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Sep 23

Thank You, Jacob Miller!

Jacob Miller (1843-1918) Photo c1900

Nearly two decades ago, when I first seriously started researching my family history, I wanted to find immigration information about my great-grandfather Jacob Miller. On what ship did he travel? When and where did he arrive? I knew he immigrated sometime in the last half of the 19th century but I didn’t know the exact details.

Today many original records and indexes are available on the Internet and we can do a lot (but not all) of our research without ever leaving our home. But back in the early 1990s genealogy research on the World Wide Web was basically nonexistent. The Internet was just in its infancy. Back then I researched the old-fashioned way–by going to a library and looking through indexes, volumes of books, and reels of microfilm.

I knew a few details about Jacob Miller. I knew that he was born in 1843 and that he came from the town of Bierbach in Germany, which was actually the Kingdom of Bavaria at that time. These things I learned from our church records. I knew his mother’s maiden name was Marie Kessler and I knew from his naturalization records that he immigrated in about 1871.

With that information, I headed off to the best genealogy library around, the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I was all set to search through many volumes of passenger indexes which hopefully would lead me to the drawers of passenger lists on microfilm.

At the library I found a set of Germans to America, edited by Glazier and Filby. This multi-volume set of books (now up to Volume 60) contains an index of passengers arriving at US ports during various years. The books contain lists of names, ages, occupations, sometimes places of origin, and destinations for many German immigrants. It also lists the ship name, port, and the date of the passenger ship list. I zeroed in on Volume 25, 2 Jan 1871-30 Sep 1871.

My first challenge was to consider the possible spelling variations of the Miller surname. How did Jacob spell his name when he immigrated? Was it Mueller, Muller, or Miller? I would have to search through them all.

In addition, Miller is a very common surname. According to several Internet sources, Miller is the most common surname in Germany and the 6th most common surname in the United States! Having a less common surname is usually an advantage in genealogy. Finding immigration information about my Schinnerers or Pflügers shirley would have a lot been easier.

If those two things weren’t enough of a problem, the name Jacob was a very common given name. Jacob Mueller. Do you realize how many Jacob Mueller/Muller/Millers immigrated to the United States in the late 1800s? I can only tell you that the Jacob Muellers were leaving the Germanic Kingdoms in droves back then! How was I ever going to find my great-grandfather in an index? Would I ever learn where and when he arrived in America and on what ship he traveled?

I got real lucky. As I mentioned before, each volume lists passenger information that may include the province or country of origin, village of origin and destination. The column for that information was in code and the code for the village of origin for most of the immigrants was ZZZZ, which meant that the city or village of origin was unknown. But behind Jacob Mueller’s name was the code AAMB. According to the book’s key AAMB was the code for Bierbach! My great-grandfather, my very thoughtful and wise-beyond-his-years great-grandfather, told someone during his immigration process that he was from Bierbach. That tiny bit of information set him apart from all the other Jacob Muellers that immigrated in 1871.

The name of this little German town enabled me to find the information I was looking for. From Volume 25, page 235 I learned that Jacob Mueller left from the port of Bremen and later Southampton on the ship Bremen and arrived in New York on 15 June 1871. He was 28 years old, male, a farmer, from Bierbach, and his destination was Indiana. It all fit in with what I knew.

Germans to America, Vol. 25:235

Jacob may not have been traveling alone on his voyage to America. Next to him on the passenger list was Christian Kessler, 25, a farmer from Bierbach, destination was also Indiana. Jacob’s mother was a Kessler and Jacob’s uncle, Christian Kessler had been living in Mercer County for about 20 years already. I’m not sure who this young traveling Christian Kessler was, but I bet that he and Jacob were related in some way.

I found a copy of the Bremen’s passenger list that same day at the library and saw Jacob Mueller’s name written on it. That was exciting.

Perhaps Jacob Miller somehow sensed that one day his great-granddaughter would search for his name on a passenger list. So he decided to make it a little easier for her by detailing some vital information along the way.

Dankeschon, Jacob Mueller!

6 comments

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  1. kenny

    Very informative and interesting.
    Thanks for all your efforts on researching our family history.

    1. Karen

      Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Shelley

    Great post! It really helps to see how you put the clues together step by step. I’ve found one German immigration record so far, but have several more to go–and one of them is named Mueller!

    1. Karen

      Thanks! Keep searching. Persistence pays off!

  3. Michelle

    Hi Karen,
    I was excited to find your blog. I am searching for my great great grandfather James Miller translated I assume as Jakob Mueller? (also born in Germany). He met & married my great great grandmother her in the U.S. but I cannot find their names in any records besides a CA Court transcript listing them as my great grandfathers parents.
    Are there any tips in searching the Germans to America index (if that’s the best choice), when you don’t know your German ancestors state or town of origin?
    I don’t know the year he immigrated either, I just make a guess based on his son (my ggfather Jack Robert Miller being born in NV in 1892).
    I do know his occupation later in life (Mining Engineer), but if he was young when he immigrated, it wouldn’t show anything on the index or passenger lists.

    Thanks for any tip,
    Mommy Genealogist trying to research with a 3 1/2 yr old and 18 mo old running around………
    Michelle

    1. Karen

      Finding your German ancestor’s place of origin can be difficult but is necessary if you want to research them in German records. The best place to look for the place of origin is in the documents your ancestor left behind. I was fortunate because several documents indicated that my Jacob Miller was from Bierbach, Bavaria. Did your ancestor leave any letters from the home country? Any old photos with writing on the back that might give clues? Was he naturalized? Try to locate his Naturalization Record. An old Bible with family information? Any religious documents–baptism, confirmation, or marriage documents? Church records? Our old church records often gave the town and German sate of origin. If the immigrant lived long enough and was enumerated in any of 1900-1930 censuses, those enumerations asked the year the person immigrated. However, that year may not be accurate and may very in the different census years, depending on who gave the information. If you have possible year of immigration you can look for him in passenger lists, on-line and in indexes. But, Miller/Muller/Mueller is one of the most common German names, so you may have to try to figure out who he may have immigrated with and look for them on the passenger list, too. Remember that family, friends, and/or neighbors usually immigrated together and settled in the same area and relocated together. Look for your ancestor with those people and people he lived near once he settled in America. Did he have siblings who immigrated? You may have to research his FAN Club (family, associates, neighbors) to find him. I hope this helps a little. Good luck with your research and thanks for writing.

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