1877 Passport Application from Josefstal

л204Research in Russia can be amazing….you never know what little tidbits and gems you will stumble across.

Some years ago I was alerted to a copy of a document from 1877 suggesting that my great-great grandfather, Johannes Gerk, had applied for a Russian passport.

I’ve finally been able to get scans of the official application, dated 1877, and it indeed shows he applied for and was issued a Russian passport.

I have no way of knowing if he and his family actually left Russia, and then returned at a later date.

I do know that his 2 sons, Johann Georg Gerk and Johann Georg Gerk will indeed leave Russia. The eldest Georg Gerk will leave Russia and settle in Argentina. The youngest, my great-grandfather, will leave Russia during the Russo-Japanese war, travel to Argentina, but then return to Russia, where he will die in 1924.

It’s a fascinating history, at least for my family.

(These documents were obtained from GASO, State Archive of Saratov Province)


Page from actual passport, No.153

17 No.153

And, of course, showing that Johannes Georg Gerk was in Russia later on, here is his death record, stating that he died in Josefstal on 27th July 1886, at the age of 59. Listed as his survivor is his wife, Katarina, and son, Joh. Georg, age 18. (my great-grandfather).

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The Simon Family of Josefstal


This is one of those photographs that people have, but don’t realize they have.  Some background.

It belonged to the Adam Kern family of Fort Dodge, Iowa. Adam’s Father was Kaspar Kern, and his Mom was Elisabetha Simon Kern.

With the photograph, they also had a Russian passport.  The passport has the following names on it:

Andreas Simon 40
Barbara 43
Georg 20
Eva 21
Clementine 15
Anna 9
Barbara 6
Gaspar 28
Elisabetha 22

Simon 001.jpgDated 1908 and issued in Saratov, the passport was used by the Andreas Simon family of Josefstal to travel to Brazil, and then over to Argentina. They traveled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil aboard SS Würzburg, from Bremen, Germany, arriving October 10, 1908.

It’s interesting to see another family on a passport….namely Kaspar Kern and his wife Elisabeth…even though in this case Elisabeth was the sister of Andreas.

The families traveled to Argentina, probably to meet up with their younger brother Phillip, who had gone to Argentina around 1905.

Kaspar and his wife would make their way to the United States in 1912.  Andreas and his children would make their way back to Russia, and then Andreas died in Josefstal Dec 5, 1912.

Phillip would also make his way to the USA, settling in Iowa.

Here is a copy of Philip’s birth/baptism document from Russia.

Simon Philipp 12.06.1888
Philip Simon, born 12 June 1888 (OS) in Josefstal to parents Johannes Simon and Ekaterina Kern. Baptized in parish Church of Josefstal the same day. Godparents are Philip Reier and wife Margareta.

Among the personal effects of Elisabetha (Simon) Kern, was a letter written by Andreas’ wife, Barbara (Berg) Simon, dated December 17, 1912, telling the family that Andreas died in Josefstal on December 4.  The letter laments her husbands death and adds that she wonders how she will be able to live now that he is gone. Andreas was 45.

Note on the top of the letter are 3 crosses, the Volga German custom of labeling a letter that announces a death.

AndreasSimondeath 001

Josef Schaeffer: 1897 – 1929, Maria Haberkorn: 1900 – 1989

SchaefferJosef1928 001This is a photograph, courtesy of Peter Schaeffer, of Josef Schaeffer, born 5 June 1897 in Josestal (parents Josef Schaeffer & Margareta Rohwein) , his wife, Maria Haberkorn, born 1900 in Josefstal (parents Kristof Haberkorn & Anna Margareta – ) and their child. The photograph was probably taken in Josefstal in 1927 or 1928, as Josef died of blood poisoning in 1929.

Friedrich Schaeffer: 1836-1907

FreidrichSchaeffer 001

This is a photo given to me by Father Bernie Schaeffer and Ed Kies, all related to the Schaeffer family that settled in Aurora Illinois.  It is a photo of Friedrich Schaeffer, born 4 March 1836 in Kamenka, moved to Josefstal with his family in 1852, and then died in Josefstal 12 September 1907.

Families still discover such little-known treasures, even today!

How about you?  Do you have any old photographs of people in Josefstal you could share so they will be preserved?  Email them to: tedgerk@yahoo.com

Thank you!

Josefstal Military Draft Records: 1880 – 1919

Josefstaldraftrecords 001This is a collection of military draft records for the Volga German village of Josefstal.

Interesting is how the family “number” assigned to each man is linked to the original census of 1858.  As well as the listing it sometimes provides of other males in the family.

I hope this will be found useful.

Deaths and the cemetery in Josefstal

Family Dieser in Josefstal

We only have official death records for Josefstal from 1907 – 1916…a total of 341 burials.  These were reports to the county government, so they include the name, age, parents names, family number and date of death.  No cause of death is recorded, those would be found in the Church records as recorded.

Here are the yearly stats:

    • 1907: 57
    • 1908: 36
    • 1909: 18
    • 1910: 47
    • 1911: 27
    • 1912: 21
    • 1913: 75
    • 1914: 20
    • 1915: 16
    • 1916: 24

Some families lost up to 4 people in years such as 1913…probably due to illness sweeping the home. But 1913 especially was a very bad year for deaths.

It also makes one wonder how many people were buried in the Josefstal cemetery….if burials started around the founding of the village, 1852, then there are well over a thousand people buried here.

Google Maps actually shows the location of the Josefstal cemetery….and even shows the outline of where the fence once was!JosefstalcemeteryGoogle Earth calculates the size of the cemetery in Josefstal as 81 meters by 107 meters.

When you are standing in the cemetery, you can see the mounds of the graves…naturally more noticeable in the fall when vegetation has died.

There are still iron crosses in the cemetery, most of the names have been ripped off so as to not identify that there were ever any Volga Germans living here. Wooden crosses would have long since been used for firewood.cropped-dsc08296.jpgDSC08304






Josefstalcem 001

There is even at least one cross with a name still on it. Thanks to Vladimir Kakorin.


And there are a few Russian Orthodox graves from the 1960’s, just before the village was destroyed.


And finally, there is this video that we took in the summer of 2009…showing how the cemetery in Josefstal looks today.

How about you? Do you have any old photographs from the village that you can share with us?