Tuesday, February 07, 2006

ACROSS MY DESK: Coping with Destruction of Bremen Passenger Lists

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COPING WITH DESTRUCTION of Bremen Passenger Lists

The port of Bremen, Germany, was a major point of embarkation for emigrants during the 19th and 20th centuries. This was true not only for German nationals but also for millions of inhabitants of Austria, Hungary, and other Central European nations seeking opportunities or refuge in the New World. Moreover, twice as many passengers departed from Bremen as from Germany's second busiest port for emigration, Hamburg.

One of the great losses in genealogical history, therefore, is the nearly complete destruction of the Bremen passenger records. From 1832, Bremen port officials kept meticulous records on their ships' passengers. Then, in 1874, the authorities, citing a lack of space, destroyed all Bremen passenger records except for those of the current year and the two previous years. This practice was followed until 1909, when customs officials resumed the earlier pattern of preserving the original copies of all emigration lists. Unfortunately, the original lists for 1909 and beyond were destroyed in an Allied bombing raid on October 6, 1944. Except for the discovery of transcripts of Bremen lists for the years 1907-1908 and 1913-1914 at the German State Archives in Koblentz, no copies of the Bremen passenger lists have ever come to light.

Given the loss of the Bremen departure lists, researchers in search of embarkees from that port must fall back on arrival lists. In the case of emigrants to the U.S., that next-best source is the U.S. Customs Passenger Lists.

Authorized by a federal statute enacted in March, 1819, whose stated purpose was to reduce overcrowding on passenger vessels, the resulting Customs Passenger Lists span these years for these ports: 1820-1891for Baltimore, 1820-1897 for New York, 1820-1899 for Boston and Philadelphia, and 1820-1902 for New Orleans. These lists identify each immigrant by name, age, sex, occupation, country of origin, country of destination, and sometimes the individual's local place of residence. (For a detailed discussion of Customs Passenger Lists, see AMERICAN

One problem that stymied research in the Customs Passenger Lists for Bremen emigrants was the lack of a comprehensive name index to their contents after 1846. (The Works Projects Administration had prepared an index for the port of New York from 1820 through 1846.) Researchers continued to be daunted by the need to sift through millions of names in order to find an immigrant ancestor from Bremen--until genealogists Gary Zimmerman and Marion Wolfert arrived at a partial solution.

Focusing on the port of New York, Zimmerman and Wolfert chose not to index every Bremen passenger; instead, they limited their extractions only to those immigrants for whom a local place of origin was given--about 21% of the passengers. Eventually, they produced four volumes, spanning the period 1847-1871, identifying over 130,000 passengers from Bremen. For each individual, Zimmerman and Wolfert provide the surname, given name, age, place of residence in Germany, year of passage, and a code for the list where additional information (i.e. occupation) may be found.

Published originally between 1985 and 1993 but out of print for a number of years, the Zimmerman/Wolfert series, "German Immigrants: Lists of Passengers Bound from Bremen to New York," is now available in a paperback reprint edition from Clearfield Company. If your German ancestor(s) entered by way of the port of New York during the middle of the 19th century, chances are one in five that he/she will be named in one of these volumes, which are described in more detail below:

GERMAN IMMIGRANTS. Lists of Passengers Bound from Bremen to New York, 1847-1854, With Places of Origin [Volume I] About 35,000 German immigrants are listed for the years 1847-1854. The immigrants' names are arranged in alphabetical order, and family members are grouped together, usually under the head of household. Details concerning age, date of arrival, and name of the ship are provided, as are specific citations to the original source material.

GERMAN IMMIGRANTS. Lists of Passengers Bound from Bremen to New York, 1855-1862, With Places of Origin [Volume II] The second volume provides information on about 35,000 German immigrants for the years 1855-1862. The names and all other information are arranged in the same manner as in Volume I.

GERMAN IMMIGRANTS. Lists of Passengers Bound from Bremen to New York, 1863-1867, With Places of Origin [Volume III] The third volume lists about 35,000 German passengers for the years 1863-September 1867 and is similar in arrangement to its companion volumes, #6580, #6581 and #6583.

GERMAN IMMIGRANTS. Lists of Passengers Bound from Bremen to New York, 1868-1871, With Places of Origin [Volume IV] Similar in all respects to the companion volumes in the series (#6580, #6581, and #6582), this fourth volume identifies 32,000 German passengers and spans the years 1868-1871.

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