Walk through that door

Walk through that door


Alexander Kaiser, 1904-1978


Here’s what I remember the most about my grandfather: He could mash potatoes so smoothly with just a metal potato masher and the strength of one arm. He used to bet his grandchildren they would never be able to find a lump when he finished mashing them, and he was right. Those potatoes were lump-free, creamy goodness topped with real butter and a dash of salt.

He and my grandmother used to have a party line phone, where they shared a phone line with another family. And get this: The phone company billed them for incoming, local calls. But they had a system worked out where if he needed to call home from work, he would let the phone ring twice and then hang up. My grandmother, or my Nana, as we fondly called her, would then know to call him back. Free call. They were sneaky.

He always used to drive a Buick, the best car in the world, he used to say. Every winter they would leave Wisconsin and drive out to California in a red Buick. My sister and I would wait out in the front yard for them, patiently looking for that red Buick to turn into our driveway. Until that year when a dark blue Pontiac pulled up to the house instead. That was the year that he discovered Buicks were not the only good cars on the road. That Pontiac never gave him one problem, and he loved it so much that he said he would never go back to a Buick again.

I would be a decade older before I learned that my grandfather had more than smooth potatoes, cool cars and phone hacks to talk about.

My grandparents were part of a group of people who called themselves Germans from Russia. He came to the United States when he was just a boy, as did my grandmother. Although they spent more of their lives in the U.S. than in Russia, he knew the story of his ancestors very well, and he wanted to make sure that people knew about their suffering and what they had to go through to get to the United States.

Those were stories I would never forget, stories that would years later compel me to embrace genealogy research and conduct extensive searches to identify my Volga German ancestors.

This is the story of my grandfather’s journey.



History [1]

Alexander Kaiser’s family was originally from what is now Germany. On July 22, 1763, Catherine the Great issued a Manifesto inviting Germans to come settle in Russia. The Empress’ invitation came at a time when the provinces of Germany were ravaged by the Seven Years War, famine and crippling poverty.

Catherine’s offer was difficult to refuse: generous acreage, free relocation expenses and supplies, no taxes for thirty years, freedom to practice their religion, no conscription in Russia’s Army, local self-government and more. German settlers were promised loans to help them buy livestock and equipment with no interest and a reasonable repayment plan.

The Empress knew many Germans were desperate to provide for their families and would jump at the opportunity to improve their lives. Germans already had a reputation as hardworking and industrious, so if anyone could help the Russians tame their desolate frontier, she believed it would be them. Thousands of Germans accepted Catherine’s offer and moved their families to Russia. Many settled in small villages along the Volga River.

Life was far different from what they expected. These new Russian citizens remained in hostile territory plagued by unpleasant weather patterns, rocky soil, vermin and disease. The earliest settlers battled with nomadic Kazakhs from China and Mongolia, and as a result, many Germans lost their lives. Still they persevered.

In 1874 the government enforced conscription on all men, including the Germans along the Volga. This was a serious breach of promise to the settlers who were strong pacifists. Many Germans in Russia moved their families to America to avoid being forced to join the military, while others stayed behind, hoping their government would re-exempt them.

Many of these Germans immigrated to North and South America in the late 1800s and early 1900s. For those who stayed in Russia, life remained harsh as they were ranked near the bottom of the country’s class system and routinely treated poorly.

By the early 1900s, those still living along the Volga River still considered themselves Germans, not Russians. Socialization with other native Russians was minimal. Intermarriage was considered taboo.



This was the social climate in Grimm, Russia, when Alexander (Alex) Kaiser’s parents, Jake Kaiser and Charlotte Kerbel, were growing up. Both were descended from original settlers of the village. The couple married in 1903, and Alex was born the following year on June 29, 1904.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Germans were disillusioned with life in Russia. The government had reneged on some of their promises to the settlers, and many dreamed of a better life in another country. In early 1907, Jake and Charlotte Kaiser decided to immigrate to the United States with their young son Alex. They traveled in a group with other family members and their children. Upon their arrival at Ellis Island, a doctor discovered one of the children had an ear infection and the child was denied entrance to the U.S. Rather than break up their families, neither family chose to remain, but that said, they still did not want to return to Russia. Once back at their original port of departure, Hamburg, Germany, the families decided to go to Argentina, where there was already a large population of Germans and Volga Germans.

The circuitous route took them back to Hamburg Germany, where they boarded a ship bound for La Plata, Argentina. Traveling steerage, they made the arduous journey which included stops in Dover, England; Boulogne-sur-Mer, France; Coruña Spain; Lisbon, Portugal; and finally La Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Note that although the two brothers’ families were listed together in the passenger list, the surname for Alex’s family was misspelled as Heiser, instead of Kaiser.


Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934 [2]

  • Name: Alexander Heiser [sic] Kaiser
  • Gender: männlich (Male)
  • Departure Age: 1
  • Ethnicity/Nationality: Russland (Russian)
  • Relationship: Sohn (Son)
  • Birth Date: abt 1905
  • Residence: Saratow (Saratov)
  • Departure Date: 2 Feb 1906
  • Port of Departure: Hamburg
  • Destination: Buenos Aires
  • Port of Arrival: Dover; Boulogne-sur-Mer; Coruna; Lissabon; La Plata; Buenos Aires
  • Ship Name: Cap Blanco
  • Shipping Clerk: Hamburg-Amerika Linie (Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft)
  • Shipping line: Hamburg-Südamerikanische Dampfschifffahrt-Gesellschaft
  • Ship Type: Dampfschiff, kein Auswandererschiff
  • Ship Flag: Deutschland
  • Accommodation: Zwischendeck
  • Volume: 373-7 I, VIII A 1 Band 175
  • Household Members: Name Age
  • Georg Heiser 29 [sic] Kaiser
  • Charlotte Heiser 24 [sic] Kaiser
  • Alexander Heiser 1 [sic] Kaiser

The ship docked in Argentina, and the two families made their homes there. Already pregnant at the time of their travels, Alex’s mother gave birth to son August Kaiser on April 26, 1907, in Bahia Blanca. The growing family remained in Argentina for perhaps a year, but Alex’s mother was miserable. As soon as it was financially possible, their family moved back to their village in Russia, probably in late 1908 or early 1909. Another child, Alex’s second brother, Jacob, was born in Grimm on April 28, 1910.

Back in Grimm, nothing had changed, and Alex’s parents were still restless for a better life. Once again they made plans to immigrate to the U.S. For the first leg of the journey, the family left Russia and made their way south to England. Once in England, they headed to Liverpool where they boarded American Line’s S.S. Merion and set sail for the Port of Philadelphia.



Philadelphia Passenger List [3]

  • Name Alexander Kaiser
  • Event Type Immigration
  • Event Date 1911
  • Event Place Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
  • Gender Male
  • Age 7
  • Birth Year (Estimated) 1904
  • Birthplace Russia
  • Ship Name Merion


Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Passenger List Index Cards [4]

In this record, it mentions “Father Christian Kaiser” as the family’s contact in Russia. That was actually his grandfather, his father’s father. The family was enroute to Johann Jacob Meier’s home at 520 Noble Street, Chicago, Illinois. Jacob Meier was probably his father’s older half-brother, both having the same mother.

  • Name Alexander Kaiser
  • Event Type Immigration
  • Event Date 1911
  • Event Place Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
  • Gender Male
  • Age 7
  • Birthplace Russia
  • Ship Name Merion
  • Birth Year (Estimated) 1904
  • Contact/Destination Jacob Meier, 520 Noble Street, Chicago, Illinois

The trip must have been far easier than the one the family took four years earlier to Ellis Island. That’s because service to Philadelphia was designed to carry only one class of passengers, rather than three classes. According to Glenvick & Gjønvik Archives, the passenger service on the S.S. Merion was exclusively second class, a far better option for those who usually traveled in steerage. [5]

At a top speed of 14 knots and with no additional stops, the trip would have lasted almost 10 days. [6] The ship entered the Port of Philadelphia on October 3, 1911. [7] This time there were no problems with sick travelers and the family was welcomed into the country.

Although the family’s first destination was Illinois to visit friends from Russia who had already settled in the U.S., the Kaiser’s first residence was in Colorado. [8] As was typical for Germans from Russia, father Jake was a hard worker, willing to do anything to support his family. Whatever he earned at his first jobs, however, wasn’t enough to cover the needs of his growing family. Alex’s mother may have worked intermittently after her boys were in school during the winter months. When Alex was a young teen, he dropped out of school and started working to help support his family, working in the nearby sugar beet fields. [9]

At some point between 1911 and 1924, Alex’s family moved to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, since they were listed as residents of that town in the 1920 U.S. Census. According to Dr. Brent Mai, Volga German Scholar and founder of the Center for Volga German Studies at Concordia University and the Volga German Institute at Fairfield University, Fond du Lac residents from the Volga German villages were almost exclusively from Grimm.



