#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: The Old Country

My genealogy quest has not taken me outside the U.S., except for one line.

My dad’s great-grandfather, William F. Hahn was born in Germany. I’ve known this since I was a child (although I would get confused about whether it was his grandfather or his great-grandfather).

Growing up, I was told that he, my immigrant ancestor, came to the U.S. from Germany when he was about three years old. I was also told that he had several “maiden aunts” who had their property seized by Hitler.

Since I started researching, here are the “facts” that I’ve learned. (The quotes indicate that I don’t have primary sources for a lot of it, but it’s probably more accurate that the childhood stories.)


Graves of William F. Hahn and his wife Ary Loper Hahn

William F. Hahn and his wife Ary Loper Hahn are buried with their son-in-law Charles Peake and Grandson Henry Peake.

A naturalization document dated April 21, 1872, says William F. Hahn is aged 25, putting his birth about 1847.  The U.S. Census for 1880 gives his age as 33 on June 1, which suggests a birth year of 1847. The Florida Census for 1885 gives his age as 39 on June 1, which suggests a birth year of 1846. His gravestone at St. John Cemetery in Pensacola, Florida, gives his years of life as 1846 to 1907. An obituary published in the Pensacola newspaper gives his age as 61. None of these documents give a birth month or day. I have repeatedly looked for William and his two older sons, William Bernard (or Bernhard or Bernhardt) Hahn and George Herman Hahn, in the 1900 Census but I have never found them.


The aforementioned obituary called William F. Hahn a native of Berlin. The naturalization document, filed in the U.S. District Court, Western Division, City of Pensacola, says he is a native of Germany. No other document gives any indication of birthplace.


The naturalization document says William has resided within the limits of the United States of America for thirteen years and in the county of Escambia for six years. That would put him arriving in the U.S. in about 1859, when he was around 13 years old. The second date has him moving to Escambia County, Florida, in about 1866.

Berlin from 1846/1847 to 1859

At the time of William F. Hahn’s birth, Berlin was part of the Kingdom of Prussia. It was one of the largest cities in Europe, with a population of about 400,000 people.  It was the time of the industrial revolution, but it was also an era of struggle, marked by food shortages and unemployment. When William was just a boy, the Berlin Arsenal Riots, followed by the March Revolution forced King Frederich Wilhelm IV to make some political concessions. [VisitBerlin.de] The kingdom, however, still remained a kingdom, with democracy still decades away.

In 1857, Frederich Wilhelm IV had a stroke, and his brother Wilhelm took over as Regent. [Lonely Planet] The younger man was more progressive, and his changes led to an economic boom. The prosperity would not last long. In 1857, a financial crash affected all of Europe. [Encyclopedia Brittanica] At the same time, the U.S. was seeing a massive influx of immigrants from Germany, eager for the freedoms and opportunities available in the New World. By the time William F. Hahn arrived, around 1.3 million Germans were living in America. [Library of Congress]

So Many Unanswered Questions

It’s impossible to know, with the limited information I have, how the revolutions in the late 1840s affected William’s family. Did they live in the city of Berlin or in a nearby rural area? Was his father a soldier or did he work in a factory? Or was his mother alone, struggling to feed herself and her child? Perhaps William was orphaned, which would explain the lack of information about his family.

The U.S. Census for 1870 lists William Hahn as a sea captain, living with the family of another sea captain. His age is listed as 24, which fits the 1846 birth year. His birthplace is listed as Louisiana, which gives me the impression he may have arrived on a ship at the Port of New Orleans. Perhaps a 13-year-old could have worked for his passage. He would have found a large German community in the New Orleans area, where he would feel at home as he learned the language. [64 Parishes]

Pensacola had an active port in the 19th and early 20th Century. The woman he married in 1873, Ary Loper, had an older sister who married a man born in Germany. George Neuman also worked as a mariner or sailor, according to the 1880 and 1885 censuses. It’s very likely that William would have sought out the German community in Northwest Florida, perhaps through another member of the maritime industry.

All this, of course, is just speculation. I will continue to search for documents that will cement the story of my great-great grandfather William F. Hahn, and keep his memory alive.

The one thing I am fairly certain of, without any lack of evidence, is that by the 1930s, the Hahn family here would have lost all contact with any relatives who may have been left behind in the old country, and those “maiden aunts” would have been dead long before Adolph Hitler came into power.



About Taminar

When I grow up, I want to make movies and write books. Now in my 50s, I wonder if I'll ever really accomplish the dreams of my youth. I have made two short films, one for a college film-making class, the other for an MTV-sponsored contest. I have written short plays that have been produced, and a few short stories and reviews that have been published. I also perform and direct for community theatre. My working life has included stints in local TV news, public relations, retail management and cashier, and for a couple of years, I made the rides go at Walt Disney World. I have two cats and a husband.
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