Before and After "Germans to America"Germans to America (affectionately referred to as GTA by some) is a series of books indexing German arrivals to America between 1850 and 1897. The sixty-seven-volume series is the result of a gargantuan undertaking and it is estimated that each volume contains at least 60,000 entries. Despite errors and omissions, these indexed volumes of German immigrants are a starting point for descendants of German immigrants during the approximately fifty-year time span covered by the series.
The example used in this article focuses on Germans, but most of our discussion
is relevant to those locating immigrants in any of the published indexes that
have been released in the last ten years. Genealogists are fortunate that many
passenger lists are indexed, but again a reference in one of these indexes is
the beginningnot the end.
Those with German ancestors between 1850 and 1897 often use this resource.
It is a great finding aid, but like any finding aid, using it requires care,
restraint, and common sense. There are errors, and certain individuals are most
likely omitted. However, users must remember that in many cases, the original
records are difficult to read and some have not weathered the test of time very
well. I always consider all reasonable spelling variants when using the print
form of this reference. Sometimes unreasonable variants are required also. When
the names don't match, it is necessary to compare the passenger list information
with other known information on the immigrant. And if the individual is not
in a compiled extract like Germans to America, it does not mean he is
not in the original record. It just means he is not in the compiled extract.
As part of another project, I am "re-obtaining" immigration information
on all of my children's ancestors. Since nearly three-fourths of their ancestry
came to the United States between 1845 and 1883 from five different European
countries and even more ports of departure, it is quite an undertaking. A significant
part of their ancestry appears in Germans to America.
When I went to the Davenport, Iowa, Family History Center to order microfilm
for another project, I had an extra hour and decided to locate as many references
to ancestors in Germans to America as I could. Of course, all my files
were not with me. Trying to find these people "on the fly" served
to remind me of several things that should be done before, during, and after
a search of Germans to America (or any similar series) is undertaken.
Before I turn to the index, I should:
--- Research the person fully in the United States first.
I also find it helpful to estimate how old the immigrant would have been in
each year that is being searched before I search the record. While one can always
"check" ages in a manifest to see if they are reasonable when compared
to other records or a to "known" date of birth, having a ready "cheat
sheet" can be helpful because it shows each year and the ancestor's age.
This way I can easily see if the age of a specific individual "fits"
and I can use the sheet to track which years have been searched in the books.
While ages in passenger lists can be incorrect, they are usually relatively
accuraterelative being the key word. It is the transcription or legibility
of the original document that may create larger problems.
We will look at one example: Jans Janssen.
Jans was known to have immigrated in the 1880s, specifically before his 1888
marriage to Reka Sartorius. There were several surname variants for Jans, including
Jansen, Jannssen, and Jannsen. Searching surname variants is an excellent idea,
but it will increase the number of potential matches. In this case, given the
common nature of the surname the problem was compounded. In viewing all the
entries, I noted that one of the Jans Janssens is listed right before a Teke
Janssen on a ship called the America, arriving in New York in March 1883. This
entry was particularly interesting.
Jans is known to have had a younger sister Feke and according to family lore,
the two immigrated together. Her name was in my data files on my laptop, so
I could at least check that relationship without returning home. Feke is definitely
known to have immigrated before her 1888 marriage in Illinois. An individual
transcribing the records could easily read an initial "F" as a "T."
It seemed like I had a potential match. Of course, I should continue searching
through 1888 to make certain that there are no other Jans entries that fit the
information on my known Jans.
My genealogy database on my laptop provided some additional clues. Civil registrations
and other records indicate Jans was born in November 1856 and Feke was born
in January 1862. They should have been aged 26 and 21 respectively when this
ship arrived in March 1883. Germans to America indicates this Jans' age
is 26 and this "Teke" is 20. Very close to the ages of "my"
people. It appears I have a likely match. I searched the remaining volumes through
1888 and found no other entries for a Jans (or a variant) that looked like a
potential match for my Jans.
What Is Left to Do?
Germans to America indicates that the Janssens arrived in Baltimore
on 17 March 1883 aboard the America, sailing from Bremen. I will need this information
in order to get the passenger manifests on microfilm.
Ordering Passenger Manifests
The National Archives site (www.archives.gov
) has a great deal of information on materials in their collection. In this
case, I was particularly interested in passenger lists from Baltimore (see website: www.archives.gov/publications/microfilm_catalogs/immigrant/microfilm_50_rolls_m255.html
). Based upon the information on this page, I need to view roll 37 of Passenger
Lists of Vessels Arriving at Baltimore, Md., 1820-1891,a part of National Archives
microfilm publication M255. This microfilm roll covers arrivals at Baltimore
from March 1 through August 29 of 1883. I have several options when it comes
to obtaining the microfilm.
--- Purchase from National Archives
--- Rent from National Archives
--- Branches of the National Archives and Other Large Genealogical Libraries
--- Family History Library
Which Option Is Best for You?
In later columns, we will discuss what to do when you do not find your person
in Germans to America. We'll also discuss the CD-ROM version of this
finding aid as well and let you know which source works best for which problems.
As always, read the preface or introduction before using any compiled material.
We'll also see what turned up on the 1883 manifest for Jans and Teke Janssen.
Note: There's a series II of Germans to America that begins earlier
than the series discussed in this article. Those with German ancestors immigrating
before 1850 should consider that source.
This article used by the author on his website with permission..
Other Genealogy articles by Michael John Neill