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In order to research your ancestor in German records, you need to know the exact town of origin. Most of the time this information is found in U.S. sources. Thus it is very important to search all available records in the United States first.
Most emigrants left Germany during the following periods:
1683 to 1820. Emigrants left Germany and migrated to Southeastern Europe, North America, Russia, England, Scotland, and Ireland. This wave of emigration was caused by economic hardships and religious persecutions after the Thirty Years' War. Many of these emigrants were Protestants from Southwestern Germany, primarily the Rheinland, Westfalen, Hessen, Baden, Württemberg, and Elsaß-Lothringen. Read more about Pre-1820 Emigration from Germany
1820 to 1871. This wave of emigration was caused chiefly by economic hardships, including unemployment and crop failures. Many Germans also left to avoid wars and military service. In some cases, government entities encouraged poor citizens to emigrate. Helpful websites for 19th Century German Emigration
1871 to 1914. The number of emigrants increased dramatically during this time period. Emigration had become more affordable while political and economic problems continued. Emigrants came from all areas of Germany, including large numbers from the eastern provinces of Preußen [Prussia]. Emigrants included not only ethnic Germans but also Poles and Jews. Helpful websites for 19th Century German Emigration.
1914 to 1945. Even though the quota system reduced German emigration to the U.S. significantly, it did not stop entirely. Emigrants included political dissenters, Jews, and others who were uncomfortable with post World War I developments.
Emigration and immigration sources list the names of people leaving (emigrating) or arriving (immigrating) in Germany. These sources may be passenger lists, permissions to emigrate, or records of passports issued. The information in these records may include the emigrants' names, ages, occupations, destinations, and places of origin or birth places. Sometimes they also show family groups.
If you cannot find your ancestor, you may be able to find emigration information on your ancestor's neighbors. People who lived near each other in Germany often settled together in the country they immigrated to.
Records were created when individuals emigrated from Germany. Other records document their arrival in the destination country. This section discusses the following subjects:
- Finding the emigrant's town of origin
- Emigration from Germany, including the historical background of German emigration
- Records of German emigrants in their destination countries
Finding the Emigrant's Town of Origin
Once you have traced your family back to a German immigrant, you must find the city or town your ancestor came from if you wish to find earlier generations. The records you will need to continue your research, such as birth, marriage, and death records, are kept in local areas. Germany has no nationwide index to these records.
Several sources may reveal where your ancestor came from. You may learn of your ancestor's place of origin by talking to older family members. Other relatives or a library may have documents that name the city or town, such as the following:
- Birth, marriage, and death certificates
- Family Bibles
- Church certificates or records
- Naturalization applications and petitions
- Passenger lists
The Family History Library publication Tracing Immigrant Origins gives more suggestions for finding your ancestor's place of origin.
Emigration From Germany
Significant numbers of German emigrants can be found on every continent and in many countries around the world. Millions of people left Germany in several waves of migration. Most emigrants left Germany during the following periods:
Records that document emigration from Germany include passenger lists, passports, permissions to emigrate, German and French emigration indexes, published emigration lists, police registration records, and other departure documents, as well as sources in the emigrant's new countries.
Links to various lists of German emigrants, passenger lists, etc. are found at:
Articles explaining various aspects of German emigration are found at:
Passenger Departure Lists
The earliest German emigrants went down the Rhine River and left Europe from Rotterdam in the Netherlands. As passenger traffic increased, Dutch, Belgian, French, and Danish ports were used. From 1850 to 1891, 41 percent of German and east European emigrants left via the port of Bremen (Germany), 30 percent via Hamburg (Germany), 16 percent via Le Havre (France), 8 percent via Antwerp (Belgium), and 5 percent via several ports in the Netherlands. Only a few Germans emigrated from other European ports. Southern and western Germans tended to emigrate through the ports of Bremen or Le Havre. Northern and eastern Germans tended to leave through Hamburg.
The records of departures from these ports are called passenger lists. Information given in passenger lists varies but usually includes the emigrant's name, age, occupation, last residence or birthplace, and destination. The records also name the ship and the date of departure. The most significant passenger departure lists for German emigrants are from the following ports:
Bremen. Unfortunately, the passenger departure lists for the port of Bremen were destroyed. The lists for 1847 to 1871 have been partially reconstructed. Some 20 to 25 percent of the Bremen passengers arriving at New York during this time period are indexed with their place of origin in the source below:
Zimmerman, Gary J., and Marion Wolfert. German Immigrants: Lists of Passengers Bound from Bremen to New York. Four Volumes. Baltimore, Maryland, USA: Genealogical Publishing, 1985, 1986, 1988,1993 (FHL book 974.71 W3g;).
