Departing passenger lists are not the only record that an emigrant may have left behind in the old country to document his or her departure. While passenger lists are relatively easy to understand (even if they don't exist for all ports), and theoretically would have included virtually all emigrants, there are a variety of other emigration documents you can pursue in your research. These lists vary significantly from country to country (and even from state to state within some countries) and are often not as comprehensive as passenger lists were intended to be. They also often pertain to a smaller area, such as a region, district, or province; seldom to an entire country.
What they have in common is that they do list known emigrants. Many are lists of permission granted by the local government for a resident or family to leave. Others are lists of those known to have left, but the lists were gathered sometime after the emigrants departed. There are also a few lists of clandestine (illegal, non-permitted) emigrants, although such lists are obviously incomplete.
- When a family or an individual decided to emigrate, there were several steps they usually followed, some to comply with the law, some to prepare for their journey, and some from local custom or tradition. Some of these steps generated records.
- Often a country required that the emigrant receive permission to leave. If the emigrant obeyed this law (it is estimated that 30 to 50% left without permission), an application to leave and/or a passport may exist for your ancestor.
- If the family owned property, they may have sold it. If they abandoned their property, it may show up on tax lists after the taxes became delinquent.
- Young males may have had to be released from military obligations (or fulfill them before leaving).
- Members of some religious denominations may have requested a letter of recommendation to take to their new parish.
- Eventually emigrants would have to purchase tickets for the trip.
These steps should have generated some record that will document your ancestors' passage. Some are rare, and difficult to find. Many (such as military releases, land deeds or church letters) are not true emigration records. Often, the most useful documents that you'll find are those that were created along the voyage -- passenger lists (discussed in the last lesson) and permissions to emigrate.
Permission to Emigrate
The permit to emigrate certified that the man had paid his bills, settled his affairs in the community, and was free to leave. The passport allowed him to cross country, provincial and district boundaries. In some countries, the permit to emigrate and the passport were combined in a single exit visa issued by district or provincial authorities. These identification papers were carried by the emigrant and copies may still be in the family's possession today.
As the emigrant applied for a permit to emigrate, early clerks recorded information about them in court or council minute books and, by the nineteenth century, in emigration registers. Sometimes copies of the documents were made and filed alphabetically or by number in the local archives. In addition, emigration registers may include:
- Passenger lists
- Passport applications
- Emigrant lists returned to the central government from district offices or courts
- Agreements to serve in America (indentures)
- Accounts of servants bound
- Intentions to leave the country which appeared as advertisements in local newspapers and periodicals
For example, beginning in 1815 in Baden, Germany, emigrants were required to announce their intention to leave the country in local newspapers, alerting creditors and local authorities. These records are preserved in foreign archives. Most such emigration records give the:
- Close relatives or traveling companions
- Usually the last place of residence (sometimes the birthplace) of the emigrant(s)
These records are generally kept under the jurisdiction of the state or national government where the emigrant lived. Therefore, to use such lists, you should know the emigrant's state, region of residence, or port of departure. Sometimes only knowing the country of origin allows access to these records but you should also know when the emigrant left that country or port.
While these sources may be difficult to use, a growing number are being indexed. The archives in some countries or provinces, have prepared indexes of emigrants from particular regions. Some of these records have lain hidden in archives and personal papers for generations. In recent years more and more of these lists have appeared in print or have been microfilmed by the Family History Library and are, therefore, available through rental at thousands of local Family History Centers worldwide. Since these passenger lists are collected based on port of arrival as well as country of departure, you'll have the opportunity to find your ancestor even if you don't know a lot of information about their journey to America.
These important records are also being indexed and abstracted by government order or by genealogists who desire easier access to these important records. For example, passport and emigration applications are available for Alsace-Lorraine, Baden, Hessen, various French departments, and many other areas. A government project sponsored by the Third Reich (Germany) extracted selected advertisements for 1815-17. Friedrich Wollmershauser, a professional genealogist in the Stuttgart area, is extracting and indexing the newspaper ads on computer for much of the early nineteenth century.
