The Irish in America

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Lovely Laois

Erke, Co. Laois (R. McCormack)

I am extremely excited for my trip to Ireland next month. We have quite a bit on the agenda, but will be wrapping the trip up with a week in the heart of Ireland, County Laois.

My great-grandfather Andrew McCormack came from Ballyedmond, County Laois in the late 1880s and settled in Minnesota. My father has done extensive research on his McCormack lineage over the past fifteen years.

I had no hand in this research, but I have enjoyed all the fruits of my father’s labors. Click here and here to read about the fun we have had connecting with our McCormack relations.

My dad won’t be along on this trip, so I may need to don the family historian cap – if only to keep my sister straight on who’s who! I had better review my dad’s printouts…

While in Laois I am planning a visit to the County Archives and Local History Department in Portlaoise. It may have taken a while, but I have learned that a good first step when looking into the history of your Irish ancestors is to go to the County Council website.

The council website for any given county in Ireland will have all the information necessary to live in that county – from where you should dump your trash to the operation hours of the local branch of the library. But they are a great resource for visitors as well. Often these websites provide extensive history and heritage information, including details on genealogy, archives, and special collections.

A couple of clicks into the Laois County Council site, I landed on the Local Research page. Once there I found these useful links: 

Like any good researcher, I plan to do my homework before showing up on the archive’s doorstep in September. It looks like they have quite a bit to offer. Maybe I will even find some emigrant letters in some of the personal collections listed on the Laois Archives page.

The Local History Online link brings you to the Ask About Ireland website. This is a very cool site, a must-visit for anyone interested in what the libraries, museums, and archives of Ireland have to offer.

AskAboutIreland and the Cultural Heritage Project is an initiative of public libraries together with local museums and archives in the digitisation and online publication of the original, the unusual and the unique material from their local studies’ collections to create a national Internet resource for culture. (from

Ask About Ireland also features Griffith’s Valuation, the first valuation of property in Ireland, published from 1847 to 1864. You are able to search the Valuation, and of course the more information you have, the better.

Returning to the Local Studies Department, we find an extensive collection of newspapers, cemetery records, photographs, maps, local files, and folklore. All are available to view by appointment. Bridget told me that the microfilm machine is a much sought-after appliance, so set your appointment early to ensure you will have access to the newspapers and records available on microfilm.

I am definitely looking forward to my visit to Portlaoise and the Laois County archives and local studies department. Can’t wait to see what I can dig up!



Interested in County Cork? Check out CCCA!

Bells of Shandon, Cork City (photo by R. McCormack)

The Cork City and County Archives (CCCA) is home to an impressive collection of manuscripts, government records, business archives, and family papers pertaining to Cork City and county. If you trace your Irish ancestry to County Cork and are interested in learning more about the place from which your family came, a visit to the CCCA website is definitely in order.

Warning: Once you begin browsing the collections you might not be able to stop!

The Online Exhibitions page is a great place to start your tour of the CCCA collections, with a sampling of images of documents spanning over four-hundred years. On the right side of the home page you will find a Document Spotlight section, click on it and a description of the document and its collection is provided.

The Collections page is well-organized, making it easy to search the collections either alphabetically or by archive category. I was interested in looking up the Hurley Family Emigrant Letters, a collection my sister had told me about. The letters were written by brothers Denis and Michael Hurley to their family in Tawnies, Cork. Michael and Denis emigrated in 1870, settling in Nevada.

I easily located a description of the letters through the alphabetical list. The descriptive list of the Hurley Letters provides all the information you would want to see – biographical history, scope and content of the collection, how it is arranged, and detailed descriptions of the 122 letters from the brothers, as well as a few other items included in the collection. (Note that the descriptive lists for each collection are PDFs which can be easily downloaded or printed by the researcher.)

Fascinating collection of letters, shedding light on the experiences of Irish immigrants in the Western United States. Too often when people think about the Irish in America, they focus only on New York City and Boston, forgetting that Irish immigrants were among the pioneer settlers of the American West during the nineteenth century.