1920 United States Federal Census [10]

  • Name: Alex Kaiser
  • Age: 15
  • Birth Year: abt 1905
  • Birthplace: Russia
  • Home in 1920: Fond du Lac Ward 14, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin
  • Street: W Arns Street [sic] Arndt
  • Residence Date: 1920
  • Race: White
  • Gender: Male
  • Immigration Year: 1912 [sic] 1911
  • Relation to Head of House: Son
  • Marital Status: Single
  • Father’s name: Jacob Kaiser
  • Father’s Birthplace: Russia
  • Mother’s name: Charlotte Kaiser
  • Mother’s Birthplace: Russia
  • Native Tongue: Russian [sic] German
  • Able to Speak English: Yes
  • Naturalization Status: Alien
  • Attended School: Yes
  • Able to Read: Yes
  • Able to Write: Yes
  • Neighbors: View others on page
  • Household Members: Name Age
  • Jacob Kaiser 42
  • Charlotte Kaiser 38
  • Alex Kaiser 15
  • August Kaiser 12
  • Jacob Kaiser 9

In reality, however, they must have gone back and forth between Wisconsin and Colorado for a period of time since their youngest son, Paul, was born there on March 29, 1922. [11] Furthermore, his brother August graduated from high school in Fort Collins in 1924. From what can be determined from Alex Kaiser’s notes and information, he must have stayed with his family in Colorado and become “the man of the house” while his father was in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, working and saving money to move their family into a permanent home. [12]

By 1925, the family was all together Fond du Lac, a town where many of their friends and family members from Grimm were living, including several of Jake’s brothers and at least one of Charlotte’s sisters. [13] Alex’s father put his carpentry skills to work at Northern Casket Company, just blocks away from the family’s home on North Brooke Street. [14] Alex’s first job in Fond du Lac was in the offices of Fred. Rueping Leather Company.[15] He later sold leather made at the tannery to companies that made shoes. [16] He regularly traveled around the Midwest for many years, but the traveling eventually took a toll on his health. He was forced to retire in the early 1950s. [17]

As an adult, Alex was a respected elder in the German Brotherhood, a worship group comprised of Volga Germans who met routinely in the Milwaukee and Fond du Lac areas. [18] This religious group did not take the place of what most would consider traditional churches, such as the Lutheran church, where most Germans from Russia were members. The German Brotherhood provided a way for the Volga Germans to preserve their early memories, traditions, and worship style. Services were conducted in German, and sermons were given by lay-persons who were church members. Congregants were somewhat strict in how they raised their children in their new home country. While they assimilated as quickly as possible, learning English and blending in with the locals, they frowned on drinking alcohol, dancing, and playing cards. The German Brotherhood was also active in Colorado, where Alex lived as a child. Growing up, he was a member of the Brotherhood’s band, comprised of people of all ages, where he played the clarinet with a group of older tens and adults who all eventually moved to Fond du Lac. [19]

Despite his lack of a high school diploma or any college classes, Alex continued to self-educate himself, becoming a successful salesman and businessman. [20] He was a Kiwanis Club member and routinely spoke around the Midwest. [21] He also compiled as much information as he could about his family’s life in Russia, and he spoke regularly about these Germans, how they ended up in Russia, and how they suffered under the hands of the Russians. [22]

Alex met his wife Mollie Fritzler, also a Volga German, in the mid 1920s, although they very well may have known each other as young children in Grimm. They quickly fell in love and married on May 1, 1926. [23] Their first child, Robert Kenneth Kaiser, was born about two years later on August 31, 1928.



Birth Record for Son Robert Kenneth Kaiser [24]

  • Name Robert Kenneth Kaiser
  • Event Type Birth
  • Event Date 31 Aug 1927
  • Event Place Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States
  • Registration Date 07 Sep 1927
  • Registration Place , Cook, Illinois
  • Gender Male
  • Race White
  • Father’s Name Alexander Kaiser
  • Father’s Birthplace Russia
  • Father’s Age 23
  • Father’s Estimated Birth Year 1904
  • Mother’s Name Mollie Fritzler
  • Mother’s Birthplace Russia
  • Mother’s Age 19
  • Mother’s Estimated Birth Year 1908
  • Certificate Number 40527

After the birth of Robert, the family left Chicago and moved back to Milwaukee. In 1930, two of Alex’s younger brothers, August and Jacob, were living with him and his family. His youngest brother, Paul, still a minor, remained with his parents. Alex’s daughter Ruth later revealed that her uncles lived with their brother because their father [her grandfather] was a strict disciplinarian and the young men felt too restricted living under his roof. [25] Once August and Jacob turned 18, they chose to leave their family home in Fond du Lac and live with their brother in Milwaukee.[26]



