18th Century German Emigration Research

By Gary T. Horlacher, 2000

This article is an expanded version of an article published in the German Genealogical Digest Vol. 12, No. 4, Winter 1996 Edition, and from a conference report at the Utah Genealogical Association (UGA) 6th Annual Conference 16-17 April 1999. It also includes case studies on the Petillon, Castater, Kilmer, Claycomb (Kleikam), and Waltz/Gentner families which have not previously been published. Hopefully bringing together all of this information into one article will be a great benefit to others who are researching 18th century origins of German Colonial Americans.

It should be noted that although this was the first mass emigration of Germans to America, the mass emigration from the latter 1800s was much more extensive and included many other parts of Germany. Researching the colonial period can seem a bit more romantic and rewarding when you are able to establish a connection. There are also more descendants in America to the families that left during this period. On the other hand, the shear numbers of people who left during the 1800s necessitate information on strategies and resources for that period. After completing this article, an article on the second and more extensive period of mass migration will be added with links to resources and research strategies available at this time.

Also, those interested in Pennsylvania Germans from the 18th century, please also refer to my proposed Palatine Project.


The first mass migration from Germany to the Americas began with the "Palatine" emigration of Germans to New York in 1709-1710. Emigration from Germany to the colonies grew until it hit its highest numbers in the period 1750-1753, with many of the North American colonies in direct competition in recruiting of Germans in Germany. Although the term "Palatine Emigration" has been applied to this migration in general, the Germans were not only from the Palatinate (Pfalz) region. They were primarily from protestant parts of central and southern Germany which had been heavily hit in the wars of the previous century. (Click thumbnail map showing areas where they primarily left from, below).

18th Century German Migration Map

This was an era of change in central and southern Germany. Many areas had been devastated during the 30 Years' War (1618-1648) and the subsequent War of Louis XIV (1688-1697). The areas hit hardest were those bordering France and along the Rhine River (Rheinland, Pfalz, Baden, Hessen, etc.). Many of these towns were partially or completely depopulated, so that new settlers were recruited to re-settle from France (Huguenots), Switzerland, and other parts of Germany.

As these villages slowly rebuilt and began to flourish again, the population quickly  rose. Within about two generations there was already an overabundance of workers. Without hope of owning land or making a good living, the stories of possibilities in America began to sound enticing! 

Although the most well known emigration was the settlements in south east Pennsylvania and Maryland, there were also large groups of Germans who came at this time to Nova Scotia (Neu Schotland), New England (Neu England: Boston, Waldoboro), New York, Virginia, Georgia, and South Carolina (Karolinas). The thumbnail image, below, shows where these centers of German emigration were in colonial North America.

German Settlement in North America

For those who are new to German research, prior to the 1800s, Germany was not a united country but made up of many kingdoms, duchies, knightly estates, margraves, etc. Each had its own laws and record keeping methods. A manumission record (described below) from Baden might be a single line entry; in Hessen an eight page document listing all of the property and who it was sold to, for how much, etc.; or might not exist for the lands ruled by the count of Kastell-Rüdenhausen family in Unterfranken (Bavaria). There are no general census records or tax lists for all of Germany. If these type of records exist they will be for the particular jurisdiction that ruled over that part of Germany in the 1700s. These sources are listed below under the second step of the research strategy. 


Although we can take different roads to get the desired result and more than one avenue will often lead to the same source, there is always a strategy and pattern to our research. To help beginners to 18th century German emigration, I suggest the following strategy. If you want to try things in a different order or go about it another way, that is okay too, however it may be helpful to understand the steps to this strategy as the same research techniques will be needed regardless of the order you follow in applying them.

    1. Find Clues

  • Survey Previous Research for Clues
  • Exhaust New World Sources for Clues

  • The Passenger List Can Contain the Best Clues

  • The Surname may contain Clues

    2. Try Published Sources
    3. Analyze and Dig Deeper

The first steps is actually four ways of identifying clues (possible brother-in-laws, aunts, friends, neighbors from Germany, etc.). If you find the same names appearing in several of these sources, make family group records for those people and see what other information you can learn about them and their emigration to America. On the second step you will look for the origins of your ancestor in the various sources mentioned there. Then try to find the origins of the other names identified as clues in these same sources. As names of towns start to show up, get an atlas of Germany and plot the location of these towns. Try to see any patterns. If several of the emigrants come from the same part of Germany, you may want to try an area search, looking in the church records from each town in that area for your ancestor. 

