Franz Joseph Kerber was born in Jan 1825 in Munich, Bavaria. In the 1860 census he was married and my great grandmother had been born in 1858. In 1862, he ran the saloon at 82 Front St in Worcester, MA. His wife was also from Germany, but from Wertheim, and I believe emigrated in 1848 (I'll save her for a different question). They were married in Greenfield, MA (60 mi northwest of Worcester).

Franz (born 1825) was the son of another Franz Joseph Kerber who I believe was born December 20, 1791 in Bayern, Germany and died 1866 in Greenfield, MA. It's possible they immigrated together to the US or it's possible one followed the other.

The timeframe appears to be 1826-1858 and the two endpoints are Germany/environs to probably Boston.

I have not yet put serious effort into this particular task (finding the voyage/ship he immigrated on) and am asking for help in high-value places to focus my research.

I have spent some time last year (pre-genealogy.se) at The American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, MA and with google, americanancesors.com, Ellis Island (before realizing timeframe was wrong) websites. Recently I've searched a wider range of sites due to help from the answers to this question - but still have quite a lot to do wrt some of the suggestions already mentioned in answers below and in What details are needed about ancestor to uncover ship they immigrated to America on?. The wide time frame, wide geographic area, and name variants make for a lot to go through. I'd appreciate suggestions on how to find the 'known' to help me narrow down the search.

What else should I research prior to looking for ship? What else can I research to find the ship?

  • 1
    Curious as to why you thought Ellis Island would have been relevant to the search for someone who was here by 1860? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellis_Island
    – GeneJ
    Nov 26, 2012 at 17:08
  • @GeneJ - excellent point. I didn't realize they wouldn't be applicable. At the time I just knew they had immigration records. I thought www.ellisisland.org had all NYC records not just literally from the island itself.
    – Duncan
    Nov 26, 2012 at 17:27
  • Are you able to post the reference to your Franz in the 1870 census?
    – GeneJ
    Nov 26, 2012 at 17:31
  • @GeneJ - at moment I don't have it. I only have my late father's notes. He did most of his research pre-intenet by going to places and looking at records. Worcester is particularly rich with directories, newspapers, etc because of American Antiquarian Society. He didn't keep much detail (if any) on his sources. When he was young, he also corresponded with his grandfather on genealogy so some of the data comes from those letters which he kept. I'm curious to your 1870 census reference. Does something I have imply it came from the 1870 census? Would it help find the ship or timeframe?
    – Duncan
    Nov 27, 2012 at 12:39
  • In case it's not obvious, Bayern is just the German name of Bavaria.
    – tripleee
    Oct 14, 2022 at 7:43

3 Answers 3


Castle Garden was America's first immigration station, operating from 1855 to 1890. Ellis Island operated from 1892 onwards. So, given the timeframe you're looking at, Castle Garden is the relevant station for immigrants arriving at New York. You should search at castlegarden.org, which:

offers ... an extraordinary database of information on 11 million immigrants from 1820 through 1892, the year Ellis Island opened.

If this is a match for Franz Kerber, the ship is the Zurich.

You could also look at Massachusetts Archive Passenger Manifest (1848-1891) Contents for Boston arrivals, although this is a work in progress so an unsuccessful search should be repeated at intervals. There are currently no Kerbers listed but I haven't tried variant spellings.

You can search for information about Germans immigrating to America at the US National Archives here. There are a number of Franz Kerbers, which expand the possible matches and may include the father as well as the son.

Cyndi's List has other suggested resources. There is a similar page for New York. The FamilySearch wiki page on US Immigration and Emigration will also be helpful. Ancestry.com is reputed to have the most complete database of U.S. passenger lists (but note these aren't included on Ancestry.co.uk and probably not other ancestry sites). http://stevemorse.org/ may simplify your searching.