An early commercial partner with Bremen was the port at Baltimore, Maryland. Many Germans going to America through Bremen landed in Baltimore. The Baltimore passenger arrival lists are indexed.
Hamburg. The most significant surviving passenger departure lists are from Hamburg. The original departure records for Hamburg are at the state archive [Staatserchiv] in Hamburg. Every emigrant from every country who left from Hamburg between 1850 and 1934 should be on these passenger lists. See the Hamburg Passenger List section.
Most importantly, these lists show each passenger’s hometown, and the lists are indexed. The Hamburg Passenger List indexes are being put online at:
For most years, the index is handwritten in gothic script and alphabetized only by the first letter of the surname. A separate index of departures was created each year. There is also a compiled fifteen-year index for 1856 to 1871. The passenger lists themselves are alphabetical from 1850 to 1855.
The Hamburg passenger list records and indexes have been microfilmed and are available at the Family History Library. They are listed in the Place Search of the catalog under:
GERMANY, HAMBURG, HAMBURG
EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
Le Havre. The only lists available for the French port of Le Havre are lists of crews and passengers on commercial cargo vessels. Passenger vessels are not included. A few German emigrants are included in these records, but most Germans who sailed from Le Havre are not recorded. These lists are not indexed. The Family History Library has filmed the Le Havre commercial cargo vessel passenger lists for the years 1750 to 1886. The film numbers are listed in the Place Search of the catalog under:
FRANCE, SEINE-MARITIME, LE HAVRE BUSINESS
RECORDS AND COMMERCE
Antwerp. The library has only the passenger lists of emigrants who sailed from Antwerp in 1855. This year is only a small percentage of the total. Many German emigrants sailed from this port. The following is an index to the Antwerp passenger lists:
Hall, Charles M. The Antwerp Emigration Index. Salt Lake City, Utah, USA: Heritage International, 1983?. (FHL book Ref 949.3 W22h; FHL film 1,183,596.) The Library also has registers of foreign nationals residing in Antwerp prior to Emigration: Vreemdelingendossiers, 1840-1930; indexed.
Netherlands. The Family History Library has copies of passenger lists for the port of Rotterdam for the years 1900 to 1938. (FHL fiche 6,109,1266,109,217) However, most German travel through Dutch ports was before 1820. Pre-1807 Philadelphia port arrivals include many Germans who left via Dutch ports (see Strassburger and Hinke's book, listed later in this section).
Copenhagen. The library has the passenger lists of emigrants from Copenhagen [København], Denmark, from 1868 to 1940. Only a few Germans appear on these lists, which are alphabetical for intervals of one to five years. The film numbers are in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
DENMARK, KØBENHAVN, KØBENHAVN EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
Each state or city had its own laws regarding passports. In many cases, the applications for passports and the supporting documentation have been preserved. These records often give information such as the emigrant's name, birth date or age, birthplace, occupation, last residence, verification of identity, and physical description.
Hamburg. Residents of Hamburg had to apply for a passport to emigrate. A few emigrants from other parts of Germany stopped in Hamburg long enough to become residents. If they were residents, they might be in the passport records. The Hamburg passport applications have been microfilmed for the years 1851 to 1929 and include indexes. They are in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
GERMANY, HAMBURG, HAMBURG
EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
Stuttgart (Württemberg). The Family History Library has indexed the Stuttgart-area passport records for the years 1845 to 1920. This index usually gives the emigrant's hometown and destination. Names beginning with the letters A through R are on FHL film 1,125,018, and S through Z are on film 1,125,019. Many of the individuals listed were internal migrants who came from another part of Württemberg and remained in Württemberg. Most names are from the early 1900s. To find the original passport and visa record microfilm numbers, look in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
GERMANY, WÜRTTEMBERG, STUTTGART - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
Permission To Emigrate Records
Germans had to apply for permission to emigrate from most areas. The Family History Library has these application records for several states and cities, including Baden, Rheinland, the Pfalz, and Zwickau. For example, the library has microfilmed the emigration application records of Württemberg. They list the emigrant's birthplace, residence, assets, and indebtedness. Most Württemberg records consist of applications and accompanying documents that were collected by district offices. These records begin in the mid-1700s, with most from the 1800s. Most districts also have handwritten indexes for the mid-1800s. Six published volumes of indexes are available, which so far cover 35 of the 64 districts:
Schenk, Trudy, and Ruth Froelke. The Wuerttemberg Emigration Index. Salt Lake City, Utah, USA: Ancestry, 1986-. (FHL book Ref 943.47 W22st.) Available on: http://home.att.net/~wee-monster/emigration.html.
