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Emigration - Ports
by Dieter Garling

Flag of Mecklenburg H

I received the following address in Hamburg to ask for emigrated people. I have no experiences with them:

Tourismus Zentrale Hamburg GmbH
Historic Emigration
z. H. Frau Elisabeth Sroka
P.O. Box 102249
D-20015 Hamburg

Mail me, if you have experiences with this address.

by Raymond S. Wright III, Ph.D., AG
taken from: Ancestry; March / April 1998, Vol. 16 / No. 2; pp. 50 - 54

GERMAN PORTS: Gateways To America

The majority of emigrants to America from central and central-eastern Europe passed through the ports of Bremen and Hamburg. German port records specified emigrants' birthplaces or residences, facts often missing in passenger lists filed at American ports of entry. A knowledge of German port records is essential for family historians in search of emigrant ancestors from areas that fell under the German, Austrian, and Russian empires of the past.

It was not until 1830 that the trickle of emigration from Germany began to increase dramatically. Before that date, almost all German emigrants embarked for America from Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Antwerp, or Le Havre. The constitution of the German Confederation (1815) guaranteed citizens of all German states freedom of movement, including emigration to other countries. Germans could not, however, simply pack up and leave. They were required 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. The resulting records provide modern family historians with important facts about their immigrant ancestors. This article focuses on records created in the German ports of Hamburg and Bremen.


With 1.7 million inhabitants (as of 1996) and massive port facilities that handle about 11,000 ships annually (Statistisches Landesamt Hamburg Web site: http://www.hamburg.de), Hamburg is Germany's largest port. The city is not on a sea coast, but on the banks of one of Europe's major rivers, the Elbe, sixty-eight miles south of Cuxhaven, 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. Hamburg played a key role in Bismarck's plan to make Germany the foremost industrial power in Europe. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the city's wharfs berthed ships that plied all of the oceans of the world, especially ships that carried products to and from the New World. Hamburg has a long history of independence and is today an independent city-state in the Federal Republic of Germany. Until about 1850, few emigrants traveled to new homelands via Hamburg. Rotterdam, Antwerp, Le Havre, and Bremen / Bremerhaven were the busiest emigrant embarkation points.

Passenger Lists

Prior to 1845, Hamburg city ordinances discouraged shipping companies from soliciting emigrants bound for foreign countries (J.M. Lappenberg, Sammlung der Verordnungen der freien und Hanse-Stadt Hamburg seit 1814, vol. xi, Hamburg: Johann August Mei$szlig;ner, 1832-, p. 104; vol. xv, p. 110; vol. xix, pp. 42-48). Legislation by the city council beginning in 1845 set up an administrative system that, by 1848, was producing passenger lists and passport registers that documented most emigrants embarking for other countries from Hamburg (Lappenberg, vol. xx, p. 253). The earliest surviving passenger lists begin in 1850 and span the years to 1934. 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.

Passport Applications

Hamburg passport applications cover the years 1851 to 1929, and each volume of applications contains an index. Those applying for passports in Hamburg - including 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 passenger lists and passport applications are available on microfilm at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City or one of its many branches, 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".

Residence and Citizenship Records

Many emigrants arrived in Hamburg with their ship's ticket in or near their hometowns. Others arrived without a ticket, hoping to earn enough money in this huge 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" is the topic in the Family History Library Catalog under which microfilmed citizenship applications from Hamburg are found. Each applicant was required to prodice documents from his or her hometown documenting birth, occupation, and status before arriving in Hamburg. These are the records available on microfilm in the Family History Library and its LDS family history centers. The documents in the collection bear the title Heimatprotokolle (Records of Personal Origin) and cover the years 1826-1864.

Additional Records

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, some 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.

Embarkation for America

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, with a combined population of 683,096 (as of 1993), and carry much less traffic than the port on the Elbe. In past years, however, Bremen and Bremerhaven consistently outperformed Hamburg as emigrant embarkation ports. A survey of several volumes (1, 13, 24, and 35) of Germans to America (Ira Glazier and P. WIlliam Filby, eds., Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1988-) for the years 1850-51, 1859-60, 1870, and 1880 shows 38% of the emigrant ships arriving at Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports of North America were from Bremen / Bremerhaven. Hamburg accounted for only about seventeen percent of ships' arrivals, nearly the same as Liverpool (sixteen percent), and was only six percent ahead of the French port of Le Havre (eleven percent). Over eighty percent of the ships arriving with German immigrants on board during the years surveyed came from these four ports. Peter Marschalck, author of an inventory of emigration records in Bremen archives, concluded that during the past two centuries, over seven million individuals emigrated through the ports of Bremen / Bremerhaven, about ninety percent of them to homes in the United States (Peter Marschalck, Inventar der Quellen zur Geschichte der Wanderungen, Besonders der Auswanderung, in Bremer Archiven, Bremen: Selbstverlag des Staatsarchivs der freien und Hansestadt Bremen, 1986, pp. 15, 49). The same author's charts show that about fifty percent of these emigrants - 3.5 million - were from German states that in 1871 became united as the German Empire. According to the Dictionary of American Immigration History (Francesco Cordasco, ed., Methuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1990, p. 242), "Between 1820 and 1980 ... nearly seven million Germans have immigrated to the United States (fifteen percent of all U.S. immigrants during the period), more than from any other country." Dr. Marschalk's figures cover only the period 1832 - 1958 (Inventar, pp. 47, 51), and yet it is clear from these figures and Cordesco's statement that probably half of the German emigrants to America embarked from Bremen / Bremerhaven.

Passenger Lists

The city council of Bremen 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 (Inventar p.10). Passenger lists for 1921-1939 are available at the Handelskammer Archiv in Bremen (Haus Schutting, Am Markt 13, 28195 Bremen). They are not indexed, but archives staff will search them upon request. 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 as they are listed in passenger lists filed at Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports. Near the end of the nineteenth century, the number of Germans emigrating through Bremen / Bremerhaven declined and the number of Russians, Poles, and other Slavic groups increased. Among them were the socalled "Germans from Russia," descendants of German emigrants who founded ethnic German colonies along the lower Volga and northern shores of the Black Sea, initially at the invitation of Empress Catherine the Great (herself a German). Many of these emigrants will be found in the new series from Ira Glazier, Migration from the Russian Empire: Lists of Passengers Arriving at the Port of New York (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1995-).

Other Record Sources

The city archives of both Bremen and Bremerhaven house records that help fill the gap created by the loss of the passenger lists. Unfortunately, the Family History Library has few of these records. Family historians 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. The Bremen State Archives - Staatsarchiv der freien Hansestadt Bremen (Am Staatsarchiv 1, 20203 Bremen, Germany) - has duplicates of passenger lists from several ships involved in court cases. 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 passenger list for a desired ship still exists. Providing the same information to the Deutsches Schiffahrtsmuseum (Hans Scharoun-Platz 1, 27568 Bremerhaven, Germany) 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; 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.

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.

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 - Seestadt Bremerhaven Stadtarchiv (Postfach 21 03 60, 27524 Bremerhaven, Germany) - 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.

Raymond S. Wright III is a professor at Brigham Young University, where he teaches genealogical research methods, European family history, and German and Latin paleography. He writes regularly for a variety of genealogy publications and gives conference lectures. Professor Wright is the author of The Genealogist's Handbook (Chicago: American Library Association, 1995).

Design & Production: Carol Goshman Bowen, Dieter G. H. Garling info@eMecklenburg.de