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Published Passenger Lists:
A Review of German Immigrants
Germans to America, Volumes 1-9 (1850-1855)

Michael P. Palmer


Table of contents:


Lacunae in Germans to America, 2: Selection Criteria.

As Professor Glazier states in his introduction to volume 1, GTA includes only those lists containing a minimum of 80 percent German surnames [note 21].. This requirement in fact consists of two separate criteria: (1) the ethnic affiliation of each passenger as indicated by his/her surname, and (2) the percentage of passengers of a specific ethnic affiliation (viz., German) a ship passenger manifest must contain to qualify for publication.

1. Ethnic Affiliation.

The choice of ethnic affiliation rather than nationality as a selection criterion is almost certainly the result of the editors' intention to expand the subject of GTA beyond German nationals (viz., citizens of the various German states that later formed the German Empire) to include ethnic German immigrants from Switzerland, France, and the Austrian Empire. This intention, however laudable, is for all practical purposes impossible to realize. Determining to what ethnic group an individual belongs solely on the basis of the form of his/her surname is extremely difficult, and notoriously prone to error. Anyone who has had occasion to examine the passenger manifest of a ship from Havre can attest to the difficulty of determining which of the French and Swiss nationals are ethnic Germans and which are not. On the one hand, there is some question as to what constitutes a "German" as distinct from a "non-German" surname. Some forms, such as "Adam", "Michel", or "Simon", can be either German or French. On the other hand, in Alsace ethnic affiliation is often determined not by the form of the surname but by the language spoken at home, something which the passenger list does not indicate. In some cases the forms of certain given names, such as "Franz" as opposed to "François" or "Genovefa" instead of "Geneviève", provide a clue as to the language an immigrant family spoke at home. However, the fact that a given name is in a French form is not always an accurate sign of ethnic affiliation, as it is quite clear that francophones preparing passenger manifests did not hesitate to render into their French equivalents the given names by which immigrating German nationals were properly known.

The primary drawback of using ethnic affiliation, as determined by the subjective analysis of surname forms, as a selection criterion is the danger that a manifest may qualify or fail to qualify for publication in GTA as the result of a relatively small number of what are essentially nothing more than well-educated guesses by the editors. The additional requirement that a manifest contain at least 80 percent German surnames in order to qualify for publication in GTA only increases the danger that an "incorrect" ethnic classification may prevent the publication of the names of as many as several hundred immigrating German nationals, about whose ethnic affiliation there is no question.

It is important to note that distinguishing between ethnic Germans and German nationals should not preclude the publication of the passenger manifest of any ship arriving in the United States from Bremen or Hamburg between 1850 and 1855. The overwhelming majority of emigrants through both these ports prior to 1855 was comprised of citizens of the various German states. Aliens represented only 1.12% of all emigrants through Bremen and Hamburg in 1851 (the first year for which the records distinguish between citizens and aliens). This representation had grown to 9.88% of all emigrants by 1855, but as most of these aliens were in fact ethnic Germans it is most unlikely that the passenger manifest of any ship sailing from either Bremen or Hamburg contains more than a handful of "non-German" surnames [note 22].

However, Bremen and Hamburg were not the only ports through which Germans emigrated; indeed, until the mid-1850's they were not even the most important. As Table 4 indicates, until 1852 the majority of German nationals emigrated through "foreign" rather than German ports [note 23]. (These figures, like American government figures, should be considered approximate rather than absolute: those for "Non-German Ports" refer to emigration through continental ports only, and do not include the substantial number of indirect emigrations through the British ports of Liverpool and London, as discussed below.)

Table 4
Year German
% Non-
1850 33,206 45,343 57.73
1851 49,214 56,477 53.44
1852 82,461 72,501 46.79
1853 81,523 55,749 40.61
1854 116,190 124,237 51.67

Prior to the 1850's, the major port of embarkation for German emigrants to the United States--both nationals and ethnic--was the French port of Havre; it was not until 1852 that Bremen first superseded Havre as the major port for the emigration of German nationals, and even after that date Havre and, to a lesser extent, the Belgian port of Antwerp remained the ports of choice for ethnic Germans from Switzerland [note 24].

