My Schott ancestors left the town of Osthofen, Germany, about 1809, heading east toward a better life in Russia.
I don’t know why they left this pleasant town in a wine-growing area near the Rhine River, accepting Tsar Alexander’s invitation to German settlers. Great-great-great-grandfather Philipp Jakob Schott was a tailor, so it wouldn’t seem likely a hunger for more farmland would drive him to take such a journey.
But whatever the reason, he and his family left Germany for Imperial Russia, arriving in the village of Neudorf, Glueckstal parish, sometime between 1816 and 1821.
Neudorf is now the village of Karmanova, located in the Transdniestr region of Moldova. After 13 years of researching my Schott family history, I was finally able to visit this village a couple of weeks ago.
We drove from Chisinau, capital of Moldova, on the road toward Grigoriopol (“City of Grigori,” a common name among the Armenian traders who founded this town). Because the Transdniestr region considers itself a country separate from Moldova (see blog post Flashback to Soviet Russia) we had to cross the “border” to enter Transdniestr.
It was chaotic and a bit laughable as a border. The barrier was a couple of mismatched gates that looked more appropriate to decorate a garden than protect a border. Cars drove up, pulled to the side, blocked each other in. People milled around, going from one building to another to show passports and fill out paperwork. One car cut past all those waiting so a woman in spike heels and a black and white patterned mini-dress (with a foot of rick-rack-type trim that made up most of the skirt) could jump out to use the WC.
As Tania (guide and translator) dealt with our paperwork, Boris pumped up the tire that had gone flat on our car. We got into Trandniestr fairly quickly, although later in the day leaving Transdniestr was more of a problem. The border official insisted that I should have had my passport stamped at our destination, Karmanova. This was actually funny – where in a town as lifeless as Karmanova proved to be could we have gotten my passport stamped?
After entering Transdniestr, we drove toward Neudorf along a lovely valley, winter wheat showing a lush carpet of green and other fields with rich brown soil ready for planting. The only disconcerting notes were the 21st century trash (mostly plastic bags) scattered throughout the green wheat and the farmers working the fields by hand as they might have in the 19th century when my ancestors first arrived there.
Tania had the best summary of Neudorf – a really big town with very few people. The school was huge, the town center building (a community center?) was big, there were large buildings (apartments?) on a ridge overlooking the town, yet very few people seemed to be out and about on this beautiful April day.
The old German Lutheran church is now being used as an Orthodox church, but we couldn’t see inside it. Not only was the building locked up, but it was surrounded by a sturdy metal locked fence as though someone was determined to keep people as far from the church as possible. The woman who came out of the school showed no curiosity about why two strangers (and one of them, me, obviously a foreigner) were peering in the windows. The war memorial in the center of town was a desolate weed-filled spot except for one forlorn man sitting by the side of it. Another memorial commemorated the founding of the village in 1809, though there was no mention the village had been founded by Germans.
The biggest adventure was finding the barn with the gravestones. The German cemetery was long gone and the people we stopped on the street had only a vague knowledge that it used to be “up on that hill somewhere.” I had heard from a fellow genealogist and traveler to Neudorf that some German gravestones had been built into the foundation of a barn. This barn was a bit out of town and we had to ask permission from the men working nearby to duck under the fence to get to it (plus dodge the barking, but chained, dog).
I’d had the tiniest hope I might find a familiar name, but didn’t. Despite using our German ancestors’ gravestones as building materials, the Moldovans showed some respect for the dead (or perhaps fear of being haunted) by turning the names and dates so they couldn’t be read. But although the inscriptions that did show were weathered and difficult to read, they were clearly written in German.
When my direct ancestor (Philipp Jakob’s son, Peter Schott, who was born in Neudorf) left the village, his sister Margaretha (Schott) Adam’s family remained there. I took photos of some houses that had still belonged to Adam families in 1944, when the ethnic Germans left the village, as these families may have been distant cousins. One of the current
inhabitants of one of these houses said she remembered a German woman who’d lived in the village until she died a couple years ago.
Neudorf, probably the first home of the Schotts in Russia. Tania and I both agreed we could see why they’d chosen to come here – it was a beautiful valley with apparently rich soil. But today, it’s a quiet, almost desolate place.