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From the Ancestry Daily News  

  Michael John Neill – 8/22/2000

My Ancestor Went Home Again, Part 2

Part I of this series focused on the search for my ancestor's return visit to Germany. Fortunately, I was able to locate him on a manifest. But the experience brought home some lessons we should all keep in mind.

The Prince Friedrich Wilhelm sailed from Bremen on 24 Sept 1910, with Focke[sic] Goldenstein aboard. He was 52 years old, a male farmer, and a citizen of the United States with a last permanent residence of Holtrop, Germany (actually where he was visiting). He listed no friend or relative living in Germany, but did indicate that his destination was Golden, Illinois.

Much to my surprise, there were others traveling with Foche—his brother Tonjes and Tonjes' wife Amalie. They had immigrated years earlier and apparently made the return trip with Foche in 1910 to visit family members.

Manifest lists do not usually list which individuals were traveling companions, but in viewing the list, I noted that the next two individuals in the register also listed Holtrop as their last permanent residence. They were Johann Wachtendorf (age 24) and Meint Fruhling (age 25). The Wachtendorf surname was familiar to me from my childhood, and I immediately recognized it. From the handwriting, the name could easily have been misread as Nachtendorf, which could have created problems for someone searching the index (Soundex) that is used as a finding aid to these records. A "W" being misread as an "N" will create a different Soundex code for the surname. Some misreadings do not cause Soundex difficulties, but this one does. Any transcriber unfamiliar with the family could honestly read the name in this fashion and index it accordingly.

Lesson: Misreadings can create indexing problems.

Interestingly, my grandparents know a granddaughter of Johann, and I've sent them a copy of the manifest that includes her grandfather's name. It's an example of chain migration in action. Chain migration is when one or more individuals from a family or community emigrates first, establishes themselves, and then sends for others from home. In this case, Focke returned with "new" immigrants nearly 30 years after he immigrated.

Lesson: Chain migration might have taken place over several decades.

The manifest lists Johann's mother, Gretje Buss from Holtrop, Ostfriesland, Germany, as his nearest relative. The word "mother" is used. From other records it is clear that Gretje is his stepmother, not his mother.

Lesson: The genealogist cares about details that most likely did not interest the creator of the manifest.

Focke's 1910 return trip was not the only ancestral immigration I was able to locate during my recent trip to the Allen County Public Library. Ulke Bruns and his wife Trientje appear as numbers 360 and 361 on the Hansa, which arrived in New York in 1869. One might be tempted to think they had no children with them, as none are listed directly before or after their names. However, entries 381-386 are their children (I know this from information found in other records); entry 389 is a Wilke Bruns, and 388 is a 70-year-old Nanke Albers. In this case all these individuals are listed with a last residence of Wiesens—a clue. Of course, all of the people with the surname of Bruns who are also from Wiesens likely have a connection. It turns out that Wilke is the children's uncle, a brother of their father.

Lesson: The family members may not appear together on the manifest.

And what of 70-year-old Nanke Albers? It's unusual for a woman of that age to immigrate by herself, and "older" individuals listed near your ancestor on the manifest should at least be copied down for further investigation. In this case, Nanke was the mother-in-law of Ulke Bruns! That kind of connection will not always happen, but paying attention to any older immigrants along with your ancestor may result in new leads. Ulke (actually Ubbe) is an uncle, not even an ancestor, but his mother immigrated with him, instead of my ancestor (his sister Marie) who came in 1868.

Lesson: Note older relatives who are also from your ancestors' place of origin to see if they are possibly related.

In these ancestors' cases, the Germans to America series (which many use to locate immigration information on their German emigrants) does not include the village of origin. But in some cases, the passenger lists do. The series has its critics, however—any compilation of its size (it covers 1850-93) is bound to have omissions and errors. Personally, I use the series to locate whomever I can and then obtain the original records on microfilm from the National Archives. Germans to America saves me time that I can later spend focusing on those individuals I can’t find in the series. There are sites that contain more information on these volumes.

Lesson: The original passenger lists may contain information that is not contained in published abstracts.

Even younger individuals listed on adjacent lines may be relatives. The family of Rolf and Christina Habben sailed on the Bremen, landing in New York in 1868. Rolf, Christ.[sic], Marie, Habbe, and Henr.[sic] are listed, apparently as a family unit—they do have the same surname. The next individual listed is Antje Ulfkes[sic], a 25-year old, also from "Germany" (this list does not provide last village of residence, and not all lists do). It turns out that Antje is Christina's sister. Researchers of the Habben family who only copy the Habbens will miss a potential relative (Antje Ufkes). Researchers of Antje will miss a potential clue if they only copy her entry and none of those around her. It's always wise to copy more than simply your ancestor and his or her known family's listing.

When copies had to be handwritten, it was understandable why researchers only copied what they "needed" to. Today, with microfilm printers, copying the complete page (and perhaps the page before and the page after—or even the entire ship!) is not a serious time concern. These "surrounding" entries may later provide additional clues. When new information is located about your ancestor, recheck those passenger list pages; you might notice more relatives on the boat than you think.

Lesson: Copying ONLY your ancestor's entry may cause you to overlook relatives or acquaintances who also immigrated.

Michael John Neill, is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at or visit his Web site.

© Copyright 2000,, used with permission.

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