1930 United States Federal Census [27]

  • Name: Alex Kaiser
  • Birth Year: abt 1906
  • Gender: Male
  • Race: White
  • Birthplace: Russia
  • Marital Status: Married
  • Relation to Head of House: Head
  • Home in 1930: Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
  • Map of Home: View Map
  • Street address: 31st
  • Ward of City: 20th pt
  • Block: 2427
  • Institution: x
  • House Number: 5183
  • Dwelling Number: 4
  • Family Number: 5
  • Home Owned or Rented: Rented
  • Home Value: 35
  • Radio Set: Yes
  • Lives on Farm: No
  • Age at First Marriage: 20
  • Attended School: No
  • Able to Read and Write: Yes
  • Father’s Birthplace: Russia
  • Mother’s Birthplace: Russia
  • Language Spoken: German
  • Immigration Year: 1913
  • Naturalization: Alien
  • Able to Speak English: Yes
  • Occupation: Salesman
  • Industry: Tannery
  • Class of Worker: Wage or salary worker
  • Employment: Yes
  • Household Members: Name Age
  • Alex Kaiser 24
  • Mollie Kaiser 22
  • Robert Kaiser 2
  • August Kaiser 22
  • Jacob Kaiser 19

Daughter Ruth Virginia was born five years later. [28]

Alex became a naturalized U.S. citizen on April 11, 1934.


Illinois, Northern District Naturalization Index [29]

  • Name Alexander Kaiser
  • Event Type Naturalization
  • Event Date 1934
  • Birth Year 1904
  • Birthplace Russia

Alex and his family lived in Milwaukee through the 1930s and 1940s. He was by his mother Charlotte’s side when she passed away in 1939 at a hospital in Milwaukee. [30] [31]


1940 United States Federal Census [32]

  • Name: Alexander Kaiser
  • Age: 35
  • Estimated Birth Year: abt 1905
  • Gender: Male
  • Race: White
  • Birthplace: Russia
  • Marital Status: Married
  • Relation to Head of House: Head
  • Home in 1940: Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Map of Home in 1940: View Map
  • Street: N 37th Street
  • House Number: 5550
  • Farm: No
  • Inferred Residence in 1935: Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Residence in 1935: Same House
  • Citizenship: Naturalized
  • Sheet Number: 12A
  • Number of Household in Order of Visitation: 238
  • Occupation: Manager
  • House Owned or Rented: Owned
  • Value of Home or Monthly Rental if Rented: 6,000
  • Attended School or College: No
  • Highest Grade Completed: High School, 4th year
  • Hours Worked Week Prior to Census: 60
  • Class of Worker: Wage or salary worker in private work
  • Weeks Worked in 1939: 52
  • Income: 5,000+
  • Income Other Sources: No
  • Neighbors: View others on page
  • Household Members: Name Age
  • Alexander Kaiser 35
  • Amalia Kaiser 32
  • Robert K Kaiser 12
  • Ruth V Kaiser 7

After a career as a traveling salesman he retired and opened a shoe store on a busy commercial street in Milwaukee. Eventually, old downtown locations began to see sales drop as indoor shopping malls sprouted up across the nation. Spotting the new sales trend early, Alex closed his family shoe store and opened a specialty children’s shoe store in Brookfield Mall, not far from where he and his wife lived. [33]

As a grandfather, Alex was always concerned about his grandchildren wearing shoes that were made properly and fit well. It must have come as a shock to him when one of his granddaughters — me — had one of the widest foot sizes ever recorded for a child. I remember when he visited us in California, how he would take me out to shoe store after shoe store, trying to find shoes to properly fit my wide feet. He would hold his chin between his thumb and index finger and shake his head back and forth every time a pair of shoes didn’t fit me. Which was often.

Alex was a devoted husband, father, and grandfather. After the death of his beloved wife Mollie in 1976, his heart was broken and he seemed to lose his love for life. He died on September 18, 1978 and was buried in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.



U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 [34]

  • Name: Alex Kaiser
  • Last Residence: 53226 Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
  • Born: 29 Jun 1904
  • Last Benefit: 53209, Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States of America
  • Died: Sep 1978



Wisconsin Death Index [35]

  • Name: Alexander Kaiser
  • Age: 74
  • Sex: M (Male)
  • Birth Date: abt 1904
  • Death Date: 18 Sep 1978
  • Location: Milw (May be abbreviated)
  • Certificate: 204755



