If you have found among your ancestors some who dared to emigrate despite all the risks of the journey and adversities of arrival, you may want to shed more light on their path. But how do you go about it? Here, as in other genealogical researches, there are always various possibilities, depending, among other things, on the circumstances in the various states and countries.
We will briefly present a selection of research possibilities in two blog posts. Today's first part will be about the sources for genealogical research in Germany, the next part will be about some interesting sources overseas.
Some of the sources are also available online via various (sometimes paid) platforms. As always in genealogy, you should keep an eye on the seriousness and reliability of the source before adopting the information.
- Hamburg passenger lists
The State Archive Hamburg holds the departure passenger lists of emigrants who left by ship for overseas via the Hamburg harbour. More than five million names of passengers from the years 1850 to 1934 can be found in this collection. In addition to the personal data of the travelers, such as name, age and status or occupation, there is also information on the last place of residence before departure (not always identical with the place of origin!). The lists are sorted by date of departure, indicating the name of the ship and the port of destination. The Hamburg passenger lists are the only emigrant and passenger lists of the European overseas ports that have survived to this day almost without loss and in the original. Only for the period of World War I from August 1914 to December 1919 there are no departure lists.
In addition, there are also the ship lists with passengers on so-called "non-emigrant ships", i.e. individual passengers on merchant ships for the years 1871-1887.
Searches of all passenger lists are possible at the State Archive Hamburg; at FamilySearch.org, MyHeritage.de as well as Ancestry.de, different lists of the "Auswanderungsamt" (emigration Office) holdings can be viewed.
- Bremen passenger lists
Over 7 million emigrants departed via Bremen or Bremerhaven from 1820 onwards. Unfortunately, there are only just under 3000 preserved departure passenger lists, which are nowadays kept in the archive of the Bremen Chamber of Commerce. The lists cover 70 percent of the ships that departed from Bremerhaven in 1907-1908, 1913-1914 and 1920-1939. The lists that still exist can be searched by name here, and it is also possible to search the database of the Historisches Museum Bremerhaven (Historical Museum Bremerhaven)
- Szczecin passenger lists
Only 20,000 emigrants departed via the port of Stettin 1869 - 1901. The Szczecin departure passenger lists are archived in the State Archive in Greifswald, and an online database is searchable on Ancestry.de.
- Emigration files and newspaper articles
In most German states, it was necessary to apply to the respective state government in order to obtain permission to emigrate. Newspapers sometimes announced planned emigrations or published advertisements seeking illegal emigrants, usually those subject to military service or delinquents.
Depending on the jurisdiction and the state of preservation, these historical documents can be found in the state archives of the German federal states, more rarely in municipal or city archives. An example of such emigrant holdings is the documentation of the state archive Baden-Württemberg.
- Regional genealogical and historical societies and associations
Regional societies often have their own libraries on genealogical topics and ideally have knowledge of local emigration specifics in the emigrants' home region.
Some individuals, clubs, and societies also contribute more broadly to genealogical research on emigration. Here are some examples: The genealogy society in Bremen "Die Maus", for example, has transcribed the still existing Bremen passenger lists and made them accessible on the Internet. On the website auswanderer-oldenburg.de there is a database of the Oldenburgische Gesellschaft für Familienkunde e.V., emigrants from Thuringia can be found here: auswanderer-thueringen.de.
- Emigration museums
Hamburg and Bremerhaven are home to Germany's two major emigration museums. The BallinStadt - the emigration museum in Hamburg on the Veddel was opened 2007 at the place of the historical emigrant halls, which were finished 1901 in the responsibility of the Hamburg shipowner Albert Ballin. Our report on the reopening of the museum in 2016 can be found here. The Deutsches Auswandererhaus (German Emigration Center) in Bremerhaven also stands on a historic site: it is located directly at the New Harbor, from where emigrants from Bremerhaven began their journey. In addition to the prospect of reliving the history of your ancestors in the exhibitions on the subject of emigration, both museums also offer on-site opportunities for your own genealogical research.
All over the world, research centers, museums, archives, institutes, universities, etc. are engaged in the study of emigration. In general, it can be said that German emigration to North America has been researched in much more detail than emigration to South America. But if you are interested not only in tracing your own ancestors, but also in the topic itself, the historical background, and looking beyond the horizon, you will find what you are looking for, for example, on the homepage of the project "Auswanderung aus den Regionen des heutigen Rheinland-Pfalz" (Emigration from the regions of today's Rhineland-Palatinate, website only in German) of the Institut für Geschichtliche Landeskunde (Institute for Historical Geography) at the University of Mainz. The project also lists a wide range of literature.