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Story- “One family’s experience leaving Germany and coming to America”

Germans in United States

In the mid-to-late 19th century the confederation of German states played a significant role in the number of people who emigrated to the U.S. and the new state of Wisconsin. Why Wisconsin or even the Midwest in the U.S.? The topography, weather and opportunities in the area (the eastern U.S. had already been settled and claimed by earlier immigrants) at the time provided a source for starting new homes, new freedoms and especially land. In 1862 the U.S.Congress passed, and Lincoln signed, the Homestead Act that provided an applicant freehold title to up to 160 acres (1/4 section, 65 hectares) of undeveloped federal land outside the original 13 colonies. The Native American population in Wisconsin had been pushed off or forcefully removed from prime farm land before and after the Black Hawk War of 1832. By 1900, 34% (709,909) of Wisconsin’s 2 million residents were of German heritage.

A large part of the German migration in the 19th century was from various little independent states that were not part of larger German state but a confederation of 100 small administrative units controlled in a feudal manner by a hierarchy of princes, grand dukes, dukes, margraves, abbots, electors, barons and counts. By 1815 these units became 30 states either voluntarily or through aggression of Prussia (largest state). Prussia was the location where the “Rethamel” family lived.

Rethamel Family Immigration to America

Year 1865 – US Chronolgy

  • 248,120 immigrants arrive in the United States.
  • April 9 General Robert E Lee surrenders to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia.
  • April 14 President Abraham Lincoln is assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.
  • April 15, 1865 the Rethamel (Rettammel) family leaves Hamburg, Germany for Quebec, Canada on the ship called the Keppler.

In the year 1865 the United States was in the final year of the Civil war. On or about April 15, 1865 a family called Rethamel from northeastern Prussia (Germany) in an area called Gross Boschpol, Lauenburg in the region of Pomerania was about to embark from the Hamburg port on a ship called the Keppler to Quebec, Canada and eventually to a new location in Chicago, Illinois in the United States, on the shores of Lake Michigan. Abraham Lincoln 16th President of the U.S. was killed by an assassin’s bullet and the manhunt for his killer John Wilkes Booth was just beginning.

Hamburg Passenger Lists

Handwritten Index 1865, direct to Quebec on Keppler Ship

What Information is Included:

The format of the actual index pages changed over time. Each index entry may provide the following information:

  • Passenger’s name
  • Name of ship
  • Departure date
  • Destination port
  • Page number on which individual is found on actual passenger list
  • Name of ship’s captain

Wait there is more: next week, Part 2 -more about “One family’s experience leaving Germany and coming to America”


  1. Daily Life in Immigrant America 1820 – 1870. Bergquist, James M., 2009
  2. German Immigrants in America: An interactive History Adventure. Raum, Elizabeth., 2008.
  3. Prussia: The Atlantic Bridge to Germany Volume III (Brandenburg, East Prussia, West Prussia, Pomerania, Posen). Charles M. Hall, Monda Genealoga Ligo. 1992.
  4. Germans in Wisconsin. The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, by Richard H. Zeitlin, March 1977. Third printing 1990.
  5. The Cambridge Illustrated History of Germany. Kitchen, Martin, Cambridge University Press,1996.
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