More great items in the CCCA collections are the Poor Law Union, Board of Guardians records. You will find detailed descriptions of the records for fourteen Poor Law Unions in County Cork under the Local Government Archives section. A couple of my maternal great-great-grandfathers emigrated from Kilmichael Parish, Cork in the Dumanway Poor Law Union. A click of the mouse brings me to the descriptive list of the Board of Guardians minute books for Dumanway, allowing me a glimpse at life in my ancestor’s home place at the time they were born.

Kilmichael Parish, County Cork (photo by R. McCormack)

The Genealogy page presents guidance and resources for family historians and genealogists interested in using the archive, pointing to the Digital Archive for those unable to make the trip to Cork.

Take a look around the Cork City and County Archives – terrific website and fabulous collections. But don’t say I didn’t warn you…you might be there a while!

Cobh, County Cork (photo by R. McCormack)


There’s More to Waterford than Crystal

It is great to see museums, libraries, and archives promoting their collections using social media and the internet. This is particularly exciting for those of us researching our Irish roots.

Earlier I shared the fantastic work of digitizing collection materials happening in Limerick City – at the Library and the Archives – and I told you how much I enjoy @Limerick 1912, the Twitter account for the Local Studies team at the Limerick City Library. I have been equally impressed with the tweets from the folks at the Waterford County Museum. Every day they share several historical photos and facts from their collection. Click here to see what they are tweeting today.

Here are a few examples of the great images @waterfordmuseum has tweeted in recent days: a charming 1950s scene from Ardmore beach, a ship undergoing maintenance in Waterford harbor in 1902, and a 1962 snapshot of a man, his horse and cart, transporting lobster pots.

If you prefer to browse the collection at your own pace, you may search the photos here by photographer, subject, location, or date. The featured “photograph of the week” is accompanied by a brief description of the photo and photographer’s bio. Some photographs are even available for purchase directly from the website.

Of course, the Waterford County Museum has more than just photographs. Visit their website to learn more about other collections, exhibits, and resources. The museum is located in Dungarvan, County Waterford.

The museum tweets got me interested in the history of Waterford, so I took a look around to see what other resources were available on the internet for people interested in County Waterford’s history.

The Waterford County Library has made historic issues of the Dungarvan Leader, the Dungarvan Observer, and several local papers available online. This is a fantastic resource for anyone interested in local Waterford history and can be especially useful for those who trace their roots to the Waterford area. Click here to begin exploring the collection. The library also has other great family history resources including a database of Waterford Death Registers.

The Waterford Archive has collections of family papers, County Council records, the Lismore Estate papers, and Board of Guardians and Workhouse records. These materials are not available online, but for each collection there is an extensive descriptive list available on the website.

Lismore Castle, County Waterford (2009, R. McCormack)

The Lismore Estate Papers look very interesting:

The Lismore Castle Papers contain records on the administration of the estate, including, records on the running of Lismore Castle and Gardens, the Castle Farm, the woods, mountain, Lismore Sawmills and the Blackwater Fishery. The collection also includes detailed records on the tenants of the estate, including, rental books, tenant application books and tenant correspondence. The estate was also involved in a number of major projects in counties Waterford and Cork, such as, the introduction of the railways.

If your ancestors came from the Waterford/Cork area and were farmers, there is a good chance you could find something in this collection about their life before emigration. The staff at the archives asks that you carefully read the descriptive lists before planning a trip to the archive.

This is just a glimpse at what is available in County Waterford for history buffs. Do you trace your family tree to County Waterford? Let me know if you learn something new by taking a look at the Waterford County Library, Archive, and Museum.

Along the Copper Coast…


Limerick City Archives + A Fourth of July in Ireland

Last time I wrote about the great collections at the Limerick City Library and the great tweets by the Local Studies Team. Next I would like to take a look at another member of the Limerick City Council Family – the Limerick City Archives.

Of its extensive digital collection, the City Archives website says:

Limerick City Council is the first local authority in Ireland to make archive collections available online. The digitised collections are freely available to the public to promote research into the history of Limerick City via a virtual archive.

The Digital Archive Collection is divided into two categories: the Limerick City Council and Local Government Collection and the Private Papers and Business Collection.  

The City Council and Local Government Collection contains:

Want to know who registered the first car in Limerick City? Look no further than the Registration of Motor Vehicles 1904-1982. You will also find out the type of vehicle, how much it weighed, what it used for, and the address of the registrant. Maybe public health is more up your alley? Well, take a look at the Public Health Services Pre-1960: Limerick City Council. Clicking on any item in the list above will bring you directly to that section of the City Archives website.

