German (Im)Migration to Douglas County, Kansas

Douglas County is located in northeast Kansas. German(ic) immigrants played a significant role in the settlement of the county as they did throughout Kansas and the American Midwest. Following the general settlement trend, they mainly migrated from and through older settled areas further east to Kansas. Indirect migration predominated and the people were heterogeneous in background. Microscale analysis reveals the discontinuous character of the German presence in the area. The immigrants clustered and dispersed according to timing and various cultural characteristics.

Douglas County, Kansas in the American Midwest
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German-born residents were a steady and noticeable ethnic minority in Douglas County throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. They, for instance, represented about four percent of the population between 1860 and 1880. Especially in areas where they clustered together, they were significant contributors to local economic and cultural development. The Germans who came to Douglas County were highly diverse in regional origin, religion, occupation, and migration history. They subsequently established small distinctive communities, such as Eudora, held together by spatial proximity, cultural institutions, and religious affiliation, which resulted in a latent presence of German(ic) ancestry today. A detailed analysis of the county’s German immigrants provides general insights on the course and overall patterns of migration and ethnic settlement in America and the Midwest during the nineteenth century.

You can explore the origin and migration patterns of 19th century German(ic) migrants with an inteactive map application:

WebGIS Migration Routes of German Immigrants to Douglas County, Kansas
This interactive map shows the origin and migration routes of German(ic) immigrants to Douglas County, KS

Programing & Design: Stephan Fuchs; Sources: United States Federal Census 1860, 1870, 1880; State of Kansas Census 1865; Board of Agriculture Census, 1875

I used historic census data of 188 German families and individuals for the identification of source regions and a subset of 18 families for the reconstruction of specific migration routes to Douglas County. Most of the permanent German settlers in Douglas County lived in another state of the U.S. before moving to Kansas. This predominantly indirect migration makes the county typical of German settlement in the rural Midwest during the second half of the nineteenth century. Within the United States the Germans primarily moved from the Middle Atlantic and Midwestern states to Kansas, mostly from Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, and New York. Several of these people presumably passed through Buffalo, Cleveland, Cincinnati, St. Louis, or Chicago, all well known ethnic centers themselves.

German Landholdings in Douglas County, Kansas, 1873
This map shows the German landholdings in Douglas County, KS 18??

Cartography: Stephan Fuchs; Sources: Atlas of Douglas County 1873; United States Federal Census 1870; Kansas Board of Agriculture Census, 1875

The overall German population was distributed unevenly within Douglas County. According to the census records from 1860 to 1880, the biggest concentration of such residents lived in Eudora Township and the city of Lawrence. The areas of historic German residency in Douglas County can be generally differentiated into an eastern and western belt, separated by a broad central corridor of very few German homesteads. After the central portions of the county had been taken up by Anglo pioneers during the early territorial period, German settlers were part of the secondary settlement wave to the Kansas frontier in the late 1850s and 60s that mostly occupied the remaining sections.

Further Reading

Fuchs, S. (2007): Migration Routes and Settlement Patterns of German Immigrants in Douglas County, Kansas, 1860-1880. Masters Thesis, University of Kansas.

Hudson, J.C. (1988): North American Origins of Middlewestern Frontier Populations. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 78(3), 395-413.

Shortridge, J.R. (1995): Peopling the Plains: Who Settled Where in Frontier Kansas. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.

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