We’ve all done it. You’ve gone to FamilySearch.org, typed in a first and a last name, and followed the trail of the first person you saw with the same name. It can be difficult and confusing to determine which person of 10,000 results is the correct one. So how do you link your relatives back to Pommern?
There are two ways I tend to think about substantiating connections. The first is by working backwards. Through this method, one must already know where in Pomerania their family originated. The second method is to connect people already living in Pomerania to the United States or any other place of emigration.
In either case, it is absolutely necessary to know the approximate birth year of the relative in question. Without that, even the most apt researcher will have difficulty linking sources of information. Immigrants frequently left Germany through the port of Hamburg, sometimes making stops in Liverpool or Canada before arriving at their final destination–which was frequently Ellis Island. Others left through Stettin or Bremen. What may interest researchers looking for ship manifests prior to 1900 is to know that there was an earlier place of immigration: Castle Garden. Here, immigrants are also extensively documented, though details that would later become commonplace are frequently left out of these records, such as last residence.
A trick I like to use when dealing with common names is to look for similar spousal names. If Carl Neitzel married Friederike Baum, she would take on her husband’s last name. In addition, Carl could be spelled “Karl” or his name might have been changed to “Charles.” Friederike might also have a different spelling to her name. However, the first order of business would be to find immigration records of similar pairings, noting that some may have traveled through Canada before records of arrival were maintained there.
Another piece of information that comes in extraordinarily handy is the couple’s year of marriage and if they had any children. These two pieces of information are highly valuable to limiting the search pool. One final clue is the wife’s maiden name which sometimes appears on birth or death certificates. Knowing these facts, one can narrow down results and make educated guesses until they stumble upon proof of where their immigrant relative settled.
It is also important to point out that not all people who left Pomerania settled in the United States. Many moved from smaller villages to larger cities like Berlin or Hamburg. If you are able to trace ancestors back to Pomerania, the German Standesamt would be helpful if you are able to match parents or the birth place of the relative in question.
The only caution is to not prematurely add someone to your family tree simply because their name matches. Many Carls married many Friederikes. Going based solely upon names alone will typically yield less than desirable results and will only work against you. If you are positive that the relative immigrated, check through census records from the years following his or her arrival and continue to compile a list of possible relatives until the search can be permanently narrowed down.