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Reasons for Emigrating

People were motivated to emigrate by dissatisfaction with living conditions at home and by the hope of more favourable circumstances. During the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period, there were phases of relative overpopulation in Germany. The existing cultivated land was insufficient to feed the rural population. The younger sons were obliged to leave their parents' smallholdings. The proportion of emigrants was especially high in regions where properties were divided equally among all heirs by law, resulting in ever smaller farms over the generations. Heavy taxation and the obligation to serve in the army made people more willing to try their luck elsewhere. After the Reformation, the desire to worship freely led whole religious communities to emigrate as a group.

Rulers had been attracting settlers onto their land by granting them privileges since the Middle Ages. Among these were a fixed period of exemption from taxes, freedom of religion, exemption from military service and the privilege of living according to their own laws and customs. In the 18th century, settlers were provided not only with land, but also with house-building materials, seed corn and animals. Conditions at the destination, however, often failed to live up to the promises made.