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Your German Migrant Ancestor

Pens at Ellis Island, Main Hall. New York Public Library. Flickr the Commons.


By Jean Wilcox Hibben, PhD.

If your ancestor was an auswanderer – one who left the area now called Germany – with a group of other like-minded individuals, he/she was an emigrant and might be found in any number of locations.

You are probably already familiar with the phenomenon of “push-pull” when it comes to emigration/immigration. North America was hardly the only option for those seeking a better life. For some, it was a “stop along the way,” giving them a chance to perhaps make some money or reunite with family before traveling on to Canada and Nova Scotia, South and Central America, the West Indies, Asia, and even Africa. All of which eventually had German settlements. Possibly, after coming to North America, some of your ancestors elected to return to one of the ports of call along the way on their initial trip. But, of course, large numbers of German immigrants populated the big cities in Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois, Wisconsin, etc. And full colonies of Germans began to populate the Southern states, such as the Carolinas and Georgia, and throughout the Appalachian territory.[1]

In 1822, a German encyclopedia explained German emigration as follows (giving us a perspective of how this phenomenon was viewed in the first quarter of the 19th Century):

It was not overpopulation alone which was the essential cause of emigration, but rather the hopelessness that conditions would ever improve, the fear that still more adversity was approaching, and the total lack of trust in the government to provide any relief.[2]

In the approximately 40 years between the 1840s and 1880s, four million Germans emigrated to America and between the 1880s and the 1920s, another four million Austro-Hungarians joined them. The former group was fleeing recession and political unrest while the latter group departed to remove themselves from poverty and oppression. [3] So between the 1840s and the first quarter of the 20th century, Germans, or those from that general area of the world, contributed the largest number of immigrants to the American economy, workforce, and military.

For researchers in North America, there is a tendency to focus on Germans who settled in specific communities in most of the earliest states as well as the ones who gravitated towards the west, many making up some of the first residents in the most western territories and states. But Germans emigrated to other locations as well and your family research may need to include some of these places to find correlating lines, the location of departure for your North American German immigrants, or even living cousins who can provide needed family information. Unfortunately, passenger departure lists have not survived as well as the lists of arriving passengers in the port of disembarkation. Hamburg has the most complete departure lists, but, many found less strict port departures, such as LeHavre, to be preferable when leaving German communities. Many traveled a great distance to avoid the “red tape” involved in emigration, leaving from locations as far away as the Netherlands (Rotterdam) and Denmark (Copenhagen).[4] If you are fortunate enough to have found your ancestor on a passenger list as an immigrant, that document should identify the port from which the ship sailed, giving you a possibility of finding your ancestor listed on a departure list, if it survived. Keep in mind that as more people departed their home country, the information on the lists, as well as the requirements for emigration, became more detailed and strict.[5]

So when did the emigrants leave? Certain events caused the exodus to occur more heavily in some time periods than in others. To understand the timeline, it helps to understand those events:

  • From 1683 to 1820: destinations were North America, England, Scotland, Ireland, Southeastern Europe, and Russia. Following the Thirty Years’ War, Germans were affected by both religious persecution and economic stress making departure look like a better alternative.[6]
  • From 1820 to 1871: destinations varied and were caused by the continued economic issues as well as agricultural and occupational hardships. The government supported the exodus, especially by the poorer class, even though many left to evade military conscription.[7]
  • From 1871 to 1914: destinations varied. The German Empire had been formed and even more of the population evacuated, especially since the process of traveling to other countries had become less costly, even though the requirements to get permission to leave were more stringent (specifically in Hamburg).[8] Likely, communication from family and friends who had already made the journey enticed those who were feeling the financial stress “at home.”
  • From 1914 to 1945: in North America because of the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924 (limiting the influx of immigrants, including Europeans) into America, numbers were reduced.[9] While this did not have an immediate effect on immigration in other countries, it did change the destinations of many Germans. The desire was to escape the political situation and for those concerned about World War I many sought asylum in neutral or more politically favorable countries.[10]


**Excerpted from the course Germans Outside of Germany by Jean Wilcox Hibben, PhD.

[1] Marianne S. Wokeck, Trade in Strangers: The Beginnings of Mass Migration to North America, University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State Univ. Press, 1999, pp. 221-230.

