Genealogy Immigration/Migration: German Immigration

German ImmigrationBy Barry J. Ewell

Immigration/Migration patterns for the Genealogists: Think like a historian
One of the most important considerations in finding our ancestor is immigration research. Immigration/migration patterns reveal clues to finding the origin of your immigrant ancestors.

Look at immigration from a historian’s point of view and not from the genealogical point of view.  Your trying to understand what you ancestors did and why.  As a genealogist, you wonder why your ancestors migrated. You look for clues that might direct you to the birthplace in country of origin. As genealogists the first thing we do is start searching through deeds, wills, bible records, and other such documents.  Documents can tell you that your ancestor sold his property from one person to another, but it does not tell why he then picked up and moved from Virginia to Tennessee.  When you add seek to understand immigration patterns of the time and people your chances for success expand dramatically because you being to understand what your family was thinking, you see what others individuals where doing, where they were going, and where they came from.

By learning about the immigration patterns for a specific ethnic group to which your ancestor belonged in the time period they lived, we begin to see trends that correlate to our family such as the ports they arrived, the counties and cities from which they came and where they settled, the reasons for decisions that were made, the types of records they left behind and where.

You start by answering the question:

  • What was their ethnic background or group to which you think they belonged?
  • Where they Puritans, Welch, or Germans?

Now you begin to answer the questions:

  • Why did they come?
  • When did they come?
  • Where did the settle?
  • What were their social and work conditions?
  • What was their religious background?

America:  People on the Move
When step back and began looking at my ancestors as part of an ethnic group at a given time and place, you quickly see that America is a land of people on the move.  Our ancestors were part of groups that for specific reasons felt a “push’ to move to escape political or religious oppression, wars and violence, major natural disasters.  The reasons include:

  • War or other armed conflict
  • Famine or drought
  • Disease
  • Poverty
  • Political corruption
  • Disagreement with politics
  • Religious intolerance
  • Natural disasters
  • Discontent with the natives, such as frequent harassment, bullying, and abuse
  • Lack of employment opportunities
  • These factors generally do not affect people in developed countries; even a natural disaster is unlikely to cause out-migration.

When you are pushed, where do you go?  One senses the “pull” America had upon our ancestors.  Economic and professional opportunities were by far the foundation for our ancestors coming to America.  It was the availability of lands for farming, an abundance of jobs, higher salaries.  The reasons include:

  • Higher incomes
  • Lower taxes
  • Better weather
  • Better availability of employment
  • Better medical facilities
  • Better education facilities
  • Better behaviour among people
  • Family reasons
  • Political stability
  • Religious tolerance
  • Relative freedom
  • Weather
  • National prestige

Perhaps the only major group of immigrants who did not respond to push or pull factors was the Africans, who were captured and traded into slavery against their will.

The following immigration/migration profile is provided as an example of the type of information that is valuable of finding the origin of your ancestors as well as helping to better understand your ethnic heritage.  This information is in no way all inclusive, but it will be a good starting point for you to expand upon.

German Immigration
What are some of the important immigration facts?

  1. German Americans in Pennsylvania have come to be known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, although they are not from the Netherlands. In the German language, the word for “German” is “Deutsch” (pronounced doytch). It is likely that other settlers mistook the word for the English “Dutch.”
  2. A form of Protestantism that arose in Germany was called the “plain” churches, or Anabaptists. Among them were the Mennonites and the Amish, the German Brethren, or Dunkards, and the Society of Friends, or Quakers. All these groups believed in nonviolence and simple worship. Anabaptists differed from most Protestant groups in their belief that an individual should be baptized as an adult rather than in infancy.
  3. In 1848 German rebels who wanted the German states to unify under a democratic, constitutional government set off a series of uprisings. The movement did not succeed. Afterward, facing arrest and persecution at the hands of the German princes, between four and ten thousand “forty-eighters” immigrated to the United States.
  4. German American craftspeople brought their guild system to the United States. These craft guilds evolved into trade unions, giving rise to the general labor-union movement.
  5. Until World War I (1914–18), millions of German Americans continued to speak the German language. Many lived in German-speaking enclaves, and even those who did not tried to maintain their native language. German Americans even took political action to make sure their children could be educated in the German language.

Why did they come?

  1. Mass migrations were mainly motivated by the desire for economic opportunity and prosperity.
    1. For many years rural Germans had lived on small family farms.
    2. As the German states faced industrialization (the change from a farm-based economy to an economic system based on the manufacturing of goods and distribution of services on an organized and mass-produced basis), the old way of rural life was quickly disappearing.
    3. Many were forced to move into cities and learn new skills.
    4. Yet, with unemployment in Germany rising, the cities did not always hold much hope. Among those who emigrated, some had few options left in Germany and sought more opportunity.
  2. The shipping companies hired recruiters to travel through the German states.
    1. They would arrive in a village or a town in brightly colored wagons with a fanfare of trumpets and drums.
    2. When a crowd had assembled, the recruiters would describe the wonders of the New World and urge the people to migrate.
    3. Their advertising campaign was successful.
  3. Many Germans, seeking better opportunities, contracted themselves out as indentured servants, people who agreed to work for a colonist for asetperiod of time in exchange for payment of their passage from Europe to the New World.
    1. At the end of the service term (usually seven years), the indentured servant was given a small piece of land or goods to help set up a new life in the colony.