You will want to keep track of all the clues you find so that if the most likely leads don't work, you will come back and try the next most likely clues until you finally find the match. If two totally unrelated approaches or clues lead back to the same area or town in Germany, you will usually have a match. The chances of this happening by coincidence are very slim. If you can then find corroboration in the records of that village or region,  you can generally consider it a match.

This article will give more information about each of the above steps and then include some case study examples of how this works in real life.

STEP 1: Find Clues

Survey Previous Research for Clues

This is generally the most boring part of the process. You may want to dig in a little bit and then come back and try this after you have gotten your feet wet. Unfortunately it is an important step. As people have been doing research on these 18th century German emigrants for about 150 years, there is a good chance that some other genealogists have previously tried to identify the place of origin for your ancestor in Germany. Even if they have not been successful, they will generally have identified three or four possible clues that could be researched more extensively.

This is always something you can do while pursuing other leads. There is no reason to have to try to find everything that anyone may have ever done on your family before getting started with your own research. Keep your eyes open through all of the steps for evidence that others might have also worked on this family. You can try the following approaches:

  • Check library catalogs for libraries with a large collection of published genealogies. The Family History Library Catalog is online and the surname or keyword searches can be an easy way to see if they have any published material on this emigrant. Try other libraries in your areas such as the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the New England Genealogical and Biographical Library in Boston, the Library of Congress and DAR Library in Washington, DC, and others.
  • Check published biographical dictionaries, genealogy society journals, and general genealogical books for the area where the family settled in America. A wonderful index to genealogical periodicals (national and regional) is PERSI (Periodical Source Index) which is produced by the Allen County Public Library. It can be searched on Ancestry's site for those who have access to that site.
  • Check for queries or publish your own queries in genealogical periodicals or online. The Genealogical Helper has been a traditional place for posting general genealogical queries and local genealogical societies often also have publications where you can publish queries. The US GenWeb site also has links to many county sites which offer this as a free service. My own favorite query site on the Internet has been GenForum. Try several sites and avenues as often you will find different contacts through different methods.


A note of caution should be given here. Although previous researchers may have heavily interviewed old family memories and dug up some "family traditions" or leads, you will need to consider these cautiously. As it has been over 200 years since these people came to America, often the family traditions have become skewed over the years. Even traditions from a hundred years ago can be suspect. They are great leads to note and pay attention too, but at this point don't limit yourself or put full stock in any such clues until you have corroboration from other independent sources.

Exhaust New World Sources for Clues

You are ready to jump in, huh? The most important clues for finding the origin of your ancestor in Germany will generally be in documents pertaining to his/her first 20-40 year period in America. You will want to identify the name of your ancestor, where he/she lived, when he/she emigrated, and any sources available in the place where he first settled in America. 

The most helpful US sources to consider for this period are passenger lists, church records, tax lists, probate records and wills, petitions, lists of settlers, land records, and cemetery records. If you are not certain where your family first settled in Pennsylvania, there are a number of published tax lists, wills, and German church records for each of the counties where Germans primarily settled (Philadelphia, Mongomery, Northampton, Lehigh, Berks, Lancaster, Lebanon, Dauphin, York, and Adams). These can be wonderful sources to identify different places where your ancestor may have lived in this early period.

Whenever you find a reference in these sources, be aware that there are many more clues and information to be gleaned than just the name, date, and event of your particular ancestor. They are a source of endless other clues as you begin to dig deeper. Who were the sponsors to the family christening records? If you see the same people sponsoring all of your ancestor's children, then begin putting together family group sheets for those sponsors. Were your ancestors sponsors for their children? Can you see any patterns?

Although it would be nice to see names alphabetically, an early tax or census record that lists people in the order they were living in the community can be much more helpful. Who were the neighbors on either side of your ancestor? Take the closest 15 or so neighbors and make a list. Were any of these same people on the passenger list with your ancestor, living next door to your ancestor in another state or county, sponsors to their children, or listed next to your ancestor on a petition? 

People often came to America and settled next to others from the same towns and villages as they knew in the old country. Perhaps the neighbor that keeps showing up was a brother-in-law to your ancestor. Although you can't find your ancestor in any emigration sources, when you come back and start researching the neighbors family you may find where he was from in Germany. Then when you find his marriage record in Germany it will be obvious the connection and verify the place of origin for your own town.

