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September 9, 2012

GENEALOGY: Here to pump you up about arrival of Austrians

TERRE HAUTE — This week is a continuation of examining when different nationality groups first immigrated to North America.

Austrian: No, it didn’t begin with Arnold Schwarznegger! The Austrian immigration saga started in 1731, when 20,000 followers of Martin Luther were expelled from the province of Salzburg, which is now in Austria. Of those expelled, 300 came to the colony of Georgia in North America. It was a long journey.

In 1732, the trustees of the colony of Georgia invited the Salzburgers to settle in their colony, and promised them land. The immigrants first went to Ausburg, Germany, then to Rotterdam in Holland, and finally to Dover, England, being helped at each step by Lutheran pastors and churches.  

On Jan. 8, 1734, a group of 50 families boarded the ship Purysburg and set out for North America. After a trip across the Atlantic Ocean lasting two months, they landed at Savannah, Georgia, on March 12, 1734. They were given land on the Ebenezer Creek and founded the town of Ebenezer there. Here were many challenges for the group, such as poor land and illness, but more immigrants arrived to shore up their numbers.

In 1736, the Salzburgers petitioned General Oglethorpe of Georgia to let them move their settlement several miles up the creek to the Savannah River. He allowed this, and they named their new town New Ebenezer.

The settlers flourished in this fresh location and pursued the industries of cattle-raising, agriculture, the lumber trade, and culturing silk. Their town had grown to a population of 12,000 by 1741. The Salzburgers built the first saw mill and the first rice and grist mill in the state and the first orphanage and the first church (which is still standing). In addition, they supplied the first governor of Georgia, John Adam Treutlen.

Settlers from Salzburg continued to immigrate to the town until 1752. However, the demise of the town took place during the Revolutionary War, when the British burned it. The town of New Ebenezer never recovered after the war, and the settlers gradually disbursed.

The Georgia Salzburger Society has a website located at and invites descendants of these settlers to join their society. In addition, read the four-volume work titled, Georgia Salzburgers and Allied Families (2003), edited by Pearl Rahn Gnann.

In general, it can be difficult to identify an Austrian immigrant to the United States before 1918. This is partly because there was not an actual state called Austria until that year. Austria was first part of the Hapsburg Empire, which was made up of several nationalities and ethnic groups (including Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian, Czech, Slovak, Romanian, Polish, and Hungarian). Later, it was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Immigrants may have referred to themselves as German, Austrian, or Czech.

Announcement: The Wabash Valley Genealogy Society will present “What to Do With Your Records After Your Demise” from 6:15 to

8 p.m. Monday in the Vigo County Public Library. The speaker will be Marlene Poster, who has been the Lake County genealogist for six years and serves on the executive board of the Indiana Genealogical Society. The presentation is free and open to the public.

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    March 12, 2010