Donauschwaben Villages Helping Hands
The Ties That Bind – Worldwide
By Jody McKim
Pharr, DVHH Founder & Webmaster, January 15, 2013.
Edited by Nick Tullius and Jane Ehardt Moore.
I was on my way to a land unknown to me but was determined to find my roots,
and this is where the story of the DVHH really begins. In January of 1999,
I booked a flight to Budapest in hopes of visiting the Hungarian National
Archives to find my grandmother’s birth record. I soon learned I had not
done my homework before planning the trip. Unfortunately, most who knew the
answers to my many questions had died. My mother told me all she knew was
that Grandmother was from a town called “Temeswar,” which I found in an old
atlas and, after further reading, learned is located today in Romania and
called Timişoara. After a four-hour train ride from Budapest, I arrived in
Timisoara the evening that the US airstrikes started in Belgrade (March
The first night in Timisoara, I located some relatives and learned about my
“Donauschwaben” roots, a word I had never heard before. The next day, I went
to my ancestral village, Mercydorf, and visited the Catholic Church where my
family worshiped, the homes where they lived, and the cemetery where many
are buried. As I walked down the winding lanes, a cool breeze brushed
across my face and I wept tears of joy.
It was this trip that
spurred on my journey of discoveries. My story is not unique. I’ve found
that most newbie researchers have little information to start with, mainly
because immigrant parents and grandparents didn’t want to talk about the old
country, saying, “We are here in America now; the past is in the past!”
I subscribed to a genealogy group mail list and became acquainted with many
helpful people. One person in particular was Beryl Henry, who offered to do
lookups in reference books relevant to the Donauschwaben. She personally
guided me through a useful website, which was in German. And a few days
later, she e-mailed me a hand-transcribed list of information regarding my
family, which must have taken her hours to write out. I thanked her
wholeheartedly and expressed my appreciation for the extent of her efforts
and time. I then received the following response:
Just glad to help,
Jody. It seems that searching for our ancestors makes one want to help
others like they did. Today many have lost the art or haven't wanted to
keep it alive. I know my ancestors struggled to keep alive through all
sorts of challenges and yet, I'm sure, when someone needed a helping hand or
a kind word, they did what they could knowing that "the shoe could be on the
other foot" at any time. I like to think that my ancestors passed on this
desire to be kind in their genes to their descendants and it's up to us to
find it and use it and make them proud of their progeny. Don't you agree?
- Beryl Henry, May 2002
Her words became a
source of inspiration to me. I began to think about what I could do to give
a “‘helping hand” to English-speaking researchers, because at that time
there was little online information in English about the Donauschwaben. I
then put together a project proposal that would become Donauschwaben
Villages Helping Hands (DVHH).
In mid-December 2002,
I recruited a small team of new researchers to begin setting up the initial
DVHH website: Chris Kech and Kim Geiger, along with Mike O'Brien, who
stepped up to generously donate web space on his server for the project and
who guided me on how to create and publish a website. After many days and
nights, we managed to get DVHH on line on January 15, 2003.
Our Mission was and is
to collect and provide historical and genealogical information for the
former Danube Swabian (DS) villages situated in the six regions which were
part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918: Banat, Batschka,
Slavonia-Syrmia, Swabian Turkey, Hungarian Highlands, and Sathmar.
Today’s Danube Swabians are the descendants of those German
colonists who settled around the Danube during the three "Great
Swabian Migrations.” The colonization was done by explicit
invitation of the Hungarian administration, as mandated in the
session of their congress in 1722-1723 in Pressburg to their
King Karl, during the reign of the Habsburg as Emperors of the
Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. The purpose of the
colonization was to repopulate the land after the defeat of the
Ottoman Empire by forces of the German Empire (1683-1718), and
the colonists became known as the "Ungarländische Deutschen"
(Hungary-Germans). After the dismantling of the
Austro-Hungarian Empire by the Allies at the end of WWI, the
regions settled by the Germans were divided among three
countries: Hungary, Romania, and the newly created Kingdom of
the Serbs and Croats, later called Yugoslavia.
The name “Danube Swabians” was coined in 1920 by Dr. Hermann Rüdiger (a
scientist from Stuttgart) and Robert Sieger (a geographer from Graz) and
validated by the German Foreign Department in 1930, during the Weimar
Republic. The Germans realized that, left unassisted and divided among the
Romanians, Yugoslavs and Hungarians, the Danube Swabians would not be able
to resist assimilation attempts. As an ethnic group, they would disappear,
and with them a culture and values worth preserving. This collective name
would identify and better describe the Germans whose ancestors settled in
Hungary during the three Great Swabian Migrations.
In the last decade, genealogy has become a favorite pastime throughout the
world, and the Internet has certainly been instrumental in helping family
researchers. The Donauschwaben researchers can easily find their way to
DVHH.org, which often results in their adding more branches and twigs to
their family tree. In addition, the DVHH can help find long-lost friends
and relatives and foster longtime friendships. On our mail list, we have
witnessed cousins connecting before our eyes, resulting in some of the most
amazing stories. We've seen reuniting of friends who once lived in the same
neighborhood. These wonderful stories are preserved in the mail list
archives and can be revisited at any time.
In the early months and years of the DVHH, volunteers such as Alex Leeb,
John Busch, Diana Lambing, Nick Tullius, and Rose Mary Keller Hughes helped
us to set a course and remain steadfast. As time passed, every new
volunteer or contributor added to our helping hands. In October 2003, we
secured the official DVHH.org domain name and Mara Henderson initiated the DVHH mail list
hosted by RootsWeb, our medium for one-on-one assistance to researchers.
Donauschwaben Villages Helping Hands consists of all volunteers; people who
desire to help descendants of the Danube Swabian discover their ancestral
roots, history, environs, culture, and lifestyles. We’ve been especially
blessed with content contributors who were born in the old country and have
shared their first-hand knowledge with the rest of us. Among our major
content contributors are Alex Leeb, Diana Lambing, Nick Tullius, Adam Martini, Jacob
Steigerwald, Rose Vetter, Anne Dreer, Katherine Flotz, Hans Dama, Hans Gehl,
and Robert Rohr.
One of our best attractions is that we offer free web space to all
volunteers who want to create and maintain a website for one of the many
towns and villages scattered throughout the six regions that once had
Danube-Swabian inhabitants. These village websites are wonderful sources of
information, photos, family registries, maps, and various other data
specific to those villages. Through their websites—today representing 86
villages—the so-called DVHH Village Coordinators are bringing researchers
all over the world closer to their ancestral villages.
From 2003 to 2007, the DVHH grew rapidly, more Village Coordinators signed
up, and more Donauschwaben-related articles were submitted for publication.
As the volume of web pages grew into the hundreds—today into the
thousands—it has certainly kept me, the main publisher, busy. The DVHH was
initially managed by a core group of dedicated volunteers. At the
recommendation of one core member, Nancy Wyman (Florida, USA), the DVHH
established itself as a nonprofit organization, with a base of members, each
one paying a small amount annually for their membership. This incorporation
and resulting financial support of the members has ensured the online
presence of the DVHH for the next generations.
No one is required to register as a dues-paying member in
order to volunteer, contribute, gain access to information on our website,
or to ask and receive assistance with their research. (Our bylaws require
only board and committee members to be registered DVHH members.) While it
is not our policy to accept payments to our “helping hands” for their
assistance to others, we are happy to accept donations to the DVHH general
fund. All monies go toward the maintenance of our website hosting, domain
name, guestbook, online meeting space, membership materials, postage, and
yearly event expenses; no person receives a salary or monetary compensation
of any kind. Today we have a thriving and loyal membership base, managed by
the DVHH Membership Registrar, Jane Moore (Utah, US). Over 150 people have
become DVHH members since 2007. Most reside in the United States and
Canada, but we’ve also had members from Germany, Austria, Croatia, Italy,
and Australia. (See
for a list of our current members.)
After DVHH was incorporated
as a nonprofit corporation in 2007, the DVHH Board of Directors
approved several committees. The most important was the
Editorial Committee, whose task is to oversee online
publications for proper authorization, accuracy of information,
and translation of submissions. Over my years of publishing the
DVHH.org, I have appreciated our editors, and my most valued
mentor and critic was and is Nick Tullius (Ontario, Canada).
DVHH.org prides itself on providing excellent, entertaining,
informative, and unique articles about the Donauschwaben
experiences. We are fully staffed with editors who help our
submitters present their stories in an accurate, well-written,
form, while providing accurate
information to our audience. As an example, Rose
Vetter (British Columbia, Canada) has translated numerous
publications and added them to the DVHH website. (See some
concise accounts of war crimes during and after World War II
against the Donauschwaben:
The Landesverband der Donauschwaben USA, who
oversees local Donauschwaben Clubs in various
cities of the USA and Canada, warmly invited the
DVHH to participate in their yearly Labor Day
weekend events held at one of their
participating clubs in the USA or Canada. Since
2007, attending DVHH representatives set up a
booth to meet local Donauschwaben, providing
information about our organization and share
what the wonderful resources DVHH.org offers to
researchers and descendants interested in
learning more about their heritage.
The DVHH Facebook page
was set up for personal socializing among
Donauschwaben. The DVHH Facebook Administrator
is Dan Larson (Walden, New York). The group
currently has approximately 500 members
worldwide. We recommend this page not be used
for genealogical research, because Facebook does
not have a searchable database and is not
conducive to serious research.
We continue to promote our long-time outlet
for family research and finding cousins: the
free DVHH mail list hosted by RootsWeb.
