Originally posted in GERMANS-TO-AMERICA-L by Laurel Crook on Dec 11, 1998.
WELDING LINKS: GERMANIC TIES
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
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.