You may wish to make a document log or copies of all documents available for your particular ancestor in the first years after he/she came to America. This will be a source of clues to come back to when more hopeful avenues do not provide the desired information. The more leads you can provide from analyzing these early documents in different ways, the more likely you are going to be to establish your own ancestor's place of origin.

The Passenger List Can Contain the Best Clues

Probably the number one source for clues in finding 18th century Palatine families can be found from the passenger lists. The largest collection of passenger lists from this time period is the arrival lists from the port of Philadelphia 1727-1808 published in two volumes by Ralph Beaver Strassburger and William J. Hinke (called affectionately Strassburger-Hinke) (FHL 974.8 B4pg v.42-44). There are many passenger lists available for other colonies as well such as those for Waldoboro and Nova Scotia.

Emigrants from the 18th century seldom came to America on their own. Rather they generally grouped together with others from their same villages and areas of Germany and made the entire voyage  together. They may have gone separate ways soon after arriving or may have continued their association. 

Part of the reason why they stuck together as groups was because of the recruiting that was going on in Germany. Recruiters for some of the US colonies were paid a certain amount per emigrant they could provide for their prospective colony. The competition for willing emigrants by these recruiters was intense and their means were often quite unethical. They would say almost anything to try to convince a group of people that they should change their plans and join say the New England or Nova Scotia group instead of the Pennsylvania or Carolina group they may have initially thought to join.

These recruiters would go through each village in a neighborhood and assemble a few families and individuals from each of the villages. They would then lead the entire group up the Rhine River to Rotterdam where they would be paid for their efforts.

Because of this pattern, if you can't initially find your own ancestor in available sources, you can start to find the families and individuals who traveled with your ancestor and that will most of the time lead you back to the same circle of village where you will find your ancestor. Often a ship coming into Philadelphia in the mid-1700s would have three or four continents of emigrants that may have been recruited in different areas and arrived in Rotterdam at the same time. 

After some research on the several families on the same passenger list as your ancestor, you will start to see patterns of where they were from. Not only will you be learning about where your own ancestor was from in Germany, you will also start to understand more about the entire process of emigration, who the ancestor associated with, and other insights into the times and lives of your ancestor. This can also be very rewarding discoveries.

[For a proposed project in using the passenger lists as a tool for identifying origins of Pennsylvania Germans, see the Palatine Project on this site.]

The Surname May Contain Clues

Many German surnames are fairly unique and may provide clues about the family's origin in Germany. Try to find the origin of the name. The following surname dictionaries can be particularly helpful:

  • Josef Karlmann Brechenmacher's Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Familienname (Etymological Dictionary of German Surnames), 1957. (FHL 943 D46bj)
  • Hans Bahlow's Deutsches Namenlexikon: Familien- und Vornamen nach Ursprung und Sinn erklärt, 1967 (FHL 943 D46ba). This book has been translated to English by Edda Gentry: Dictionary of German Names, 1993 (FHL 943 D46ba 1993). 
  • George Fenwick Jones: German-American Names, 1995 (FHL 973 D4j)

As many surnames changed after their arrival in America, you will want to pay particular attention to the different variations found, especially in the first years after arrival. In particular, note how the name is spelled on the passenger lists, in lists or records showing the immigrant ancestor's signature, and in the church records in America (usually initially written by German speaking scribes). More information about name changes in America will be added in another article on this site subsequently and has been published in the German Genealogical Digest by Roger Meinert (link added later).

Two types of surnames can give clues about the origin of your family:

  • Surnames that are quite unusual. These often only appear in one or two very localized areas in Germany. Examples of such names I've researched in the past include: Virohr, Unbehend, Rudauer, Aulwurm, Petillon, and Mühlhofer. Identifying where others with these surnames were found in general sources such as telephone directories, IGI, Western Europe Vital Records Index, index to German genealogy periodicals, and the index to the German Geschlechter books (these are listed in the next section in more detail). By searching various sources for any mention of these names in Germany, a pattern may be found to narrow down the possible villages to a few small areas.
  • Surnames that come from a place name. One of the most common origins of surnames were those taken from the name of a town where the original ancestor was from or associated with at the time surnames were becoming prevalent. Many of these come from very small towns and  because of the nature of feudalism the ancestors often did not stray far from these towns over the source of several centuries. For example my Horlacher family originates from a small village of Horlachen in southern Württemberg. A large number of Horlacher families all trace their origins to within about 50 miles of this small village. Other families that were researched for which this was helpful were the Birkenbeul family and the Castator family (see case study).