Unlike the passengers on ships sailing from Bremen and Hamburg, most of whom were German nationals, those on ships sailing from Havre andAntwerp between 1850 and 1855 were a much more heterogeneous group, including not only German nationals, but also ethnic Germans from Switzerland and the Austrian Empire (primarily Bohemia), and ethnic French and Germans from France. As a result, many ships arriving at American ports from Havre did not carry sufficient numbers of German nationals to meet the 80-percent requirement for publication in GTA; of these, however, many did carry sufficient additional numbers of ethnic Germans from Switzerland and France to meet this requirement. As Table 5 indicates, of 11 ships arriving at New Orleans from Havre in the fourth quarter (1 October-31 December) of 1852 and published in GTA, only one, the Robert Kelly, carried over 80 percent German nationals; of the remaining 10 ships, nine carried sufficient numbers of ethnic Germans from Switzerland and France to meet the requirement. One ship, the Eastern Queen, fails to meet the requirement even when the number of ethnic Germans is added to the number of German nationals; nevertheless, it is published in GTA.

Table 5
Ship Name GTA
Germans Non-
Total Germans as % of Total
Nat. Eth. Nat. Eth. Total
Eastern Queen 4/59-60 36 22 30 88 40.91 25.00 65.91
Olympus 4/63 28 11 7 46 60.87 23.91 84.78
Old England 4/99-101 248 106 79 433 57.27 24.48 81.75
Pyramid 4/114-116 268 77 18 363 73.83 21.21 95.04
Robert Kelly 4/154-156 334 45 25 404 82.67 11.14 93.81
Atlas 4/161-163 275 111 14 400 68.75 27.75 96.50
Annawan 4/168-171 242 129 49 420 57.62 30.71 88.33
Belle Assise 4/173-175 183 120 54 357 51.26 33.61 84.87
Corinthian 4/177-180 283 176 19 478 59.21 36.82 96.03
Globe 4/182-184 242 44 53 339 71.39 12.98 84.37
Inca 4/206-207 136 56 15 207 65.70 27.05 92.75
TOTAL 2,275 897 363 3,535 64.36 25.37 89.73

2. 80-Percent Requirement.

By 1850, German nationals and ethnic Germans were arriving in the United States in such numbers that few ships landing at any of the major American ports of entry from any Continental European or English (as distinct from Irish or Scottish) port failed to carry at least one or two of them. It is understandable that to publish in its entirety every ship passenger list that contains a single German surname would make GTA so large and expensive as to place it beyond the means of all but the wealthiest academic or government institution. Nevertheless, while a case can be made for requiring that in order to qualify for publication in GTA a ship passenger list contain a certain percentage of passengers who are in some way "German", to set this percentage at 80 is unrealistic.

Many ships arriving in the United States by 1850 carried considerable numbers of passengers: of the 54 ships arriving at New Orleans from Europe in the fourth quarter of 1852, and for which passenger statistics are readily available either in GTA (41 ships) or in the pages of the Daily Picayune (the remaining 13 ships [note 25],) seven carried over 400 passengers (the William Nelson, which arrived on 22 December 1852, carried 559 passengers), 14 carried between 300 and 400 passengers, and 23 carried between 200 and 300 passengers. In order for a ship carrying 400 passengers to qualify for publication in GTA, at least 320 of these passengers must in some way be German; for a ship carrying 300 passengers to qualify, at least 240 of them must be German. In other words, if only 300 passengers on a ship carrying a total of 400 were German, according to the 80-percent requirement the passenger manifest of this ship would be excluded from publication in GTA, with a consequent loss of 300 German surnames.

It has not been possible to ascertain how many ship manifests have been excluded from publication because the combined totals of German nationals and ethnic Germans among their passengers fail to satisfy the 80-percent requirement. However, in the fourth quarter of 1852, in addition to the 11 ships listed above, another eight ships from Havre arrived at New Orleans for which no passenger manifests are published in GTA [note 26]. The reviewer was not able to check the National Archives Microfilm Publications of the New Orleans ship passenger arrival lists ("originals" in M259; quarterly abstracts in M272) to determine the percentages of German nationals and ethnic Germans among the passengers on each of these ships, and it is possible that the manifests do not appear in GTA for another reason (see below). Nevertheless, it is clear that the use of a subjective selection criterion coupled to an unrealistically high percentage requirement has the potential to disqualify many passenger manifests, containing substantial numbers of German nationals, from publication in GTA.