Over the course of the nineteenth century, more emigrants left the various German states than any other country in the world, with millions of them coming to North America. As a rule, the German states tended to require permission to emigrate more than other countries. Several German publications include abstracts from similar emigration records housed in state archives. One excellent example is Inge Auerbach, Auswanderer aus Hessen-Kassel 1840-1850 (Vol. 2. [Veroeffentlichungen der Archivschule Marburg, Institut fuer Archivwissenschaft, No. 12] Marburg, Ger.: Institut fuer Archivwissenschaft, 1988). Most of this volume is an alphabetical list of persons named in the emigration documents, but it also abstracts those records and provides the emigrant's name, age, town of residence, others traveling with him, destination, year of departure, and a reference to the document naming the individual. Because a person may be named in several documents, the 29,000 entries represent about 10,000 names.
Other similar sources have been published for:
- Grandduchy of Brunswick (Braunschweig)
- District of Trier
- Prussian Saarland
- Districts of Minden and Muenster (Westphalia)
- Duchy of Nassau
- Principality of Lippe
Another, larger example concerns immigration from Wuerttemberg, a large south German state. The records themselves are on microfilm, but they are difficult to use. They are textual (not tabular), chronological, arranged by district, and written in the old Gothic German script. Therefore most American researchers could not locate possible ancestors.
To provide access to these crucial documents, Trudy Schenk published the Wuerttemberg Emigration Index (7 volumes to date, Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1986- ). This series lists about 100,000 persons who applied for permission to leave Wuerttemberg. Each of the volumes indexes the microfilmed records from several different districts and identifies the emigrant, date of application to leave, town of origin, district, and file number. This makes it possible for average researchers to find the actual emigration documents on microfilm.
However, as with all such records, this collection is not comprehensive. According to one study, the finished index may only account for 20 to 25 percent of all the emigrants from Wuerttemberg. Only about half of the emigration files have survived, others were not filmed (they were missing at the time of filming), and up to half of the persons leaving Wuerttemberg were "clandestine emigrants" who did not seek permission (Friedrich R. Wollmershäuser, 1990. "The Wuerttemberg Emigration Index: How Complete Is It?" CGSA Bulletin 4:2, March/April 1990, p. 35).
A unique kind of permission to emigrate are those documents which tell of transported emigrants. Usually these are persons who were sent away from their home country at the government's expense. In such cases, those transported were deemed "undesirable," typically because they were convicted of minor crimes (for example, snatching a purse on a London street). Most transported emigrants were from England, as the American colonies belonged to England for most of the colonial period, and the Crown had the right to send them to the colonies.
Since these lists date from the colonial era, there has been great interest in them, and most known lists have been transcribed or abstracted. The following volumes represent these records:
- French, Elizabeth. List of Emigrants to America from Liverpool, 1697-1707. 1913; reprinted. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company., 1962, 1983. 1,500 indentured servants.
- Ghirelli, Michael. A List of Emigrants from England to America 1682-1692: Transcribed from the Original Records at the City of London Record Office. Baltimore: Magna Carta Book Company. 1968. Lists 960 bonded servants taken from the Lord Mayor's Waiting Books.
- Kaminkow, Jack and Marion J. A List of Emigrants from England to America, 1718-1759: A New Edition Containing 46 Recently Discovered Records. Baltimore, Md. : Genealogical Publishing Company, 1981. 292 p. Reprint, with additional records. Originally published: Baltimore: Magna Charta Book Co., 1964. Over 3,000 names of indentured servants from records at the Guildhall, London, with exceptionally full information.
- Kaminkow, Marion and Jack Kaminkow. Original Lists of Emigrants in Bondage from London to the American Colonies, 1719-1744. Baltimore: Magna Carta Book Company, 1967. About 6,300 names of convicts (mostly with misdemeanors), including their place of origin and destination in America.
- The Complete Book of Emigrants, 1607-1776. You'll find four volumes of The Complete Book of Emigrants along with The Complete Book of Emigrants in Bondage and its supplement. Altogether, these books represent the most comprehensive list of men, women, and children who emigrated from England to America.
Clandestine (Illegal/Undocumented) Emigration
Of course, not everyone chose to obtain permission before leaving their native country. At some times, and in some places, it was not required. British law allowed any British citizen the right to move (migrate) to any other place in the British Empire. Before the American Revolutionary War, that included the North American colonies of Great Britain. Even after the Revolution it included the colonies which later made up the country of Canada.
Many emigrants simply did not want to pay the fees required of their native government in order to leave. After all, once they left their home land, what could their former government do to them? Of course, in such situations, there will be no record of their permission to leave in government documents. All is not lost, however, as records may still exist.
