After 1830, the majority of emigrants to America from central and central-eastern Europe passed through the ports of Bremen and Hamburg. (Before 1830, almost all German emigrants embarked for America from Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Antwerp, or Le Havre.) As a general rule, most Mecklenburgers left from the port of Hamburg, while most Pommeranians left from the port of Bremen.
Before they could emigrate, Mecklenburgers and other Germans were supposed to seek release from citizenship in their homeland. This practice helped officials identify those who might be leaving with unfulfilled military or other obligations. To further assist the police in all German states in identifying those who were leaving, port authorities were required to identify all passengers departing from their ports for foreign destinations. German port records specified emigrants' birthplaces or residences. These records provide important information about immigrant ancestors.
Mecklenburg Emigration Records
The emigration records for Mecklenburg-Schwerin can be found at:
This archive contains permissions to emigrate (Auswanderungskonsensakten) for Mecklenburg-Schwerin for the periods 1826-1861 (index only; the originals were destroyed by fire in 1865) and 1862-1914 (originals and indexes). The original documents (release documents) show the name of each person, their age, birth date, and birth place. The index normally shows surname, profession, village and record number. These records only exist for those emigrants who officially asked permission to leave. Many did not ask permission for various reasons, and therefore all emigrants will not be found in these lists.
Mecklenburg-Strelitz: Surviving lists of emigrants for Mecklenburg-Strelitz begin in 1863. Axel Lubinski (Danziger Strasse 31, D-18107 Rostock, Germany), a university researcher, has compiled information on 17,000 emigrants from Mecklenburg-Strelitz for the period 1847-1893.
To find an ancestor, you must first look in a multivolume index sorted by years. Within each volume (Alphabetisches Register) the people are sorted alphabetically. For every family who asked for permission to emigrate, there is one entry with surname, profession, town/village and a record number. Once you have the volume number of the register and the record number, you can ask for the original document in the archive.
Hamburg Emigration Records
With 1.7 million inhabitants (as of 1996) and massive port facilities that handle about 11,000 ships annually, Hamburg today is Germany's largest port. The city is not on a sea coast at all, but is on the banks of the Elbe, one of Europe's major rivers, sixty-eight miles south of where the Elbe flows into the North Sea. Hamburg was a key city in the medieval German Hansa, a trading union that linked central and eastern European cities for their mutual protection and benefit. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the city's wharfs handled ships from all the oceans of the world, especially ships that carried products to and from the New World. Prior to 1845, Hamburg city ordinances discouraged shipping companies from soliciting emigrants bound for foreign countries. Hamburg today is an independent city-state in the Federal Republic of Germany.
Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934
Lists of passengers on vessels sailing from Hamburg between 1850 and 1934 survive in the Hamburg State Archive [Staatsarchiv]. The Family History Library in Salt Lake City has 486 reels of microfilm which are copies of these lists. These microfilm reels can be borrowed and viewed at any LDS (Mormon) Family History Center. The post-1854 lists are indexed, but the 1850-1855 lists provide an alphabetical listing of passengers for each year. After 1855, two types of passenger lists were kept: indirect lists for emigrants sailing to other European ports to board ships for their destination countries; and direct lists for those sailing aboard ships leaving Hamburg that carried passengers to their final destination in another country.
Direct Lists cover the periods from 1850 to 1914 and from 1920 to 1934; there was no emigration through Hamburg during World War I. The lists for 1850-1855 are arranged alphabetically by the first letter of the surname of the head of household, then chronologically by the date the vessel left Hamburg. From 1855, the lists are arranged chronologically by the date the vessel left Hamburg. The volume of extracts for January-June 1853 has been missing since at least the 1920s.
Indirect Lists cover the period from 1854-1910; the names of such passengers for 1850-1854 and from 1911 onwards are included in the Direct Lists.
A research outline for The Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934 is available on the web. Go to How to Use the Hamburg Passenger Lists. This outline gives a step by step approach as well as samples of what is available.