[2] Allgemeinen Deutschen Real-Encyclopädie, as quoted in Sigrid Kiedel, Bremerhaven: Die Stadt am Meer, Edition Temmen, 1999 and reprinted in “Mischmasch,” Der Blumenbaum 20:4, April-May-June, 2003, p. 186.

[3] Richard L. Hooverson, “Musings and Gleanings,” Heritage Quest, May/June 2001, quoted in “America’s Melting Pot,” Der Blumenbaum, 20:4, April-May-June, 2003, p. 158

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Immigration Act of 1924,” Wikipedia ( accessed 6 June 2017).

[10] “Germany Emigration and Immigration,” FamilySearch Family History Research Wiki ( accessed 6 June 2017).

7 Reasons to Register for Research: House and Farm Histories

Bush House, Grove Hill, Clarke County, Alabama By Altairisfar – Own work, Public Domain,

By Sandy Fackler, PLCGS (student)

Have you noticed that the covers of genealogy magazines use teasers to get you to look inside them?  Titles like “Three tips to tear down your brick wall” or “Four ways to become a better genealogist.” Not to be outdone, I’m offering seven reasons for you to take Research: House and Family Histories.

Reason 1. You’ll learn architectural styles. Do you know which style has a mansard roof? Can you tell the difference between French Colonial, Southern Colonial, New England Colonial, Spanish Colonial, and Dutch Colonial? These and others are detailed in this course.

Reason 2. You’ll learn about the companies who sold mail order homes. We’ve all heard about Sears homes, but did you know other companies sold them as well? Do you know which American company sold mail order homes in Australia, England, and other countries?

Reason 3. You’ll learn which farm buildings were sold by mail and the companies that manufactured them. Do you know there are different styles of barns?

Reason 4. You’ll learn the definition of farmer was not static. How many times do you think the definition has changed between 1850 and 1974? For what purpose was it changed?

Reason 5. You’ll learn that a farm could be included in another census schedule besides agricultural. Do you know which one?  What information does an agricultural census contain?

Reason 6. You’ll learn the sources you’ll need to research and the information they contain to do a house or farm history. Do you know what an abstract of title is or how it can help in your research? Do you know what a mechanic’s lien is or if you need to check for one when you do a house history?

Reason 7. You’ll learn about centennial farms and the requirements to become one. Do they have centennial farms in your state? If you live on a farm does your farm qualify?

Whether you want to research your own house or farm, do house and farm histories for clients, or write newspaper articles about your town’s homes, Research: House and Farm Histories can add to your education and for professional genealogists, can provide the basis for another income-producing stream for your business.

Research: House and Farm Histories is a six-module intermediate level course and is required if you’re pursuing a Professional Development Certificate  from the National Institute for Genealogical Studies.  The next course begins June 4, 2018.



Sandy Fackler, PLCGS, holds certificates in American Records, Irish Records, and Methodology from the National Institute for Genealogical Studies. Her favorite source is old newspapers and she spends her free time reading and transcribing them. She is currently researching her third great uncle (a sideshow performer) and several local history stories.



Incorporating Social History Into Family History

Soldiers in formation on the grounds of Camp Sherman. NPS Photo.

Soldiers in formation on the grounds of Camp Sherman. NPS Photo.


By Sandy Fackler, PLCGS (student)

When I first started doing genealogy I collected names, dates, and places. I was a genealogist. Years later I became a family historian. Besides those names, dates and places, I wanted to know the what, when, where, and how. I needed the meat on the bones.

The transition was not a deliberate course of action. I think it started because of my paternal grandfather. He died three years before I was born. My father was raised by his maternal grandparents and he couldn’t tell me much about him. I set out to find more about my grandfather.