I was excited to look at the Limerick Union Board of Guardian Minute Books, 1842-1922. A few months ago I featured the Board of Guardians Minute Books from the Killarney Union workhouse, so I was interested to see how these books compared.

The Killarney books represented just four years of meetings, while the Limerick collection spans nearly eighty years and the entire life of the Limerick Workhouse. The minutes from Killarney are transcribed which makes them easier to “browse” through, but if you have some time, the Limerick books are fascinating. The main page of this section includes extensive description as to what the various years contain which is very helpful in guiding researchers.

The Private Papers and Business Collection contains these items:

This is a lot to take in, I know. When I stop and think of the hours it took to complete this digitization project, it boggles my mind! I browsed in the Christian Brothers school records, the Lloyd Family Papers, and the Limerick Bakers Society. Great stuff for anyone tracing their roots to Limerick City or with general interest in Irish history. All of these historic documents are literally right at your fingertips! Just click on any item in the list above to get started. You will need to download special software to view this virtual archive, but it only takes a minute – just follow the directions.

Thanks to the folks at the Limerick City Archive for their dedication and hard work! You might also like to check out the Limerick City Museum.

Before we leave Limerick, I wanted to introduce you to a fun event happening this July 4th…in Ireland.  Visit the 4th of July Limerick website for more information on the festivities planned to mark America’s big day. Here’s what they have to say:

The 4th of July is all about celebrating America and everything the dream of America’s founders stands for. Summed up best in the second sentence of the US “Declaration of Independence”.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

So celebrating the 4th of July is about casting off the shackles of everyday life and for at least one day a year using the freedoms you have to pursue happiness to the fullest.

This year we want to celebrate Ireland’s connections with the US and our nations shared heritage by celebrating America’s Independence day on the 4th of July in a way never done before in Ireland. Not only that but we want to do it in true American style and that means doing it BIG.

I love it!  If you are on Twitter, check out their tweets by following @4thjulylimerick – click here!


Local Studies @ the Limerick City Library

I love what the Local Studies Team at the Limerick City Library is doing on Twittter. Using the library’s extensive historical reference collection, they are tweeting as @Limerick1912, providing their followers with daily glimpses into Limerick City life one hundred years ago.

From the content of @Limerick1912‘s tweets, I gathered that the Limerick City Library had quite a collection, so I decided it was time to take a look at what the library was all about.

The Local Studies Department has great on on-line offerings:

If you trace your Irish roots to Limerick, you really must visit this website. I have no family connections to Limerick, yet I managed to spend a good chunk of time perusing the collection, especially the Obituaries & Death Notices section. Here you will find notices from the Limerick Chronicle for the years 1850-1909, and they are indexed by year, as well as alphabetically – very researcher-friendly! Oh, and they also include maps for the years 1856-1893, showing where each death occurred – simply click on the pin and the information pops up with a link to the actual notice.

The map feature is very useful for people like me who are interested in the Irish in America. Simply click on a year, look at the map, and see if any US deaths were reported to folks back in Limerick.

For example, when I clicked on 1883 in the Obituaries & Death Notices section, a page containing a map and an alphabetical list of notices from the Limerick Chronicle for 1883 comes up. The map shows 5 listings from North America, 122 from Europe, and one from Dalhousie, India. If I click on North America I can see the specific locations of the reported deaths. There are several clustered on the East Coast, but I choose the pin in the middle of the United States.

A balloon pops up with the following information: “Mary Ann Goggin, Kansas City USA, Date: 28/04/1883, Notes: wife of Robert Goggin native of Limerick, death notice”. Click on her name and a PDF image of the newspaper page containing the notice opens.

The full notice reads:

Goggin – March 20, 1883    Mary Ann, wife of Robert Y. Goggin (a native of this city), of congestion of the brain, at her late residence 1110 East Eleventh Street, Kansas City, Mo.

This would be a fun “find” for someone doing genealogy on the Goggin family, or perhaps someone interested in the Irish in Kansas City.