  1.  Mangano, Julie, Braha, preface, published 2014, pages v through vii, used with permission from the author.
  2.  Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934, Staatsarchiv Hamburg; Hamburg, Deutschland; Hamburger Passagierlisten; Microfilm No.: K_1793. Source Information: Staatsarchiv Hamburg. Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2008. Original data: Staatsarchiv Hamburg, Bestand: 373-7 I, VIII (Auswanderungsamt I). Mikrofilmrollen K 1701 – K 2008, S 17363 – S 17383, 13116 – 13183. See: http://ancstry.me/2wWKsoy.
  3.  “Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Passenger Lists, 1883-1945,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QV9W-YFPV : 12 March 2018), Alexander Kaiser, 1911; citing Immigration, NARA microfilm publication T840 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,402,596.
  4.  “Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Passenger List Index Cards, 1883-1948,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KFDC-2FM : 12 March 2018), Alexander Kaiser, 1911; citing Immigration, NARA microfilm publication T526 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,380,283.
  5.  Glenvick & Gjønvik Archives, American Line, Philadelphia – Queenstown – Liverpool Service, see: https://bit.ly/2Ksvz1j.
  6.  Sea-Distances.org, Liverpool, United Kingdom, to Philadelphia, United States, 14 knots, 3253 nautical miles, 9 days 16 hours, see: https://sea-distances.org/.
  7.  “Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Passenger List Index Cards, 1883-1948,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KFDC-2FM : 12 March 2018), Alexander Kaiser, 1911; citing Immigration, NARA microfilm publication T526 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,380,283.
  8.  Kaiser, Alexander, vital information and personal stories about living in Grimm and the Germans’ journey from Germany to Russia.
  9.  Ibid.
  10.  1920 United States Federal Census, Year: 1920; Census Place: Fond du Lac Ward 14, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin; Roll: T625_1986; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 43. Source Information: Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. See: https://ancstry.me/2MvoyNX.
  11.  Find A Grave: Memorial #74599467, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 28 June 2018), memorial page for Paul Edward Kaiser (29 Mar 1922–8 Sep 1965), Find A Grave Memorial no. 74599467, citing Forest Hill Cemetery, Madison, Dane County, Wisconsin, USA ; Maintained by Jackie Edkins (contributor 47405045).
  12.  Kaiser, Alexander, vital information and personal stories about living in Grimm and the Germans’ journey from Germany to Russia.
  13.  Ibid.
  14.  Ibid.
  15.  Ibid.
  16.  Ibid.
  17.  Miller, Ruth Kaiser, vital information and personal stories about her parents and grandparents and their lives in Russia.
  18.  Personal family recollections and records directly from Alex Kaiser to his daughter Ruth Virginia Kaiser and granddaughter Julie Miller Mangano prior to his death in 1978.
  19.  Ibid.
  20.  Miller, Ruth Kaiser, vital information and personal stories about her parents and grandparents and their lives in Russia.
  21.  Kaiser, Alexander, vital information and personal stories about living in Grimm and the Germans’ journey from Germany to Russia.
  22.  Ibid.
  23.  Kaiser, Alexander, vital information and personal stories about living in Grimm and the Germans’ journey from Germany to Russia.
  24.  “Illinois, Cook County, Birth Certificates, 1871-1940,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QKMW-JGPB : 18 May 2016), Alexander Kaiser in entry for Robert Kenneth Kaiser, 31 Aug 1927; Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States, reference/certificate 40527, Cook County Clerk, Cook County Courthouse, Chicago; FHL microfilm .
  25.  Miller, Ruth Kaiser, vital information and personal stories about her parents and grandparents and their lives in Russia.
  26.  Ibid.
  27.  1930 United States Federal Census, Year: 1930; Census Place: Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Page: 35A; Enumeration District: 0258. Source Information: Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2002. See: https://ancstry.me/2N5hhWa.
  28.  Personal family records in the files of Julie Mangano, Round Rock, Texas.
  29.  “Illinois, Northern District Naturalization Index, 1840-1950,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XKGW-XJS : 12 March 2018), Alexander Kaiser, 1934; citing , NARA microfilm publication M1285 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), roll 94; FHL microfilm 1,432,094.
  30.  Find A Grave: Memorial #74598794, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 28 June 2018), memorial page for Charlotte Kerbel Kaiser (24 Nov 1882–6 Jun 1939), Find A Grave Memorial no. 74598794, citing Estabrooks Cemetery, Fond du Lac, Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin, USA ; Maintained by Jackie Edkins (contributor 47405045).
  31.  Personal family records in the files of Julie Mangano, Round Rock, Texas.
  32.  1940 United States Federal Census, Year: 1940; Census Place: Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Roll: m-t0627-04549; Page: 12A; Enumeration District: 72-201. Source Information: Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012. See: https://ancstry.me/2lFxCEz.
  33.  Miller, Ruth Kaiser, vital information and personal stories about her parents and grandparents and their lives in Russia.
  34.  Alex Kaiser; Issue State: Wisconsin; Issue Date: Before 1951. Source Information: Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2014. See: https://ancstry.me/2lFoZKf.
  35.  Wisconsin Death Index, Ancestry.com. Wisconsin, Death Index, 1959-1997 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007. Original data: Wisconsin Vital Records Office. Wisconsin Death Index, 1959-67, 1969-97. Madison, Wisconsin, USA: Wisconsin Department of Health.