  • 1
    Ancestry.com probably has the most complete database of U.S. passenger lists, for all ports of entry.
    – efgen
    Nov 26, 2012 at 20:54
  • @ColeValleyGirl: Understood, but Ancestry.com can still be listed as a resource to provide the most complete answer possible, especially when the free resources are incomplete (such as the MA archives database that you mentioned). Many public libraries have a subscription to Ancestry, so individuals who don't have their own subscription can always try the library route :-)
    – efgen
    Nov 26, 2012 at 21:10
  • Thank you all. I had done ancestry previously (about a year ago) - I should have added that to my list (and I should do it again since time passed as well as I'm in theory better at it now). As a result of suggestion on Castle Garden and to look at German immigration sites, I found netfiles.uiuc.edu/beaumont/www/In%20Depth/… and it led me to immigrantships.net - all of which I have to check out. Just read the us archives addition - thanks again, I'll definitely check that (as well as the others)
    – Duncan
    Nov 26, 2012 at 21:20
  • Just to clarify, ancestry.co.uk (etc) do have all the US records including shipping, with a world subscription. The world subscription can be used on any of the Ancestry sites (like .com and .co.uk) and the same records are available on each. The default "collection priority" needs to be changed though.
    – Rob Hoare
    Nov 29, 2012 at 4:50

Having read the question several times, it is still not clear to me if you are asking "when/where to search" (you have invested some time on "google, americanancesors.com, and Ellis Island") as opposed to "what research" you would conduct to learn/confirm the information about your ancestor's immigration (about which a ship's passenger list might be one of many, many sources).

You wrote, "The first part of my question is Q293 in the context of my ancestor (ie what else should I research prior to looking for ship)?

Finding aids (indices) emphasize names, dates and places, and little more. Nineteenth century passenger lists might not contain much more information. As with many/most historical materials, the finding aids and lists contain errors; rarely is the list information sufficient to directly prove the record is about your ancestor's immigration. Of course, all this assumes the list is extant and without omission (was complete as to each and every passenger without regard to race, color, creed, age, gender or social standing); it assumes a finding aid about the list has been developed.

For me, "conducting a search" is a subset of tasks that are part of the research in which I'm engaged. From the linked Wikipedia article, research "is used to establish or confirm facts, reaffirm the results of previous work, solve new or existing problems, support theorems, or develop new theories."

If you are simply trying to exhaust available finding aids based on what you believe you know, below are some suggestions:

  1. Use a research log or journal to record each search, your search criteria, and search results. As part of your log entry, I encourage you to study and note the information about the database or collection in which you conduct each search and the date on which that search was made. In my case, "search results" includes making notes about specific entries in the finding aid that look interesting.
  2. You can probably improve upon the "name(s)" (and thus the variants) you are applying in the search. (a) You wrote, "Franz Joseph Kerber was born in Jan 1825 in Munich, Barvaria [and he immigrated to the US]." It is not obvious from the question body or linked WeRelate file how you know this information, thus "how reliable" that information is. (b) From limited research, I didn't find the surname "Kerber" to be prevalent in Germany. It seemed to me that Koerber might be a variant, but it too was not prevalent in Germany. The name Körber, however, did seem to have some prevalence in Germany. You may want to correspond with contributors to the site, Kerber Surname Meaning and History; see "Kerber is variant of Körber," and "Körber and Jewish (Ashkenazic): occupational name for a basketmaker ... from an agent derivative of Korb ..." I'm sure there are other materials on this topic. (P.S. I did tinker about this man and did not find references to his middle name or a reference to "Franz." I found Francis, Frank; often a middle initial, "J." Do recall one entry indexed as "Frankz." The source of your information about his name wasn't obvious to me.)
  3. Your date search parameters (1826-1858) are probably not correct. Your WeRelate file reports he married at Greenfield, Mass. and that his first child was born either there or at Scituate, Mass., on 5 May 1852. (Again, we don't know how you know this.) These date parameters are particularly relevant to the part of Fortiter's Q293 answer where he writes, "What is the earliest record you can locate in his or her new home?"

A little separately, I read the Person Talk page about this man at WeRelate, in which you report about negative searches. Yesterday I searched some of the same big name databases that are listed there, and other alphabet soup sites; I came away with a long list of records and information that would be relevant to this man. In the process, it seemed the basic framework exists from which you could develop a good research plan about him and his family. Conversations with the genealogical societies, libraries and town clerks offices at Greenfield and Worcester could add even more value to such a plan.

I'm not saying this is the case, but when I looked at the Talk Page comments, it seemed you might be searching narrowly ("Frank/Franz/F Kerber") in broadly compiled (humongous) electronic databases. My approach is different. I prefer to seek a record where I expect to find it. I like to work from what can be very specific "known" (confirmed) information, but if I don't find the record where it should be, then I search broadly (dates, names, places, even "browse the pages") but still in specific resources. The better defined the resource, the more attractive/valuable it is to me.

