German Ancestors Part 4

The First World War brought with it terrible news for all the Germans who had already migrated to Britain. The day after war was declared in 1914, the Alien Restriction Act was rushed through Parliament, along with a Trading with the Enemy Act, which obliged all German owned businesses to be confiscated.


This Germanophobia spread across the country and the presses in London’s three German newspapers ground to a halt. There were twenty one suspected German spies arrested. Windows of all the butchers and bakeries which were identified as being German were bashed in by crowds of people all suffering from this Germanophobia, London’s streets soon had a different sound to them, the sound of breaking glass as one German business after the other were attacked.


A petition was received by Parliament a week after the sinking of the Lusitania, this petition had a quarter of a million signatures on it, all after the same thing, the removal of all Germans. The government obliged, interning them at the rate of 1,000 a month. They were placed in temporary camps at Frimley, Newbyry, Stratford, Hawick, Lancaster and Olympia. Some were even herded into prison ships moored off towns like Ryde or Gosport. There was eventually a huge camp built on the Isle of Man: its rows of huts would eventually hold 23,000 prisoners.


Due to the Germanophobia, many Germans took the decision to Anglicise their names. In addition to the famous royal conversions – Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor and Battenberg to Mountbatten – the writer Herman Hueffer became Ford Madox Ford and the composer Gustavus Von Holst, although the Swedish descent, dropped the Germanic ‘von’ from his name to be on the safe side.

Some Germans remained in London into the 1920’s but not many. A further influx was prevented thanks to restrictive immigration laws up until the 1930’s when the newcomers consisted of Jewish refugees fleeing from Nazism. 11,000 were admitted before November 1938, this increased to 55,000 by the time of the Second World War.


This time the government did not carry out a vindictive policy like they did with the Germans who arrived, perhaps this was because these newcomers were fleeing from Nazi persecution. After the war in 1945 there was a new influx of Germans into Britain, but their relationship was never the same as it first was, the German communities which had once been all through Liverpool, Bradford, Manchester and London had evaporated.


Tracing German ancestors in Britain can be a challenge but there are a few ways around it, for a start you can check the naturalisation records though there was no legal requirement to obtain naturalisation in Britain before the First World War. Unless of course, you were an adult male and wanted to leave real estate by will or join a London Livery Company. The place to go for these records is the National Archives should have duplicates of the certificates and declarations of these Naturalisations.


Church registers are another potential source, many of these records have been copied by the Anglo-German Family History Society.

The City of Westminster Archives Centre   has the records from the German Lutheran Church Charity which includes an investment book, subscriptions, accounts and papers 1708-1908.

Census records are also invaluable, from 1851 they should give the age and place of birth of anyone listed, it will normally say Germany or Prussia but you can sometimes get lucky and it will tell you the town or village.

The German Hospital also kept records, it might be an idea to look for them. There is an extensive collection of records held by St Bartholomew’s Hospital (reference GB 0405G). This includes staff lists and registers.

Certainly check out the Anglo-German Family History Society, they do wonders in helping people find their German ancestors.

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