Internet Resources for Locating your 19th Century German Emigrant
Syllabus for class taught by Baerbel K. Johnson, Research Consultant at FamilySearch's Family History Library, presented at the NGS 2010 Conference.
This class focuses on Web sites that may help you locate your 19th Century German ancestor’s place of origin. In Germany, most genealogical material was kept on a town or parish level. Thus, knowing the emigrant’s birth place is essential.
Many lists of German emigrants that include towns of origin have been posted on the Internet. Following is a list of useful Web sites. Additional material can be found by entering the German region plus the terms “emigrants, emigration” or their German equivalents, “Auswanderer, Auswanderung,” in a search engine.
- 1 I. BEGIN WITH U.S. SOURCES
- 2 II. GERMAN RESOURCES FOR FINDING EMIGRANT ORIGINS
- 3 III. FORMER GERMAN AREAS IN THE EAST
I. BEGIN WITH U.S. SOURCES
Most often, this information is found in sources created in the country of immigration. Routinely, all available U.S. sources should be searched first. Some are available on the Internet. If a region in Germany is known, regional online collections of emigrant names may be searched as well. General resources include:
Free Web sites:
- Family Search–Several databases include millions of names with birth locality information from various sources. Also access U.S. Census records and indexes and various digitized and indexed vital records at FamilySearch-Records
- FamilySearch Wiki articles:"Internet Resources for Finding 19th Century German Emigrants,” “Germany Digital Resources,” and "Germany Emigration and Immigration.”
- US Genweb –State and country sites often include links to indexed vital records, church information, naturalization records, county histories, and other resources.
- Rootsweb at Ancestry –RootsWeb services include millions of submitted names and many mailing lists where you can post queries.
Fee-based, but may be available
for free through your local FHC or library:
- Ancestry–U.S. census records, vital records, immigration collections including passenger lists from many ports and passport applications, compiled genealogies.
- Heritage Quest on Line –Access U.S. census records, Persi, and many published books.
- World Vital Records–Includes U.S. census records, passenger lists, naturalizations, and vital records from various localities.
- Germany Roots–Web site includes transcribed passenger lists, forums, and other helpful material.
Free passenger lists
- Castle Garden–Port of New York 1820-1913–indexes, but no images.
- Ellis Island–Port of New York 1892-1924–index linked to images.
- Steve Morse–Provides more versatile search options for searching New York and other passenger lists, and indexes to other records.
- Home Online Lists–Internet portal to U.S., Canadian, and European online passenger lists, naturalization records, and historical information about emigration and naturalization.
- Immigrant Ships–Transcriptions of 18th and 19th Century passenger lists.
Suggestions for success
- Sources to look for include birth, marriage, death records, naturalization or citizenship records, passenger lists, church records, obituaries, newspaper articles, probate records, county or town histories, and others.
- Some Web sites may include helpful links in inconspicuous places, so careful reading is helpful.
- “Less is more” when searching Web sites. Enter only the most essential information; use “exact search” and wild cards. It is better to look through a long, but manageable set of results yourself than to let the computer decide which entries to present.
- Learn about the functionality of each Web site. For instance, Ancestry.com requires three letters in front of a wild card symbol, while others only require one, and some do not accept wild cards.
- Whenever possible, use Web sites together for optimal results. (For example, search Castlegarden.org and Ellisisland.org with Stevemorse.org)
II. GERMAN RESOURCES FOR FINDING EMIGRANT ORIGINS
Many German Web sites organize information by current jurisdiction rather than the “German Empire 1871-1918” jurisdictions generally used by genealogists. For instance, the modern state of Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) covers the historical areas of Hannover, Braunschweig, Oldenburg, and Schaumburg-Lippe. The Wikipedia often provides this information. Also familiarize yourself with cultural areas and regions, (such as Ostfriesland, the Emsland, the Black Forest).
Major exit ports for German emigrants were Bremen, Le-Havre (France), Antwerp (Belgium), and Hamburg. Copenhagen and the Baltic Sea port of Stettin were lesser-used options. Indirect routes often involved Hull or Glasgow in the British Isles.
