The people now classified as German have been moving for at least 1,500 years. After the westward movement ended about 800 CE, a slow spread east from what had become the German heartland - roughly the area of the former West Germany plus Austria and German Switzerland - started. That spread was abruptly halted by WW1, and reversed at the end of WW2 when about 14 million ethnic Germans were evicted from Poland, Czechoslovakia, and other eastern European countries. Much of the eastward migration was due to normal population increase, with the extra people looking for land to farm. Some groups were recruited.

Then in the 18th century started an entirely different migration, voluntary and in great numbers, from the area of the middle Rhine and particularly Pfalz (Palatinate) and Baden. Why?

The 17th century was a horrid time for the lands along that part of Rhine south of the Mosel and Main rivers. During the Thirty Years' War (1618 to 1648) population losses of 50 to 65% were the norm, with 100% not uncommon. Some of the loss was due to military action but more due to famine and disease that accompanied the war. Then Louis XIV's forces ravaged the area for another 50 years, destroying whatever could not be annexed to France. Alsace, which had substantial numbers of Protestants, was captured by the French early in that era. Then Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had provided a degree of toleration for the Protestants. Masses of Protestants moved north and east from Alsace across the border to Protestant areas - to be followed by Louis's armies.

Through most of history, the ordinary man has seen little alternative to putting up with whatever life sends his way. People might move, but typically only far enough to find some land or evade some persecution. But in 1708 that was to change forever. Advertisements appeared offering transportation from England to the New World and free land. An estimated 33,000 gathered their possessions and headed down the Rhine to Rotterdam and thence to England. Additional thousands were turned back at Rotterdam, and some 3,000 were returned to the continent from England because they were Catholic. Thousands reached New York. Some were diverted to Ireland, where they settled permanently.

The New York settlement created in fact indentured servants in a situation where they could not succeed. Most soon moved on to Pennsylvania and found good land to create farms and towns. They wrote home, and more followed in a wave that grew to a peak in about 1766. The first German settlers created Germantown (now part of Philadelphia) but then central Pennsylvania opened and the Lancaster area became a major objective. As trails were were marked to the west, many followed them. And when the Northwest Territories were organized after 1783, many continued into that area.

Millions migrated from what is now Germany to the United States - according to some estimates, more people than migrated from England. These immigrants generally did very well, and today their descendants are all just plain Americans, speaking only English and often not identified even by their names - which were Anglicized.

In 1763 another invitation arrived on the Rhine, from Empress Catherine of Russia. Free transportation, free land, and support during the settlement period were offered. An estimated 30,000 Germans, most from the Palatinate and Hesse, answered the invitation before it was withdrawn in 1767. Most of them were settled on the Volga. Other immigration campaigns created other German enclaves in the Ukraine, Crimea and other areas. Most were settled in closed villages, and maintained their German language and traditions. By 1914 there may have been 2,000,000 such German Russians. (Precision is not possible, as the first census in the area of the Soviet Union was not held until after 1920.)

The Russian groups prospered at times but suffered at others, and many migrated to the United States, Canada and South American starting in the 1870s. The German colonies in Russia were badly damaged during WW1 and the Civil War, and completely destroyed during and after WW2 - by government policy. Many of the people were sent to Siberia and large numbers died in labor camps and due to famine. Some of the survivors managed to escape to the New World. Since the collapse of the Soviet Empire, large numbers have been allowed to migrate to Germany. Others have assimilated and in some cases risen to the top of society in their countries. (For example, one Gamber was the Prime Minister of Azerbaijan in the 1990's.)

Selected additional reading:

Koch, Fred C.: The Volga Germans. Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977. A comprehensive survey of Catherine the Great's attempt to open the Volga frontier. Few names but masses of information on the lives and deaths of these people, and the escape of some of them to the New World.

Knittle, Walter Allen: Early Eighteenth Century Palatine Emigration.Originally published: Philadelphia, 1937. Reprinted, with an added preface, by Genealogical Publishing, Baltimore, 1965, 1970, 1976, 1979, 1982, 1989, 1997. An in-depth look at an early attempt to develop New York. Good name lists, and interesting commentary on how the governments of Britain and the colonies circa 1710 worked - or did not work. Includes diversions to the Irish settlements, and migration from New York to Pennsylvania. Some of the statistics indicate that early 18th century European migrants died enroute at rates similar to those on the slave ships.

Leckey, Howard L.: The Tenmile Country and Its Pioneer Families.  Closson Press, September 1997. A history of many of the families included in our tree, their lives on the Ten Mile Creek, the earliest settlers around the creek, and plenty of Indian stories.

last update 24 June 2001

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