One of the first things I learned about him was that he was in World War I. He didn’t see active duty but he graduated from the Cooks and Bakers School at a nearby training camp. That led to information on his training at the camp.

The search was on.

I read every newspaper in the town nearest the camp from February 1917 through the end of the camp’s life plus the camp’s newspapers. I read every publication on the camp both government issued and commercial, as well as journal and magazine articles. I bought photos, negatives, letters, postcards, training materials, and maps of the camp. I even sought out  artifacts, such as teaspoons and salt & pepper souvenirs. I know all the churches and YMCAs, the locations of barracks, buildings and streets, and their names. I know about the sports and training activities. Even today, 40+ years after starting that research, I still search for information.

One of several YMCAs on the grounds of Camp Sherman. NPS Photo.

One of several YMCAs on the grounds of Camp Sherman. NPS Photo.

By doing the research on the camp, I can put together a day-by-day account of what life may have been like for my grandfather for the 141 days he was there.

What does this have to do with Social History?  Social History is defined as “the environmental history of an individual.”[i]

The National Institute for Genealogical Studies course, Research: Social History written by Barbara J. Starmanstakes you through every aspect of an individual’s life and provides the resources to do so. Each module has a case study to inspire you. Check out the topics covered by skimming the table of contents here on The National Institute’s website.

Research: Social History is offered once a quarter and the next start date is  May 7, 2018. If you have a favorite relative you want to know more about, I recommend Research: Social History. I believe if you take this course and use the resources and techniques or the case studies as examples, you can learn how to put the meat on the bones of your ancestors.  You’ll enjoy doing social history and it will be one of your favorite courses.



[i] Merriam-Webster Dictionary.  Accessed April 2, 2018


Sandy Fackler, PLCGS, holds Certificates in American Records, Irish Records, and Methodology from the National Institute for Genealogical Studies. Her favorite source is old newspapers and spends her free time reading and transcribing them. She is currently researching her third great uncle (a sideshow performer) and several local history stories.






The Most Interesting Course I’ve Taken :  Photography: Clues Pictures Hold, Editing, Digitizing and Various Projects


Carte de visite of George W. Fackler, 2nd great grandfather of Sandy Fackler. Probably taken between 25 September 1865 and 27 December 1868. Courtesy of Sandy Fackler.

Carte de visite of George W. Fackler, 2nd great grandfather of Sandy Fackler. Probably taken between 25 September 1865 and 27 December 1868. Courtesy of Sandy Fackler.

By Sandy Fackler, PLCGS. Student.


I knew little about the aspects of photography when I registered for Photography: Clues Pictures Hold, Editing, Digitizing and Various Projects in December. Now, I want to recommend this course to anyone who has a collection of old or recent photographs because I believe you’ll learn at least 3 things to help you whether it is how to digitize your photos, how to identify people through facial characteristics, or how to identify when or where a photo was taken.

While I’ve scanned photos before, I hate to admit I was unaware I could scan at different dots per inch (dpi) or that my scanner would do so. Now I plan to re-scan many of my old photos to see if I can improve the images. This course also provides tips on organizing photos on a computer so I will do that as I scan.

Cabinet card of Alonzo Hiwanda, aka George F. Day, 3rd great uncle of Sandy Fackler. The names of the gentlemen on the barrel are unknown. Date unknown but probably in 1890s. Courtesy of Sandy Fackler.

Cabinet card of Alonzo Hiwanda, aka George F. Day, 3rd great uncle of Sandy Fackler. The names of the gentlemen on the barrel are unknown. Date unknown but probably in 1890s. Courtesy of Sandy Fackler.


I’ve purchased a cabinet card and cartes de visite of my ancestors through eBay. The cabinet card and many of the CDVs are of a circus sideshow performer. I learned about backdrops and that they were individually hand-painted by local artists. Can I find other CDVs with the same background and learn where my CDVs were taken? If so, this might lead to identifying the name of the circus he performed with.

