Genealogy Spotlight: German Immigration Contracts at the GLO
The records of the General Land Office reflect the long history of a multilingual and multicultural Texas. They represent the varying styles of government and communication, and bear the marks of their origins in the minute details present.
The Spanish Collection, with its characteristic stamped paper, comprises the bulk of the non-English records held in the GLO Archives.
The Land Office also has a substantial collection of German records. While smaller in scope, this collection presents a great deal of genealogical and historical information, and features its own distinctive typeface that gives documents in this collection a unique look and feel that links German Texans back to the Holy Roman Empire.
In 1842, a group of German noblemen established the Adelsverein (“nobles society”), formally referred to as the Verein zum Schutze deutscher Einwanderer in Texas (Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas). Its purpose was to create a German society in the Republic of Texas, brought about by concentrated emigration efforts.
During the mid-nineteenth century, thousands of hopeful Germans looking to start a new life signed up with the Adelsverein to make the voyage to Texas. The contracts, written in Bremen, were signed by these early German Texan pioneers prior to their departure, and remain in the GLO Archives.
After they signed their contracts, the German immigrants embarked, usually from Bremerhaven, for the three-month voyage across the Atlantic. They typically arrived at the Texas ports of Galveston or Indianola. From there, they followed a predetermined route, with stations set up along the way in places like Agua Dulce, Victoria, Gonzales, and Seguin. The two most prominent destinations for the German immigrants were New Braunfels, in Comal County, and Fredericksburg, in Gillespie County. Smaller German communities, however, also emerged in towns such as Industry, Round Top, Castel, Boerne, Walburg, Schulenburg, and Weimar.
The contracts are an excellent source of genealogical data concerning early German Texans. Noted Austrian genealogist Karl Friedrich von Frank commented that the contracts in Austin “are of predominant importance for locating immigrants over here, and I suggest that steps be taken to explore this important material.” Information found in the German Immigration Contracts includes the city of origin, date of embarkation, date and port of arrival in Texas, and the original signature of the individual. The entire collection has been scanned and placed online for easy access — just type German in the “Class” field of the online Land Grant Database.
In addition to the German Immigration Contracts, several maps promoting German immigration in Texas are held in the GLO Archives. One example, the 1851 Karte des Staates Texas, was distributed in Germany to introduce potential settlers to the towns, counties, rivers, and topography of the state.
The German documents are quite different in appearance than any of the English or Spanish documents at the GLO. Not only are they in German, they were also printed in a typeface known as Fraktur, a term derived from the Latin fractura (“broken letter”). Created under the direction of Emperor Maximilian I (1493–1519) of the Holy Roman Empire, and intended to mimic the calligraphy of medieval scribes, Fraktur characters are formed by several strokes, rather than a single uninterrupted motion, giving the text a very angular appearance which differentiated German print from much of the rest of Europe.
The German documents and maps at the Land Office are but a small portion of the overall collection; however, their Fraktur-lettered pages are an essential source of information for anyone researching German immigrants in early Texas.
 Louis E. Brister, “Adelsverein,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ufa01), accessed December 02, 2015. Uploaded on June 9, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
 Chester William Geue and Ethel hander Geue, A New Land Beckoned: German Immigration to Texas, 1844–1847. Genealogical Publishing Co., 1982. (https://books.google.com/books?id=1G0hq9kbsaYC&dq), accessed December 02, 2015.
 For the creation of his library, Maximilian commissioned a new typeface that was to be distinct from others in use in Europe at the time, especially those derived from the Antiqua typeface. Over time, Fraktur became the primary typeface of Germany and areas of German influence, and was prevalent until World War II. Walden Post, Five Centuries of German Fraktur. (http://tipografos.net/pdf/waldenfonts-fraktur.pdf), accessed December 02, 2015; Ruthanne Hartung, Fraktur: Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Learning the Craft. Stackpole Books, 2008. (https://books.google.com/books?id=QhirHfZbz1EC&dq), accessed December 02, 2015.