The Irish in America

Family and Emigration


While reading up on Irish emigration, I found an interesting article by County Fermanagh historian John Cunningham on the Cassidy family website.  In the article Mr. Cunningham considers the effects emigration has had on Ireland and the Irish people.  Click here to read the article, which is actually a lecture given by Mr. Cunningham.

Mr. Cunningham uses his own experiences to show how family members who stayed in Ireland felt about emigration.  He tackles the often complex and emotional issue of emigration in a straightforward manner with a bit of humor thrown in for good measure.  I found the account of his mother’s visit to America particularly insightful, as well as the description of the parcels and letters from America.

As his mother learned firsthand, letters home to Ireland often didn’t tell the whole story of the emigrant’s experience in their new home.  Regardless of their accuracy, letters are one of the best resources for learning about your emigrant relative by providing tangible evidence as to where the relative lived, possibly where they worked, or names of spouse and children.  Consider yourself lucky if you have an emigrant letter!

My great-grandmother came to the United States in 1899, joining an older sister who had arrived six years earlier.  A sister and a brother remained in Ireland, and one sister has previously emigrated to Manchester, England.  Unfortunately, no letters survive (on the American side) from relatives at home, but there are a few postcards, greeting cards, and photographs that were sent to my great-grandmother and her sister.  The following photograph was included in an album belonging to a niece of my great-grandmother who lived in Montana, USA.

John and Catherine (Hill) Howe Family, Johnstown Co. Kildare

John and Catherine (Hill) Howe Family - Johnstown, Co. Kildare (courtesy of M. Jeffrey Harshman)

Among the few items belonging to my great-grandmother is a sweet little Christmas card from her sister Katie (Catherine, pictured above), as well as a torn and tattered photo postcard depicting a Whitsunday parade.  It is intriguing to see what pieces of someone’s life survive for later generations.  These bits and pieces have helped us learn a great deal about my great-grandmother’s life before she came to America.

So, if you don’t have a letter, all is not lost in your quest for information about your emigrant relative.  Letters can make the initial search easier, but other information can prove to be as useful.

I invite you to share your family’s emigrant stories by leaving a comment!  Let me know what clues you have, and I will help you begin your search for information on your relative.  If you think you don’t have any information to go on, but really want to learn about what may have happened to a relative, you should leave a comment, too.  We never know what we will find when we start looking!


Author: Aine

I live in Saint Paul, Minnesota. My heritage pretty much covers the map of Ireland: great-great-grandparents from Cork (Crowley, Foley, Regan), a great-great-grandmother from Clare (Quinn), a great-great-grandfather from Fermanagh (McMahon) and his wife's parents from Mayo (McAndrew), a great-grandmother from Connemara (Hannon) married to my great-grandfather from Laois (McCormack), great-grandparents from Sligo (Flannery), and a great-grandmother from Kildare (Hill). All of those people ended up in Minnesota, where my four grandparents were born. Three and four generations after my people left Ireland for America, I retain all Irish heritage. So much for the melting pot...

2 thoughts on “Family and Emigration

  1. Just found your site by accident, I have been trying to trace my great grandfather’s (John Griffin/Griffen) whereabouts in America at the time of his death. He was in Donegal, Ireland in 1880 and the story is told that he and my great grandmother Rose, with their two children, went to America where he died and she came back to Donegal with the children. Rose and family appear on the 1901 census in Stranorlar, Donegal and she is listed as a widow. I have no idea where in the US they emigrated to. If anyone could help solve this mystery I would very grateful.

    Sarah Boyle

    • Sarah,

      Do you know when John Griffin/Griffen was born, and were John and Rose originally from Stranorlar, Donegal?

      Thanks for commenting – I will see what I can find…


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