German Emigration Card Indexes
Dozens of card indexes exist for German emigrants. For example, the Family History Library has microfilmed card indexes for emigrants from Hessen. The indexes are divided into five sections for various time periods or areas of Hessen, each in alphabetical order. Other card indexes at the library include the following:
- From Baden 1660s-1900s
- From the Pfalz 1500s-1900s
- To the Austro-Hungarian Empire 1750-1943
- To Russia 1750-1943
There are card indexes of World War II refugees from many parts of central and eastern Europe.
These indexes are listed in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under the region from which the refugees fled.
Periodicals publish many emigration records. The following source is a card index for emigrants that have been listed in the periodical Deutsches Familienarchiv (German Families Archive):
Emigrants to and from Germany from the 18th to the 20th Century. Salt Lake City, Utah, USA: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1976. (FHL film 1,125,001.)
Genealogical societies often compile card indexes of emigrants from the German region they specialize in. For details on how to contact these societies (to learn if they have an emigration index), see Germany Societies.
French Emigration Indexes
Many Germans either lived in Elsaß-Lothringen(Alsace-Lorraine) or passed through it to emigrate. The following sources help identify many of them.
Alsace Emigration Index. The Family History Library has compiled an index of persons who emigrated from or through Elsaß-Lothringen from 1817 to 1866. About half the names are from southern Germany. The alphabetical index gives the emigrant's name, age, occupation, place of origin, residence, destination, passport date, and source microfilm number. Not everyone who emigrated via Alsace is in this index. The index is easiest to find in the Author/Title Search of the Family History Library Catalog under Alsace Emigration Index. It is also listed as:
France. Ministère de l'Intérieur. Registres des émigrés, 1817-1866 (Index of emigrants, 1817-1866). Salt Lake City, Utah, USA: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1977. (FHL film 1,125,0027.)
Alsace Emigration Books. Cornelia Schrader-Muggenthaler used the Alsace Emigration Index, other emigration records, passenger lists, genealogies, genealogy periodicals, and newspaper articles to compile the following index:
Schrader-Muggenthaler, Cornelia. The Alsace Emigration Book. Two Volumes. Apollo, Pennsylvania, USA: Closson Press, 1989-1991. (FHL book 944.38 W2s) This index has over 20,000 entries, mostly of 1817 to 1870 emigrants.
The following is also an excellent book on the subject:
Burgert, Annette Kunselman. Eighteenth Century Emigrants from the Northern Alsace to America. Camden, Maine, USA: Picton Press, 1992. (FHL book 974.8 B4pgp v. 26)
Published Emigration Records
Lists of emigrants are often published. These usually focus on the emigrants from one town, principality, or state. An example is listed below:
Gruhne, Fritz. Auswandererlisten des ehemaligenHerzogtums Braunschweig 1846-1871 (List of emigrants from the former Duchy of Braunschweig, 1846-1871). Wolfenbüttel, Germany: Braunschweigischer Geschichtsverein, 1971. (FHL book 943.59 W29g; film 1,045,468 item 10.) This list does not include the city of Braunschweig and the district of Holzminden.
Links to various Lists of German emigrants, passenger lists, etc. are found at:
Dozens of other published emigrant lists are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under the town, state, or province from which the emigrants came. A partial bibliography of German emigration sources is in Smith's Encyclopedia of German-American Genealogical Research, pages 207 to 232.
Police Lists or Registrations
German police began keeping records of each person's residence in the 1840s. Citizens were required to tell the police when they moved. These records are discussed further in Germany Population.
Other Records of Departure
Several other records were usually created as emigrants left Germany.
Church Records (Annotations). Often the local pastor or priest noted peoples' departures in the parish registers next to birth or marriage entries. Sometimes these notes include the year of emigration and names of those who went with the person. Where family registers were kept, the departure was sometimes noted there. See Germany Church Records for more information.
Probate Records of Relatives Who Stayed. Wills or testaments of relatives who stayed in Germany occasionally mention their relatives in foreign lands. For more information, see Germany Probate Records.
