As immigration from Europe to America picked up steam in the mid- to late-nineteenth century, Hamburg was an attractive port of departure for many European emigrants, and fortunately for family historians, Hamburg departure records, 1850-1934 are available on Ancestry.com, along with handwritten indexes, which cover the years 1855-1934.
Searching and Reading German
While these lists, created in Hamburg, Germany, are in German, don't let that dissuade you. They are on printed forms and there are several translation tools out there that can help you with the headings. Search engine translators like Yahoo! Babelfish and Google Translate can be helpful. And the Ancestry.com German Research Center not only includes helpful German word lists, but also includes two sample manifests from the Hamburg lists, one from 1899 and one from 1907. Hover over the terms in the headers and you’ll see a translation appear.
Here are some of the terms you’ll find on the images.
- Zuname = surname
- Vornamen = given name
- Geschlecht = gIndirektender
- Mannlich = male
- Weiblich = female
- Alter (in Jahren) = age (in years)
- Familienstand = family status
- Verheiratet = married
- Geschieden = divorced
- Ledig = single
- Verwitwet = widowed
- Beruf = occupation
- Stellung = position
- Staatsangehörigkeit = citizenship, nationality
- Bisheriger wohnort = previous residence
- Ziel der undwanderung = destination
- Ort und staat = place and state
The Ethnicity/Nationality Field
If you plan on specifying your ancestor's nationality, you will also need to know the German name for it. Below is a short list of some nationality listings I found in the database. You'll want to consult historical maps for the time period in which your ancestor emigrated. Although my great-grandfather was Polish, his entry lists Russland because during that period, the part of Poland he was from was under Russian rule.
- Polen = Poland
- Ungarn = Hungary
- Osterreich = Austria
- Russland = Russia
- Deutschland = Germany
- Schweiz = Switzerland
- Rumanien = Romania
- Bulgarien = Bulgaria
- Serbien = Serbia
- Kroatien = Croatia
- Belgien = Belgium
- Italien = Italy
- Spainien = Spain
Using the Handwritten Indexes
Only the years 1877-1914 have been indexed so far. However, all of the images for 1850-1934 are available. If you do not find your ancestor in a search by name, or you think he or she may have arrived during the unindexed years of 1855-1877 and 1915-1934, the Handwritten Indexes, 1855-1934 can help. If you’ve found your ancestor arriving in the U.S. passenger lists check the arrival date and port of departure on that manifest to start your search.
If you’ve been unable to locate him or her in U.S. arrival records, you’ll want to have at least general idea of when your ancestor arrived. The closer you can get, the fewer images you’ll need to peruse. If he or she was still alive in 1900 (or 1910-1930 for that matter) and you’ve located him in the U.S. Census, look for the date of immigration.
The handwritten indexes are arranged by time frame, and then by the first letter of the surname. You’ll find two indexes for each time frame—direkt and indirekt. Direkt (direct) lists include those who sailed directly from Hamburg to the destination port, while indirekt (indirect) lists recorded those who sailed from Hamburg to another port, often Hull where they would take a train to Liverpool and board a different ship for the final leg of their journey. So if your German ancestor’s arrival record in the U.S. revealed that the ship departed from Liverpool, you’ll want to be browsing the indirekt indexes for the relevant time frame to locate his entry.
For example, here’s the handwritten index to the indirekt list for Josef Nohowetz from 1859.
To locate his departure record I would browse to the indirekt lists (bands) for 1859.
From there I look for page 31, which is the page number given in the index. (Note: Images typically include two pages, so you may have to play around with the Ancestry.com image number. If you cut the page number on the record in half, and jump to that Ancestry.com image number, you’ll often find yourself in the ballpark. For example, when I browse to Josef’s record, I find it on image 16, although the page number is 31.)
- When working with passenger lists, it’s always a good idea to check out your ancestor’s fellow passengers. Once you locate your ancestor, do a search for the ship name and arrival date and browse through the passengers. You might pick up collateral relatives or someone with a misspelled name this way. To narrow it down a little, add in your ancestor’s nationality.
- Try some creative searches like searching by town name. Marton Szkokan is listed with his town of origin as Hoszuszo, which is in what was formerly Hungary, or Ungarn. (It’s actually in Slovakia now.) A fresh search, using only that town name located Sandor Harsanyi from that same town. Since Harsanyi was Marton’s mother’s maiden name, this is a lead worth pursuing.
- There are also quite a few people listed with what may be a spelling variant-Hosszuszo, so just as with surnames and given names, you will want to play around with the names of locations. Check gazetteers and historical maps to see if the name of your ancestor’s town changed over the years. This was not unusual in areas where borders were redrawn over and over again.
- As with many handwritten records we have to search, reading old handwriting can present a challenge. The Research Center has examples of old German handwriting that can help you with the German script. If you’re having a tough time reading a letter or word, use the zoom and then also click on the magnifying glass to better see what it looks like. Compare letters to others on the page that may be more readable. Sometimes if you focus on just one letter at a time, what was seemingly an unreadable word or name can be deciphered.
- If you’ve been unable to locate your ancestor’s arrival record, but find them in the Hamburg Passenger Lists, make a note of the ship name, departure date, and destination. Then use that information to search records in the destination port on Ancestry.com.
Juliana Smith has been editing newsletters at Ancestry.com for more than thirteen years.
Other articles in the 28 August 2011 Weekly Discovery