Monday, March 20, 2017

Hamburg vs. North American Passenger Lists

Whenever our Mennonite ancestors departed a European port, a passenger manifest was prepared before they left and filed at the port.  Unfortunately, most of those have been destroyed, but lists for Hamburg for 1850-1934 and Bremen 1904-1914 have survived.  Since the vast majority of Mennonites departed from Hamburg, this is a resource not to be missed.

The Hamburg lists (and possibly the Bremen lists, although I have not used them) are better than the North American lists for several reasons.  Generally, the handwriting is better on the Hamburg lists.  The Hamburg clerk spoke German, so he could communicate better with the emigrants than the New York clerk.  And the Hamburg list usually gives more detail on the geographic origin of the passenger, usually giving the province (not just the country as the New York lists do) and sometimes even giving the exact village name.

The best way to find the Hamburg list is to search on  To go directly to the collection, this is the link.  If you don't have an Ancestry subscription, you have to order the microfilm from the Family History Library.  If anyone knows of a free source, please add that in a comment.

If you can't find your ancestor's name in the Ancestry index to the Hamburg lists, you can search them manually for the ship and then go through that ship's passenger manifest.  The typical transatlantic voyage took about two weeks, so start 3-4 weeks before they arrived in North America and go forward until you find the ship.

Here's an example of the illegible chicken scratches on a typical Quebec arrival record (and this is not the worst by far):

Family of Gerhard Siemens, Passenger Manifest of Vessels Arriving Quebec, Canada, 27 August 1874, ship Hibernian, list 63.  Accessed at Library and Archives Canada
 And this is a typical record from the Hamburg departure records (for a different family):

Passenger Manifest of Vessels Departing Hamburg, Germany, 7 August 1874, ship Halifax, lines 62-64, Hamburg Passenger Lists 1850-1934, Staatsarchiv Hamburg, Germany, Indirekt Band 26, Microfilm S_13127.  Accessed at on 23 November 2013.
Which would you rather try to read?

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