See also:

  • Stump, Karl, The Emigration from Germany to Russia in the Years 1763 to 1862 (Lincoln, Nebraska: American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, Third Printing 1993).
  • Mai, Brent Alan, 1798 Census of the German Colonies along the Volga, Economy, Population, and Agriculture, Volumes 1 & 2 (Lincoln, Nebraska: American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, Second Printing 2005).
  • Beratz, Gottlieb, The German Colonies on the Lower Volga, Their Origin and Early Development (Lincoln, Nebraska: American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, Translation Copyright and Printing 1991; Originally published as Die deutschen Kolonien an de unteren Wolga in ihrer Entstehung und ersten Entwickelung in Saratov, Russia in 1915 and reprinted in Berlin Germany in 1923).
  • Kloberdanz, Timothy L., The Volga Germans in Old Russia and in Western North America: Their Changing World View (Lincoln, Nebraska: American Historical Society of Germans from Russia Second Printing 1997; First Printing Anthropological Quarterly, October 1975, Volume 48, Number 4).
  • Major, August, vital information and personal stories from the Kazakhstan territory, Russia and Berlin, Germany.
  • Brester, Alexander, vital information, photos, and other information from German families living in Beryozovka, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia.
  • Personal family recollections and records directly from Alex Kaiser to his daughter Ruth Virginia Kaiser and granddaughter Julie Miller Mangano prior to his death in 1978.

Carl Fritzler 1880-1963

Carl Fritzler 1880-1963

The man I remember as my great-grandfather was a fit, bespectacled man with thinning white hair and a kind smile. Wearing a starched white shirt, black pants, and a dark tie, he sat on the grass in a lawn chair one hot, muggy, Wisconsin afternoon, proudly watching his children and grandchildren enjoy spending time together. Even over-dressed for a party at the lake, I don’t remember seeing him sweat. He was blissfully happy, surrounded by everyone he loved. I can hear his sweet laugh and see his kind smile as I burbled sweet nothings and probably soiled my diaper as only a one-year-old can do.

It my was first family reunion, and I only remember it because of the photos. That’s one of the perks of having a father who was a photographer: He documents everything using his camera. We were at the family lake house, where my mother’s athletic and outdoorsy cousins tried to teach my father how to water ski. Someone not-so-talented-with-a-camera caught those waterskiing lessons in blurry snapshots. My mom was helping her mother prepare food in the cottage kitchen. We have a photo of that, too, with both women in no-nonsense aprons, toiling over a small stove, probably boiling bratwurst that would be grilled later in the day. My great grandfather’s job was to keep me entertained, and he gave it a valiant shot, rocking me on his knee.

I would give anything to go back to that day as an adult so I could talk to my great-grandfather, Carl Fritzler, about his life in Grimm, Russia, his immigration to the United States, and how he came to settle in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. He and my grandparents were the only links to my family’s past; everyone else was gone. That family reunion was more than 50 years ago, but I think about it often, now that I am so involved in researching my family’s history.

Thanks to my DNA test results, I was able to connect with the family of a woman who was Carl’s niece, the daughter of his sister Mollie Fritzler Schneider: Frieda Schneider Grotegut. My mother knew nothing about the Schneider family, probably because Mollie Schneider died unexpectedly in 1926, and the families drifted apart. My mother wouldn’t be born until the 1930s, so she had never known her great-aunt Mollie and she probably never met her great-uncle Philipp.

I read to my mother from the note that Frieda’s family sent to me:

“Carl Sr. was a very religious man and always sang and hummed hymns. He was a very good-looking man and you could sit down and have a good conversation with him,” his niece recalled. My mother’s face went pale before lighting up with joy. “That was my grandpa,” she whispered. It was the only confirmation she needed.

After several notes back and forth with Frieda’s family, culling through my information, and searching for what I didn’t know on the Internet, I was able to come up with a biography for my mother’s beloved grandfather. This biography is my gift to my mother.


CARL FRITZLER was a fourth generation Volga German, born in Grimm, Russia, on February 28, 1880 to Johann Jakob Fritzler and Katharina Elisabeth Schäfer. The Fritzlers were descendants of Hanß Jakob Bauer Fritzler, born in 1688 in Kleingartach, Neckarkreis, Württemberg, Germany. His son Hanß Jakob Fritzler and his wife Franziska Catharina Eurich and their children were among the original settlers of Grimm in 1767. Both families were Evangelical, as opposed to Catholic, although the Colony of Grimm was considered a Reformed Protestant settlement.

Carl’s wife was Eva Kraft Schott, born September 18, 1886, also in Grimm, to Johann Friedrich Schott and Eva Katharina Kraft. She was a descendant of Jakob Schott and Anna Margaretha Becker, and Adam and Susannah Kraft, four of the first settlers of Grimm. The Krafts were also Evangelical Lutherans from Mittelbrunn, Pflaz, Bayern, Germany, while the origin of the Schotts was Holzgerlingen, Neckarkreis, Württemberg.