I also have a group photo of men and women possibly taken in the 1890s-1920s. No one is identified. Using information in this course I can try to narrow the time frame through their clothes, hairstyles, and by facial comparison and analysis. Each of these topics is included along with photos for comparison.

One other thing I learned that might help. If I have a photo and can’t identify the person, I might be able to find a written description of potential candidates. Descriptions are found in World War I draft cards, World War II draft registration cars, military records, newspaper articles, and criminal records.

All in all, this was one of the most interesting courses I’ve taken. I’ve learned a lot and if you take this course I believe you will too.

Photography: Clues Pictures Hold, Editing, Digitizing and Various Projects contains eight modules. You can register now for the next class which starts April 2, 2018. For more information on this course and the table of contents, see The National Institute website .

* * * * * *

Sandy Fackler, PLCGS, graduated from the National Institute for Genealogical Studies in April 2013 and holds Certificates in American Records, Irish Records, and Methodology. She is a member of the National Genealogical Society, the Ohio Genealogical Society, the Association of Professional Genealogists, and many local societies. Her favorite source is old newspapers and spends her free time reading them. She is currently researching her third great uncle (the sideshow performer), her English Quaker ancestors, and several local history stories.

New Course: Genealogy Ethical Guidelines & Standards

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

We have just released a new course that is applicable to all genealogists, Genealogy Ethical Guidelines & Standards.

Whether you are a hobby genealogist, society member, serious researcher, or a professional genealogist, ethics affect your work. Adherence to ethical standards as they apply to your research and your interactions with others should be of concern to all researchers. Genealogists are faced with diverse ethical decisions in their research including black sheep ancestors, adoption, non-paternal events, and revealing family secrets. This course begins by looking at what is ethics in genealogy, the history of genealogical ethics and then continues by exploring ethical considerations when sharing your genealogy online and in print, DNA testing, and while visiting libraries and archives. Ethical standards for professionals are also  explored including interacting with clients and the public.

Register for this course by visiting our website.

Learning About German Compiled Sources

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at


By Michele Simmons Lewis,CG,  student


Ready to continue your advanced German courses with The National Institute for Genealogical Studies? German: Compiled Sources is  available and I just completed it.

Any genealogy class will tell you that compiled sources aren’t as good as original records and we should not use them for anything more than a clue. Though this is usually the case, it is less so when dealing with German compiled sources. The author of this course, Kory Meyerink, BS, MLS, AG, FUGA, explains the pitfalls of compiled sources but also explains why German compiled sources are more reliable than their US counterparts.

I was born in Germany and I can tell you that part of the reason this is true is that Germans are a disciplined and ordered people. It is an important part of their culture. “Ordnung muss sein!” (There must be order!). They have been keeping meticulous parish and civil records for centuries. They have officially recognized lineage book collections that began publication in the mid-1800s. They have special nobility lineage books that were first published in the mid-1700s. These books are based on records that may or may not exist today. Some of these German compiled sources will be your best evidence.

Researchers in Germany, though they may not source their findings the same way as what is expected here in the US, produce lineages and biographies that are normally sound and reliable. They just can’t help themselves, it is in their DNA. What you won’t find is the copy and paste mentality that some US “researchers” have. If you investigate any of the US “tree” websites you will see this copy and paste mentality. Sources for information are simply other trees that also lack source citations. This would make the average German researcher cringe.

Why is this important?  Sometimes the original records no longer exist or they not easily accessible to the average genealogist. FamilySearch has microfilmed many German records but there are some that are only available in Germany. Some of the German archives are starting to put digital images of the records they hold online but it will be many years before these collections are anywhere close to complete.

I am very lucky to have a close working relationship with a German researcher in Germany. We work on a One-Name Study together. She happens to be a graphic designer by trade so all her genealogy is produced in a graphical format. What you won’t see are source citations in her output but if I ask her where she got a specific fact she will check her detailed notes and be able to tell me. Germans do not document the same way as we do but their research is no less credible. Does this mean that I don’t think you should document your sources in an accepted format?  Of course not. What I am saying is using a German compiled genealogy can carry more weight than a US one.