Lists of the Family History Center film numbers for these passenger lists can be found on the Internet. Go to Film Numbers for Hamburg Passenger Lists
Indexes. An index of the Hamburg Emigration Lists beginning with the emigration year 1890 will soon be available on the Internet. The first phase will include the data on emigrants from 1890 to 1914. At a later date the years 1850 to 1934 will be available as well. Researchers who know or think that their ancestors emigrated via Hamburg will be able to find out for sure on the Internet. The 1890-1893 lists have all ready been compiled and from now on another year will be added every month. The database for the first few years should be available to search on the Net by the end of 1999. By 2003 all the lists with the names of around five million emigrants who left Hamburg from 1850 to 1934 will be accessible via the Internet. Once the project is done and you have found the name you are looking for, you will be able to obtain complete details (where they came from, profession, age, etc.) for a fixed charge. If you believe that any of your ancestors left Hamburg during the years mentioned, you will want to keep an eye on the Links To Your Roots - English site.
The decision to complete the indexes for 1890 to 1914 first stems from the fact that the lists covering the period 1850-1890 have already been done (although with many errors) by Glazier/Filby in their books entitled "Germans to America." Also, more emigrants passed through Hamburg during the period of 1890-1914. For more information on this project go to Statistisches Landesamt Hamburg Web site.
Until the lists are up on the internet, you can write to the Historic Emigration Office in Hamburg. They can handle your request by searching the microfilms. The more details you have (year of emigration, birth or wedding certificates etc.), the better the chance that they can find your ancestors. Write to:
Historic Emigration Office
Send a check for US $75. The fee is the same whether or not the search is successful. A search may take up to three months to complete. Requests are processed in order of arrival.
Germans To America: Lists of Passengers Arriving at U.S. Ports, actually goes through May 1891. For the years 1850 through 1855, the selection criteria were limited to German passengers on ships that were at least 80% German. Then the editors changed the selection criteria (60%), and from 1856 on any German on any ship arriving at the ports they transcribed was to be included. The editors did not require the passengers to be "from Germany," and included Germans from France, Switzerland, and Luxembourg, although not from Austria, Alsace-Lorraine, or Russia, which also had significant German populations. The journal "The German Connection" is transcribing the "missing" Germans from that 1850-1855 period, and has gotten to July 1850 so far.
"Germans To America" transcribes passenger lists only from the five major ports of U.S. immigration: New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, and New Orleans. The minor ports are excluded, such as Galveston, Texas, which for a period in the 1850s had more German immigrants than some of the major ports.
"Germans to America" is one of the main sources to check for your emigrant ancestors. For more information about the indexes of 1850-1890 and "Germans to America", go to:
Another source that may be of use are the Reisepaß-Protokolle, 1851-1929, passport documents maintained by the Hamburg Allgemeines Polizeiliches Meldeamt, and held by the Staatsarchiv Hamburg, also available through the Family History Library. Each volume of applications contains an index. Those applying for passports in Hamburg included many emigrants who came to the city to earn money for their passage and persons who, for some reason, arrived in Hamburg without a passport that would provide clearance for leaving the port. Male emigrants, for example, were required to have papers certifying that they were not eligible for (or had fulfilled) the required military service in their homeland. The passport applications are available on microfilm at the LDS Family History Centers. They can be found by looking in the Family History Library Catalog under the locality "Hamburg" and the topic "Emigration and Immigration". The Family History Center Catalog can now be found on the Internet. Go to Family History Center Catalog.
Residence and Citizenship Records
Many emigrants arrived in Hamburg with their ship's ticket purchased in or near their hometowns. Others arrived without a ticket, hoping to earn enough money in the city to pay for their passage. Prospective emigrants planning to work in Hamburg were required to register with the police. Some of these persons may have actually applied to become citizens of Hamburg in order to enhance their ability to practice a trade. The Family History Library houses microfilm collections of residence permits and citizenship applications. Both records are indexed. Meldeprotokolle (residence registrations) can be found in the Family History Library Catalog under the locality "Hamburg" and the topic "Occupations". The applications are divided into categories based on the position of the applicant: Arbeiter und Dienstboten (Laborers and Servants) 1843-1890; Gesellen (Journeymen) 1850-1867; Gesinde (Household Servants / Employees) 1834-1843; and Handwerker und Fabrikarbeiter (Tradesmen and Factory Workers) 1837-1868. Citizenship applications from Hamburg can be found in the Family History Library Catalog under "Hamburg" and "Citizenship." Each applicant was required to produce documents from his or her hometown documenting birth, occupation, and status before arriving in Hamburg. These records are available on microfilm. The documents in the collection bear the title Heimatprotokolle (Records of Personal Origin) and cover the years 1826-1864.
