Getting in Touch with Your German Roots
With the popularity of genealogy TV shows, it’s no wonder that more of us are asking “Who am I?” and attempting to trace our roots back to see who our ancestors might have been. For some, the curiosity might start with a DNA test that a family member gifted you over the holidays. The idea of finding a long lost relative or even a connection to royalty lights up our imagination. In the US, when we dig at the roots of our family tree, inevitably the thread leads us to a foreign land.Approximately 45 million Americans (15%) claim German ancestry with a heavy concentration residing in the Midwest. In this region, several states have a population of 40%+ with roots that tie back to Germany… How did this happen? Looking back, there were more than seven million emigrants that departed Bremerhaven, Germany, from 1830-1974, seeking a better life in the New World. What caused so many people to leave their homes and sail across the world?
The best answers can be found at the Deutsches Auswandererhaus, also known as the German Emigration Center. This themed museum follows the story of German European emigration across the globe, right at the very harbor where the emigrant ships departed for hundreds of years. Follow the story of an emigrant, where many scenes have been recreated – the dock, passenger cabins, and even entry to Ellis Island. It’s an incredibly emotional journey that can best be described as both interactive and transformative.
After the museum tour, take the opportunity to embark on a more personal journey. Search for your own ancestors on two international databases – for free. The first database holds archived passenger lists from many ports in Germany and the USA, as well as US census information dated from 1790 onward. The second database contains nearly 3,000 passenger lists of Bremen ships that sailed in 1907/1908, 1913/1914 and 1920-1939. Although the information can vary in quality, you may be able to find more information concerning the origin or social status of the individual.
There are fewer things that mean more to us than family. The journey of mapping out a family tree can bring more questions than answers, many surprises and heartaches, and much love and pride. Why not take the whole family to Bremerhaven to search for the ancestral village together?