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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, 4: Conclusion.

Nothing in the preceding discussion should detract from the importance of GTA or diminish the significance of the records it contains: to make available the names of approximately 544,000 German immigrants to the United States between the years 1850 and 1855 is an impressive achievement, and certainly those researchers who find the immigration records of their ancestors in GTA will have no reason to fault it. Nevertheless, despite its size, GTA contains the names of only about three-fourths of the approximately 725,000 Germans who immigrated to the United States between 1850 and 1855, and many researchers will discover to their dismay that their ancestors are among the approximately 181,000 German immigrants during this period whose names do not appear in GTA. In fact, records of many of these German immigrants do exist among the very records utilized by GTA. An objective selection criterion, a more reasonable percent requirement, and expanding the base of potential records to include manifests for ships arriving at miscellaneous ports as well as passenger lists that only survive as microfilm copies would have enabled GTA to capture a significant number of these missing names.

The editors and publisher have announced that they have received sufficient support to continue GTA through the 1860's, and possibly as far as the 1890's. This information is most welcome. To improve the coverage of future volumes, however, the editors might consider the following recommendations.

First, the selection criterion should be changed from ethnic background as determined by surname forms to nationality. As discussed above, determining ethnic background solely on the basis of surname forms is extremely difficult and prone to error [note 48]. While selecting passenger manifests for publication strictly on the basis of the nationality of their passengers may result in the omission of some lists on which the passengers are not German nationals but ethnic Germans from elsewhere in Europe, it is important to note that the title of the work is Germans to America, and most experienced genealogists searching for immigrant ancestors from Switzerland, France, or the Austrian Empire would not think to check a work with such a title, even if the people in question were ethnic Germans.

Secondly, the requirement that 80 percent of the passengers listed on a manifest be in some way "German" (in this case, German nationals) should be lowered considerably. Ships continued to grow in size throughout the 19th century, with the result that by the 1870's it was not unusual for a vessel specially built for the emigration trade to carry more than 1,000 passengers. To require that a ship of this size carrying at least 800 German nationals to be eligible for publication--or, to rephrase the statement, to disqualify a ship of this size carrying as many as 600 or 700 German nationals--seems unreasonable. In fact, the following two-tiered approach seems much more sensible:

print in full all passengers manifests containing at least 25 percent German nationals;
in the case of passenger manifests containing less than 25 percent German nationals, print only the names of the German nationals, in the order in which they appear on the manifest, together with an introductory note indicating the total number of passengers (e.g., "15 cabin, 300 steerage"), a breakdown of this number by nationality ("120 French, 82 Swiss, 37 Germans, 33 Belgians, 28 Dutch"), precisely where on the list the names of the German nationals appear, and any other relevant information, such as deaths and births during the voyage.

Finally, the editors should include transcripts of those manifests containing names of German immigrants that survive only as National Archives microfilms, or, at the very least print at the beginning of each volume a list of those microfilmed manifests that contain the names of German immigrants.


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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Letzte Änderung/Last update: 21-Feb-2000 (jz)

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