Newspaper Announcements. Local newspapers often told of residents in their area moving to other lands. See Germany Newspapers for more information.
The Germanic Emigrants Register (1992 edition) indexes German emigrants listed in the Deutscher Reichsanzeiger newspaper from 1820 to 1914. This 277,000-name, 23-microfiche index shows name, event year, birth date, emigration date, destination, and last known residence. It does not give the place of origin, but you can get the place of origin for a fee by writing to:
Germanic Emigrants Register
Postfach 10 08 22
The Family History Library has the 1991 edition of the Germanic Emigrants Register: Germanic Emigrants Register. Diepholz, Germany: [s.n.], 1991. (FHL fiche 6,312,192.) This source consists of 10 microfiche and contains about 118,000 names.
Locating Emigration Records of Germany
The Family History Library has emigration records or indexes for almost every German state and various German districts or cities. These are listed in the catalog under the particular state, province, or town in Germany where the records were made. Check the Place Search of the catalog under:
GERMANY, [STATE] - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
GERMANY, [STATE], [TOWN] EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
Records of German Emigrants in Their Destination Countries
Often the best sources for information about German emigrants are found in the country they immigrated to. (see http://www.loc.gov/rr/genealogy/bib_guid/german-immigration.pdf ) Records of German immigrants may list their towns of origin and other valuable information. To learn more about these records, see the research outline for the country where your ancestor settled and the research outline Tracing Immigrant Origins.
Early German immigrants to the United States (1683-1820) settled mainly in Pennsylvania. Those in the second wave of migration (1820-1871) often settled in Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, Missouri, and Texas. During the third wave (1871-1914), many German immigrants settled in New York City, Chicago, St. Louis, or other large cities.
German immigrants from Pommern often went to Wisconsin. Large numbers also settled in Illinois, Minnesota, and other Midwest states. Immigrants from the Palatine area usually settled in Pennsylvania. The book below describes the history and process of migrating from Germany to the United States:
Wellauer, Maralyn Ann. German Immigration to America in the Nineteenth Century: A Genealogist's Guide. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA: Roots International, 1985. (FHL book 943 W2we.
To trace German origins in Pennsylvania can be a daunting task. There are efforts on the US as well as the German side to work together in tracing ancestors. Helpful sites to gain information might be Deutsch-Pennsylvanischer Arbeitskreis e.V. or pdc.wikipedia.org
Immigrant records available in the United States include the following:
Passenger Arrival Lists. Most German immigrants to the United States arrived at New York City. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of the arrival records and indexes of this and other ports. See the United States Research Outline for more information about emigration and immigration records of the United States. Unfortunately, few United States arrival records give the immigrant's specific town of origin.
Published Passenger Arrival Lists. The arrival records for many German immigrants to the United States are partially indexed. By mid-1994 there were 36 volumes covering the years 1850 to 1880.
Each volume is individually indexed:
Glazier, Ira A., and P. William Filby. Germans to America. On-going. Wilmington, Delaware, USA: Scholarly Resources, 1988-. (FHL book Ref973 W2ger.)
The following bibliography contains over 2,500 published lists of emigrants and immigrants:
Filby, P. William. Passenger and Immigrations Lists Bibliography, 1538-1900. Second Edition. Detroit, Michigan, USA: Gale Research, 1988. (FHL book 973W33p 1988.)
More than 1,600 of these lists are indexed in P. William Filby, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 12+ Volumes. (Detroit, Michigan, USA: Gale Research, 1981-; FHL book Ref 973 W33p). This does not index official U.S. arrival lists. Many of the names are from post-1820 published sources. Two of the hundreds of German immigration records indexed in Filby are listed below:
Jones, Henry Z, Jr. The Palatine Families of New York: A Study of the German Immigrants Who Arrived in Colonial New York in 1710. Universal City, California, USA: Jones, 1985. (FHL book 974.7 D2j.)
Strassburger, Ralph Beaver, and William John Hinke. Pennsylvania German Pioneers: A Publication of the Original Lists of Arrivals in the Port of Philadelphia from 1727 to 1808. Two Volumes. Norristown, Pennsylvania, USA: Pennsylvania German Society, 1934. Three Volumes. Reprint. Baltimore, Maryland, USA: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1966. (FHL book 974.8 F2st 1966; 1934 edition on films 1,035,683 item 5 and 1,321,373 item 3; fiche 6,057,507-9.) Please note that published immigration lists are subject to errors and should be verified in original records.
