Nusz Family

Nuss / Nusz Family Heritage

Johann Jacob Nuss & Family 1766-1767

Immigration 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 a very unstable condition as a result of the Seven Years War, and to those living there, Russia seemed like the Promised Land. Between 1764 and 1767, some even thousand families brought between 25,000 and 27,000 of their family members from Germany to Russia. Our Nuss ancestors, and other Germans that immigrated 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.

The Nuss Family

Johann Jacob Nuss was born in Isenberg, Germany in 1716, and he married Anna Elisabeth (maiden name unknown). The Nuss family started its Germany-to-Russia journey at Isenburg, Germany in 1766, and the trip was accomplished in several stages. They first traveled across Germany to the port cities, and then boarded a Hanseatic or English ship crossing the Baltic Sea to the Russian port of Kronstadt. 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 the 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 in 1766.

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 Novgorod where they disembarked to continue by transport wagons overland to Torshok. The Colonists boarded ships at Torshok or other ports 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 stop 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 died 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 River. At this time, the family included Widow Anna Elisabeth and her six children, including George Ernst Nuss.

The Volga German Colonies

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 follows: ;

 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.

Rugged Individualism

Times were very hard during the first year. The Colony did not 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 promptly 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 Russian peasants.


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 was prepared.

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 drink.

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 summer months.


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 they 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 routine. 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, as her Grandpa Johann Adam Nuss was a tailor by trade but also a farmer, as was her father.

Immigration 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 mailing list:

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 [1907]. 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 Marion, KS.

Settling in Kansas

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 Oklahoma

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.

Blaine 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 coyote.

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 started a 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 George 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.

Our Nuss Ancestors

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 Nuss.

2) George Ernst Nuss, born in Germany in 1749, Died 1835 in Dobrinka, Russia,
     Married Elisabeth Knedler in 1775, born in 1755 in Deutschland.
     Their five children included Johann Friedrich Nuss. 

3) Johann Friedrich Nuss, born December 2nd, 1794. Died 1856.
     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 Adam.

4) Johann Adam Nuss, born October 30th, 1815. Died December 19th, 1885. 
     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, 1933.
     Their 14 children included Emma Nusz.

6) Emma Nusz Weber, born Feb 14, 1889 in Marion, Kansas, died Sept 29, 1975, Okeene.
     Married Adam Weber, September 23rd, 1905. Born June 23rd, 1882. Died April 12th, 1958.
     Their seven children included Clarence Owen Weber.

7) Clarence Owen Weber, born July 23rd, 1921, died October 13th, 1992.
     Married Grace Grantz March 20th, 1946. Born January 11th, 1923. Died March 3rd, 1983. 
     Their three children included Owen Wayne Weber.

8) Owen Wayne Weber