Volga Germans were very, so churches buildings were among the first
structures raised in every Russian-German community.
The Move to
On April 19th, 1892, about 25,000 people participated in the Oklahoma
Land Run, racing for homesteads in the surplus lands of the Cheyenne
and Arapaho tribes. On September 16th, over 100,000 people
made a similar Run on the Cherokee Outlet--the largest Run in
history. On September 17th, the Twin Territories, with a population of about 1.5
million, officially became a state and the people voted on candidates
for public office and the state constitution. President
Theodore Roosevelt signed the Oklahoma Statehood Proclamation on that day, and
Charles Haskell became the first governor of Oklahoma.
County, OK, 1895
Our Nuss/Nusz families settled mostly in Blaine County, OK, near
Okeene. The County seat was (and is) Watonga, named for
Wa-ton-gha, an Arapaho Chief, and the word means black
The George Peter Nusz families were farmers, and they lived at
Isabella, OK for a while. George also was a preacher and owned
a store in Okeene. George began preaching in homes, then
church south of Okeene and later bought the building of the Lutheran
church when they were building their new present day church.
The building that Geo Peter preached in on Main street still exists today
and is attended by many of his descendants.
(Johann) George Peter Nuss and Maria Katharina Wolf had the last seven
of their 14 children after arriving in the U.S., including Emma Nusz
born Feb 14, 1889in Dobrinka, Russia, died Sept 29, 1970 Okeene, OK,
she married Adam Weber; ...
Part of the above information was prepared by Neil Douglas Nusz May 21,
2009, and taken from the Transport of the Volga Germans from
Oranienbaum to the Colonies on the Volga 1766-1767, translated and
edited by Brent Alan Mai, Assistant Professor of Library Science,
Purdue University. Published by: American Historical Society
of Germans from Russia, Lincoln, Nebraska.
1) Johann Jacob Nuss, born 1716 in Isenberg, Germany.
Died 1767 between Oranienbaum,
Russia and Messer, Russia.
Married Anna Elisabeth, born 1713 in Isenberg,
Germany. Died 1785.
Their six children included Georg Ernst
2) George Ernst Nuss, born in Germany in 1749, Died 1835 in Dobrinka,
Married Elisabeth Knedler in 1775, born in 1755 in
Their five children included Johann Friedrich
3) Johann Friedrich Nuss, born December 2nd, 1794. Died
Married Eva Elisabeth Borger in 1812. Elisabeth
born February 17th, 1798 in Holstein, Russia,
the daughter of Johannes Borger and Anna
Catharina Fitzler. Died 1868.
Their nine children included Johann
4) Johann Adam Nuss, born October 30th, 1815. Died December
Married Regina Elisabeth Ernst in 1834, the
daughter of Johann Adam Ernst and Elisabeth
(unknown maiden name) Ernst. Regina
Elisabeth was born June 4, 1818 in Dobrinka, Russia.
Their 15 children included (Johann) George Peter
Nuss (became Peter Nusz in USA):
5) (Johann) George Peter Nuss (became Peter Nusz in USA),
Born May 14th, 1855 in
Dobrinka, Russia; he died April 15, 1920 at Okeene, OK;
Married in 1874 Maria Katharina Wolf (born May
3rd, 1858 in Dobrinka;
daughter of Georg Friedrich
Wolf and Catharina Elisabeth Geier). Died August 23rd,
Their 14 children included Emma Nusz.
6) Emma Nusz Weber, born Feb 14, 1889 in Marion, Kansas, died Sept 29,
Married Adam Weber, September 23rd,
1905. Born June
23rd, 1882. Died April 12th,
Their seven children included Clarence Owen
7) Clarence Owen Weber, born July 23rd, 1921, died October 13th,
Married Grace Grantz March 20th, 1946.
Born January 11th, 1923. Died March 3rd, 1983.
Their three children included Owen Wayne
8) Owen Wayne Weber