This is Week 41 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens. The topic this week is Emigration records: those documents created as our ancestors left their homeland en route to a new life.
Emigration and immigration records are like the double-faced Janus, superficially much the same, but revealing different aspects of our ancestors’ migration experience.
In my experience the emigration data is easier to locate once you’ve identified your ancestor in the immigration records. This makes it possible to then focus on the ship and its voyage as it departs the home country, or country of departure. More than most other topics I fear this one will involve cross-over to the online world, in no small part because most of us are limited in our opportunities to search in overseas archives.
BOARD OF TRADE: BT27 Departure Lists from UK 1890 to 1960
From my own research one of the most valuable search tools was these records indexed on Findmypast UK and now available through their other subscriptions. Yes they are online, and yes they are indexes, but when you find a pertinent record what you’ll see is an actual image of the original document. The benefits of having a subscription rather than pay-to-view pages, is that you can flip through the lists for that ship to see if there any other passengers who may be connected to your family.
Of course hindsight’s a wonderful thing, but wouldn’t it be amazing to have these records available prior to 1890?
Within the Australian records systems, I’m very partial to the Public Records Office of Victoria’s Index to Outward Passengers to Interstate, UK, NZ and Foreign Ports 1852-1915. I’ve found this amazingly helpful for both the immigration voyages (where Port Philip was the first Australian landing point) but also for those moving back to the UK, on to New Zealand, or simply taking a business trip overseas. I routinely compare information from these to what I find via other sources.
IMMIGRATION DEPOSIT JOURNALS
These were mentioned last week in terms of who was sponsoring chain migration of friends or family. However there’s another aspect to their usefulness. You can search the IDJs (manually), to see who else left the same village at the time, who was their referee and perhaps some additional or different information on their personal details, which might enlighten (or confuse!) you. This was certainly the case with my study of the East Clare emigrants.
As you know German migration is an area of keen interest to me, notwithstanding the fact that my George Kunkel’s departure and arrival remains elusive after all these years. At the time of our mid-19th ancestor’s migrations Germany was comprised of independent states or kingdoms so you are often focused on the independent state or kingdom eg Bavaria.
An absolutely fantastic resource for Australians with German ancestry is the indexes prepared from the Hamburg shipping lists by Rosemary and Eric Kopittke for the Queensland Family History Society. These indexes cover the period 1850 to 1879 and their primary benefits are twofold: (1) you may obtain slightly different information on your ancestors but especially (2) the fact that the emigration records include all passengers and not just those assisted by the government of the day. The latter is particularly important for Germans who came as single people as the government sponsorship was directed at families while the single people often came on private contracts set up via emigration agents in Germany. The other advantage is that the Kopittkes are experienced readers of the German script and so are able to pick up information that you and I might struggle with.
Some microfilms by can be ordered through Family Search and are listed here. Be aware, though, that they are written in German.
Whenever you are reading a particular microfilm, try not to focus only on your specific name of interest: have a look at the others on the ship’s manifest. For example, how did John and Frederika Eichorn feel as they left their sick child behind in Liverpool when they sailed on the Commodore Perry. Did the child come later? Did he/she live or die?
In theory the “German” emigrants were supposed to have a pass to leave the country/state and their departure advertised in the local newspapers. How often this happened I don’t know, but with limited access to those newspapers from overseas it is a challenge to advance this line of research. If anyone knows of an online resource please do let me know.
Another superb resource for German migration information is the articles by Jenny Paterson published in the Burwood and District Family History Society magazine, Ances-Tree. If you have mid-19th century German ancestry in Australia, don’t omit to follow up these articles.
A helpful online link to migration from the various German states is here.
Oh, and if you find George Kunkel from Dorfprozelten, Bavaria, will you please let me know?
If you know the name of the ship on which your family arrived I would definitely search the overseas newspapers eg The Times Digital Archive or other newspapers via your National Library of Australia card, or the British Newspaper Archive. Either of these will provide additional information on the voyage at its starting point: delays, weather, minor accidents etc.
Similarly the newspapers at the receiving end may also tell you about the departure. Of course you need to search in the timeframe when the ship was leaving and you’ll most likely find this information in the Shipping News section of the paper. Trove is always a goldmine.
I always find it intriguing to learn what cargo the ship brought to the new land as it provides interesting insights into the goods in demand. I also love those newspaper advertisements where a business advertises their new stock that arrived on a particular ship. Passengers weren’t the only focus of a ship’s arrival.
In my immigration post I omitted to mention that newspapers sometimes advertised which passengers had arrived on a particular ship so that their family and friends could come and meet them. This seemed to be more prevalent once immigration reached the chain-migration, sponsorship stage.
At least some of the books I mentioned in my Immigration post will be helpful in terms of understanding the process behind your ancestor’s migration. The Australian migration process was much more structured than that to north America, so that the often-bewildered emigrants were not as prone to the abuse or manipulation by crafty touts on the waterfront in England. Their luggage requirements were specified so they were not as vulnerable to weather changes, and every stage of an assisted passenger’s migration, including prior to commencement, was supervised.
A learning tool on migration is the Family Search research wiki on migration and citizenship, well worth a look.
There are many online links which you can find on this topic by doing a Google search, but hopefully this has provided some opportunities for off-line research.
You may not find as much about your ancestor’s emigration specifics as you do about them on arrival, especially if they came under a sponsorship scheme. However, learning more about the general aspects of their particular voyage, or the broader circumstances governing the voyages will add a broader historical context to your family story.