STEP 2: Try Published Sources

This is the most important step of the process because all of the other steps are primarily used to find leads. This is the step where you are going to search first for your ancestor, and then subsequently for all the other names and leads you have identified from the passenger list and other New World sources. 

You may wish to organize these sources into a checklist (here is one I used when researching families for clients). Check each source on your list and note the results for your surname. Many of these books also include indexes to the name of the ship the emigrant came to the New World on, making it easy to see if there were any others on the same passenger list in the source. Try going through the checklist for your own emigrant ancestor. Then try other possible relatives or friends identified previously. Then try others on the passenger list. For any unusual surnames see if you can identify from general sources a distribution pattern. 

You will have to get an atlas of Germany and continually be identifying the towns that come up and looking for patterns. When you start to see a couple patterns emerging you may be ready to try German church records from the towns in those areas looking for your ancestor.

Following is a list of sources that you will want to exhaust in looking for your immigrant ancestor and to try other names that might provide leads for finding your family. Since there are several sources, I will include them under groupings.

First, as mentioned above, if you have a name that is fairly unusual, there may be a chance to identify the area where the name appears from general sources and indexes. Even if you can't eliminate it to a specific group of villages, you may be able to narrow it down to the mostly likely province or region of Germany which you can then concentrate on more carefully.

General sources include:

  • Telephone Directories. Since the industrialization of the late 1800s, it is not as easy to see from a modern telephone directory where the name appears, however there is usually a higher density of the name in the area where it originated and if there are only 10-50 people with the name in Germany you might be able to write letters to each asking if they know where their family originated and that you are hoping your family may have come from the same area. This can provide some very good leads of areas where the family may have come from.
  • IGI (International Genealogical Index). This is a list of all the names LDS members have been submitting to a master file of births and marriages for over the last 100 years. Not only does it include submissions, but also extractions where they extracted all the names from church records of hundreds of towns in Germany. They can be a great source for possible leads. Unfortunately they have many less names for areas of Bavaria, Saxony, Hessen-Nassau, Hannover, and other areas where the Mormon church has not yet filmed the original church records. It does include a fairly complete extracts from the Palatinate region of Germany (Pfalz) from which there was a high number who emigrated. The FamilySearch Site also allows you to search other databases such as the Ancestral File and the Pedigree Resource File.
  • Western Europe Vital Records Index was just introduced a few months ago and includes additional extractions that were done by the Mormon church members from original church records. The German index includes 4.8 million christening records and nearly 1.3 million marriage records. Again they do not include areas where they have not yet filmed the records but for these other areas it may be a way of finding an ancestor that was in an area that they extracted. In particular this includes a lot of names from Baden, Württemberg, and Prussia.
  • Index to German Periodicals. There are a couple indexes to various genealogical publications, biographical dictionaries, and other books where a genealogist can try to find any references to their surname. (1) Der Schlüssel: Gesamtinhaltsverzeichnisse mit Ortsquellennachweisen für genealogische, heraldische und historische Zeitschriftenreihen (The Key: Complete Index of Contents with Source Citation for Genealogical, Heraldic, and Historical Periodicals) (FHL 943 D25sc). (2) Familiengeschichtlichequellen(Family History Sources) (FHL 943 B2fq). (3) Quellenschau für Familienforscher (Sources for the Family Researcher) (FHL 943 A3kp).
  • Index to two large series of books that published German genealogies is now available on CD-ROM from the two big German genealogy publishing companies: the Degener Verlag, and the Starke Verlag. These are (1) 250,000 Namen Gesamtregister Ahnenlisten-Kartei Deutsches Familienarchiv (250,000 Name Comprehensive index to the Genealogy Cards in the German Family Archive, produced by Degener Verlag). (2) Deutsches Geschlechterbuch, Gesamtnamenverzeichnis der Bände 1-204 (German Genealogy Books, Comprehensive Name Index to Volumes 1-204, produced by the Starke Verlag).  Also a surname index to the first 100 years of Deutschen Familienarchiv was published by Heinz Friedrich Friederichs (Gesamtsregister zum Deutschen Familienarchiv) (FHL 943 D2df) [If people are aware of links to sites where these indexes can be ordered or searched online, I would be happy to add them]
  • The Leipzig Collection (Die Ahnenstammkartei des Deutsches Folkes [The Pedigree Cards of the German People]) is a 2.7 million name collection of German pedigree charts that were submitted over a century. The main collection of pedigree charts is typed and each pedigree chart lists the surnames alphabetically. To make this accessible, the Deutsche Zentralstelle für Genealogi (German Central Place for Genealogy) in Leipzig created an alphabetical-phonetic card index to the entire collection. This collection has been filmed by the Family History Library. Below is an example of the card index for an Apollonia Horlacher (FHL Microfilm 1797736). 