Passenger lists, passport records, Meldeprotokolle, and Heimatprotokolle normally provide an individual's name, birthdate, birthplace, and occupation. Many additional records, not available outside of Hamburg's state archives (Staatsarchiv Hamburg, ABC Strasse 19a, 10354 Hamburg, Germany), provide information about persons who lived in Hamburg before emigrating to the United States. The careful researcher who uses the inventory available from the State Archives of Hamburg (Paul Flamme, Peter Gabrielsson, and Klaus - Joachim Lorenzen - Schmidt, Kommentierte Uebersicht ueber die Bestaende des Staatsarchivs der Freien und Hansestadt Hamburg, Hamburg: Verlag Verein fuer Hamburgische Geschichte, 1995) can disover additional records and order copies of documents that may contain information about emigrant ancestors. Probably the most valuable records to examine fall under the category of Meldewesen (Registration of Residents). Both the citizenship and residence registration records just discussed come from this segment of the collections in the state archives.
Bremen is similar to its rival port of Hamburg in a number of ways: it was founded in the ninth century; it was an important member of the Hansa and it's an independent city-state today; it served as the embarkation point for millions of emigrants from central and eastern Europe bound for America; and it's on the banks of a large river that flows into the North Sea. The city is on the banks of the Weser river, sixty miles southwest of Hamburg and about thirty miles south of its daughter city, Bremerhaven at the mouth of the Weser. As silt on the bed of the Weser began to reduce access to Bremen's docks, the mayor and senate of Bremen purchased land near the mouth of the river from the King of Hannover in 1825 for a new port for Bremen's ships and merchants. By 1830 the newly constructed harbor, Bremerhaven ("Bremen's harbor"), was ready to receive its first customer, the American schooner Draper.
Bremerhaven soon became the embarkation point for most emigrants leaving Germany through Bremen. Although a massive re-routing of the Weser above Bremerhaven eventually solved the problem of accumulating silt, Bremerhaven remained the busiest emigrant port in Germany. The ports of Bremen and Bremerhaven today are much smaller than the port of Hamburg and carry much less traffic. In past years, however, Bremen and Bremerhaven consistently outperformed Hamburg as emigrant embarkation ports.
The city council of Bremen passed ordinances in 1832 that required companies transporting emigrants to file a list of all passengers with the city's emigration department. These contained emigrants' names, ages, occupations, and places of origin. Between 1875 and 1909, the passenger lists dating from 1832 were destroyed by city archivists for lack of storage space, and the lists covering emigration during the years 1910-1920 were destroyed during Allied bombing raids on Bremen during the Second World War.
Passenger lists for 1921-1939 are available. They are not indexed, but archives staff will search them upon request. You can request them at:
Other records can be used as substitutes for the missing passenger lists. Some Bremen / Bremerhaven ships turned in copies of the detailed lists prepared for officials in Bremen to U.S. officials at the port of debarkation. Gary Zimmerman and Marion Wolfert have indexed Bremen/Bremerhaven passenger lists turned in at New York in their four-volume work "Lists of Passengers Bound from Bremen to New York, 1847-67, with Places of Origin", (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1985-88). "Germans to America" also provides places of origin if they are listed in passenger lists filed at Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports upon arrival. (Most of the time, this was not the case.)
