The Irish in America

WHERE GENEALOGY COMES FULL CIRCLE


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Sometimes it just takes a little detective work…

When I first received the following request for assistance, I thought it would be a piece of cake – James provided me with names, some dates, and the family’s home parish.  Here is the comment he left:

I am trying to trace family members on my late Mother’s side who came from Glenamaddy, Galway. There are the McGuire’s who went to Yonkers New York. Brothers James, Micheal and sisters Mary, Cathrine. James married Julia Higgins on 20 Sep 36 and James Jr married 1 Dec 62.

This seemed straight-forward enough, so when an initial search turned up nothing, I was a bit disappointed.  I knew there had to be something out there about James’ family, so I went to an expert.  This was a job for Jim, the head researcher for Archival Solutions.

Genealogy research often requires a good amount of detective work, and this situation was no different.  Jim was up to the task and in no time he told me he had a name of a possible relative of James living in Yonkers, New York.  Researcher Jim was able to trace, not the brother Jim for whom we had a spouse name and marriage date (as well as child’s name and his marriage date), but one of the McGuire sisters.  Catherine married and settled with her husband in Yonkers, New York, where the couple had one son.

I passed the information to James, and I was struck by the appreciation he expressed.  He told me that he telephoned the individual Jim had found, and indeed it was his first cousin.  This was the first time that James had ever spoken to a relative on his mother’s side.  James said they spoke for a “very long time” and his American cousin has filled him in on some family history.

James put together a package of family photographs to send to Yonkers, and has some rather fragile old letters that he will hand-deliver when the cousins meet in New York later this year.

I think I would call that a success!  James, please keep us posted on your future family discoveries!

May not be Glenamaddy, but it's a pretty scene from elsewhere in Galway...(2009 Regan McCormack)


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Kilmichael Roots

In 2009 I visited with Father Jerry Cremin of Kilmichael Parish in County Cork.  He shared some records he had on my family.  Two of my great-great-grandfathers (John Regan and Patrick Foley) left the parish in 1864 and came to the United States.  Father Cremin’s descriptions of the history and the landscape of Kilmichael were enlightening and entertaining.

View from Kilmichael Ambush memorial, County Cork (2009, Regan McCormack)

When I saw this search topic that brought someone to The Irish in America –  Irish immigrants able to read and write? – I immediately thought of my visit with Father Cremin.  Census data from when John Regan settled in the U.S. shows that he was unable to read or write.  Father Cremin told me that this was not unusual for a man from Kilmichael in the mid-19th century.  He continued to say that John Regan most likely didn’t even speak English, let alone read or write it, when he left Kilmichael.

John Regan

I am a bit embarrassed admit that I had not even considered that any of my ancestors were Irish speakers, but it stands to reason.  Perhaps John Regan never gained command of the English language.  “Old Johnny Regan” is remembered by his grandchildren as a somewhat gruff man, who didn’t seem that interested in young children.

Patrick Foley, who also came from Kilmichael, was literate.  My grandma always told me that her grandfather Foley received his education in a hedge school in County Cork.  In the U.S., Patrick Foley was active in township government and held offices in the Ancient Order of Hibernians and St. Patrick’s Benevolent Society.  My grandma seemed proud of her grandfather, but she would say that the Foleys thought they were better than everyone else.

Patrick Foley

I have a book with Patrick Foley’s  name in gold on the cover, O’Halloran’s History of Ireland.  I am not sure of the exact origin of the book, but I suspect he acquired it while living in New Hampshire, after emigration.  Perhaps it was connected to his participation with the St. Patrick’s Benevolent Society or AOH.  Has anyone else seen this book?  Let me know by leaving a comment!

Last week a couple more search topics appeared on the list:

  • Regan family Kilmichael
  • Foley Macroom

I wish the person who searched for these items would have left a comment…maybe we are talking about the same families!  Click here to read about the first generation of Foleys and Regans born in the United States.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all!


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Heaps of Love: A message from home

I am always interested to see what internet searches bring people to The Irish in America.  Here are some of the recent search topics:

  • Irish beginnings in America
  • Irish people searching for American relatives
  • What was the life of an Irish immigrant like in America?
  • Irish emigrant letters
  • Irish immigrants able to read and write?

Emigrant letters can be an important tool for Irish seeking information on relatives who came to America.  Many Irish people who have contacted me for assistance on locating relatives have some memory of letters from these emigrants.  Either the actual letter, or stories of the letters received over the years.  Some people still have the letters and can refer to them for details of the relative’s life in America.

In Irish family history research census data, passenger manifests, and birth and death certificates provide the pertinent information you need to complete a family tree.  If you go a little further, obituaries and newspaper clippings will expand your understanding of the individuals you are researching.  Photographs can put faces to the data, but letters can provide intimate glimpses into the lives of your ancestors.  The emigrant letter is fast becoming a treasured source for information on the experiences of Irish emigrants (see this article on a recent donation to the Cork City and County Archive.)

Of course, for those of us researching in America, we won’t find the emigrant letter, but rather, if we are lucky we might find a response to that letter.  I often day-dream of discovering a dusty box of letters in a long-forgotten attic, letters written to one of my ancestors that would provide some insight into the life they left behind in Ireland.  Alas, I have yet to find such a stash, but I do have a little something.

My great-grandmother Annie Hill Regan would have been my best bet for saving such correspondence.  We have many of her things – china, furniture, and photographs – but no letters, only a tidy envelope containing two Christmas cards and several postcards.

Christmas card, Katie Hill Howe to Annie Hill Regan (front)

Christmas card, Katie Hill Howe to Annie Hill Regan (inside)

The card pictured above was sent to Annie in 1930 by her sister Katie from Ireland.  I can only imagine the cards and letters the two sisters exchanged during the thirty years that passed since Annie left County Kildare to begin a new life in Clontarf, Minnesota.  Because people did not often save their correspondence, that makes this small packet of my great-grandmother’s so important to me.  Obviously the contents were important enough to her that she set them aside and saved them.  This tells me much about my great-grandmother, as well as provides a peak at the family she left behind in Ireland.

Katie Hill Howe and family, Johnstown, County Kildare (photo from MJ Harshmann)

I wanted to mention a great little book, The Reynolds Letters: An Irish Emigrant Family in Late Victorian Manchester.  This collection provides a glimpse into an Irish family’s emigration experience – from County Leitrim to Manchester, England and on to Chicago, Illinois.  Great read for anyone interested in the Irish who emigrated to England and America.

Next time I will address another item on the most common searches and how that may contribute to an absence of letters.

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