    The original pedigree was the Scholl pedigree Vol. 8493 (FHL Microfilm 1807568). 

    You can use these film numbers to look up the Leipzig Collection in the Family History Library Catalog.


Emigrants in much of Germany were required to pay a tax for their release from serfdom and feudal obligations in Germany. This was called a manumission. This generally amounted to ten percent of their estate. Werner Hacker indexed these records for many of the provinces of southern Germany from which many of our ancestors came:

  • 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 943 W2eh)

Some authors have studied pockets of Germany looking for emigrants to America and created books with the names and genealogies of each of the families from these areas. Most notably Annette K. Burgert has published several books of this type:

  • Eighteenth Century Emigrants from German Speaking Lands to North America, 1983, Vol. 16 [Germans from Northern Kraichgau region of Baden-Württemberg], 1985, Vol. 19 (Germans from the western Palatinate region) (FHL 974.8 B4pgp, Vol. 16, 19)
  • Eighteenth Century Emigrants from the Nothern Alsace to America(1992), (FHL 974.8 B4pgp Vol. 26).
  • Westerwald to America by A.K. Burgert & Henry Z. Jones, 1989 (FHL 943.42 W2b).
  • Palatine Origins of Some Pennsylvania Pioneers, 2000. 


Some studies have been done on immigrant groups, extending all of the ancestors from a colony in America to their German roots. Most notably is Henry Z. Jones The Palatine Families of New York and More Palatine Families. If you are research New York colonial Germans these are a must. If you are research New England  colonial Germans, you should definitely check out my own book, Broad Bay Pioneers: 18th Century German-Speaking Settlers of Present-Day Waldoboro, Maine. If you are doing Nova Scotia research, you should be familiar with Bell's study and notes which are on microfilm at the Family History Library. 

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 sources that I particularly like include the following:

  • Emigrants from Württemberg, the Adolf Gerber Lists by Donald H. Yoder (FHL 974.8 C4fg v.10)
  • A List of German Immigrants to the American Colonies from Zweibrücken in the Palatinate, 1728-1749 by William J. Hinke (FHL 974.8 C4fg)
  • 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] by Karl Ehmann, 1977 (FHL 943 W2e)


For those who may have had Swiss emigrants, the Swiss surname book which lists all of the villages where a particular surname has citizenship rights back to 1800 would be a key source for unusual surnames. The Swiss biographical index often also has leads about places where different surnames were established in Switzerland. The following additional sources are especially for Swiss 18th century emigration:

  • Lists of Swiss Emigrants in the Eighteenth Century to the American Colonies by Albert B. Faust & Gaius M. Brumbaugh, 1925, Vol. 1: Zürich Canton 1734-1744, Vol. 2: Bern Canton 1706-1795 and Basel Canton 1734-1794 [FHL 973 W2fa]
  • Swiss Emigration Book by Cornelia Schrader-Murgenthaler, 1993 [FHL 973 W2smc]
  • A List of Eighteenth Century Emigrants from the Canton of Schaffhausen (1734-1752) by Ernst Steinemann [FHL 974.8 C4fg Vol. 16].

Many additional sources may be found in unusual places. For example a shipload of emigrants to Boston in 1751 were shown a wonderful time and then were persuaded to sign a petition concerning the good conditions in New England which was sent back to Germany to persuade others to join. Next to their names were the towns from which they originated. This petition was published in the German periodical, Hessische Familienkunde (Hessian Family Research), October 1961, Vol. 5, No. 8, pp. 435-438. (FHL 943.41 B2hf Vol.5.) Many such lists have been compiled into a few key indexes which have several miscellaneous sources and can be helpful in finding obscure sources:

  • Immigrants to the Middle Colonies by Michael Tepper, 1978 (FHL 973 W3te)
  • Cumulative Surname Soundex to German-American Genealogical Research Monographs 14-19 and 21-25 by Clifford N. Smith, 1990 (FHL 973 W2snb No. 26)
  • Pennsylvania German Immigrants, 1709-1786 by Donald H. Yoder, 1980 (FHL 974.8 F2pg)
  • The Palatine Pamphlet by Charles M. Hall, 1975 (FHL 973 W22h or 973 A1 no.105)
  • Passenger and Emigration Lists Index by P. William Filby and Paula K. Byers. (FHL 973 W32p)


Finally like the county tax, probate, and church records for Pennsylvania, there are a few regional indexes for Germany. If you have identified a particular region you think is the most likely, that will be the area you want to focus on to see if there are any regional indexes or published sources available. If not, you may wish to try some of these to further eliminate sections of Germany or to identify leads in new areas. 