Other Record Sources
The city archives of both Bremen and Bremerhaven have records that may help fill the gap created by the loss of the passenger lists. Unfortunately, the Family History Library does not have copies of many of these records. Genealogists can write to archives in Bremen and Bremerhaven to obtain copies of records about their ancestors. If researchers have found ancestors recorded in passenger lists registered at U.S. ports, for example, the date of arrival and the name of the ship will help them find more facts about their ancestors and the nature of their voyages in records available in Bremen and Bremerhaven. A researcher could supply the name of the ship and the date of its arrival to the archive's staff with the request that a search of the archives' inventory be made to determine if a duplicate passenger list for a desired ship still exists. The Bremen State Archives address is:
- Staatsarchiv der freien Hansestadt Bremen
Another important collection of records in the city archives of Bremen is Entlassungen von Bewohnern des Landgebiets aus dem bremischen Staatsverbund wegen Auswanderung 1854-1906 (Register Number 4, 17-33.D.8). These are records releasing inhabitants of the Bremen region from citizenship and granting them permission to emigrate. Among them are the actual applications for release from citizenship. These files may contain information about applicants' places of origin and the names and ages of other family members. You can write for information to:
They have an alphabetical list of those who emigrated and, if found, will supply you with age, occupation, port of departure from Germany, date of arrival in New York or other cities, and the name of the vessel they came over on.
Providing the name of the ship and its date of arrival to the following address:
may turn up the ship's log for the voyage that brought ancestors to America. This maritime museum depicts and preserves the history of German shipping from the Middle Ages to the present. Among its collections are ships' logs, photographs, and plans of German emigrant ships.
If ancestors were born or died on board an emigrant ship, the Bremen Seemannsamt maintained records which may be helpful - they recorded births and deaths aboard Bremen ships. These manuscripts are preserved in the Bremen State Archives (see address above); entries often list the place of origin of children's parents or of deceased persons: Archives' Register Number 4,24 - D.5 contains births for the years 1868-1883 and 1903-1911; Register Number 4,24-D.6 covers certificates of birth and death received from 1875-1935 and 1936-1941 (but only for names beginning with H, K, and V); Register Number 4,24-D.7 contains deaths for 1834-1875; Register Number 4,24-D.8 has deaths for 1834-1937; after 1850 these volumes are the index to the death protocols found in 4,24-D.9 (1850-1937) and death entries from ships' logs found in 4,24-D.12 (1876-1941).
If ancestors worked their way to America as crew members, the Seemannsamt should be checked as well - they also maintained copies of crew lists for Bremen ships that often include a person's place of birth. Researchers writing to the city archives for information about births, deaths, or service as crew members should provide the names of persons sought and the dates of birth or death or service, if they are known.
These are only examples of the many records that recorded emigrants who passed through Bremen or lived and worked there for a time before leaving for the United States. The best means of learning about all of these records is to study Dr. Marschalck's "Inventar der Quellen zur Geschichte der Wanderungen, besonders der Auswanderung, in Bremer Archiven." The book is still in print and is available from the Staatsarchiv Bremen.
The Bremerhaven City Archives also preserves records that may identify ancestors who emigrated from Bremen / Bremerhaven. Perhaps the most important are records listed in the archives' inventory under the heading Meldewesen. Many of them are indexed and were begun in the decade 1850-1860 and recorded persons living in the area as late as 1920-1930. These are records of persons moving into or away from Bremerhaven and its environs. If ancestors stayed in the Bremerhaven area to earn money toward their passage, or to wait an extended time for space to become available on a ship, they may have been registered. Archives' staff will search the indexes for names of ancestors who may have emigrated through Bremen / Bremerhaven. Researchers should supply the emigrant ancestor's name and approximate date of departure. If more information is known - family members, occupation, etc. - these facts should also be included in the request for a search of the archives' indexes. The address is:
Seestadt Bremerhaven Stadtarchiv
Using the National Archives
Michael Palmer of Claremont, California, provides this most efficient way to determine precisely when, and on what vessel, your grandparents arrived in America.
Additional Passenger ship information can be found online at:
This page contains material compiled from the article entitled LIBRARY & ARCHIVE SOURCES by Raymond S. Wright III, Ph.D., AG taken from: Ancestry; March / April 1998, Vol. 16 / No. 2; pp. 50 - 54 as well as information from Michael Palmer's work on emigration sources and other web sites as listed.