I became far more aware of my roots in the Carnegie Library in Bryan, TX. But the experience there didn’t prepare me for the shock I had last night when I read that after the Irish stopped coming to the United States in the 18th century to escape famine, that Germans began moving to the USA. By the time they stopped, almost 5 million Germans had emigrated to the US and Canada. Five million! When the 1990 census asked US citizens to tell where they came from initially, 57 million said they were at least part German in heritage.
Why did Germans flood to the USA between 1830 and 1860? To escape political oppression, religious persecution, and, like the Irish, to leave behind poor economic conditions. They mostly settled in a band extending from Philadelphia to the West Coast. In fact, part of this Pennsylvania city is called Germantown. Most of the new immigrants from Germany settled in the Dakotas, Nebraska, Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin.
Then I read today about a largely German ancestry town in Michigan called Frankenmuth in my 2nd to last copy of National Geographic Traveler, which ceased publication after its Dec/Jan issue. I have read every Traveler during the 35 years it was around and will miss it a lot. I had never heard of Frankenmuth, which is called Michigan’s Little Bavaria. Then I began to think about other largely German communities that I was familiar with like Fredericksburg, TX, Leavenworth, WA, and New Ulm, MN. I discovered New Ulm quite by accident a couple of years ago. Looking around it, I felt like I was in Germany. New Ulm is in Brown County where 63.8% of the residents are of German ancestry.
American cities other than Philadelphia that experienced a large influx of Germans included Chicago, Milwaukee, San Antonio, and my hometown St Louis. I remember as a youth being told about the significant number of Germans living in South Saint Louis. In that non-pc age, they were referred to as the “scrubby Dutch” because they were so orderly. Many neighborhood bakeries were owned and run by Germans. My family regularly visited our German relatives in Illinois, the Meisenbachs. Ohio, where many Harbaughs settled, including the family that produced my most famous relatives John and Jim, has 3.2 million residents that claim German roots. Texas attracted 2 and 1/2 million Germans. Washington, where Ruth and I now live, has 1.4 million citizens who claim German forebears. Missouri, where we grew up, has 1 and 1/2 million people of German extraction.
I’ll never forget the shock of making a wrong turn on my way to Gettysburg, PA, and finding myself on Harbaugh Church Road.
PS The painting up top called “Red Evening Sky” is by German artist Emil Nolde and is in the St Louis Art Museum’s collection.