When did they come?

  1. From sixty-five thousand to one hundred thousand German-speaking people made their way to the United States during the colonial era (before 1776).
  2. By 1790 the German American population in the American colonies had reached about 360,000.
  3. Immigration from Europe to the United States overwhelmingly increased in the mid-1800s.
  4. The U.S. population recorded in the census of 1860 was 31,500,000; of that population, 4,736,000, or 15 percent, were of foreign birth.
    1. The greater part of these immigrants had come from two countries: 1,611,000 from Ireland, and 1,301,000 from Germany (principally from the southwestern states of Württemberg, Baden, and Bavaria).
  5. The mass migration from Germany had begun in the 1830s, but the peak decades were the 1850s, with more than 950,000 immigrants, and the 1880s, with nearly 1.5 million.
  6. In Germany, most emigrants left from Bremerhaven or Hamburg.
  7. By the 1850s, New York had become the principal port of arrival for German immigrants.

Where did the settle?

  1. One of the first points of settlement was Germantown in the British colony of Pennsylvania.
    1. Pennsylvania’s founder, William Penn (1644–1718), was a member of the Quakers, a radical Protestant sect in England founded by George Fox (1624–1691) in the late 1640s.
      1. As a member of the Society of Friends, he rejected formal creeds and worship.
      2. Like other proprietors in the New World, Penn hoped to profit from the sale or rent of land in his colony, but his primary aim in setting up a colony was a religious one.
      3. His search for settlers started among English people, especially Quakers.
      4. Before long, he was recruiting among the Mennonites (an Anabaptist group founded by Menno Simons [1496–1561], a Dutch priest) in the Rhineland, where Anabaptists were experiencing persecution.
      5. The Germans in Pennsylvania have come to be known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. Despite the name, they are not from the Netherlands.
    2.  In the German language, the word for “German” is “Deutsch” (pronounced doytch), and it is likely that other settlers mistook the German word for the English “Dutch.”
    3. Although many people associate the Pennsylvania Dutch with the Amish (another Anabaptist sect), the term “Pennsylvania Dutch” includes all German-speaking immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania and areas immediately surrounding.
    4. Many of the Pennsylvania Dutch came from the Rhineland states, especially the Palatinate (Pfalz).
    5. Immigrants from the Palatinate started arriving in larger numbers after 1710.
    6. The first settlers sent home flattering reports of the new colony, leading to more people making the journey and settling in the increasingly German areas.
    7. Pennsylvania’s population was one-third German by the time of the American Revolution (1775–83).
  2. In the United States, most Germans lived on the countryside. Only about two fifths lived in cities larger than 25,000 people.
  3. Germans settled in the states from Ohio to Missouri on the south quadrant, and from Michigan to North Dakota and down to Nebraska on the north and west quadrants.
  4. These territories were accessible on waterways from New Orleans up the Mississippi and the Ohio, or the Missouri, or from New York across the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes, and out to areas already connected by railroads.
  5. For craftsmen, the booming cities of Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville, St. Louis and Chicago offered job opportunities, which could be said also for East Coast cities like New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore.
  6. Many chose to stay in the East, while others moved westward along the Erie Canal through Buffalo and out to Ohio.
  7. By the 1840s large numbers of German immigrants went to New Orleans on cotton ships from Le Havre, France.
  8. The majority moved to the valleys of the upper Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
  9. By 1880, Wisconsin had more German Americans than any other state.
  10. In the years between 1860 and 1890, three-fifths of German immigrants moved to rural areas, while two-fifths moved to the cities.
  11. When they settled, they often established German-speaking communities, setting up their own churches, schools, newspapers, and other institutions, and keeping their cultural traditions alive in the New World.
  12. Many of the Jewish immigrants settled in New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, but other cities, including San Francisco, Chicago, and New Orleans, had large Jewish communities as well. (For more information, see chapter 15 on Jewish immigration to the United States.)

What were their social and work conditions?

