Between 1820 and World War I, approximately six million immigrants of German heritage came to the United States. Between 1840-1880, they comprised the largest percentage of immigrants, including those who fled after the failed revolution of 1848. Many of them settled in the midwest, both in cities and in farming communities. Germans fought on both sides of the civil war including 176,000 German immigrants who fought in the Union Army.

While German immigrants in the U.S. worked to make a life for themselves in their new country, that did not mean that they forgot their native homeland. Memories of life before the emigrated were kept alive in food, cultural and religious traditions, in family, and in song. Below are song sheets, from the Library of Congress with lyrics and musical notations for a song, sung by immigrants and published in 1870, in memory and praise of their German homeland.

Excerpts from the lyrics are below:

Our home! Our home! Dear sweet home! Sweet land of minstrelsy!

We’re wanderes in a foreign climate, a stranger’s tongue we hear.

As often as the sun sets, leaves where he sets, a parting of gleaming gold

far across the ocean’s foam, our hearts are still with thee!

accents dear of old time, fall seldom, seldom, on our ear!

On our minds, will linger yet, bright rays from scenes, scenes of old.

Thy town’s spires.woods, rivers, rills, Thy moss grown roofs among vine clad hills

And though we’ve formed new ties, new friends we’ve met, whose kindness our vain regret,

But ’tis like a dream, most sweet, most sad, a memory, among memories dead…

Hargrave, Will. German Immigrants’ Song of Home. Lee & Walker, Philadelphia, monographic, 1870. Notated Music. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, .

Reflection Questions

  1. Before turning to the text:
    1. you might consider the ways that your family and friends kept traditions alive? What traditions do you and your family celebrate? Do you know where they come from?
    2. All of us have come from somewhere. What feelings do you associate with where you came from? If you have migrated, across national borders, within a country, or within a community, what are the sounds, smells, emotions, and memories that are connected to where you came from?
  2. Engaging the text:
    1. Consider what do you know about the document and the period it came from?
    2. You might lead a reflection using the see-feel-think-wonder thinking routine or the the text to text, text to self, text to world protocol.
  3. Consider the significance of the songs and song sheet’s.
    1. You might begin with the three why’s thinking routine.
    2. Consider what the song sheets reveal about the experience of migration. When people migrate what happens to their relationships to their old homelands?
    3. A few questions to consider:
      1. Should people be discouraged to give up their loyalties to their old country or region?
      2. Is there a danger in expressing fondness for the old world? If they do, is that a threat?
      3. How can and should people balance dual identities and dual loyalties? Can you think of examples where you have seen people do just that?

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