What I find so interesting is all the other information we can learn from a portion of a newspaper page. Along with notice of Mary Ann Goggin’s passing, we learn the price of butter at the Cork Butter Market and the May schedule for fairs throughout Munster.

You might even stumble upon an international event while browsing local death notices. I was drawn to a 1904 report of the death of a ship’s cook named Douglas Campbell who drowned while his ship was docked at the quay. This scenario intrigued me, so I clicked to see the actual notice. Before I could learn about what happened to poor Douglas, I read this headline:




In a report from St. Petersburg, Russia: “The Tzaritza was to-day delivered of a son…at 12 noon…the Tzarevitch has been given the name of Alexis.” The report goes on to say that St. Petersburg would be decked out with flags to celebrate. Take a look at the page from the August 13, 1904 edition of the Limerick Chronicle – click here.

And what about Douglas? Sadly, he apparently fell into the river on his way back to the ship after a visit to town.

Take a look at the Limerick City Library website and let me know what you discover! And if you are on Twitter, you should definitely follow @Limerick1912 – just click here, sit back, and enjoy a trip back in time!

Coming soon…we will take at what the Limerick City Archives has to offer!

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Reader suggestions…

John from Ireland wrote to me with a few suggestions for using the Irish Census data available on-line.  He began by pointing out which provides information on how the Irish census is used today as well as its role in history and as a valuable research tool.  Click here to go directly to the history portion of the site.  This page contains interesting information on the census and will also link you to the National Archives, the home of the 1901 and 1911 Irish census.

I suspect many of you researching your Irish roots are familiar with the Irish census data from 1901 and 1911 on the National Archives of Ireland website.  You have a couple of options for looking at the census: you can browse  or you can search.

If you know the county, parish, and townland of origin for your subject, why not take leisurely browse through the actual records.  This method can be a bit more time-consuming, but you may get a bit more of a feel for your subject’s life.

Of course, a search will get you to your goal a bit faster, and you can always browse the records from that point.  Either way, these records are fascinating and can provide valuable information for your family tree.

John pointed out a list of several links at the bottom of the main census page on the National Archives site that I had completely missed.  These photographs and articles provide some context to the 1901 and 1911 census data.  See a tram timetable from 1911 or a photograph of the 1903 All-Ireland champs from Kerry.  The eviction scene from County Galway (below) is one of the items listed.

Eviction - Woodford, County Galway

Speaking of browsing, I was completely sucked in by another collection John recommended, the digitized photograph collections at the National Library of Ireland .    The photographs are organized in several smaller collections, according to time period, region, and subject matter.  If one of the collections fits your area of research, click on the name and you will be able to further filter your search.  Or you can just browse through the photo collections.  The photographs can be downloaded, free of charge.

Many thanks to John for providing a fresh perspective on researching Irish roots!


Letters from North America

The New Brunswick Archive in Canada has a great collection of letters to and from Irish emigrants to the area.  You can read the actual hand-written letters, or if you prefer not to struggle with nineteenth century script, transcriptions are available for download. The collection contains items from the nineteenth century, as well as some from the early twentieth century.  Also included are a diary, family histories, and other documents.  Take a look around the site…fascinating stuff!

An example of what the New Brunswick archive has to offer…

The Laurence Hughes collection (MC2618 :: Laurence Hughes fonds) contains several letters written to Laurence Hughes of Fredricton, New Brunswick from relatives in Ireland and elsewhere in North America.  I think these letters are particularly interesting for they demonstrate the networks of Irish emigration and how that support facilitated further migration from Ireland and within North America. The letters span seventeen years (1837-1854) and see several relatives in Ireland considering emigration and dealing with the decision to stay.

In 1837 Laurence’s brother Thomas writes from Newry sharing the news from home.  Thomas encourages Laurence to move to Boston and gives him advice on how to be successful there:

Now before you go to Boston enquire of every respectable person that knows you if
they can give you a line or two of recommendations to any person they may be acquainted with…[damage]…the Catholic Priest of Fredericton…

Good advice, I would say.  Thomas provides his brother with options, outlining a plan for Laurence’s return to Ireland since, “It is only natural to expect you would prefer living in Ireland.”   Laurence stayed put in Fredricton, at least until 1854.  Thomas mentions that he had four children and was looking forward to more…”We calculate on having one every 13 or 14 months that’s not bad trade thank God.”

