Tracing German American Immigrants

May 9, 2013  - by 

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 records 65-76%
Military muster and pension lists 20-30%
County genealogies 20-25%
State death certificates 20-25%
Passenger arrival lists 15-25%
Newspaper obituaries 15-20%
County histories 15-20%
State census 15%
Naturalization/citizenship 10%
Cemetery monuments/stones 10%
County marriage licenses 5%
Federal census 0%

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!

Nathan Murphy

Nathan W. Murphy, MA, AG is a United States and Canada Research Consultant at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. He specializes in Southern United States and English family trees.

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  1. I need Missouri and Pennsylvania. Actually I found Mecklenburg in the Missouri immigrant’s declaration of intent. I don’t remember the next lead but ended up reading German church records for the birth records and finally found them. In the US I haven’t found church records with any information about them.

    “Stuttgart” is the nearest I can get for the Pennsylvania immigrant. I haven’t found any church records for him. There are two possibilities in the Germany birth records for the same name, almost the same date in the Stuttgart area.

    It would be great if this project could help with this. I wonder how long before they do Pennsylvania.

    1. You mention “Pennsylvania.” Could it be Philadelphia? My grandfather came from Germany and lived in Kensington. There is/was a German/Luthern Church there with good records but you have to go there to see them. They will not reply to mail requests. The name of the church is St. Michael’s German/Luthern Church. In the early 1900s they had a Luthern school there and the children were taught by Luthern nuns. The address is 2141 E. Cumberland St.

  2. Great project and a huge undertaking. I looked over the project website and couldn’t find any references to the timeframes of either the church books used or the limits of immigration dates. I suppose that both are pre-1900 but that is not explicitly stated. Also it is not clear how the data for ethnic Germans born outside of the German empire is handled. That would include Austria-Hungary, Russia, even Switzerland.

    1. I would contact Dr. Minert directly. Here are his contact details:

  3. Oh my goodness! an amazing article dude. Thanks Nevertheless I’m experiencing challenge with ur rss . Don? know why Unable to subscribe to it. Is there anybody getting equivalent rss problem? Anybody who is aware of kindly respond. Thnkx

  4. Do the state of Texas next. We have one of the biggest communties of german heritage. I been to some old old german Lutheran churches and they keep very very good records. We came in the back way to the USA, Galveston and New Orleans,1870- 1900. They start a many of towns,like Brenham( Blue Bell icecream),New Braunfels and Schulenburg, just to name a few. Serbin has a lutheran church museum and a Wendish and German village showing how the settlers lived back in the day, also has a genealogy libraury.
    This is the best place to start. The only trouble I have is that I can read german.I have many of stories to tell about my german heritage.
    Thanks, Sandra Tipton

  5. Thank you. Are there any US documents that might show the names of the immigrant’s parents?

  6. Pingback: Finding Your Ancestors in United States Church Records | Family's Voice