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Why did they want to emigrate?

© by Felix G. Game

A question family researchers often ask about their ancestors is "why did they want to emigrate?" The question's long form would probably be something like "why would they want to leave the country they were born and raised in; why would they want to leave their families?"

The answers are complex and vary from place to place. For this discussion, the south-western part of Germany was chosen because the majority of colonists to Hungary came from that area. To fully understand, we must be able to imagine life in Germany 250 years ago. Below are some of the reasons why people willingly, and often happily committed themselves to the rigors of emigration:

Marriage: Only couples who had domicile entitlement in the same locality were allowed to marry without permission. In other words, "locals" were the approved spouses to choose; probably because they were known quantities in the community. Sometimes permission was only granted to couples if they promised to emigrate right after they were wed, or who promised to be married outside the boundaries of the Estate.

Many Estates refused to give a couple permission if one or the other had been promiscuous before the marriage. Such couples had little else left but to ask for their dismissal from their place of work (i.e. to give up their livelihoods) and to emigrate (thereby hoping to escape the penalties for immorality (8-10 Florin in cash, being locked up in the tower, being displayed publicly).

If someone married an outsider without permission, his/her domicile entitlement (Bürgerrecht) was revoked (for being "unsociable"). Conversely, if an outsider wanted to marry into a locality he had to prove that he owned 100-300 Florins.

Lack of land: Communities had no more land for new families. Most had no land for marriageable farmers' sons. Some localities were laid out for 12 families but had 32 families.

Some laws gave the youngest son the right to inherit the family farm undivided and to pay off his siblings. Older brothers had no alternative but to become farm hands, day laborers, or to learn a trade, or to join the army - or emigrate. (It must be noted, however, that only the weaver, cobbler or smith trades were allowed in villages; all other trades could only be practiced in "towns" where the guilds fought to keep down the numbers. But a new-comer to a town had to prove that he owned 200-300 Florin before he was given the right of domicile in a town.

Military Duty: Single men who were drawn for military duty (by the throw of dice) were not normally happy about it, and when the probability of a war became serious, the number of desertions increased and was punished with confiscation of existing property and of any future inheritance, and the name of the deserter was nailed to the gallows.

On the other hand, the number of volunteers during peace time was larger than the requirements of the state. It was easier to save up the money required for a domicile entitlement while in the military than it would be by working as a farm hand or day laborer. Service in the Prussian army was the most popular because it paid a higher recruitment bonus at the start and also promised that at the end of service (5-6 years) the soldier could settle with his wife in any Prussian locality of his choice and would receive the domicile entitlement for free

Threat to Existence: This category includes not so much the daily annoyances of over-regulation, but sudden large scale threats which varied from region to region and started waves of emigration. The Upper Rhine was, for example, so frequently and helplessly exposed to the direct or indirect effects of war that it could be considered the normal state of affairs between 1679 and 1748. Similarly, the Rhine Valley was notorious for its strange weather patterns causing storms, hail and flooding which often washed away the fields, fruits and hay of entire villages. The lack of food and fodder this created was then often followed by long and hard winters of famine which particularly effected people dependent on cash income such as the day laborers and tradesmen.

Promotional activity of agents from other countries recruiting immigrants often provided the final push towards a decision to emigrate. There was, however, from the very outset always the consideration of religion.

Some contributing factors to the motivation to emigrate:

1648-1689 Posturing, positioning and incursions by French troops into German territory on the right bank of the Rhine.

1688-92 The motivation to emigrate was to escape the French pressures and their consequences.

1682-92 Major emigration to Hungary - mostly from Upper Svabia.

1689 Germany declares war on France.

1689 An Imperial Commission for the colonization of Hungary is set up.

1701-14 War of the Spanish Succession.

1703 Battles for the crossings in the Black Forest.

1709 Beginning of emigration from the Palatinate to USA.

1711 End of the uprising of Hungarian Magnates, and recognition of the Habsburg hereditary Kingdom in Hungary results in  motivation for immigration.