The disadvantage of the 80-percent requirement is most evident in the case of those considerable numbers of Germans who sailed for the United States from the British ports of Liverpool and London. The transportation of Germans to America by way of England began as a result of America's position as the primary source of raw materials for British industry. Indeed, by the early decades of the 19th century, the United States exported to Great Britain twice as much raw material as she received back in finished goods. As a result, many of the ships that brought the raw material to England were forced to make the voyage out in ballast. However, Liverpool merchants and their London colleagues soon discovered they could make money even on the voyage out by filling their otherwise empty ships with emigrants. Since all the money they made on the voyage out was profit, the Liverpool and London merchants could afford to undercut the prices of the continental European shippers, and as a consequence, like the discount airlines of the 1960's and 1970's, they soon became quite popular. By the 1840's, Germans wishing to take advantage of the cheaper fares offered from Liverpool would board ships at Hamburg or a Dutch or Belgian port [note 27]. The majority sailed to the port of Hull, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, whence they traveled by train across Yorkshire and the Pennines to Liverpool, where they boarded ships for America. The remainder sailed directly to London, where they also boarded ships for America.

The number of Germans emigrating to America by way of England between 1850 and 1855 is difficult to determine. The reports of the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners, which oversaw emigration from Great Britain between 1840 and 1872, do not distinguish between citizens and "foreigners" until 1853. The 14th General Report of the Commissioners for that year, issued in 1854, lists, inter alia, 21,781 "foreigners" who had emigrated from Liverpool, and an additional 9,461 who had emigrated from London, "principally Germans who contracted with Liverpool and London shipowners to be conveyed from German ports, through the United Kingdom, to America" [note 28]. Of this total of 31,242 "foreigners", 20,406 of those embarking at Liverpool and 9,113 of those embarking at London were destined for the United States [note 29]. The 14th General Report also lists 9,292 emigrants from Liverpool to the United States, and 401 from London to the United States, whose nationality was not ascertained. Most of these are also assumed to be German [note 30], although the combined totals of "foreigners" and "undetermined nationality", in particular those for Liverpool, seem too large to apply solely to Germans [note 31]. Table 6 summarizes the number of "foreigners" and others of undetermined nationality who emigrated to the United States from English ports between 1851 and 1855 (no figures for 1850 are available) [note 32].

Table 6
Year "Foreigners" Nationality Undetermined Total
Liverpool London Total Liverpool London Total
1851     13,864       13,864
1852     31,600       31,600
1853 20,406 9,113 29,519 9,292 401 9,693 39,212
1854 21,427 8,213 29,640 8,856 410 9,266 38,906
1855 6,205 2,036 8,241 8,479 240 8,719 16,960
TOTAL 48,038 19,362 67,400 26,627 1,051 27,678 95,078

The editors of GTA are noticeably inconsistent in their application of the 80 percent requirement to ships from British ports. For the calendar year 1852, GTA contains transcripts of 69 manifests of ships arriving from British ports. As Table 7 indicates, people with German surnames constitute 80 percent or more of the passengers on only 12 of the 69 ships. At the lowest end of the scale, people with German surnames constitute less than 50 percent of the passengers on 14 ships. The total number of Germans listed, 14,602, is approximately 46.21 percent of the 31,600 who are assumed by British authorities to have emigrated to the United States through British ports in that year.

Table 7
% Germans
Each Ship
Germans Non-
Total % of All
80-100% 12 3,603 248 3,851 24.67
70-79% 13 3,196 1,083 4,279 21.89
60-69% 13 2,801 1,565 4,366 19.18
50-59% 17 3,362 2,674 6,036 23.02
below 50% 14 1,640 2,425 4,065 11.23
TOTAL 69 14,602 7,995 22,597 100.00

It is unclear to what extent the ships from British ports whose manifests are published in GTA for 1852 are representative of the total number of ships that carried German immigrants through Britain to the United States in that year. To examine to what extent GTA includes Germans immigrating to the United States through British ports, the 128 ships that sailed from Liverpool for New York between 1 July and 31 December 1853 were taken as a more representative sample [note 33]. Of these 128 ships, 33 carried no "foreigners" (i.e., Germans) among their 16,240 passengers; the other 95 ships carried a total of 46,428 passengers, including 7,894 foreigners. These 7,894 individuals represent approximately 38.68 percent of the total number of foreigners listed as having emigrated to the United States through Liverpool in all of 1853.