You wrote, "The second [part of my question] is what resources beyond those mentioned would assist me in my search."

  1. Some of the most valuable resources you can work with are research materials you create yourself--research logs and/or journals; research plans, updated as necessary; documented interviews with genealogical societies, libraries and town clerks.
  2. Along the lines of no. 1, consider a makeover of your WeRelate file. (a) Try to keep a careful record of the many different events about which you learn and cite all your sources (even if you don't apply a formal citation style). (b) Although the WeRelate file may be misleading, it's possible you are mostly engaged in researching your direct line rather than all the individuals in each ancestral family. You'll learn much more of the whole story if you research about the entire family group.
  3. Learn "about" the events that are the focus of a search--German immigration and emigration in the period XXXX-XXXX (how, what, when and why); German communities at Greenfield and Worcester, and settlements of those communities at the relevant time period; naturalization in the United States and specifically in Massachusetts in the period XXXX-XXXX.

In a comment above you wrote, "I only have my late father's notes ... He didn't keep much detail (if any) on his sources. When he was young, he also corresponded with his grandfather on genealogy so some of the data comes from those letters which he kept."

This again may be a difference in our approach to the work. I think it is a good idea to first research to confirm the information contained in inherited materials, carefully documenting what I find and exhausting related resources in the process. Before long, I am on my way to developing a body of evidence, for which the family history/tradition is only a part. Then I can work from the more complete research materials to extend what "I know" (rather than what someone else thought they knew). I expect my research about the known to lead me to information about the "unknown."

P.S. You wrote, "... particularly rich" in resources. Massachusetts is a wonderful place to research. For a family of five children, there could be give or take fifteen vital records just about the kids lives; more when you add their children. One would expect at least three more vital records for the immigrating parents. If their parents and siblings immigrated, you might double the fun. Add news items and obituaries, census records, deeds, probate, court, cemetery, naturalization, etc. When you add the in-laws and other friends, associates and neighbors, then wow!


I'd like to address the question that was not-quite-explicitly asked, "[How can I find] high value places to focus my research?"

This is a question we all have to consider when deciding to spend money on a subscription service or when deciding to travel to an archive. It helps immensely to have a research plan, so you know the place, the time, and the subject of the information you want to find. No repository, no matter how extensive, will be "high value" if its own focus does not overlap with your own.

As GeneJ has suggested, a careful review of your father's notes might be very productive. Take each assertion of fact that you find, and ask what records might exist which would support that assertion. Record your sources and your negative searches. Make a list of specific questions that you would like to know, suggested to you by the evidence you review and find. These could be questions like the one you've already posed: "On which ship did my ancestor travel to the US?" but one might also be to gather information about the larger context of German immigration in general. In some cases it helps to broaden your view, in some cases it helps to focus more tightly. But be curious about everything, because you can't tell in advance which clue will be the one that helps you find what you want to know, that gives you the "aha!" moment.

For example: on one of my family's passenger lists, I noticed that the person who was the focus of my research was traveling on the same ticket number as another person from the same village, and both passengers listed the same person as the "relative/friend they were going to meet in the US". At that time I did not know how close their association was, but I thought that knowing more about this person might lead me to other information. I left a query about the passenger on a message board; because of that, I developed a correspondence with a relative of the other passenger, who alerted me to resources in the UK I did not know about. And my new friend discovered a whole new line of inquiry; she was doing a one-name study, and hadn't known that any of that part of the family had emigrated to the US.

For the specific points already discussed, Joe Beine's German Roots website may be a high-value site for you, in particular, his Basic Research Outline for German Genealogy, which is here: http://www.germanroots.com/outline.html

@ColeValleyGirl has already mentioned the One-Step WebPages at stevemorse.org -- one of the One-Step pages will aid in searching the "Germans to America Passenger Data File, 1850 - 1897" at NARA. To learn more about how that information was collected, you can see the series description on NARA's site: http://aad.archives.gov/aad/series-description.jsp?s=4432&cat=GP44&bc=,sl&col=1002

So, to recap:

  1. start a journal and keep notes as you go along
  2. for every assertion, ask "how do I know this?"
  3. if your only answer is "my father's notes say so" then ask what other records you might find to back up what he found
  4. break your tasks down into small specific questions that can be easily answered
  5. do general research on the history of the time and place so that you recognize the significance of the specific information, once you discover it
  6. when looking for new avenues of research, focus on time, place, and desired record type or information

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