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.
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!