One strong tendency I have noticed in researching German-American genealogy is that the first household German immigrants lived in after arriving in America was usually the household of relatives, or friends from their home town in the old country. Rarely did Germans immigrate to America and then just take up residence with a complete stranger. Germans typically planned their immigration process quite carefully.
In Germany, they would usually seek permission from their village council (or, later on, the Imperial Government) to emigrate, then spend several months securing money (from their own savings and from supportive relatives) to pay for their trip, and correspond with German relatives and friends already residing in America to arrange for a job and a place to stay once they arrived.
When I was researching my great great great grand uncle, William Schmidt, who was a German immigrant, I first found him living in Tama County, Iowa in the 1885 Iowa state census, in the household of an Adam and Mary L. Hotzel. (His surname is misspelled as “Smids”.) Since I didn’t recognize the Hotzel surname at this early point in my research, I figured it must have just been a fellow German farmer who was kind enough to give my Uncle Will a job and a place to stay.
When I started to see the “Hotzel” name crop up with other Schmidts, I did a little more research into Adam and Mary L. Hotzel. Mary’s obituary, in a February 1902 edition of the Traer Star Clipper, revealed that her maiden name was “Lindemann,” the same maiden name as William Schmidt’s mother, Martha (Lindemann) Schmidt. An investigation into the church records in William’s birth village in Germany revealed that Maria “Mary” (Lindemann) Hotzel was a sister of William’s mother, Martha (Lindemann) Schmidt. William Schmidt first lived with his uncle and aunt in America.
Thoroughly checking into the identities of the household with whom your German immigrant ancestor first dwelt after arriving in America will often reveal a whole new branch of your family tree. Or, if you’re not sure what town in Germany your immigrant ancestor came from, see if you can find out the home town of the heads of the first American household they lived in–chances are good that they came from the same town. If you’ve found records in Germany that state that a relative of yours emigrated to America, but you can’t figure out where in America they ended up, check the households of other relatives and people from their home town in American censuses immediately after your German relative would have immigrated–you may find your German emigrant relative living in this household with a slightly misspelled or mistranscribed name.