Germans from Russia lived a difficult life which did not resemble the original descriptions and promises of Catherine the Great. By the late 1800s, Volga German families began to immigrate to the United States, Canada, and South America, looking for a better life. Scouts came over first, checking out different areas, looking for the best places for their friends and family to live. Once they were settled, they returned to Grimm to escort families to America.

Encouraged by the safe travels and good fortune of these scouts, Carl began to plan a move for his own family. His plans were delayed when he was drafted into the Tsar’s Army, which, in turn, only made his urge to leave Russia stronger. Volga Germans were pacifists and had been promised no conscription by Catherine the Great. A century later, the ruling Russians backed out of that promise and regularly called on them to serve in their Army. Somehow Carl managed to get a plum job as a guard for the Tsar, avoiding the dangerous battle fronts. At the conclusion of his military service, he finalized his plans to leave Russia.

Although the big cities were nice, Volga Germans were more interested in moving to areas where they could immediately be successful, which meant a place where they could farm. They discovered that the Midwest and Plains States held the most promise because the terrain resembled that of the Russian Steppes, where Grimm was situated. Families began to immigrate to the United States in the late 1800s and the early 1900s.

Carl and his family, along with his sister Mollie Fritzler Schneider and her family, left Russia at the end of 1912. First they traveled by train from Saratov to Libau, Latvia, a trip that took about two weeks. From there, a small ship took them on the first part of their ocean voyage from the European mainland to England. About two weeks later, they traveled from Liverpool, England, to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, on the S.S. Canada. The passenger manifest for their ship confirms the families travel along with other relatives and friends.

Years later, Carl’s brother-in-law Philipp Schneider recalled their journey to America for his granddaughter Janelle Zimmermann, who recorded the conversation. We met thanks to a DNA match, and she generously shared with me the information she had from her mother, Frieda Schneider Grotegut, and her grandfather Philipp Schneider. One note from her conversation with her grandfather read, “He came to America leaving Grimm, Russia on November 27, 1912 and reached America January 13, 1913. They left by railroad to Libau, Finland.”

The reference to Libau, Finland, puzzled me. Libau is a Latvian city. I double checked to make sure there wasn’t another Libau in Finland; there was not. If they traveled to Libau, they traveled to Western Latvia directly west from the Volga villages. It was curious that Philipp mentioned Finland at all, since Finland is far northwest of the Volga region of Russia.

When families left Grimm for a port that lead to America, they usually traveled northwest by train from Saratov to Moscow, and then due west or southwest to a port city. If they were traveling to Libau, now called Liepaja, in Latvia, they would probably continue due west from Moscow to Riga and finally Libau. Some trains traveled north to Minsk first, and then down to Libau. The shortest, most direct route from Saratov to Libau is a little over 1,200 miles; it was much longer if travelers reached the Baltic via Minsk or Finland.

Records show they took a small ship from Libau, Latvia, to Kingston upon Hull in Yorkshire, England, the latter more commonly known simply as Hull. Further research showed there were two shipping lines that provided passenger service from Libau to Hull:

  • The Wilson Line of Hull, England: It mainly transported passengers between Norway and England.
  • F.Å.A.: This was an acronym for the Finnish Steamship Company which transported passengers from Helsinki and Libau to Hull.

Because Philipp Schneider clearly mentioned Finland in his story about his journey to America, it seems logical that he meant they boarded a Finnish ship, not that they actually traveled to Finland before heading south and west.

Wikipedia confirmed the Finnish Steamship Company Finska Ångfartygs Aktiebolag was also known as F.Å.A. Their ship was the S.S. Titania, primarily used to transport emigres from Finland to Hull, although it made stops along the way in Libau and Copenhagen, picking up and transporting Russians and Jewish Latvians in addition to Volga Germans. Based on Philipp’s recollections, this seems the likely company they used to transport their families to England.

For the record, Germans from Russia were technically Russians in terms of their citizenship and passport documentation. That said, however, the Volga Germans considered themselves a separate group of people for more than 150 years, never intermarrying with Russians or any other ethnic minority in Russia. Their names remained German and their primary language was German, although some had picked up Russian as a second language.

According to the Genealogical Society of Finland, while some ships traveled from Helsinki to Hull, some ships carried Russians directly from Libau to Hull. “Apart from Finns, the volumes record thousands of Russians, a number of Estonians, Latvians and Livonians” who traveled on Finnish ships. “Many of the Russians have Jewish names, but even German names are common…It is unclear whether all Russian emigrants traveled by way of Hanko [Finland], since F.Å.A. boats carried Russian emigrants from Libau to Hull without calling at a Finnish port.”

