Tracing German American Immigrants

shutterstock_877248581 German Village

Which United States source is most likely to reveal the hometown of a German immigrant? Dr. Roger P. Minert has reached some interesting conclusions. They might surprise you.

Dr. Minert, who is in charge of the German family history courses at Brigham Young University, has spent many years studying German Americans and documenting their immigrant origins. From his vast experience, he has compiled the following statistics on which United States sources (before 1900) are most likely to tell an immigrant's exact place of birth in German-speaking parts of Europe:

Success Rates of American Sources In Revealing German Hometowns

Local church vital records65-76%
Military muster and pension lists20-30%
County genealogies20-25%
State death certificates20-25%
Passenger arrival lists15-25%
Newspaper obituaries15-20%
County histories15-20%
State census15%
Naturalization/citizenship10%
Cemetery monuments/stones10%
County marriage licenses5%
Federal census0%

A striking observation is that "local church vital records" are most likely to tell the hometown. By that phrase, Dr. Minert means items such as burial entries in Lutheran parishes here in the United States. They reveal where the immigrant was born. Naturalization records, which most people think will tell the birthplace, is way down the list. Only 1 out of 10 times will a pre-1900 naturalization record identify an exact overseas origin.

Armed with this knowledge, Dr. Minert and a team of researchers at BYU are reading local church vital records seeking Americans' German origins. They are publishing their finds in a series of books titled German Immigrants in American Church Records. So far 13 volumes have been published, detailing 100,000 German immigrants who settled in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. These books are available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Here is a link to the online catalog reference. The state of Michigan is next on their list to publish.

Amazing project!

About the Author