One of the best kept secrets in the Hessian genealogy field is the Hessisches Staatsarchiv Marburg’s (the Hessian State Archive of Marburg) free emigration look-up service.
If you send an email (in German text) to the State Archive in Marburg asking them (politely) to check for an emigration of a Hessian ancestor (note–they only keep records for the Hesse region of Germany, not other regions like Bayern, Thuringia, Nordrhein-Westfalen, etc.), they will do it for you at no cost. Their Kontaktformular (“contact form”) is located here.
If your German is rusty, the labels next to each of the form fields is thus:
Anrede – salutation
Vorname – your first name
Nachname – your last name
E-Mail – your e-mail address
Themenkomplex – topic
Betreff – subject of your message
Ihre Nachricht an uns – your message to [the Archive]
Before you go sending a message, you need to know the actual German name of the person you seek. Keep in mind what I mentioned in my seventh German genealogy tip blog post: Germans often Anglicized their name after arriving in America. Therefore, if you seek the emigration data of your German ancestor named Charles, he is probably not going to appear in German records as “Charles,” but as “Karl”. If you seek the emigration data of your German ancestor named Louis, he is probably not going to appear in the German records as “Louis,” but as “Ludwig”. Use my previous blog post with a list of German names and their most common English versions in order to make sure you have the correct German version of their given name. The same goes for their surname. If you seek the emigration data of your German ancestor with a last name of “Smith” or “White,” they are going to appear in German records under “Schmidt” or “Weiss,” respectively.
Before you send your message to the Marburg Archive, you also need to know what town in Germany he was from (the exact town name, not just the district), you need to have a general idea of what year he was born, and you need to have as close of an idea as possible of when he emigrated. If you know the exact year or month he emigrated, that is great, but if not, a rough estimate of a year should suffice.
Once you have put together sufficient information, you need to write your request to the Marburg Archive in German. An example of such a message might be:
Ich suche nach Informationen suchen über die Auswanderung (sogenannte “Entlassung aus dem Untertanenverband”) der Conrad Lindemann (geb. 1.1.1813) aus Machtlos (bei Ronshausen). Conrad Lindemann und seine Familie kam in Amerika auf 12.6.1848. Für Ihre liebenswürdige Unterstützung sage ich Ihnen vielen Dank im Voraus!
English translation: I seek information regarding the emigration (the so-called “release as subject of the federation”) documents of Conrad Lindemann (born 1 January 1813) from Machtlos (near Ronshausen). Conrad Lindemann and his family came to America on 12 June 1848. I thank you in advance for your kind assistance.
After you have finished typing your message (if you use mine above as a template, please make sure you change all mentions of the individual to your individual, and all dates to your dates (or else you’re going to get a response about Conrad Lindemann from Machtlos, not a response about your ancestor), you must hit the “Senden” button, which, as you can probably guess, means “Send”. You should then receive a success message that reads: “Ihre Informationen wurden am [DATE] um [TIME] Uhr an uns weitergeleitet. Herzlichen Dank!” (Your information was, on [DATE] at [TIME] o’clock passed along to us. Thank you!”)
Following the successful submission of your request, you need to wait patiently. It will take at least two weeks to hear back from them, and possibly as long as two months, depending on how busy they are.
When you do hear back from them, if they have successfully located your ancestor’s emigration info, the emigration info may contain as little as their name and the month they emigrated; it may also contain their occupation, assets, who paid their emigration fees for them (often a family member), and/or number of family members they are traveling with; in some rare cases, it may even contain the full names and birth dates of all of their family members. (The latter is uncommon, though.) There is a chance, however, that your ancestor’s emigration information will not be found. This may be because you have given them the wrong town name for your ancestor, but it may also be because your ancestor emigrated without permission from the local government. Many Hessians emigrated without filing the proper documentation (many men were trying to leave unnoticed, to escape military conscription).
You will notice that I have mainly mentioned “men” and spoken in the masculine in this post. There is a reason for this. For the most part, only the “man” of the family needed to file for emigration. His wife and young children would probably not have been named in emigration documents, and–if mentioned at all–are probably just mentioned in a manner similar to: “Peter is emigrating with his wife and three children.” There might be an emigration record for a woman if she emigrated alone.
- The Marburg Archive deals with Hessians only
- Fill out all the fields in the contact form
- Write your request in German
- Include the name, precise home town, age, and approximate emigration year in your request message
- Send your request and make sure you get a success message
- Wait patiently (it will take a matter of weeks before you hear back from them)
- Keep in mind you might get back a negative result (this could mean you have the wrong home town for your ancestor, or that they simply never filed for permission to emigrate before they left Hesse)