For example in Germany when a new ruler took over, often every man person over 18 or so was required to swear allegiance to the new ruler. These records are called Oaths of Allegiance. By searching the 1709 published oaths of allegiance for the Margravite of Baden-Durlach (Einwohnerbuch der Margrafschaft Baden-Durlach im Jahre 1709, by Hermann Jacob, 1935, FHL film 1183617) you can identify all of the towns in this region where your surname appears or eliminate this area of the surname does not appear there at all. Another ruler was installed in this region in 1738 and a list of those swearing allegiance to him are found in the regional archives in Karlsruhe. Other such lists for some areas that had high numbers of emigrants include the following:

  • Untertanenverzeichnisse der Kürpfälzischen Oberamtes Alzey(Register of Citizens of the Electorial Palatinate District of Alzey). 1494, 1576, 1698 by Rolf Kilian, Franz Neumer, and Oskar Poller, 1995 (FHL 943.43 B4sb v.1)
  • Pfälzische Untertanen-, Huldigungs- und Musterungslisten aus den Jahren 1587 - 1609 - 1612 - 1624 - 1731 - 1776 (Palatine Citizens, Oaths of Allegiance, and Muster Rolls for the Years 1587, 1609, 1612, 1624, 1731, and 1776) by Günther F. Anthes, 1981 (FHL  943.43 B4sb no. 9).
  • Untertanenlisten des Herzogtums Pfalz-Zweibrücken aus den Huldigungsprotokollen des Jahres 1776 (List of Citizens of the Palatinate-Zweibrücken Duchy from the Oath of Allegiance Record of the Year 1776) by Karl Schaaff, 1977 (FHL 943.43 B4sb No.6).
  • Die Untertanen in den Amtern Kreuznach, Kirchberg, Naumburg und Koppenstein der Vorderen Grafschaft Sponheim 1652-1707 (The Citizens in the Counties Kreuznach, Kirchberg, Naumburg, and Koppenstein in the Former County of Sponheim 1652-1707).


Private genealogists also sometimes have private databases they have created of names of emigrants or sources similar to those above. Friedrich R. Wollmershäuser has specialized in researching 18th century Germans from southern Germany. Besides a wonderful card index of emigrants from several 19th century newspapers, he has indexed Oaths of Allegiance from the Duchy of Württemberg 1734, 1744, County Hessen-Darmstadt 1696-1776, Electorial Palatine 1684-1750, and the Margravite Ansbach 1729. He has also written an article on doing research18th century German emigration research (I will add a link to this article in the near future). 

Other private genealogists and archives usually specialize in 19th century emigration but may have information on some earlier emigrants from their areas (Reinhard Mayer for Bavaria, Henning Schröder for Hessen, Helmut Schmahl for Rhein-Hessen, Hannover Archive's World Expo project, etc.).

STEP 3: Analyze and Dig Deeper

Throughout this entire project you will have to continually analyze the information you are obtaining, however you will especially have to analyze what you have found after going through the second step. Without plotting the towns that you have identified on a map and getting familiar with the areas that are involved, you will not be able to see the patterns.

Generally after finishing the first step there are three or four good leads. After trying the second step with each of these leads, if you still have not found any break through or patterns, then you have to go back to the first step and dig deeper for more clues. There is an endless supply of clues. Just researching all of the names on a given passenger list could take months, but would give you a pretty accurate idea of where the emigrants were from and lead you back to the right areas of Germany to concentrate on.

I do not believe there is a family that can not been found without enough time and effort. Sometimes it is best to set the family aside for a little while and then come back to it a year later. Other times you just need to try the cycle another time or two. I can't tell how many times when I've finally found a break through that I wasn't amazed at how many other clues I was searching were legitimate leads that might have lead me back to the same conclusion eventually. 

