What Started it All

In May of 2013, I made my first trip to Europe.  I did the Rick Steves 14 Day Best of Europe Tour.  While in Munich, I started thinking about where we might be from.  Munich felt very “home” like.  So once I returned, I found the information Richard Berger had sent us in 2002 shortly after Uncle Adam Berger had passed.  Later that summer, at Christy Berger Smith’s 50th birthday party, I asked if she had any of the stuff Aunt Paulina had regarding family history.  I knew she had quite a bit of information and Christy was the one who probably had it.  She had a few things, one of which was a book on the Wurtz/Hoerner side (Grandma Elizabeth Wurtz Berger Erhardt).

A cousin of my father’s sent this info out back in 2002. It has the family history from the migration to Russia and forward to America. I cut off the end that had all the details on the children and grandchildren of Mathias and Rosalia. Luckily, grandfather John was the oldest, and it was easy to stop after he named their kids.

Early on, I found a cousin (I don’t know how many times removed) with whom we share a great, great grandfather, George, who lives in London.  He had done quite a bit of research on the Berger’s and had written a book (link below).  I contacted him, got the book, and went to work.

This series is about what I called “The Ancestral Homeland Tour” which I took in August, 2014.  I went to the places our ancestors are from, walked the streets and land, and entered buildings they probably had set foot in themselves.  It feels like approximatley 70% of the people were from an area of about a 30 mile radius.  I’m still amazed they went from there to what is now Ukraine, stayed 100 years, then went back to Hamburg to come to North America.

The Berger Connection by Richard Berger of Minneapolis, MN

How did our Berger ancestors end up moving from Germany to Russia to the United States?

It all started with a large number of Germans migrating to Russia from the southern states of Germany, by an invitation in 1763 from Czarina Catherine II (who was German born), and by the invitation of Czar Alexander I in 1804. The first group of several thousand families settled on the steppes along the great Volga River and was known as the Volga Germans. The second group, who came along some 40 years later, settled in the state of Kherson, above the Black Sea, and was known as the Black Sea Region Germans. After having lived almost 100 years or more in Russia, thousands of the descendants of these original immigrants left the land of their birth for America when the Russian government became oppressive toward the German farmers they had once invited to their country. Most of the Volga Germans settled in the state of Kansas and South America, while those of the Black Sea Region settled in the Dakotas, Nebraska, Texas, Canada and South America. Our ancestors, Mathias and Rosalia Berger, came and settled in western North Dakota.

Mathias Berger’s grandparents, Mathias and Katherine Huener-Berger, emigrated early in the 1800’s from Jockgrim, Germany, a small village near Karlsruhe in western Germany. They settled in the colony of Speier in south Russia, actually in what is now the Republic of the Ukraine. Rosalia’s grandparents, Jacob and Franziska Eichenlaug-Jahner, came to Landau in 1812. The colonies of Speier and Landau were founded in 1809 and 1810 in the Beresina Valley, some 110 miles west of the state capital of Kherson, and some 115 miles northwest of Odessa, the great seaport on the Black Sea. The colonies of Speier and Landau in Russia were named after the towns of Speyer and Landau near Jockgrim, Germany.

One of Mathias and Katherine’s children was named George. George Berger married Elizabeth Wetzstein and together they had seven children including Mathias, Jacob, Rafael, Nichodemus, Anton, Magdeline and Kasimir. Anton migrated to Canada and Kasimir migrated to Argentina*. Several of the others came to the U.S. at the same time as Mathias but it is unknown if they also came to North Dakota as well or to where they dispersed. Mathias Berger, our grandfather or great grandfather, was born September 13, 1869, a native of Speier, and married Rosalia Jahner, who was born May 31, 1874, a native of the colony of Landau. Rosalia’s parents were Peter and Appolonia Jahner and she was one of eleven children in her family.

After farming some 10 years in the colony of Speier, Mathias and Rosalia Berger left their native land in the spring of 1903 for the United States, where they made their home for six years at Dickinson, North Dakota. Here Mathias Berger was mostly employed as a stone mason. In 1909 they left Dickinson and took up a homestead some eight miles north of Richardton. By 1916 they had increased their landholdings to six full quarter sections. They farmed and ranched successfully on those 960 acres in spite of the many hardships caused by droughts, rust, grasshoppers and total crop failure, especially during the never to be forgotten Thirties.

Mathias and Rosalia Berger were blessed with eight children, five born in Russia and three in the United States. John was born April 12, 1896; Magdalene and Eva, twins, April 14, 1898; Stephen, May 9, 1900; Roy, February 28, 1902; Daniel, September 12, 1907; Anna, June 12, 1910; and Lee, July 2, 1912. They gave all their children a good rural elementary education and fine Christian training. Rosalia Berger passed away in 1939. In 1941 Mathias turned his farm over to his unmarried son, Roy, who together with his sister, Anna, farmed and ranched for the next 10 years. Their father lived with them until 1948, when he entered St. Benedict’s Home for the Aged in Dickinson. On February 23, 1950 he passed away and was laid to rest beside his wife. Both are buried in St. Mary’s cemetery in Richardton, ND.

John (Johannes) Berger, the oldest of the Mathias Berger children, married Lizzy (Elizabeth) Wurtz and had seven children, including Herman, Adam, Ralph, Matthew, Tony (Anton), Barbara and Paulina.

* I have learned that Kasimir lived in North Dakota and eventually moved to Canada. It is from Kasimir’s grandson Brian, that I have gathered much information which was used as a basis for this journey. His book They Dared to Dream was instrumental in getting the basics for my Ancestry.com search.

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