This course will show you where to look to find these German compiled genealogies. Here is an overview of what you will be covering in this six-week course.

Module 1: Collections and Databases
Module 2: Family Histories & Biographies
Module 3: Lineage Books
Module 4: Periodicals
Module 5: Biographical Sources
Module 6: Local Sources

The accompanying text by Meyerink is excellent and will help you build your German reference library.

To register for this course, see The National Institute’s website . Click here  to  learn more about the German Records Certificate.



Happy Holidays! Our Gift to You!

Image courtesy of naito8 at freedigitalphotos-net.

Image courtesy of naito8 at freedigitalphotos-net.

We have a gift for you. For one day only (24 hours) you can save:

 25% off 1 course package (maximum savings $862.50) with  code: p2017xx at checkout.

50% off 1 course (maximum savings $80.00) with code: c2017xx at checkout.

Problems registering for a course or a course package? We’re here to help!  Give us a call at   1-800-580-0165 ext 1 or email us at (Any voice mail or email received from midnight to midnight will qualify for the discount.)

Please note: Once you register and pay for the course, it will show up in the future course area of your student briefcase immediately after the payment is processed. The same is true for the course package. If they do not show up, please call or email us right away.

If finances are a little tight, call Louise at the number above and ask her about The National Institute payment plan. The Institute does not charge interest, nor service fees, and you can spread the payments over several months.

Remember! This offer is for 24 hours only.

Happy Holidays!

Tomorrow is the Reveal!

Are you ready? Tomorrow we reveal your gift!


Call for Proposals: Scottish Research Courses

256px-Flag_of_Scotland.svg (2)

The National Institute for Genealogical Studies  is looking for a course author to write a 6-8 week curriculum on Scottish Poor Relief. This intermediate level course should include, but not be limited to, the following topics:

  • Pre 1845 poor relief via churches
  • 1845 and after relief provided by the parochial boards and the Central Board for Supervision
  • Friendly societies
  • Fraternal organizations
  • Charities

This course will be for family historians searching for their Scottish ancestors. The course content will include 2 assignments per week and a final exam consisting of 25-30 questions. The course should be completed and turned in no later than 6 months from date of contract.

The course author must have a comprehensive knowledge of the topic. All source citations for text and images must conform to the standards found in Evidence Explained. Course is to be submitted in Microsoft Word and be proofread. Formatting of the course will be done by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies.

To submit an outline for consideration or to inquire about this opportunity, please email The successful applicant will receive a retainer to write the course upon acceptance of course outline and then final payment within 30 days of completion and approval of the course. We are also interested in proposals for other Scottish genealogy courses to include Church Records, Court Records, Occupations, Immigration, and Tax Records.


The National Institute for Genealogical Studies, leaders in online genealogy education, has been offering genealogy and history courses for over 19 years. We offer over 200 courses in genealogical studies to help enhance researcher’s skills.

For those looking to acquire more formal educational training, The National Institute offers Certificate Programs in the records of Australia, Canada, England, Germany, Ireland, Scotland and the United States, as well as a General Methodology, Professional Development and Librarianship Certificate Program.  For more information please call us toll-free in North America at 1-800-580-0165 or email us at

We Want YOU! For The National Institute Blog

Uncle Sam

What’s your favorite National Institute course? What must-have resource did you read about in a course? Did you have an “a-ha” moment that has made all the difference in your research? What’s the one course that everyone should take?

We’re looking for students interested in writing a short article about a course for The National Institute’s Blog.

Your article should:

  • Be about 350-500 words
  • Include an image that helps to illustrate your post (we can help with that)
  • Provide information about the course and your thoughts

Students have written great blog posts for The National Institute. Some examples include:


If your blog post is used, you will receive 50% off your next course. That’s right, 50% off!

Interested? Let us know at .


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