Pre-1820 Emigration from Germany

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Before 1820  German emigration was largely a group phenomenon.  Therefore, strategies for locating a town of origin in Germany must include research on the emigrant, potential family members, neighbors, and other associates. Finding the ancestor on an incoming passenger list can be especially helpful. 

Pre-19th century German immigrants to the United States are often called Palatines, because many of them came from the Palatinate, a region in Southwest Germany. Emigrants also came from many other areas of Germany, as seen on this map .

A detailed explanation of research strategies for finding the German birthplace of early German immigrants is found here.

18th Century Sources for Locating German Emigrants

Manumission Records

Emigrants in much of Germany were required to pay a tax for their release from serfdom and feudal obligations. This manumission fee generally amounted to ten percent of the value of the emigrant's property. Werner Hacker indexed these records for many of the provinces of southern Germany. Among other, his publications include:

  •  Auswanderungen aus Baden und dem Breisgau (Emigration from Baden and the Breisgau), 1980 (FHL 943.46 W29h)
  •  Auswanderungen aus Rheinpfalz und Saarland im 18. Jahrhundert (Emigration from the Rhineland Palatinate and Saarland in the 18th Century), 1987 (FHL 943 W29h)
  •  Kurpfälzische Auswanderer vom Unteren Neckar (Electoral Palatinate Emigrants from the lower Neckar), 1983 (FHL 943.43 W2hw)
  •  A name index to the above three volumes as well as other volumes by Werner Hacker was published by Closson Press and includes 65,000 names, Eighteenth Century Register of Emigrants from Southwest Germany to America and Other Countries, 1994 (FHL INT'L 943.43 W2eh)

A complete list of Werner Hacker's publications available in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City is found here .

 U.S.- German Regional Studies

Some publications document emigrants in their German home town, on the passenger list, and in U.S. records. Research on each family has been done in both U.S. and German records. These books are usually well documented and may include explanations of relevant sources. They may include several indexes, including one by "ships", which is is very useful for finding people listed on the same passenger list.  Annette K. Burgert and Henry Z. Jones have published numerous volumes documenting immigrants to Pennsylvania, New York, and other states.

If you are researching New England colonial Germans, you should definitely check out this book:

Horlacher, Gary T.  and Wilford W. Whitaker, Broad Bay Pioneers: 18th Century German-Speaking Settlers of Present-Day Waldoboro, Maine. Rockport, Maine : Picton Press,1998, ISBN 0897252101. (FHL US/Can 974.157/W1 F2w)  

Germans in Nova Scotia

If you are doing Nova Scotia research, a good resource are Winthrop Bell's study and notes which are available at the Family History Library:

Bell, Winthrop Pickard, Register of Lunenburg settlers, FHL US/CAN Film 1421430. A card index compiled  ny Dr. Bell as he researched this work is also available on microfilm:

Part 1. Miscellaneous cards, A-Z FHL US/CAN Film
2113582 Item 1
Part 2. Lunenburg casuals (not permanent settlers), A-Z FHL US/CAN Film
2113582 Item 2

Bell, Winthrop Pickard, The "foreign Protestants" and the settlement of Nova Scotia : the history of a piece of arrested British colonial policy in the eighteenth century. [Toronto, Ontario] : University of Toronto Press,1961. FHL US/Can 971.63 F2b .
Huber, Paul and Eva, ed., European Origins and Colonial Travails: The Settlement of Lunenburg,  Halifax, N.S., Messenger Publications, 2003. For more information, including a list of settlers' names, see


Even if you are not researching a family from New York, New England, or Nova Scotia, you perhaps should check out these sources as well. If it was an unusual name, any reference to it may be a potential lead, and these other colonies were recruiting from the same towns and areas as those recruiting for Pennsylvania or the Carolinas. In fact, often members of the same family ended up in different colonies. For example, the Heyler family came to Boston (Waldoboro, Maine) in 1742, but also had close relatives from the same village in Germany that settled in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina.

Other helpful resources

  • Ehmann, Karl. Die Auswanderung in die Neuengland-Staaten aus Orten in Enzkreises im 18. Jahrhundert [Emigration to the New England States from Places in the Enz District in the 18th Century], 1977 (FHL 943 W2e)
  • Hinke, William J., A List of German Immigrants to the American Colonies from Zweibrücken in the Palatinate, 1728-1749 (FHL 974.8 C4fg)
  • Yoder, Donald H., Emigrants from Württemberg, the Adolf Gerber Lists. (FHL 974.8 C4fg v.10)