At some points of time, local and federal governments were very interested in how many individuals were leaving for other places. As a result, they attempted to track those who left without permission and, if the illegal departure was reported by authorities, you may find record of your ancestor's departure in emigrant registers. In some cases, interviews with remaining relatives about their whereabouts were recorded, with notations that potential inheritance rights would be paid to the government in lieu of emigration fees.
If a man did not pay current taxes, this was a clue to the authorities that he may have immigrated, and thus they may have undertaken an investigation. Those results may end up with local emigration records. When you find such a record, it is a rarity. Most clandestine emigrations were just that, secret, and you will find no record of their departure in official government sources. They may appear on a passenger list and other records (notably local church records, census or tax lists, etc.) but they will generally not identified as an immigrant.
Official emigration registers were not consistently maintained in all places. Often there was no interest in such records until a sufficient number of local citizens had already left. As emigration swelled, local (or national) authorities then decided to make people register (and pay a tax) as they left.
In order to assess the impact of this out-migration, authorities would sometimes request information about previous emigrants. Hence one sometimes finds the unique situation of records being created sometime after the event to which they refer. For example, during the 1700s, Swiss authorities in the canton of Zurich became concerned about the number of their citizens emigrating to the New World and requested local authorities (chiefly the church ministers) to identify those who had and were leaving from their parishes. About the same time, the cantons of Bern and Basel were keeping regular records of people requesting permission to emigrate. Together these three cantons account for much of the Swiss emigration of the time.
Abstracts from the records, still in Swiss archives, were published by Albert Bernhardt Faust and Gaius Marcus Brumbaugh as Lists of Swiss Emigrants in the Eighteenth Century to the American Colonies (Washington, D.C.: The National Genealogical Society, 1920-25. Reprinted with additional notes by Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, 1976). Together the two volumes identify about 5,000 individuals who left Switzerland, most for the American colonies. You'll find indexed images of this book (along with 19 others) in German and Swiss Settlers in America (Family Archive #267).
Sometimes local authorities placed ads in newspapers seeking persons who left, or relatives announced the earlier departure of a cousin, child, or sibling in those newspapers. Some papers published lists of recently departed citizens. Local genealogists in those countries are beginning to seek out such lists and publish them, making it easier to locate emigrants, even from their new country.
In Sweden, parish records serve as a kind of emigration register. Every year parish ministers were required to send extract records to the Central Bureau of Statistics of people leaving Sweden or arriving in Sweden from another country. This practice was supposed to have started in 1851, but it did not become regular until 1865. The Central Bureau of Statistics has compiled these records by county and they have been microfilmed to the year 1940. The indexing of these records is an ongoing project and records between 1851 and 1860 have already been completed. Some counties have indexes more recent than 1860.
The parish extracts are listed in the Family History Library Catalog under the name of each Swedish county, under the heading "Emigration and Immigration." The indexes can be found either under the country, Sweden, or the name of the county, and then the heading "Emigration and Immigration - Indexes."
Although locating and using these emigration records may be difficult, the rewards are excellent. If you find your ancestor immigrant in such records, you will certainly learn where he or she came from, and often detailed biographical information as well. In addition, since these are records about emigrants, there is a much better chance that the person in the lists is indeed your emigrant, not just a resident (as in census or church records) with the same name.
When using emigration records from the country your ancestor left, however, you should be certain that the emigrant you find listed was yours, and did come to the right country. Emigration registers, and the other lists described above, often include emigrants who never came to the North America. Some may have left for other "colonial" areas, such as Australia, South Africa, or Argentina. Many Germans and other continental Europeans migrated east to areas of Russia or central European states (Hungary, Austria) where they were promised land and provided other inducements. These "emigrants" appear on the same lists as those heading to North America, so be careful to take note of the intended destination.
In the same way, take note that "America" may also mean Canada. New England can mean any of the British colonies. A person intending to go to Pennsylvania, or Carolina may have not actually settled there (but should at least be somewhere in North America).
- Determine if you already know the location in the old country from which your ancestor departed or the port through which your ancestor entered the United States.
- If you can figure out where your ancestor came from, you can attempt to locate the sources explained in this lesson in the card catalog of the Family History Library Catalog at Family Search.
- Even if you don't know anything specific about your ancestors' arrival in the United States, you can use the Family Archive index to see if information is available about your ancestor.