German immigration to North America


Early German immigration to North American was from southern Germany in the 1600s because of religious persecution. These few immigrants were uneducated peasants and came to Virginia and surrounds.

Later immigrants were from northern Germany (Saxony) and were related to the heurling system of inheritance. To keep farms from being subdivided into smaller and smaller unsustainable parcels the heurling inheritance went to the oldest son, or if no son, to the oldest daughter. The daughter had to marry. Her husband took her last name. The name remained with the farm. The oldest son inherited the land and manor house.

The heurling system remained in effect until the 1960s when it was abandoned. In the 1960s the wages of a heurleute was less than fifty percent that of a factory worker.

Sisters married and moved with their husband to other farms. Brothers became heuerleute (hired man). The heuerleute lived in the barn with their families or later in a heuerhaus. He made subsistent wages. His brother would often make him a share cropper and let him improve a small plot of land. Once the land was improved the older brother would switch parcels.

The heuerleute became adept at other trades to supplement his income, especially in the winter when he was not working the land. He became a carpenter, bricklayer or linen weaver. His wife and children suppled the raw materials for the linen. This ended when linens became factory made. Another economic disaster for the heuerleutw and reason to emigrate.

The land in northern Germany is of poor quality with a high clay content. Growing crops is difficult. The clay was used to make bricks. A large brick factory was owned by Kokenge.

Other brothers went to Holland to work supporting the labor intensive dairy industry. They worked as "lawnmowers". Hand and scythe harvesters of grass hay and grain. Others worked to cut peat. Peat was used for fuel and fertilizer. Some became sailors.

In Holland, living conditions were abysmal with a constant threat to health, a breeding ground for diseases such as dysentery, pulmonary diseases, and other disorders. Their meager hut walls were of stacked peat with a tile roof or boards, a poor shelter against wind and rain. The mattress was branches on top of the peat soil.

The largest immigration to the United States from Germany came between 1850 and early 1900s. This immigration was related to an increased birth rate (no jobs) in Saxony and free land by homesteading in the United States. Inter marriage amongst families was an unsung reason for immigration. These immigrants were educated and tradesmen. They did well and became wealthy farmers, and tradesmen. Some immigrated to South America, but the bulk came to the US.

They arrived in New York City or New Orleans. From New Orleans they went via river travel to Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati was bilingual (German and English) until WWII.

From Cincinnati they moved west as land became available. Usually, they went from one German speaking community to another across the plains. They inter married with other German families in the community, cousins marrying cousins. It wasn't until WWII that movement out of these communities occurred as the result of factory jobs and the military draft.

Our German ancestors would be horrified by the current marital mix of cultures, religion and race.