I’ve mentioned previously that I am currently traveling in Europe. At the moment, I’m in Germany, and two days ago, I paid a visit to the Deutsches Auswandererhaus Bremerhaven – the German Emigration Center in Bremerhaven, a port from which 7.2 million emigrants departed for the New World between 1830 and 1974. This number included over 3 million emigrants from Eastern Europe, and would have included many Latvians. I do not have exact statistics on the number of Latvian migrants that passed through Bremerhaven at present, but if these statistics exist, I will find them.
This is more than a museum – it is a walkthrough of the emigration experience. From a simulated wharf and steerage cabins to explore, to a reception centre meant to simulate that of Ellis Island in the USA, visitors are also provided with “boarding passes” including key cards that provide information about a specific migrant when swiped at certain stations.
Most interesting to me as a genealogist was the “Gallery of the Seven Million” – a hall of rows upon rows of drawers that can be opened to view copies of emigration documents, as well as cabinets that told about the social situations at the time that led to the emigration of some of these people. The passenger lists are not available for viewing past 1939, due to privacy restrictions, but some documents are available in this section beyond that date, presumably donated either by the emigrants themselves or family members. Among these were numerous Latvian emigrant documents.
In terms of the stories told and details provided, it would have been nice if there had been more about the non-German emigrants leaving through Bremerhaven, who comprised almost half of the total number. They were only vaguely referred to throughout the exhibits.
The research center provides access to several databases, such as those of Ancestry.de, but they do not seem to have any special databases available that are not available on the Internet through other channels, so if research is your specific goal, there is no need to visit the museum itself. It is, however, a moving experience to feel what the emigration experience could have been like.
Tomorrow I will be visiting the BallinStadt, a similar museum here in Hamburg. Some of my grandparents departed for Canada from here, so I am excited to visit this museum as well!