In the 1837 letter, Thomas mentions another brother, Edward, who had also gone to New Brunswick.  By 1852 he was living in Pennsylvania with a large family and looking to move west to Iowa:

I some times think of selling it to go live in the west. There is a fine
colony of settlers from Carlow in loway State sent out by Rev. James Heigher and they have fine schools there now for boys and girls. I think dear Lawrence if we would go there it would be a fine chance for our children but I am afraid it is not healthy there.

Read Edward’s full letter here.  I wonder if Edward ever made his way to Iowa?  Establishing Catholic colonies in the midwestern United States was popular during this time (until the mid-1880s.)  The goal of such projects was two-fold: provide opportunities for Irish immigrants to escape congested Eastern conditions and own land, farm, and raise families in a Catholic community, and to strengthen the American Catholic Church by populating the West with Catholic settlers.

These letters are full of interesting observations.  Edward comments on his fellow Irishmen who work on the railroad, a job many felt lucky to get:

There is a great deal of railroads making here but the most degrading characters work on them now. Some of this is a disgrace to the land that gave them birth.

This comment is important because it reminds us that all Irish immigrants were not treated equally in America, even by their fellow countrymen.  Clearly Edward was educated to some degree, and from his letter it is apparent he was a religious man who did not approve of drink.  Irish in America like him would have had little time for the poor, uneducated, Famine-era emigrants.  Edward and his brothers made the decision to come to North America before the worst years of the Famine hit Ireland while for many of the million who came during the Famine, the alternative was starvation.  This is not to say that conditions in Ireland were favorable at the time of the Hughes brothers emigration, but judging from the letters, it was not a case of emigrate or starve.

Research Help Requested…

Edward mentions a “Catholic Almanac” in his letter to Lawrence.  Has anyone ever heard of that before?  I would love to know where I could find 19th century copies!


The Famine: Views from Ireland and Abroad

“The Coffin trade is the most flourishing one at present here.”

This quote appeared in the January 8, 1847 edition of the Cork Examiner.  Steve Taylor of Vassar College has compiled a fascinating collection of newspapers, illustrations, and other items from Irish and British sources pertaining to the Great Famine.  The collection, Views of the Famine, is available online and provides a glimpse into how the press was reporting the crisis, and what people were doing (or not doing) to cope with the disaster.

"The causes of emigration in Ireland." 13 January 1849 (from Views of the Famine)

The collection includes excerpts from the Cork Examiner during 1846-47.  The weekly reports of death by starvation and disease and a pervasive sense of hopelessness can be difficult to read.  Entire families perished, their lifeless bodies found on the dirt floors of make-shift huts, post-mortem exams showing not even a trace of food in their stomachs and intestines.  Columns reporting over-capacity in the workhouses appear alongside advertisements for steerage passage to North America costing more than most Irish could ever afford.

On September 1, 1847, a column Emigrant Disasters ran in the Cork Examiner.  The column explains why the journeys of emigrants bound for the United States were more “successful” than those destined for Canada.  The major difference was the ships used to transport emigrants to Canada were timber ships, vessels utterly unsuitable for passengers.  The Examiner explains: “…less attention to be paid to their [ship’s] sea-worthiness, since they are laden half the way with what can’t sink, and the other with a freight, which is thought no loss if it do.”

The passage to Canada (British America) was cheaper and the preferred route for much of the “assisted emigration” that took place during the Famine years.  Owners of the large estates in Ireland who favored a more “humane” method of getting rid of tenants, chose to send them to Canada rather than merely evict them from the land.

The destination for many of these emigrant ships was New Brunswick, Canada.  The New Brunswick Archive offers a collection of online databases pertaining to the Irish who came to Canada.  Specifically, there are some useful resources related to assisted emigration.

The Fitzwilliam Estate Emigration Books 1848-1856 lists the tenants evicted from the Coolattin estate of Lord Fitzwilliam in County Wicklow, Ireland.  The archive provides an informative introduction, a narrative by Jim Rees providing context, a finding aid, and a transcript, complete with genealogical information.  Quite an interesting and useful tool.