  1. In 1870, German-born farmers madeupone third of the agricultural industry in the region.
    1. Large numbers of German farmers could be found in the Midwest and in Texas.
    2. Some even went as far west as Anaheim, California.
    3. West coast German farmers, though, didn’t live up to the east coast stereotype of a German farmer. Most of the west coast farmers would sacrifice fertile land for a closer location to other Germans.
  2. In cities, Germans would cluster together to form communities not unlike the Chinese Chinatowns.
  3. These replications of Germany would house prominent German businesses such as the lager beer industry.
  4. German entrepreneurs such as bakers, butchers, cabinetmakers, cigar makers, distillers, machinists, and tailors also could be found in abundance in these “Miniature-Germany” towns.
  5. German women, however, were less likely than the average American woman to enter the labor force.
  6. Very few German women could be found holding jobs in a factory, or as a clerk. Instead, they sought after work as bakers, domestic workers, hotel keepers, janitors, laundry workers, nurses, peddlers, saloon keepers, and tailors.

What was their religious background?

  1. Rough estimates put German immigrants at one-third Catholic and the other two-thirds predominantly Lutheran and Reformed.
  2. A form of Protestantism that arose inGermanywas called the “plain” churches, or Anabaptists. Among them were the Mennonites and the Amish, the German Brethren, or Dunkards, and the Society of Friends, or Quakers.
    1. All these groups believed in nonviolence and simple worship. Anabaptists differed from most Protestant groups in their belief that an individual should be baptized as an adult rather than in infancy.
    2. Since many of the Anabaptist settlers had come to the new country to lead a simpler life according to their religion, they often isolated themselves and their children from American culture and society, even rejecting public schooling.
  3. Cooperatively small in numbers were German Methodists, Baptists, Unitarians, Pietists, Jews and Free Thinkers.
  4. About 250,000—of the German immigrants were Jews.
    1. Jews had lived in Germany since the fourth century, many having settled in the Rhine area. Jews had long been assimilated in German cultures when suddenly, from the 1830s into the 1880s, several German states began to pass anti-Semitic laws (laws hostile toward Jews).
    2. In southern Germany, these laws prohibited young Jews from marrying or starting a family in their communities.
    3. Some decided to immigrate to the United States.
    4. The first Jews from Bohemia, Bavaria, Baden, Württemberg, and Alsace-Lorraine came in the 1820s.
    5. Many of these immigrants were young, aspiring, and middle class, skilled at a trade or a profession.
    6. Often they were equipped with savings to get themselves started in a trade in the new country.
    7. A significant portion were well educated.

Are there other unique groups to remember?
The Hessians

  1. In the American Revolution (1775–83), British King George III (1738–1820) did not have enough soldiers to fight the rebels in his American colonies, so he purchased the services of approximately thirty thousand soldiers from the German states and shipped them to America to fight.
  2. Quite a few of the states provided him with soldiers, but the majority of them came from the state of Hesse-Kassel. Because there were so many soldiers from Hesse-Kassel, all the Germans fighting on the British side came to be called Hessians by the Americans.
  3. The prince of Hesse-Kassel sold at least twelve thousand soldiers to King George, receiving a significant sum per head. The prince did not pay the soldiers, however, and many of them had been forced into the service against their will.
  4. About six thousand Hessians deserted the British army and fought on the side of the colonists. After the war was over, as many as twelve thousand of these soldiers stayed in the new country and became U.S. citizens.
  5. This was made easier for them because there was already a fairly substantial German American population that they could join.

Are there any clues to family naming patterns?

  1. The custom of Germans was to give, at baptism, two names.
    1. The first was a spiritual or a saint’s name in honor of a favorite saint.
    2. The second or middle name was the name the person was known by within the family.
  2. It was common practice in some German families to name the first born son after the child’s paternal grandfather and the second born son after the maternal grandfather.
  3. The suffix “in” or “en”, added to the end of a name, such as Anna Maria Hetzelin denoted female, often an unmarried female.
  4. In some German areas you will findthatall of the sons had the same first name, frequently Johann,andall of the daughters also, often Anna.
    1. You might find a family with Johann Georg, Johann Jacob and Johann Michael. Usually they went by their second name.
    2. But when an official record was involved, they might revert to their full name. Hans is a nickname for Johann so you might also find records for Hans Michael or Hans Jacob.
    3. Occasionally, names would be reversed so that Michael Georg became Georg Michael, probably because Georg was the name he went by and Michael was only secondary.

    The source material for the this resource  is a compilation from the following references:

    • Benson, Sonia. U.S. Immigration and Migration Almanac. Ed. Sarah Hermsen. UXL-GALE, 2004. 2006.
    • Daniels, Roger. Coming to America. A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life, New York, New York: HarperCollins, 2002.
    • Dollarhide, William. British Origins of American Colonists, 1629 – 1775, Bountiful, UT: Heritage Quest, 1997.
    • Dollarhide, William. Map Guide of American Migration Routes, 1735 – 1815, Bountiful, UT: Heritage Quest, 2000.
    • Wills, Chuck. Destination America. The People and Cultures That Created A Nation, New York, New York: DK Publishing, Inc., 2005.
    • Research Outlines by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Salt Lake City, UT.