Christian Joachim Christoph Dau was my great-great-grandfather. He was born in Sehlsdorf, Mecklenberg-Schwerin, Germany, in 1834. He left there in October 1866. The specific reason is unknown, but likely it was for economic reasons. Affordable land in the American Midwest, the state of Wisconsin in particular, became the home of many German immigrants during the 1800s. He arrived at the Port of New York in November 1866 after a nineteen-day voyage on the immigrant ship Saxonia. From New York, he settled in Whitewater, Wisconsin, and he lived there for ten years. Then he went to Kossuth County, Iowa. He was identified as a wagon-maker on immigration records and a farmer in Census records.
Compared to other immigrant groups the Germans were by far the most socially acceptable in America. They had a Protestant background and were typically thrifty and reasonably well-educated.
German immigrants of the 19th century were primarily farmers, with some skilled workers in major cities.
I’ve researched Christian’s story as I look to learn who my ancestors were and where they came from. As their immigration experiences are discovered and documented, the question is always “why”? Why did they decide to leave everything familiar behind? Why did they choose a particular destination? What were they hoping to change, to improve? Though these answers can be lost in time, their paths in the U.S., like Christian’s, can be discovered. It is still hard to imagine their courage. They had to leave family, friends, and homeland, knowing they would likely never see those people or places again. What forces pushed Christian to brave a long ocean voyage and pulled him to a strange place to make a new life? Someday I hope to know.
Diane A., Walla Walla, WA
Stories inspired by the When I Got Here podcast, hosted by Byron Harris.