German Ancestry

Since their arrival at Jamestown in 1607 along with the English, Germans have been one of the three largest population components of American society. When Columbus arrived in America in 1492, he did so in the name of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, that is, with the entitlement of the Habsburgs who also ruled Germany as part of the Holy Roman Empire.

It was a German cosmographer, Martin Waldseemüller, who suggested that the New World be designated “America.” A bestselling book in 1829 about Missouri by Gottfried Duden inspired a tidal wave of emigration.

Many people don’t realize that, like the Irish, Germany was struck by a potato blight that led to famines in 1840, which led to increased immigration into the United States.

German immigration began in the seventeenth century and continued throughout the postcolonial period at a rate that exceeded the immigration rate of any other country; however, German immigration was the first to diminish, dropping considerably during the 1890s.

Contrary to myth, the first German immigrants did not originate solely in the state of Pfalz. Although emigrants from Pfalz were numerous from 1700 to 1770, equally high percentages came from Baden, Württemberg, Hesse, Nassau, and the bishoprics of Cologne, Osnabrück, Münster, and Mainz.

During the American pre-Revolutionary War period, immigrants came primarily from the Rhine Valley. German emigration during this period was almost exclusively via French or Dutch ports like LeHavre or Rotterdam.

Since most passenger ships recorded where the passengers boarded the ships as the point of departure, rather than the actual country where they last lived, many Germans were recorded in subsequent immigration records as being French or Dutch.

German Americans are most densely settled in the traditional “German belt” of Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa. One settlement pattern was named the “German triangle” from Saint Paul to St. Louis and Cincinnati incorporating other cities of German settlement: Chicago, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne and Davenport.

Germans had an important role in the cotton trade based in Louisiana so many arrived in New Orleans and made their way up the Mississippi, Ohio and Missouri rivers. Early German immigrants arrived in the port of Philadelphia and many chose to settle in Pennsylvania.

Many who arrived in New York traveled the Erie Channel and the Great Lakes to the Midwest. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were both baseball legends and sons of German immigrants.

Albert Einstein, the prominent scientist in the field of physics, and atomic energy in particular, was an immigrant from Germany.

In 2000, people of German descent comprised the largest nationality or ethnic group in the United States. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 46.5 million people, or 15.2 percent of the population, claimed German ancestry.



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German Immigrant History in the US 1700-1799

In the 1700s, the settling of the British colonies by small German-speaking religious groups continued.

German Immigrant timeline 1800-1899

1804 – A Protestant group from Wuerttemberg, named Rappists after their leader George Rapp, founded Harmony, Pennsylvania, a utopian community.

German Immigrant timeline 1900 to Present

1910 – In this year, an estimated 2.3 million German-born immigrants lived in the United States. With declining immigration and increasing assimilation, the number of German-language publications fell to about 550.

German Immigrants Timeline 1600 – 1699