As Table 8 indicates, not one of these 95 ships carried more than 80 percent foreigners; indeed, the highest percentage of foreigners carried by any ship is 62.20 (316 of the 508 passengers on the Sheridan, which arrived at New York on 11 December) [note 34].

Table 8
% Foreigners
Each Ship
Total Foreigners % of All
80-100% 0 0 0 0
70-79% 0 0 0 0
60-69% 1 508 316 4.00
50-59% 1 356 184 2.33
40-49% 8 4,045 1,825 23.12
30-39% 11 5,158 1,802 22.83
20-29% 8 3,583 858 10.87
10-19% 30 15,108 2,177 27.58
below 10% 36 17,670 732 9.27
TOTAL 95 46,428 7,894 100.00

Although strict adherence to the 80-percent requirement would preclude the publication of the passenger manifest of any of these ships, GTA does include the manifests of four of them: the Silas Greenman, which arrived at New York on 28 November; the Charles Crooker, which arrived on 16 December; the Kossuth, which arrived on 19 January 1854; and the Princeton, which arrived on 3 December [note 35]. Together, these ships carried 833 foreigners, 10.55 percent of those who sailed from Liverpool to New York in the second half of 1853. They are not, however, the ships on which foreigners constituted the greatest percentage of passengers. Although the Silas Greenman and Charles Crooker rank second and third in this category (foreigners constituted 51.69 and 48.03 percent, respectively, of the total number of passengers each carried), the Sheridan, which as indicated above carried the largest percentage of foreigners among its passengers, is omitted. When the ships are ranked by the absolute number of foreigners each carried, of the 15 that carried the most (3,357 of the total 7,894), only the Kossuth (280 foreigners among a total of 603 passengers), the Charles Crooker (220 foreigners among a total of 458 passengers), and the Silas Greenman (184 foreigners among a total of 356 passengers) are included in GTA. In fact, the Kossuth ranks only fourth according to the number of foreigners it carried: it is surpassed by the New World, which arrived at New York on 28 November (337 foreigners among a total of 744 passengers) [note 36], the Sheridan (316 foreigners among a total of 508 passengers), and the Washington, which arrived on 23 October (283 foreigners among a total of 893 passengers) [note 37].

The primary reason that so few ships sailing from Liverpool to New York during the last six months of 1853 qualify for inclusion in GTA is the fact that most of them carried quite large numbers of passengers: of the 95 ships that carried foreigners, only two carried fewer than 200 passengers; seven ships carried between 200 and 299 passengers, 16 ships carried between 300 and 399, 32 ships carried between 400 and 499, 18 carried between 500 and 599, nine ships carried between 600 and 699, nine ships carried between 700 and 799, one ship carried 893, and one ship carried 962. On ships of such size, even comparatively large numbers of foreigners could be overwhelmed by the numbers of their British (in particular, Irish) fellow travelers. Thus, although the Albert Gallatin, which arrived on 30 0ctober 1853, carried 146 foreigners, they constituted only 19.95 percent of her 773 passengers [note 38]. In fact, one half of all the foreigners traveled on ships on which they constituted less than 30 percent of the total number of passengers; three-fourths of them traveled on ships on which they constituted less than 39 percent of all the passengers.

Although an exact hand count of the number of German immigrants arriving from British ports and published in GTA is impractical, the figures above strongly suggest that GTA certainly contains less than half, and probably less than one third of the German immigrants who arrived in the United States by this route.


This article is copyright © 1990 Michael P. Palmer, but may be republished, in whole, or in part, with proper attribution.

An earlier version of this article was published in German Genealogical Society of America Bulletin, vol. 4, No. 3/4 (May/August 1990), 69, 71-90.

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