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5 Sources for German Emigration Records on Ancestry.com

By James M. Beidler Premium
“From the old to the new world – German emigrants for New York embarking on a Hamburg steamer.” Harper’s Weekly, 1874 Nov. 7, pp. 916-917. (Library of Congress)

You may know where your ancestors came from and when, but do you know why? The answer to that depends on whether they migrated during the first great wave in the Colonial period, or in the second wave. In this short video, German genealogy expert, James M. Beidler, reveals two of the reasons so many people emigrated during the second great wave, which lasted from the 1830s into the twentieth century.

There are 31 collections on Ancestry.com that pertain specifically to German immigration records in a mixture of English and German languages. Here is a quick look at five German records collections that may provide insight into your family history:

1. Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934

Containing the passenger lists of ships departing from Hamburg during that time period, this collection has over 5 million records, making it a go-to resource.

2. Bremen, German, Births on Ships 1867-1911

There are 771 records contained in this collection. You can get the name, gender, and birth date of the child, along with the parents’ names and ages.

3. Wuerttemberg, German Emigration Index

This collection contains records of application to emigrate through Wuerttemberg. There are well over 100,000 records in the collection.

4. Pomerania, Germany, Passenger Lists, 1869-1901

These records document that passenger lists of ships originating in Stettin and Swinemunde and are only a portion of the extensive records kept.

5. 19th-Century Emigration of ‘Old Lutherans’ from Eastern Germany to Australia, Canada, and the United States

Military drafts and marriage restrictions aren’t the only reasons people emigrated, and in this case, the reason for leaving was religious-based.

There are plenty more collections and records, ranging from German-language based to the records of their arrival and naturalization in the new world.

A Closer Look at the Hamburg Passenger Lists on Ancestry.com

Immigrant ancestors tend to capture researchers’ imaginations more than others. 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, enchants us. Fortunately for those with German ancestry, researchers have access to more than one resource to help document their ancestors’ incredible journeys.

Zwei Resources, Eins Collection

This resource is one of the major German assets on Ancestry. It is actually comprised of two records: the Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934 and the Hamburg Passenger Lists, Handwritten Indexes, 1855-1934. The first is a collection of the scanned passenger lists. The second is a collection of handwritten indexes for these records. These documents notate emigration departures (embarkation) from the port of Hamburg in northern Germany. Hamburg was the number-two exit point from Europe from 1850 to 1934. Search these 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 Hamburg Passenger Lists collection. Digitized images of the lists are available from 1850 to 1934, but is only searchable through 1923. Also note 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. Unfortunately, these can have illegible handwriting that prevents you from finding your ancestors.

Rosina or Rosine?: Providing Context for Research

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. According to the record, she departs 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.

Records Timeline

Here’s a quick timeline of Hamburg embarkation records:

  • 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.

Sprichst du Deutsch?

If your answer is Nein, no worries! The FamilySearch Wiki provides a very detailed terminology list for the Hamburg Passenger Lists collection. The translations that may be of special interest to genealogists include:

  • Surname (Zuname)
  • Given Name (Vornamen)
  • Gender: Male/Female (Geschlecht: männlich/weiblich)
  • Age (Alter)
  • Previous Residence (Bisheriger Wohnort)
  • In the State or Province (Im Staate resp. in der Provinz)
  • Present Status or Occupation (Bisheriger Stand oder Beruf)
  • Destination (Ziel der Auswanderung)
  • Number of Persons (Zahl der Personen)
  • Adults & Children Over 8 years (Erwachsene und Kinder über 8 Jahre)
  • Children Under 10 years (Kinder unter 10 Jahre)
  • Children Under 1 year (Kinder unter 1 Jahr)
  • Where?/Destination of Emigration (Wohin?/Ziel der Auswanderung)

Happy researching and Viel Glück!

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