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Germanic Ties

Originally posted in GERMANS-TO-AMERICA-L by Laurel Crook on Dec 11, 1998.


by Myra Vanderpool Gormley, CG

More than one-half of Americans claim to have German ancestors, which accounts for the great interest in this ethnic group. Additionally, many more of us probably have German ancestry but are not aware of it because so many of the German surnames were mutilated beyond recognition or simply were Americanized along the way.

In order to trace your German ancestors in the "old country" you must determine their ancestral city, town, or village because the needed genealogical records are kept in local areas, with no nationwide indices to them. You are most likely to find this information in North American records, such as naturalization, military, or church records.

Emigration from Germany took place in waves of migration during three major time periods:

-- 1683 to 1820. Causes of emigration were religious persecutions and economic hardships. Many were Protestants from the Palatinate area. They went down the Rhine River and sailed from Rotterdam in The Netherlands. Many arrived at the port of Philadelphia.

-- 1820 to 1871. Causes of emigration were due chiefly to economic hardships, unemployment, and crop failure, with many leaving to avoid wars and military service. Many were from Rheinland, Hessen, Baden, Wurttemberg, and Alsace-Lorraine. Major U.S. ports of entry for them were New York, Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New Orleans.

-- 1871-1914. Large numbers emigrated during this time period, because of political and economic problems, and due to recruitment by U.S. states, railroads, industries, transatlantic shipping companies, and their friends and relatives. These emigrants, who included ethnic Germans, Poles and Jews, came from all areas of Germany, including large numbers from the eastern areas of Prussia. New York was the major port of entry.

The major ports of debarkation for German emigrants between 1850 and 1891 were: Bremen (40%); Hamburg (30%); Le Havre, France (16%); Antwerp, Belgium (8%) and several ports in The Netherlands (5%). Between 1868 and 1940 a few Germans sailed from Copenhagen, Denmark. Consult the Family History Library's (FHL) Catalog for lists of available filmed ship passenger lists under: GERMANY (or name of country), [name of port] -- EMIGRATION and IMMIGRATION.

Germans, in most areas, had to apply for permission to emigrate, and some of these application records for several German states and cities have been filmed by the FHL. Among the localities are Baden, Rheinland, and the Pfalz. Several published volumes of Wurttemberg records exist, dating from the mid-1700s to the mid-1800s. Additionally, there are German Emigration Card Indexes for Hessen (various time periods), Baden (1660s-1900s), the Pfalz (1500s-1900s), and for World War II refugees. Many Germans lived in or emigrated through Alsace-Lorraine [ElsaB-Lothringen], and an index (1817-1866) of these emigrants is available .

German police began keeping records of each person's residence in the 1840s. Citizens were required to tell the police at the local registration office when they moved. These records, called Melderegister (registrations) or Einwohnerregister (resident lists), are usually found in city archives. To use them you must know the approximate years a person resided in the town. Some of these, notably in Hamburg, Sachsen, and Thuringen, have been filmed and are available through the FHL. Look in its catalog under: GERMANY, [STATE], [TOWN] -- POPULATION and OCCUPATIONS

An incredible amount of genealogical information pertaining to Germans can be found on the Web. The best place to start your search for these sites is under the Germany/Deutschland category at Cyndi's List .

Using the Web and the FHL you can conduct a great deal of research for your German ancestors -- at a minimum expense. Once these sources are exhausted, you probably will have to hire a professional in the "old country" -- if the records exist that might be useful in extending the pedigree.


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