Monday, November 21, 2016

How I Traced My Immigrant Family to Germany

In October, I started telling the story of one of my immigrant families: the Peters. My purpose was to find additional details about this family and their immigration, but I ended up tracing them back to Germany! I also broke through a "brick wall" and found their parents, too! This post is a summary of that discovery with links to the posts I shared as I traced this immigrant family.

Custom Map Created by My Dad
At some point, I heard a lecture or podcast about finding your ancestor's ship arrival in a New York newspaper. And, that is where this journey started. I found a short blurb in The New York Times announcing the arrival of my ancestors' ship. The account listed several places their ship had passed, so I learned more about their passage by locating those places. My dad created a custom map showing those locations, and I learned more about their passage on the Steamship Bavaria.

My great aunt, who got me started in genealogy in 1998, had found a copy of the New York passenger list for our Peters family. But, in the past few years, I found their Hamburg Passenger list on As I discussed and compared these two lists I had my breakthrough: I realized that one of the children had listed the village of Bellin as his last residence!

My great aunt had always said the Peters family had come from Güstrow. By using Meyers Gazetteer online, I realized that the small village of Bellin was located near Güstrow. Thinking this was likely the village my family had come from, I ordered an FHL microfilm of church records for Bellin and waited.

Evangelisch Kirche [Evangelical Church] Bellin, Kirchenbuch [Church Book], 1650-1873, page 154, item 10, taufen [baptism] of Friedchen Elise Johanna Peters; FamilySearch mircofilm #68993.
[Page 1 of 2. Lists item number, birth date, baptism date, father's name and occupation, and mother's name.]
Evangelisch Kirche [Evangelical Church] Bellin, Kirchenbuch [Church Book], 1650-1873, page 155, item 10, taufen [baptism] of Friedchen Elise Johanna Peters; FamilySearch mircofilm #68993.
[Page 2 of 2. Lists child's name, 3 baptismal sponsors, and unknown.]
When the microfilm came in, I eagerly scrolled through it for baptism records of the six children. Though the first five children were not listed, I found the sixth child! And, with that record, I had found my Peters family in Germany! Finding the confirmation of the two oldest children on that same film gave me the clue I needed to find the family before they had moved to Bellin., Germany, Lutheran Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1519-1969 (Lehi: Operations, Inc., 2016), online database,marriage record of Joachim Carl Otto Peters and Henriette Maria Magdalena Bünger, 21, July 1843, Dobbertin, Mecklenburg, page 12, item 49. [Columns include month and day; banns; groom's name, occupation, and town; bride's name and town; groom's father's name, occupation, and town; bride's name, occupation, and town; whether either previously married; and priest's name.]
Back at home, I discovered the German Lutheran church records were online at! Using those records, I found the marriage record of my Peters immigrant couple, Joachim and Henriette Bünger Peters, which listed their hometowns and their father's names. The "brick wall" was falling down!

Using Joachim's father's occupation from the marriage record, I was able to find Joachim, two of his siblings, and his parents, Jacob and Hedwig, in the 1819 census. The record also listed Hedwig's maiden name: Borgward., Germany, Lutheran Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1519-1969 (Lehi: Operations, Inc., 2016), online database, baptism record of Hedwig Margaretha Johanna Borgward, 25 September 1785, Lübchin, Behren , page 90.
I didn't blog about it, but I was also able to find Hedwig's parents and siblings using baptism records contained in the German Lutheran records on Ancestry. Her parents were Eckhard Joachim Borgward and Anna Margaretha Ahrends., Germany, Lutheran Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1519-1969 (Lehi: Operations, Inc., 2016), online database, baptism record of Henriette Maria Magdalena Bürger, 09 July 1817, Dobbertin. [Columns list day of birth; day of baptism; father's name, occupation, and town; mother's name and town (of birth?); child's name; sponsors; and unknown.]
I had more trouble finding Henriette Bünger's parents. The key to my success? MyHeritage. Another member at MyHeritage had Henriette Bünger listed on their tree along with her parents and siblings. Using one of her siblings, I was able to find a baptismal record in the correct church and then scroll through the records until I found Henriette's baptism. I hadn't been able to find the family because the surname had been transcribed incorrectly.

What surprised me the most about this family was how much they moved around. When I found my Kaechle family's origins in Germany a few years ago, I discovered church records in the same church going back to the late 1500's! But, the Peters family moved every few years. Without the Lutheran church records available on Ancestry, I would not have been able to discover so much so quickly. It was an amazing experience!

There are still more records that need to be found. And, there are still some records I've found that need transcribed, translated, and/or analyzed. But, I am excited at what I was able to uncover about my family and their history. And, I hope my family members enjoyed these discoveries, too, and that others might have discovered something they can use in uncovering their own family history.

Are we related? I'd love to talk! Please leave a comment or email me at


  1. What a great story of discovery. Sounds like it came fast and furious! Were you able to keep up with the sourcing and data entry? Often times, I just want to keep going!!

    1. Thanks, Raul. Great question! And, the answer is "no" - I wasn't able to keep up. I felt like I was in an avalanche of knowledge! I need to go back more calmly now and go through each document more slowly. I believe I have added them all to my tree. And, I primarily use Ancestry so the documents are actually attached at this point. But, there is more work to be done!

  2. Are your images correctly placed with the text and the sources? Your first record image looks like a marriage record. Maybe I'm confused because I don't have any experience in these records.

    1. Hi, Randy. Thanks for asking! I double checked and I did have the correct document. Whew! But, I have now added additional information about what is included in each column. I hope this is helpful!

  3. This is really, really good stuff. I've pretty much kept my research to America but am anxious to start researching in Europe. Looks like there could be a lot of goldmines just waiting for me.

    1. Thanks, Debi! And, I know "everyone" says to do all the research you can about a family here at home before jumping across the ocean, BUT... if you find that key that opens the door, I say "walk" through it! The Hamburg passenger list was the key I needed. I have actually found another German family on that same list, but the name of the place isn't as clear. I hope to make the jump with that family soon! Thanks for reading & commenting on my blog!


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