The Irish in America

Leave a comment

Emigrant Letters Help Tell the Story

The most frequently searched topic that brings visitors to The Irish in America is emigrant letters, those rich and rare sources of historical and genealogical information.  Over the next week I will explore some internet resources available to those interested in the often elusive emigrant letter.

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania is home to the Curtis Family Collection.  The Curtis family emigrated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from Mountmellick, Queen’s County in waves, from the mid-1830s to the mid-1840s.  The collection includes letters from Ireland to Philadelphia, as well as from Philadelphia to Ireland.  Click here to read theses fascinating letters.  This link will take you to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s website and a listing of the letters – once there simply click on the links to open each letter.

Also included in the Curtis Family Collection are several historical documents, including a membership certification to the Saint Patrick’s Beneficial Society of Philadelphia and citizenship papers.  Click here to view all items.

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania has a few other items related to Irish emigration on their website.  The words to eight immigrant ballads are posted, as well as examples of missing emigrant listings found in the Catholic Herald newspaper.

These resources were put together for an education course on ethnic history and settlement of Pennsylvania.  It is an excellent way of teaching this topic using primary sources preserved in their archive.  The collection provides tremendous insight into the lives of Famine-era emigrants to the United States.  Many thanks to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania!

Reading List…

Journey of Hope

Check out this great book by Kerby Miller and Patricia Mulholland Miller titled Journey of Hope: The Story of Irish Immigration to America.  The book utilizes emigrant letters to tell the story of Irish immigrants and includes many photographs.  It is an “interactive book” containing copies of handwritten letters and other reproduced ephemera central to the immigration journey.



What’s Whit Week?

Whit Week Procession (postcard sent to Annie Hill Regan)

Whit Week is here and that can mean only one thing…hmmmm…I wonder what that could be?  If this was the early twentieth-century in Manchester, England, odds are it would mean donning a new white dress and marching in a Whit week procession like the ladies pictured above.

Since the demise of the Whit Monday bank holiday in the UK in 1967 and Ireland in 1973, I am not sure how much attention is  paid to the week following Pentecost (read more about Whitsun by clicking here.)

This photo of a Whit Week parade appears on a postcard from the early twentieth century, and survives in a small collection of photos and cards that belonged to my great-grandmother Annie Hill Regan (born in Kildare, emigrated to Minnesota 1899.)  With no postmark, no address, and rather ambiguous greeting and signature (both are Push), this little card is a bit puzzling.  My best guess is that the card came to Annie from her younger sister Bridget Hill Reynolds of Manchester, England.  From what I have read, processions like this were more popular in England, and the postcard mentions “our Maggie” – Bridget had a daughter named Maggie, who eventually emigrated to America joining her Aunt Annie in Minnesota.

The card mentions looking forward to a visit “next year.”  I wonder if Annie ever did travel from Minnesota to Manchester, England to visit her sister’s family?  Did she return home to Ireland on this visit?  I have searched for possible documentation of such a journey, but so far have come up empty.  I will have to keep at it and see what I can find.

Reverse of postcard

Maybe you can help me figure this photo out…

  • Have you seen Push as a nickname or slang in correspondence from the early 20th century?
  • Do the dresses provide a more concrete date to this photo?
  • Is Whitsun or Whit Week still observed in Ireland and England?

Any ideas?  Please leave a comment!

Have a good week!

1 Comment

Family Ties

Can you identify the American in this photo?

Long before our 2009 visit with our McCormack cousins in Ballyedmond, County Laois, the family was welcoming American relatives back to the farm and home place.  We were not the first McCormack Yanks to make contact with our Irish cousins, but it seemed our family suffered from a bit of historical amnesia.  Much the same way that people don’t keep in mind the lessons learned by their parents and grandparents and proceed to make the same mistakes (war, high heels, trusting that a boom economy will last) my family lost touch with its history for a generation or so.

In 1934 my grandfather Bill McCormack, first generation Irish-American, visited Ireland with his Uncle Pat who had emigrated to the United States in the 1890s, and had designs on moving back to Ireland.  Poor health ultimately prevented Pat from returning to stay, but at least he was able to have one last visit home.  My grandfather’s cousin Paddy McCormack of Rathdowney, County Laois was a young man at the time and remembers this visit.

Paddy and Maura McCormack, far left.

My grandfather passed away in 1958, and while his sister Nellie stayed in touch with the family in Ireland, this connection was lost for my father and his sisters.  Also lost were the stories my grandfather could have shared about his trip to Ballyedmond and our Irish relatives.  I can think of one inquisitive granddaughter who would have relished these stories!  My father became interested in genealogy in the 1990s and after much research, new generations of the American branch of the family connected with the Ballyedmond McCormacks.  Initially I had the sense that my father had “discovered” our family roots, but of course they were always there, it just took a little digging.

I would love to see a snapshot from the 1934 visit, but to my knowledge there is no photographic evidence.  Instead, I share a photo from 1975 when another McCormack relative visited Ballyedmond (see top of post.)  The American I challenged you to identify is Eileen Garding, a first cousin to my grandfather Bill.  Andy McCormack is the gentleman in the shirt and tie – my grandfather’s first cousin who lived in the house in the background, the house in which my great-grandfather was born.

McCormacks -- 2009 (Ellen McCormack from first photo is seated at far right)

The 1975 photo provides a bridge from my grandfather’s visit in 1933 to my own family’s visits to Ireland. In 2000 when I first met my Irish relatives, I met Tess McCormack (pictured next to her husband Andy) and her daughter Ellen (next to Tess, at left end.)  I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Ellen’s brother Martin pictured next to Andy in the blazer, but her other brother Jimmy and his wife Helen have graciously welcomed us back to Ballyedmond.

Two Jimmys by old house (same house in 1975 photo)

My sister remarked to me after the 2009 party in Ballyedmond that she felt like she had known our Irish relatives her entire life, not simply met them once or twice.  I felt the same way.  I guess that is what can be great about family, when you can pick up where you (or your grandparents) left off and move forward.  Hopefully my nieces will not need to recreate the family tree forty years from now.  I think the internet and computer files may have solved that problem!

Jimmy and Martin McCormack -- couldn't resist including this slice from the seventies...

Check out related posts…

Week of Welcomes: McCormack Style (Part I)

Week of Welcomes: McCormack Style (Part II)

Read my story that appeared on about our 2009 parties with the McCormacks — click here.