Finding the Elusive Ancestral Homeland
Finding an immigrant ancestor’s homeland can be a challenge. Obituaries, death certificates, naturalization records, as well as family histories are some ways of discovering that elusive hometown. Also, a census record may give a general time of arrival which will lead to a search in Ship Passenger Lists. Later passenger lists often name the village of birth or origin, but even earlier passenger lists are helpful, especially if the ancestor left from the port of Hamburg. The Hamburg Lists have survived over the years and they usually will name the last town of origin for the passenger. Knowing even the the last place of origin can begin a search which may lead in generations of ancestors.
Usually, it takes a combination of these sources to find where the family actually originated as can be seen in this research story…….
Thomas Schneider’s obituary stated he was from the village of Dorf Schorenburg in Scheswig Holstein, Germany. Shouts of HOORAY dim quickly when this particular place cannot be found in the German gazetteers. So, back to the drawing board. A check of the 1900 census showed that Thomas immigrated in 1877. A sister (named in his obituary) and her husband who are living in the same town as Thomas in 1900 also state they immigrated in 1877. Thomas’ mother is enumerated in his family on the same 1900 census and her immgration date was 1880. Thomas’ brother, Herman, (also named in his obituary) has an immigration date of 1880. Armed with this information, the Ship Passenger Lists were searched for these individuals. These are fully indexed and found at at some websites. As it turns out, Thomas and his sister with her husband are on the same ship…in 1877…..entering the port of New York and departing from the port of Hamburg. Thomas’ mother, along with his father, another sister and the brother Herman are on another ship….in 1880…also entering the port of New York and departing from the port of Hamburg. YES! Hamburg! Now to the Hamburg Passenger Lists which are generally very easy to navigate, once a general date of departure and the name of the ship is known, which was found on the Ship Passenger Lists. Thomas, his sister and brother in law are quickly found in these valuable lists with Thomas stating his last residence was Kiel and his sister and husband stating they were last living in Schönberg, Holstein. Thomas’ parents with their daughter and son were also found in the Hamburg lists for 1880 and all of them state they were from Schönberg in Holstein. There are more than one villages named Schönberg, but only one that is close to the larger city of Kiel. Now, remember the obituary. Where did it state Thomas was from? Schorenburg, quite likely the same place as Schönberg with an Americanized pronunciation. Thus, the family of Thomas Schneider is most likely from the town of Schönberg and so the German parish records may now be searched for their baptisms and marriages.
Note that it took more than one source to track down this town of origin. Check all possible sources and you may find that home sweet home of your ancestor.