Migration in Europe – The Global Village

Europe was always moving.

Migration in the history of Europe around 1648

In earlier times whole families, religios and village communities were moving through Europe and left thousands of kilometers behind. The radius of their movement thereby was reaching from the Black Forest to the Black Sea. Only seldom a carriage or horse was accompanying them. Most of the time they had to walk to their place to stay. Therefore, such marches took several months and a lot of births, deaths and other stories were marking their ways.

As you see, people were not only changing the region or the city but princedoms, countries and even continents. In fact, this is why we have a network of 300 historians and genealogists around the world. Even without the Internet or airplanes, Europa was already a big village.

Europe was always mobile.

Following anecdote also demonstrates the high mobility of Europeans and also how Europa in fact had a village population. A client with a Spanish sounding surname was interested in his ancestors. Thus, his name insinuated Spanish influence with a little imagination. However, the search of traces did not lead to Spain but Belgium. You may wonder now, why Belgium? In fact, Belgium as the Netherlands and Luxembourg was under Spanish rule. Therefore, our investigation showed how a German with Belgian roots can reach a Spanish surname.

The 15th and 16th Century

There were a lot of reasons to migrate. Between the 15th and 16th century for example a lot of people from Hunsrück migrated to Poland. Historians assume economical motives since they brought a lot of money to Poland and so they became an important part of financial sources there. In the 16th century a lot of people were changing their residences due to reformations and counter-formations to be able to exercise their religions without complications. The Holy Roman Empire of the German nation was like a patchwork of princedoms. Regarding the religions of this princedoms people decided where they wanted to live. Back in this time the principle „Cuius regio, eius religio” ruled religious issues. That means that the population had to adopt the religion of the sovereigns.

The 17th Century

The Thirty Years‘ War in the 17th century not actuated armies but also the civilian population. Like the literary figure Mother Courage from Bertolt Brecht whole legions where supporting soldiers with their bloody conflicts. They provided the soldiers with anything they needed and kept themselves alive with the things that remained after the slaughter.

The 18th Century

Until the 18th century the economic motives where the major reasons for migration. This had extensive consequences: Lack of land, increasing supply problems and poverty. Due to the cold winter 1708/9 for the first time people emigrated. Especially the southern part of Germany had a big interest in emigrating. Thereby the most favored countries were Hungary, Russia and Poland. In return these countries quite were interested in the immigrants, so they recruited them actively. Even back than ruler did location policy. In this terms Katharina the Great, tsarina of Russia for example was ahead of her times. She had a great talent with networking and therefore was able to make business with the royal court of Württemberg. With this contact she aimed to get Swabians who were willing to immigrate to Russia for farming and craft. In turn the royal court of Württemberg got free country, timber, cattle, different devices and tax reductions. 


Prussia – Westphalia – Saxony around 1812

The 19th Century

The migration had a big upswing into the „New World“ in the first half of the 19th century. Already in the 18th century a lot of people dared the dangerous sea route in direction America. Between 1834 and 1845 the number of immigrants was about 20,000 people annually. Some years later this number reached 1,1 Mio.

The 20th Century

Due to war contractions of World War I and II again great refugee movements started in the 20th century. A very popular example is the flight of Albert Einstein, who had Jewish origins. Like thousands of other people, he never returned to Germany, they feared the crimes of the National Socialism.

The 21st Century

But the wave of immigration was not a one-time thing of the 19th century. At the beginning of the 21st century a similar number of people were leaving Germany. However, a lot of people are also turning back home.