Many German lists of emigrants are found on
- Commercial Web sites (for example Ancestry), fee-based Ancestry
- Society Web pages Category:Societies
- Archive Web pages Category:Archives and libraries
- Other Web pages
Immigration Collection on Ancestry
- Emigrant indexes from German state government records, including Baden 1866-1911, Brandenburg, Wuerttemberg, and others.
- Hamburg Passenger lists and indexes–images and limited online index.
Society Web pages
Links to over 35 major German genealogical societies are found on [www.genealogy.net/genealogy Genealogy] under the tab “societies.” Web pages may be in German, English, or a combination. Lists of emigrants may be hidden several layers deep, so it pays to explore each Web site thoroughly. Some examples are:
- Die Maus, Bremen Society for Genealogy: Bremen passenger lists 1920-1939
- Arbeitsgemeinschaft Westerwald Familienforschung (ArGeWe)–Emigrant lists found under the tab “people”
- Oldenburgische Gesellschaft fűr Familienkunde–Link to emigrant index on the home page.
- Westdeutsche Gesellschaft fűr Familienkunde–Regional sections share the Web site. Some post indexes online, such as the Trier section under “ABC-Listen.”
Archive Web pages
Many German archives are trying to make their holdings more accessible by posting finding aids and indexes online. Examples from three archives show how different the search experience can be.
- Baden-Wuerttemberg (the emigrant index)–A separate site for the emigrant index, in German or English, easy to search.
- Hessen (Emigrant’s surname )–Emigrant’s surname can be entered in the “quick-search“ box. The results show every record group that includes the search term. The record group called “Auswanderer-Nachweise” (documentation of emigrants) should be searched first. Entries are listed in groups of twenty per page, and arranged chronologically from earliest to latest emigration or document date, beginning with “no date listed.”
- Niedersachsen (Niedersachsen home page)–The home page includes a box titled “Auswanderersuche” (emigrant search). Click there and enter the surname into the search box. Next, a table shows the number of record groups (Bestand) from each regional archive that will be searched (keiner=none). A click on “suchen” (search) brings up the results, each with signature (call number), archive, and personal information.
Other Web pages
You can use search engines, such as www.dogpile.com or www.google.de to find lists of emigrants. Use both English and German search terms (emigrants = Auswanderer, emigration = Auswanderung) and a German state or area. These sites usually cover a specific geographical area (state, county, cultural area, or region).
- Roots-in-Germany is an Internet portal for emigration information, arranged by modern German state. Some states have many more links to resources than others.
- One Web site may contain several separate lists of emigrants. Check all tabs and headings (for example, Genealogienetz is for Schleswig-Holstein).
- Some professional genealogists post emigrant lists online without giving the town of origin. They may offer to provide the birth information for a fee. This information may be available on another Web site free of charge (for example, Rootdigger is for Schleswig-Holstein).
- Some historians have studied regional emigration and posted resulting lists of emigrants online (for example, Westphalia Emigration]).
- An excellent example of a regional emigration site is Regional Emigration. This site includes a table of emigrants with basic information, a database with detailed information about each person, and helpful historical background.
III. FORMER GERMAN AREAS IN THE EAST
Although few lists of emigrants from areas east of the Oder-Neisse Line are available online at this time, a beginning has been made with several projects initiated by Polish genealogists. The best example to date is the Poznan Project, an index of 19th Century Catholic and Lutheran marriage records compiled by volunteers with the objective of making it easier to locate an ancestral place of origin. Similar projects have been initiated for the Polish regions of Przodkowie, Pomorze, and Geneteka (see Bindweed has the Polish regions).
- –Poznan marriage index, covers 1820-1889, contains over 450,000 entries as of December 2009.
The Internet is a treasure trove. New material appears almost daily. So get ready to tackle the elephant one bite, that is, one Web site at a time, and find your German emigrant!