Immigrant ancestors tend to capture researchers’ imaginations more than others. We’re enchanted by the idea of our ancestors coming to a foreign land with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a dream of better things to come.
Fortunately for those with German ancestry, researchers have access to more than one resource to help document their ancestors’ incredible journeys. In addition to passenger arrival lists in North America, German researchers can also find embarkation lists that record Europeans as they left the continent. Guest writer and author of The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide and the upcoming Trace Your German Roots Online, James M. Beidler, looks at the Hamburg Passenger Lists, one of the major German assets on Ancestry.com.
The resource, which is actually a collection of the scanned passenger lists and a collection of handwritten indexes for these records, are from emigration departures from the port of Hamburg in northern Germany. Hamburg was the number-two exit point from Europe from 1850 to 1934, so you’ll likely want to search these two resources if you have ancestors who left Europe in the second half of the 1800s or early in the 1900s.
You’ll need an Ancestry.com subscription to search the passenger list collection, which offers images of the lists from 1850 to 1934 but is only searchable through 1923. However, the handwritten indexes collection is only browsable, so you’ll want to focus on a specific time period. While you can’t search through the handwritten indexes, they can help cover defects of the passenger lists, which can have bad handwriting that prevents you from finding your ancestors.
These Hamburg lists can provide valuable context for your research when used with other resources. For example, I searched for my ancestor, Rosina Friedrika Wibel, on the Hamburg lists. From other resources, I knew she was born in 1829; A Rosine Wibel (note the spelling difference) was identified in the Hamburg lists as departing Hamburg on the ship Harmonia on 28 Feb 1857. Reviewing stateside passenger lists, I found that she arrived in New York almost a whole month later, on 26 March 1857. And if I couldn’t find Rosina in the searchable embarkation lists, I could have used her arrival date from the US passenger list to pinpoint when to browse for her in the Hamburg’s handwritten indexes.
Here’s a quick timeline of the Hamburg Embarkation Lists:
- 1850: Embarkation lists begin, initially with just the passengers’ names, but later with additional details.
- 1855: Handwritten indexes are first created for embarkation lists.
- 1854–1910: The lists and handwritten indexes are separated into “direct” (passenger who weren’t going to change ships before their ultimate arrivals) and “indirect” (those who did change ships). After 1911, the lists and indexes are no longer categorized this way.
- 1915–1919: No lists are kept during World War I.
- 1934: Passenger lists cease to be created for Hamburg.
Learn more about how to research German immigrant ancestors in James M. Beidler’s Trace Your German Roots Online, due out on April 1.