I hope in reading this article to this point that it is obvious that even if you have found every record that exists for your ancestor, there is hope because you can go back and analyze those sources in new and different ways. You can manipulate the other names in the source looking for clues. There is the superficial layer of names and dates, and then there is the deeper level that tells us about the community, neighbors, friends, relatives, etc. It is this deeper level that will provide the clues needed to solve this problem. 

Try the most obvious, direct approach looking for your particular ancestor first, but when this doesn't work, don't quit. You may have to recreate the entire community of your emigrant ancestor, but the clues will be there right in front of you the whole time.

Is This the Right Family?

So you have found a family that matches what you know about your immigrant ancestor. How do you know this is your ancestor? Can you consider it "proven"? 

As with other difficult problem solving it takes some experience to know when you have reached the point that this point is established. If the marriage record or birth record of a child includes a note that the family left for America, or some other emigration record exists showing the date and place of origin for your ancestor, then it is not a difficult question. On the other hand, there might not be any official record of emigration or notes in the church record. In such a case how do you know "for sure" that this is your ancestor?

The answer to that question is possible, but it is also subjective. I like to pass the 2-3 witnesses rule. If I can identify at least two entirely different strategies that led me to the same result, then it is a pretty sure thing. If I can identify three different methods that all led to this result, there is no question. For example, if this is an unusual surname and only seems to be commonly found in this one part of Germany and at the same time there are at least four or five other families on the same passenger list that are from that exact same part of Germany, then it is pretty sure I've got the right family. If I then find a family by the right name living in that area who disappear from the records at the precise time when they left for America, there is little doubt this is a connection.

As a double check, if possible you should search the records of the town where they lived in Germany for 20-40 years or more subsequently to make sure that none of the members of the family who you know went to America show up later in a marriage or death record in Germany. 

Usually once you have found the right family there will be plenty of evidence to confirm your suspicions such as others on the passenger list who were associated with them in church records in Germany. These types of evidence should support your conclusions so you do not need to apologize or make excuses. You can be confident that you have the right family.


Much can be learned by seeing how this works in real life. Every case has its own particular twists and unique characteristics. By showing you five case studies that each provided a different solution, hopefully this will give you additional ideas and insights into doing 18th century immigration-emigration research.

Most of the articles listed below were written for publication but never published in any journal. The original intent of the article was slightly different than what I have here, however rather than rewrite them, for now I will just present them as they are. I think they are useful in this format. Perhaps later I will have a chance to go back over them and make them a little more uniform with each other and with this article.

Petillon Family - Pennsylvania 1751/1752. This family is a good typical case study. Many from the same passenger lists appeared to be from a certain area around the town of Winden in the Palatinate (Annette Burgert's books). This very unusual surname also appeared in several of the villages in this exact same part of Germany (IGI). Not only did the research lead us back to the right town, but the German records showed this was a French Huguenot family originally and subsequent research was able to push the family origins back almost 200 years into Northern France.



Kilmer Family - New York 1710. This family was extended through a trip back to Germany. The clue that turned out to be most useful was the surname, which was not common in Germany. Although others had presented the family as being originally Kuhlmann, Hank Jones study showed this was an error and the earliest forms of the name were actually spelled the same way as present day (Kilmer). There was only a few place in Germany where this name or its proper variations appear and one of them on a research trip to Germany proved to be the right one.



Claycomb(e)/Kleikam Family - Pennsylvania 1753. This family was perhaps the most difficult because in spite of all efforts it did not seem to fit the pattern outlined in this article of emigration and research. Finally a discovery was made which showed that the Kleikam family belonged with a group of Germans from an area other than the typical 18th century German emigration came from. This article I put together from some of the reports that were sent to the client and follow the research process that was taken in looking for this family.

Waltz-Gentner Families - New England 1752

I hope finally that this provides some ideas to those who have decided to take the challenge to find an 18th century German family into their hometowns. It is quite an adventure and well worth the effort if you enjoy this type of work. I want to just stress as a final postscript that IT CAN BE DONE! There are some families I have not yet found like the Waltz family above, but I have not given up and probably at least 80 percent or more of the cases I have really spent a lot of time on have resulted in a connection. Give it a try! It can be really exhilarating and a worthy challenge!


Gary T. Horlacher, "18th Century German Emigration Research," modified 19 Dec 2001 (Online: ProGenealogists, Inc., 2004) [originally published at Horlacher-org].


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