The New Brunswick Archive also has a collection of letters, transcribed and available online.  I will address some of these letters in my next post, but I would like to turn your attention to a group of letters, Letters from Irish Emigrants and others, put in by Sir Robert Gore Booth Bart: [1846-1849].  Click here and scroll to the last group to read these letters.  Sir Robert owned an estate in Sligo.  These letters speak to the conditions and challenges faced by the Irish in the New World.

For more information on the Famine Irish in New Brunswick, read this essay by Dr. Stewart Donovan of St. Thomas University, In the Wake of Dark Passage: Irish Famine Migration to New Brunswick.

Just a couple more examples of the resources available online to help us better understand the Irish experience in America (and Canada, too!)


Views of the Famine

New Brunswick Irish Portal

Irish Canadian Cultural Association

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Diaries and letters and newspapers…oh my!

Where can you find these treasures, in addition to many other historic research sources? Online at DIPPAM – Documenting Ireland: Parliament, People, and Migration.  This is one of the coolest websites out there for anyone interested in Irish studies, emigration, and history.  DIPPAM is a project of Queen’s University, Belfast and several other entities.  They describe themselves like this:

DIPPAM is an online virtual archive of documents and sources relating to the history of Ireland, and its migration experience from the 18th to the late 20th centuries.

DIPPAM consists of three databases – Enhanced Parliamentary Papers on Ireland-EPPI, Voices of Migration and Return-VMR, and Irish Emigration Database-IED.  Let’s take a closer look at the IED.

The IED is a collection of over 33,000 documents (with new material added regularly) covering the 32 counties of Ireland, with the majority dated from 1820 to 1920.  If you relish the thrill of perusing old archived collections in person, browsing this virtual archive could become a new favorite destination.  Why not take advantage of the neatly transcribed diaries and letters, and set aside the microfilm reader for a bit – all the documents in this collection are available to view online.

Click here to read the general guidelines for searching the IED.  You are able to search for a specific term, or use the categories on the left side to define parameters and browse the fascinating collection of documents.

Here is an example of a search I did on the emigrant letters in the collection.  I began by restricting the “Document Types” to Letters (Emigrants).  Next I entered Minnesota in the “Search” field.  This search resulted in 14 emigrant letters with some mention of Minnesota.

I selected the following return:

18-10-1884    Thomas McCann, Minneapolis, Minnesota to Mary McKeown, Belfast.

Mr. McCann is writing to his sister in Ireland from Minneapolis, Minnesota, which is located in the north central portion of the United States.  Most of the letter talks about the McCann siblings who are scattered throughout the US and Ireland.  The pattern of Irish emigration is evident in this letter; one at a time the siblings made their way to the US, some via Scotland, joining relatives already established in American cities.  Once in the US, some stayed in New York while others moved west to Madison, WI, Minneapolis, MN, and beyond.

…dear sister
Maggie is well and likes this
country she would not go back to old
ireland for any money she came to
Uncle James from New York and stoped [stopped?]
there last winter so she do not think
of the old Country any more she sayes [says?]
she had to work to [too?] hard when she
was there and had nothing for it
she is now working in a hotel in
Madison near my uncles house but
I am 2 hundred and fifty miles furder [further?]
west I left my uncles last spring and
came west I am now 7 hundred miles
from New York so you may think I am quite
away from the place I was Born in
old Ireland but I am quite happey [happy?]
sometimes I never think I was in old
Ireland still I never think of it
sometimes for I do not entend [intend?] ever
to see it I am still working at my
trade and always has plenty to do
I spent quite a little some [sum?] on maggie
to take her here she cost me forty
seven dollers [dollars?] to take her from
Ireland to here but I do not care
for that it makes me happey [happy?] to
hear from her and that is all I want
from her sometimes she do not think
worth her while to write me a few
lines to let me know how she is getting
along well…

Click here for the full text from

Maybe I am cynical, but I note a hint of a passive-aggressive tone when Mr. McCann refers to his sister Maggie.  Glad to see that was alive and well in the 19th century.  Also interesting are the attitudes he expresses toward his homeland – more practical than sentimental, but rather sad.  Reading this letter we can understand a bit more about how it must have felt to have to leave home and have your family dismantled.

Start browsing: click here to go directly to the Irish Emigration Database.  What else do you have to do this weekend?