Census Records. The 1920 United States census sometimes lists the province or city of birth for people (or their parents) born in Germany. Some state censuses, such as the 1925 New York census (which gives the date and place of naturalization), contain more information than federal censuses.
Military Records. Many German immigrants served in the United States military, especially in the American Civil War. Their military records may help identify their German hometowns. Records of German soldiers who served as British mercenaries in the American Revolution are described in Germany Military Records.
Newspapers. Arriving German immigrants are occasionally mentioned in newspapers, especially German-language newspapers. See Germany Newspapers for a bibliography of German-language newspapers.
Starting in 1722, the Austro-Hungarian monarchs encouraged Germans to settle their lands, especially along the devastated border with the Turks. Colonies developed in what later became Hungary, Romania, and Yugoslavia. Initially, twice as many Germans moved to this area as went to America. More references and research tools for locating Germans who emigrated to Southeast Europe are found on-line at:
Following World War II, most returned to Germany or Austria, but many also moved to the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil, and other countries.
Below are listed some indexes that can help you find Germans from Southeast Europe:
Deutsches Ausland-Institut (Stuttgart). Auswandererkartei der Deutschen nach Ungarn und Rußland, 1750-1805 (Emigration index of Germans in Hungary and Russia, 1750-1805). Salt Lake City, Utah, USA: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1988. (FHL films 1,340,060 item 5 to 1,340,061 item 2.)
Deutsches Ausland-Institut (Stuttgart). Kartei der Auswanderer nach Ungarn, 1750-1945 (Index of emigrants to Hungary, 1750-1945). Salt Lake City, Utah, USA: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1988. (FHL film 1,552,795 items 1-2.)
Deutsches Ausland-Institut (Stuttgart). Kartei der im Ausland lebenden Deutschen, 1940-1945 (Index of Germans in foreign countries, 1940-1945). Salt Lake City, Utah, USA: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1988. (FHL films 1,340,0625, 1,197,320-23, 1,197,492-7.)
Brandt, Bruce. Where to look for hard-to-find German-speaking ancestors in Eastern Europe: index to 19,720 surnames in 13 books, with historical background on each. Second Edition. Baltimore, Maryland, USA: Clearfield County, 1993. (FHL book 943 H22b.) This contains surnames only.
In 1763 Catherine the Great of Russia offered free land, no taxes for thirty years, freedom of religion, and other incentives to encourage Germans to settle her vast, sparsely populated domain. Dozens of German colonies were established and grew until World War I. Many Russian Germans moved to the United States, Canada, or South America beginning in 1874. For a more detailed discussion of this topic see the Germans from Russia Wiki page. The following is the single most valuable source for researching German families from Russia:
Stumpp, Karl. The Emigration from Germany to Russia in the Years 1763-1862. Tübingen, Germany: Stumpp, 1973; reprint 1978. (FHL book 943 W2sk; fiche 6000829; 1978 ed. on film 1,183,529). Text in English. For a digital version, click here. The most useful parts of this source for genealogists are the alphabetical lists of German immigrants, which are divided into three sections: Volga region immigrants (pp. 117-165), Mennonites in South Russia and Samara (pp. 167-204), and Black Sea region immigrants (except Mennonites) (pp. 204-497). A good web site for Germans from Russia coming to the U.S. is:
Many online sources for Germans from Russia are found in the Odessa Digital Library:
The German Protestant church [EvangelischeKirche] of Russia was organized into consistories headquartered in St. Petersburg. The Family History Library has microfilmed the 276 volumes of the consistories' church record civil transcripts in the Russian State Historical Archives. These records are from German settlements in Ingermanland (surrounding St. Petersburg), near the Black Sea, and in Bessarabia for the years 1833 to 1900. They are in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
RUSSIA, [PROVINCE], [TOWN] — CHURCH RECORDS
German Protestant records are also listed in the Subject Search of the catalog under:
In addition, several organizations, such as the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia and the Germans from Russia Heritage Society, will help genealogists. More information about such organizations is found in Germany Societies. Web site for AHSGR: www.ahsgr.org
Web site for Germans from Russia Heritage Society:
Similar immigration records and indexes are available at the library for most nations and states where Germans settled. They are listed under the new nation or state in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
[NATION or STATE] - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
You can look in the Subject Search of the catalog under:
GERMANS - [NATION or STATE]