I searched for a copy of the F.Å.A. passenger lists from 1912. Copies of the passenger lists up to 1910 and after 1918 exist; the lists for passengers traveling between those years are either not available or were destroyed.

According to Philipp Schneider, the journey on the S.S. Titania from Libau to Hull took four days, which meant the two families arrived in England December 15-18, 1912. The ship docked at the Riverside Quay, a dock built specifically to handle quick turnaround ocean vessel traffic at the port. A rail station adjoined the quay, allowing European travelers to conveniently board a train that took them to Liverpool where they would board larger ocean liners that headed to America.

The Fritzlers and the Schneiders spent 17-19 days in England before boarding the S.S. Canada. Some of that time may have been spent traveling from Hull to Liverpool, since it’s unclear whether the families took a train directly to Liverpool from Hull or traveled south to London and then northwest to the port city.

According to historical records, once the passengers arrived in Liverpool, they were not allowed to board outbound ships until the day before or the day of departure. If they arrived earlier than that, they were forced to stay in lodging houses. Unfortunately, lodging houses had a reputation for being crowded and unsanitary. By the turn of the 20th century, however, the steamship companies had stepped in and put up emigrants in company-owned lodges that were cleaner and less crowded. Although conditions in the early 1900s were better than those 30-50 years earlier, there were still complaints. It’s difficult to imagine which was worse: lodging houses in Liverpool or steerage class on board a ship. Knowing this makes it clear how horrible the conditions in their homeland must have been. Uprooting families and enduring the long, uncomfortable journey to America was a small price to pay for the chance at a better life.

After the Fritzlers and Schneiders spent more than a couple of weeks in a lodging house, they boarded the S.S. Canada and departed for America on January 4, 1913. The voyage across the Atlantic normally took 10-11 days. Some ships traveling across the Atlantic made a stop in Ireland to pick up passengers. Since their ship made the voyage in only 9 days, they probably bypassed Ireland and headed straight to America, reaching Nova Scotia, Canada, on January 13, 1913.

Carl’s brother-in-law remembered what the families paid for tickets on the steamers: $150 per adult, $75 per child, and $8 for infants under two years of age. Most likely they traveled 2nd class or steerage. Pre-warned by the scouts about the food service, they brought plenty of black bread and sausage from home to supplement their diets. Philipp recalled that the ship meals included bear meat and fish, among other things, and that, frankly, the food wasn’t very tasty. Even though they dipped in to their personal food supply, the families still managed to make their bread and sausage last more than a month, until shortly before they arrived in Chicago.

After the ship landed in Nova Scotia, passengers going to the United States were transported over the border where they were processed in Portland, Maine. From there the travelers took a train to Chicago where they stayed with two different families. Carl and his family stayed with the Albrandts, extended family members of the Fritzlers, while the Schneiders stayed with Herman Schuette, Philipp’s cousin.

Carl Fritzler chose to take his family to Colorado where there was already a large population of Volga German immigrants. He may have homesteaded land there, although I haven’t yet found any record of it. During those first years, the family worked for the sugar beet companies in the Windsor area. Working in the fields was back-breaking work, and not even the children were spared from pulling beets during the harvest season.

Carl eventually saved enough money to purchase a home in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Fond du Lac was another city with a large population of Germans from Russia, including Carl’s sisters Mollie Schneider, Elisabeth Trott, and good friends Peter and Eva Felde and their families. (Eva Felde’s nephew would marry Carl’s daughter.) The Fritzlers finally settled in a house at 180 Doty Street, just one block away from Rueping Leather Company, where Carl worked. He was a faithful worker there until he retired in 1947.

He was very religious, not only as a member of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Fond du Lac, but also as a member of the German Brotherhood. The Brotherhood was based on the Mennonite Brethren Church in Russia; its members practiced a stricter version of their Protestant faith which required them to renounce military service and adhere to a simple way of life, among other things. When Grimm residents immigrated to the United States, they brought this form of worship with them. Here they called it the German Brotherhood. It offered former Volga German residents a way to meet regularly, worship and honor the traditions that they had in Russia.

Carl was an honorable family man, quiet and kind, and very close to his five children and their families. They had regular, large get-togethers both in the Fond du Lac area and at a lake cottage owned by his grandson and his wife. Carl and Eva often traveled around Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan, visiting other Grimm residents who had also immigrated to the United States. Many of those people were extended family members with whom they remained close for the rest of their lives. Carl was known far and wide for his frequent humming, usually of his favorite hymns, often while sitting in a rocking chair on his front porch.

Four years after losing his wife Eva to the after-effects of a stroke in 1959, Carl died in 1963. The couple is buried at Estabrooks Cemetery in Fond du Lac. ♦

For additional information and a complete list of sources, click here: Carl Fritzler.




Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton