This essay presents a micro-level analysis of ethnic identity construction among ethnic Germans resident in Ul’yanovsk. The essay explores the local and trans-local situation of this group within a historical framework which informs the group's understanding of how to ‘be German’. It shows respondents’ participation in ‘return’-based, family-orientated diaspora networks. Analysis of the divergent discourses that emerge around the theme and experiences of mutual visits and travel to the Federal Republic of Germany and the differing identity outcomes which result are discussed. This reveals the ways in which transnational links can be utilised by non-movers both to problematise and to augment their local identities. This, in turn, uncovers the continuing relevance of issues around post-Soviet ‘returns’ for contemporary identity-construction and highlights the potential for analysis of non-movers as participants in migration networks.