German Immigration Records

German Ancestors

If you have German ancestry, researching German immigration records could help you learn more about your family's arrival in North America. About 17 percent of the United States population reports that they are of German ancestry, making this the largest ancestry group in the country.

Reasons for German Immigration

There are many reasons your ancestor may have chosen to leave the home country. Many Germans, most notably those in the Palatine region, left due to warring armies, violence, and military conscription. Others emigrated because they hoped to find better situations elsewhere. Many Germans left their home country in the hope of better economic opportunities, religious freedom, and a chance for land ownership.

Where to Find German Immigration Records

The United States did not begin keeping detailed immigration records until 1820. If your ancestors were German immigrants who arrived prior to that year, you may still find immigration records in the form of ships passenger lists.

Early Immigrants: 1680s to 1820s

German immigration began in earnest in 1680. Wave after wave of German settlers built homes for themselves in New York and Pennsylvania. By 1790, census records estimated that 9 percent of the United States white population was German. Since no official immigration records were kept at this time, you'll have to search for your ancestors using one of these resources:

  • Rootsweb has a great deal of information about early immigrants to Pennsylvania. Many of these immigrants were German.
  • In addition to extensive ships passenger lists, Olive Tree Genealogy offers great resources for researching your German and Palatine ancestors.
  • German Roots is a great source for information about your German ancestors, whether they arrived in the early or later immigration periods.

Later German Immigrants: 1820s to 1900s

In 1820, the United States began keeping records of immigration. Many immigrants passed through inspections at Castle Garden and Ellis Island. If, like many immigrants at the time, you ancestors arrived in New York, you'll find lots of helpful information available online:

  • If your German ancestors arrived between 1820 and 1892, they may have come through Castle Garden. You can perform a free online search to see if information was recorded at that time.
  • With some basic information about your German ancestor, you can also do a search on the Ellis Island website. Ellis Island processed over 12 million immigrants between 1892 and 1954.
  • If your ancestors arrived at another port, you can find information in the National Archives. However, much of this information is unavailable for online searches.

Other Sources

If you can't find information about you ancestors in United States records, there may be a record of them in Germany. Emigration records contain information about people who left the home country. German Roots has an excellent list of German emigration records. Another source for information about your German ancestors is While you need to pay a subscription fee, Ancestry offers a wealth of information for genealogists. You can use a two-week free trial to do a great deal of research.

An Important Clue

One of the great things about genealogy is that it is like solving a mystery. It's not always easy, but chances are, with the right research, you'll find a solution. German immigration records can be just the clue you need to fill in more of the blanks in your family tree!

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German Immigration Records