So far my genealogy posts have been helping those who had ancestors from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall. So I’ve located some information to help those searching for German ancestors, I hope it comes in handy 🙂
Lets start off with a little fact. Did you know that the 2001 census taken in England showed that over a quarter of a million people living in Britain were German-born? To know our present, we need to know our past.
The earliest immigrants to Britain came as invaders, those from the Roman army and those from Anglo-Saxon tribes, all of which fought in Britain, conquered some areas and settled down. Later, immigrants moved to Britain to flee from poverty, and some in search of political or religious freedom. These immigrants were unique in that they merged with every class of people, from those who were destitute and living on the streets, to even the royal family.
Believe it or not, Britain has a very strong and deep connection with Germany, including the culture and language. England only emerged with a national identity in the tenth century after the German tribes unified as one nation.
By the time of the Norman Conquest, there were already hundreds of German traders to be found in Britain. If your ancestor was perhaps one of these merchants then it would be an idea to look into the history of the merchants, particularly during 1157 as Cologne merchants had a guildhall in London. In 1281 these merchants’ existence was recognised as they had now a self-governing German hanse, or merchants’ guild, based at the Stalhof or Steelyard at Thames Street, near Ironbridge Wharf.
This Steelyard basically became its own village with warehouses, a church, offices and residential quarters. This Steelyard was the base for the Hanseatic League which was an organisation founded in the 13th century by many German cities for protection and commerce. This was not the only location for the Hanseatic League though, they also had other kontors or depots, in many other English ports including Hull, Boston and King’s Lynn, these depots supplied England with corn, wax, pitch, hemp, timber, steel, furs and copper. It was only natural that the English has disagreements with the Hanseatic League due to their trading, primarily during the 14th and 15th century and were finally resolved when Elizabeth I abolished the League’s concessions in 1597.
The docks was not the only place where German immigrants were found to work, they were also found working in the mines where they were highly valued for their expertise, they were brought to work in the Cornish mines in the 13th century, and from the late 15th century onwards into Cumbria. There were disagreements, riots and fights due to so many immigrants with the local inhabitants. In Keswick, there was a 200 strong German population which did not sit well, Leonard Stoulz who was one of the miners, was beaten to death in the town by a mob of villagers in 1565. Parish registers show that the Germans eventually integrated with the local community and surnames such as Hindmarch, Stranger, Pepper and many others remain common in the area.
Next I look into the reasons why the Germans migrated to Britain.