Since 2009, the list has been successfully
administered by Eve Brown (Michigan, USA)
and Roy Engel (Ontario, Canada). The former
administrator (2006-2009), Alex Leeb
(Alberta, Canada), set the precedent for
fair and non-flaming postings. Currently
our mail list has 600-plus subscribers
worldwide. The DVHH RootsWeb mail list has
existed for over 15 years and has a
reliable, searchable database and archives.
(For more information, see
Anything related to the Donauschwaben can be
found among the online web pages at
DVHH.org, everything from everyday village
life and holiday celebrations, to clothing
and cooking; an example of the latter, see
“Cooking Donauschwaben Style,” coordinated
by Rose Mary Keller Hughes (New York, USA) (www.dvhh.org/heritage/cooking).
Because the DVHH is a worldwide
Internet-based group of volunteers, some
things can take much time and effort to
accomplish. It will take a unified
effort within the Donauschwaben community at
large to accomplish everything needed to
ensure that the next generation has the
tools to effectively carry on the
Donauschwaben legacy. In addition to
those already mentioned, other major
contributors over the years have been Brad
Schwebler, Beth Tolfree, Noelle Giesse, Anne
Dreer, John Kornfeind, Mike Polsinelli,
Henry Fischer, Hans Martini, Dennis Bauer,
Franz Bohn, Susan Sander, Hans Gehl, Hans
Dama, Vesna Ibrahimovic-Brbaklic, and Erik
Glässer. The list goes on and on, and the
DVHH provides an opportunity for anyone to
take part in this worthwhile effort.
But whether someone contributes a short
recipe or a lengthy article, everyone is
recognized on our list of contributors, now
well over 150 names long (www.dvhh.org/community/registry.htm).
Our Director of Volunteer Services is Mary
Regan (Hamburg, New York).
The DVHH will celebrate its 10th
anniversary January 15, 2013. As a part of
this historic milestone, I’ve asked our
subscribers to submit in their own words,
“What the DVHH has means to me” and we
received dozens of heartfelt responses.
I decided to include one of these in this
December 5, 2012
Brian Phail, Los
one of the quiet ones in the group. I
don't post often, but I never miss a daily
digest of the great topics you all discuss.
I'm 41 and have two children in Elementary
school, so I don't have too much time these
days to get research done unless it's after
9 pm, stopping when my eyes start burning
from the late hour. I grew up in
Southern California, away from my German
side of the family, and I really wanted to
find out more about them. So, I
started researching about 9 years ago and
was off to a slow start. No one in my
Dad's family knew anything about where
either my grandpa's or grandma's family came
from, other than "Germany" or "Hungary".
December 2005, I was able to find the Ellis
Island manifest for my grandma's family (Ruttinger).
It said they were from some place called
Mitrowitz, a place I had never heard of at
that time. A few Google searches
later, I found myself at dvhh.org. I
found Mitrowitz amongst the village listings
and knew I was in the right place. I
quickly signed up for the email list and
browsed the stories and links. Over
the next few months, I was absolutely
floored by all of the information you all
had collected. All of the stories
about our culture and the devastation and
horrific treatment during the war were both
wonderful and sad at the same time - I
couldn't read them fast enough. The
recipe's you all discussed (especially the
Christmas cookies) set off bells of
recognition as things my grandma cooked on
the rare times we were able to go back to
Detroit for a visit. After a few
months, I was able to piece together a
collection of information about my grandma's
family, their life, in what is now Serbia,
and present it to her. We had several
conversations over the phone where she was
reminiscing about her grandmother and the
little things she used to do that were now
evidently very Donauschwaben. She
passed away in July 2006, about a month
after I first was able to tell her where her
family came from. She was so pleased
to finally know her family heritage, and it
made her last days a lot more enjoyable.
It meant the world to me to be able to do
that for her, and I couldn't have done it
without the DVHH.
then, I have received help from several
people who provided lookups for me, and I
now have almost the whole Ruttinger family
laid-out in my family tree going back to the
original settler in Gajdobra in the 1760s.
All I had to do was ask, and at least one
person, if not more, responded quickly with
the information I was looking for.
That help and kindness is a common trait
amongst everyone in the DVHH, and I am
eternally grateful for all of you. I
finally had a chance to help out another
member in Jun 2011 while I was in Sharon,
PA, by getting some burial information,
headstone pictures, and pictures of the now
empty lot where their family home was
located. It was very rewarding to be
able to start paying back the kindness shown
to me by the group. I will do it
again, any chance I get.
thank you everyone, for all that you do!
Brian Phail, Los Angeles, CA
Brian for your wonderful testament of the DVHH.
I am forever grateful to all the DVHH
volunteers, for their time, their dedication,
and their belief that anything is possible.
doubt that a small group of thoughtful,
committed people can change the world.
Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has."
- Margaret Mead
Pharr, Georgia USA
DVHH Founder & Publisher