1712 Masses of emigrants start off but only a portion reaches settlements in Upper Hungary, then the borders are closed and emigrants are turned back to be collected in a camp near Ulm.

The motivation to emigrate is connected with the Spanish war of succession combined with weather patterns that destroyed harvests, but was also supported by the Karoly's recruitment drives in Upper Svabia, and the announcement that the Habsburg domains had been extended to Hungary and Transylvania.

1713 Harvest destroyed by hail.

1716 Banat is captured, and becomes a Habsburg domain.

1715-18 Hungarian Magnates are colonizing (Széchényi, Zichy, Csaki, Wallis, Mercy, Eszterházy, Döry, etc. Emigration to Hungary never really stops after that. From about 1720 on the possibility - supported by recruitment drives - of owning land in the recently captured Banat was a strong factor for emigrating there.

1723/24 Hungarian Parliament asks German Kaiser for colonists. More orderly methods created to regulate emigration to Hungary and to provide manumissions.

1736 Abandoned properties of exiled Salzburg Protestants attract emigrants from South-Western Germany.

1732-36 Emigration offered escape from the French incursions during the Lothringian-Polish War of Succession.

1736 Recruiting conditions for Hungary improved by the Kaiser. Emigration to overseas also gaining in importance and Prussia is often seen as the destination of emigrants.
        Right after the Lothringian War of Succession the volume of emigration to America increased considerably, as did the emigration to Hungary after the Austrian-Bavarian War of Succession.

1741-48 Austrian War of Succession (Austria v/s Bavaria).

1755 Imperial agents recruiting for the Banat, Batschka and the district of Arad regions of Hungary . About 1000 families settle in Batschka 1748-62.

1756-63 Seven Year War (Austria v/s Prussia).

1755-61 Sea War (France v/s England). No transatlantic passages to America.

1763 Russia, Spain, France, and Prussia also recruiting.

1768 Conditions of emigration to Batschka improved.

1768 German law forbids emigration to "foreign" countries with which the Reich does not stand in special relations.

1770 Highest number of emigrants to Hungary and America.

1771 Banat and Batschka closed to immigration in April. Exceptions: private Estates or Free Cities, and immigrants who can sustain themselves for some time.

1772 1st Partition of Poland. Austria gets Galicia, then in 1778 Banat goes to Hungary. Emigration declines.

1776/83 American War of Independence.

1781 Edict of Tolerance for Galicia, and soon after for all Austrian Lands.

1782 Removal of serfdom in Austria. New Recruiting push for Hungary and Galicia with newer, better conditions.

1783 Galicia only open for singles and tradesmen.

1785 Emigrants to Galicia and should arrive with a certificate saying that they have been accepted. Increase in emigration.

1786 Galicia and Hungary closed to immigration in July.

1787 Galicia only allows those willing to get married.

1789/95 French Revolution.

1795 3rd Partition of Poland. Austria gets West Galicia and Krakow.

1803 Austria recruits for Hungary and Galicia and gives advantageous terms.

Summary: There were obviously many contributing factors that created a feeling of discontent or alarm severe enough to take the serious, arduous and often dangerous step of emigration. Not all factors affected everyone, but wars were frequent as were years of bad harvests causing conditions of famine. Between them, these two alone would have created a feeling of hopelessness because it made long range planning for a "future" almost impossible. Even the lucky few who owned property, no matter how small it might have been, saw themselves cleaned out by passing armies, or burnt down by active fighting or by marauding gangs of deserters or other rabble criss-crossing the country in search for food or things worth stealing.

People wanted to have a future for themselves and for their children, and many found that in the society they lived they could never hope to acquire the things that form the basis for a "future" - a dependable source of income or produce to feed them, peace in the country to be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor, and perhaps a piece of soil which they could call their own. The recruiters who needed them to till the soil in depopulated countries like Hungary, Russia, Brazil or in the wilderness of North America all promised these things. So they emigrated.


Source: Auswanderungen aus Baden und dem Breisgau. By Werner Hacker.
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