German Genealogy & Surnames

german genealogy

German-Americans make up the largest percentage of the population in America today, with a whopping 17 percent referring to themselves in this ancestry group. The German language was actually freely spoken in this country at one time, although the consideration of German as the official language of the United States is really just a myth. Still, the large population of Germans living here has greatly influenced the culture and traditions of American life as well.

If you are on the hunt for your German genealogy, you are in luck! With so many German-Americans migrating to America, there is a wealth of information available on family trees and interesting genealogy facts. However, the abundance of data can make it confusing to find the specific facts you are looking for. Careful tracing backward from the current generation, using good, reliable resources, will be the best way to find accurate information on others in your German genealogy.

German surnames typically consist of a single word, although titles of aristocrats may be longer and often include the word "Von," which means "of." These names enjoy a long and illustrious history, with influential people like Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Immanuel Kant enjoying a German ancestry.

Tracing German Ancestry

The German culture did not begin to emerge until the Middle Ages, with the formation of the kingdom of German, and later, the Holy Roman Empire. The Celts were actually believed to be the first settlers in this region, followed by German tribes towards the end of the 2nd century, B.C. The country began to expand in the 4th and 5th centuries A.D. under the rule of Charlemagne, who was crowned the Holy Emperor of the region in 800. The country continued to grow and develop over the next several centuries, even as the Holy Roman Empire began to decline.

The Expansion of Germany

In 1870, after the Franco-Prussian War, the German Empire was officially created. During the 19th century, the German population grew by leaps and bounds, and it spurred the emigration of hoards of Germans to the United States. The rise of the Nazis during the 20th century was an effort by Adolf Hitler to unite all factions of the German territories, an idea that was initially welcomed by a number of ethnic Germans living in other nearby countries. However, after World War II, those same ethnic Germans were expelled by their countries and had to flee to other areas, including Canada, the United States and South America.

German Migration to America

The first German settlers came to America in 1608, in Jamestown, Virginia. Many more sailed over in 1680 and settled down in areas of New York and Pennsylvania. The largest number of Germans may have migrated to America between 1840 and 1900. Many of those immigrating to America in the early years were in search of religious and political freedom. Some wanted more economic opportunities. Many early German settlers began as indentured servants, but others worked as blacksmiths or in other industrial jobs.

German ancestry can be credited for influence on many American trades today. The German-Americans who settled here were responsible for setting up the automobile manufacturing plant that made Studebakers. Other German-Americans brought their brewing skills to this country, opening up breweries like Pabst, Old Milwaukee and Miller. If you are in search of your German ancestry, you may find a family tree that boasts a number of colorful characters who were instrumental in influencing some sort of trade or industry today.

Famous German Ancestry

Famous Germans abound in the United States, so if you tout a German genealogy, you are certainly in good company. Some of the presidents with German fathers include Dwight D. Eisenhower and Herbert Hoover. Others with German roots include John Tyler, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush and Theodore Roosevelt. Even President Barack Obama boasts some German blood on his mother's side of the family.

In the entertainment industry, German-Americans like Clark Gable, Fred Astaire and Kevin Costner have lit up the stage and big screen for generations. Music has also seen a distinct German influence in this country, with musicians still bringing works from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven to life. More recent German musicians include Linda Ronstadt, Eddie Vedder and John Denver, who was originally born John Deutschendorf.

Tracing your German ancestry can be an interesting and even exciting journey into German history. This prominent ethnic group has made a place for itself in the United States, bringing many traditions and cultural influences to this country as well.

German Family History Resources

German Genealogy Group

Tracing Your German Ancestry

German Genealogy

German Ancestry

American Families of German Ancestry

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