Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Texas Immigration Agents Records: Do they exist, and if so where to start?

The 30 September 1887 newspaper "the Galveston Daily News" contains the only known passenger list for a group of incoming Texas immigrants, the majority of whom were German and Czech. (located here, page 8). The arrival manifests were destroyed in the 1900 hurricane in Galveston. The Bremerhaven-Bremen departure lists only exist for the years 1920-1939 (accessible here).

The article states at the end that the passengers are destined for various parts of the state, "having been sought out by agents."

My understanding is that immigration "agents" were people who helped recruit immigrants, met them somewhere after their arrival (not necessarily the dock), and guided them to their destination. They spoke English while many of the immigrants did not. They were paid for their services, by the immigrant. Sometimes they were unfair, taking advantage of the immigrant's ignorance.

My question is: what Texas immigration agent records might still exist, and where might I find them?

I am interested because I keep running into the problem of  25-30 year old females who immigrated "alone" (aka apparently without kin, but almost certainly with countrymen) to Texas and got married a year later, leaving few clues as to a village of origin. If there was an agent, who presumably corresponded with the immigrants in the old country somehow, might the correspondence still exist, perhaps in somebody's personal papers, a library, or elsewhere?

There are other places to look for village of origin clues, but I was deeply struck by that phrase in that article, and I'm interested in these specific records. 

Thus began my research. I sent most of the above text to my colleagues who are part of the Transitional Genealogists Forum. I got back some good suggestions. Here's where I'm at.

I contacted the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Here is part of their response:

We do not have the records for the various immigration agents that operated in the State of Texas.  These agents operated either independently or through some private companies or corporations.  They were not a part of any specific state agency of Texas.  Therefore, we would not have their records.  If such records still existed for any of these men, they might be found in various libraries or institutions as manuscript collections.  None appear to be found in our manuscript holdings.

It seems very unlikely I would find any (if they exist) surviving records of an immigration agent working on their own, but it's implied in the above statement that not all of these agents worked alone; that they perhaps did have a network within their private companies or corporations.
Maybe the records do still exist somewhere.

I think the first step towards tracking down any of these records would be to find more information about the companies themselves. My first thought is to look at advertisements in old newspapers, especially Czech language newspapers printed in Texas, like the Svoboda. But I really don't know where to find physical copies of these. They are referred to in many books about Texas Czechs, as are some of the first Czech immigrants who wrote home praising Texas as a great land of opportunity. Hmmmmm hmmm.

  • Contact the Bremerhaven Emigration Museum. Maybe the people I'm researching were registered in the city records, if they had to stay there for a length of time before leaving.
  • Look through my personal Texas Czech library for references to agents and other countrymen who extolled the virtues of Texas. Wasn't there someone named Anton Bergman or something, who came here and wrote home? I read something about that...dig it up, find it, learn more.
  • Find old newspapers that might contain advertisements for agents and companies.
  • Galveston Daily News
  • Czech language newspapers, like the Svoboda. Where is it even located?!
  • Contact the SPJST. They may have some records pertaining to this. They certainly have records of interest anyway! I have already tried to email them twice with no luck. Perhaps a phone call will work.

What do you know about Immigration Agents of the past? Where do you think is a good place to start looking?

No comments:

Post a Comment