The Familytree Heritage Library provides our family members with the means to share and exchange family genealogy information, including family records, documents and photographs.

HOMEPAGE          SHARE THE HERITAGE          SEND EMAIL

"German Ancestry Directory"

Many of our German ancestors came to America from Prussia (also known as the former German Empire). As such, I'm constantly gathering information on our relatives still living in Germany, including any that emigrated to America.


Researching Relatives from Sauerland, Westphalia (Westfalen), Germany.

Click here for geographical information on Westphalia (Westfalen), Germany.


Brief History Of Emigration From Sauerland, Westphalia (Westfalen), Germany

Around 1755 some farmers of the Sauerland began to leave their homes in order to start new farms in the Banat area in Hungary. They were promised land by the Austrian Emperor in that depopulated area, which was newly re-conquered from the Turks. Till 1790 thousands of farmer families took the chance to settle in the Banat, because in Germany their land holdings were either too small or they didn't own land at all. The emigration to the Banat was the first "wave" of people leaving the Sauerland, which lasted till around 1790.

By the year 1833 population had increased that much again, some people discovered it was best to emigrate to the United States of America. The economy of the Sauerland was based on agriculture, and had almost no industries besides a few iron- and copper-works. The farms were merely self-sufficient, and if there was a surplus of the harvest it was traded for things, that could not be made on the farm itself. Agricultural acreage was limited, while population kept on growing and growing. In America, they heard, they would be able to start an own farm, because good land was cheap in the West. In America land could be bought from the land office for 1.25 $ per acre. It looks like most of the first emigrants from rural areas like the Sauerland came to America in order to start a farm in the new western states. They took the sailing ship from Bremen or Antwerp and arrived in New York or in New Orleans. From NY they went on by boat to Detroit, MI and from New Orleans they went to St. Louis, MO, because in the hinterland of those cities they could expect the promised cheap land for farming. A very good and well known example is the group of Sauerlanders under the leadership of Rev. Anton Kopp, who founded a Catholic settlement in the wilderness of Michigan in 1836, which they called Westphalia in honor of the province of their origin (there are also places named Westphalia in KS, IA, and MO, which were founded later).

Some families, who had sold their house and land in Germany, brought enough money to start a small farm in the wilderness right away. But certainly a great many of the emigrants -especially the young, unmarried men - needed first to make some money in the city, before they had saved the necessary dollars to start a farm. By the time working in the city a great deal of the immigrants decided it was easier to start a small business in the city than working on a farm in the middle of nowhere. Thus quite many of the Sauerlanders who first had in mind to farm preferred to stay workers, craftsmen, or became eventually businessmen in a fast growing city like Detroit. Detroit soon turned out to be the destination of most of the Sauerlanders, because former neighbors or related families in Germany were attracted by encouraging letters, and later by the story of success told on visits in Germany. By 1880 there was a very big Sauerlander community in east-side Detroit along Gratiot Ave., mostly members of the Catholic St. Joseph`s parish.

Young men, who came to America often were deserters. But the reason for emigration was not the fear to serve in the Prussian Army for three years, the reason of those young men to emigrate was poverty and hopelessness. Close to all those young men who deserted the army, did not have any property, and they couldn't expect to inherit the farm of their parents, because they were not the first-born sons. The regional inheritance custom was, that the oldest son, sometimes the oldest daughter usually inherited the farm, while the siblings got a small amount of money  - their "Kindteil" - which was often merely enough to pay the one-way-ticket to America. This way the farm and its land holdings was not split into four or more equal shares. But it made those second-, third- and fourth-born sons and daughters look for better economic conditions in America. Why should the young men waste three years of their live in the Prussian Army, if they had already in mind to leave Prussia forever ? Also the fact, that the older first-born brother usually served in the army for three years, demonstrates, that having to serve the Prussian Army was not the decisive reason to leave Prussia, but an additional reason to leave Prussia before turning 21.

Beginning in 1833 the peak of emigration from Southern Westphalia to America was reached in the late 1840s and in the 1850s. The number of people who left Prussia was so high, local government officials would speak of an "emigration-craving" or "America-fever". Around 1880 till 1885 there was a last mass-emigration taking place in Southern Westphalia. This time families who wanted to start a farm had to settle much further west, e.g. in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota. Due to the economic development in the Sauerland and its neighboring region (the very fast growing industrial Ruhr-area) emigration to America came out of fashion. There is almost no emigration recorded from 1885 thru 1922.  But after WW I., when the German economy was down, and inflation was incredibly high (at the peak of inflation in November 1923 a normal bread would cost several billion Reichsmark) a few young men and women remembered they had an uncle in America, who could help them make a start there.


Please help by submitting your branch of the family genealogy, including records, documents, photographs and etc. Also, please email me if your related to any family and/or individual listed within this web site. Thank you!


All rights reserved, Copyright 2000 - 2011 - Familytree Heritage Library