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German Origins in the United States: A Guide to Local History and Genealogy Sources

Compiled by subject specialists at the Library of Congress, this guide provides print and online resources for researching the genealogy of German families in the U.S., along with key national, state and local histories.


From the old to the new world - German emigrants for New York embarking on a Hamburg steamer. 1874. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Organized German immigration to America began on October 6, 1683, with the arrival of thirteen Mennonite and Quaker families from Krefeld, Germany. They settled in "Deutschstadt" near Philadelphia, incorporated in 1689 as Germantown. Since that time, more than eight million Germans have emigrated to America.

For genealogists researching their German immigrant ancestors, finding those ancestors on ship passenger lists can be a difficult, time-consuming process. Finding their hometowns in Germany, the vital next step in German genealogical research, can be even more problematic. Unfortunately, there is no central source for German genealogical records. Unless one knows the specific place of origin, it is almost impossible to locate the German religious and civil records that are so necessary to tracing a family in Germany. The purpose of this guide is to identify lists of German immigrants in the Library of Congress (published, manuscript, and electronic). The surviving passenger manifests are available on microfilm at the National Archives, its regional facilities, and at some libraries throughout the United States. Many lists of Germans immigrants do not include their German hometown. Others, published in both Germany and the United States, include emigrants from a particular locality in Germany or those who settled in specific areas of the United States.

We have listed catalogs and archives outside the Library of Congress that have local histories, censuses, and land records. Look for various genealogy periodicals and publications, lists, useful websites and online databases, as well as services subscribed to by the Library.

Please note: These titles are meant to be a helpful starting point, but the Library of Congress has thousands of additional works on this topic, which can be found in the library catalog by searching the subject headings listed here. Questions can be directed to Local History and Genealogy reference librarians using our Ask a Librarian service.

About Local History & Genealogy Reference Services

The Library of Congress has one of the world's premier collections of U.S. and foreign genealogical and local historical publications, numbering more than 50,000 compiled family histories and over 100,000 U.S. local histories. The Library's genealogy collection began as early as 1815 with the purchase of Thomas Jefferson's library.