Highlights: Chapter 1 of The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide

I am reading The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide: How to Trace Your Germanic Ancestry in Europe by James M Beidler.

What struck me about the German-American story is the loss of culture which is mainly due to the two wars fought with Germany, where Germany and Germans were the enemy. No one wants to be “the other”, and many German-Americans rejected their own culture because they too didn’t want to associate themselves with the enemy of their country. Before World War I, German-Americans embraced their own culture, but after World War I, they embraced American culture trying to blend in and assimilate. That has left those Americans of German descent, without any unique identifying culture. This can really be seen in the last quote below. James M. Beidler, talks about the fact that while there are so many German-Americans in the historically German-American state of Pennsylvania, that they have a name for the Pensylvannian German-American culture, which is called Pennsylvania Dutch. It was called “Dutch” because so many people of this culture called themselves “Deutch,” the German word for German, that the American neighbors started calling them “Pennsylvania Dutch” mistaking the”Deutch” for Dutch. Beidler tells an antedote highlighting the loss of culture when he mentions the strange results of the 2000 census. When they were tallying up the census they found a sudden growth of Americans claiming Dutch ancestry. This was baffling as they knew there was not an influx of Dutch immigrants between the 1990 and 2000 census. This has made some to conclude that this German ancestry is being mistaken for Dutch. The family story of those filling out the census is of Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry, but the German-ness their culture and family history has been lost to time. The loss of this culture makes me sad. The German culture of our German-American families has disappeared and been forgotten to time.  This is personal to me, as a German-American myself, much of the German culture and traditions my family once held is now gone and I mourn those traditions and culture that define a family, are now assimilated and completely Americanized with only a few exceptions. Do you have any cultural traditions that you can trace to your family of origin? Or have your traditions been lost to time?

For more information look up Pennsylvania Dutch in Wikipedia or find the Family Tree Magazine article in it Here.

For information about the Author of this book check out James M. Biedler’s website here




  • “Since that auspicious beginning, nearly every wave of immigration to North America has included German-speaking people, and according to U.S. census data, more present-day Americans claim German ancestry than any other ethnicity.” (p. 6).


  • “The first German-dominated settlement in the United States was, appropriately, named Germantown and is now a neighborhood in Philadelphia.” (p. 7)


  • “In 1709, some four thousand Germans who were primarily from the Pfalz region immigrated to London via the Dutch port of Rotterdam. From London, most of the Palatines were shipped to New York’s Hudson Valley and enlisted in a works project for the British Navy as a way of repaying their passage. Despite deaths from hardship and disease, about 2,100 Germans arrived in the Hudson Valley in June 1710, making them the largest single immigration of people to America in the colonial period. (p. 7)


  • “From an analysis of names in the 1790 U. S. Census, it’s estimated that about 9 percent of the white population (more than 250,000 people) of the United States was German.” (P. 8)


  • “It’s estimated that at least five million German-Speaking immigrants arrived in America between 1800-1920.” (p. 9)


  • “World War I provoked a great many Americans of German Descent to downplay or even deny their roots; for example, many families named Schmidt became Smith. At the same time, many German-language publications folded, German was banned from being taught in many schools, and even churches in heavily German areas that had offered services in the tongue for the benefit of their bilingual congregations now switched to English.” (p. 10)


  • “Germans have introduced America to casserole dishes, such as pot pie, which are still eaten both in their original forms and as variants such as ‘chicken and dumplings’, in which the German origins are obscured. The same concepts are true for many other dishes such a Black Forest chocolate cake (with its still-identifiable tie to the German Schwarzwald region) and breaded veal cutlets (as what Germans call Wiener schnitzel is now usually called on American menus).” (p. 11)


  • “Ethnic misnomers can also obscure German roots. Statisticians were baffled when the results of the 2000 census showed the number of Pennsylvania residents claiming “Dutch” descent had doubled between 1990 and 2000 despite the state having little in the way of immigration (or even migration from other states). Some speculate that many in the state who call themselves by the ethnic misnomer of “Pennsylvania Dutch” are actually descendants of Germans who came in Colonial times, but they have lost this connection and assumed Dutch is their heritage.” (p. 15)

Carolin Kauten