In honor of St. Patrick’s Day and because it seems I am running into more and more people tracing their Irish ancestry, I want to share with you some of what I am learning when researching the Irish immigrant.
You can break down your Irish immigrations into 3 parts; those who came during the potato famine years, those who came before, and those who came after. Researching is easier when you focus on which time your targeted ancestor came to America.
The potato famine started in 1845 when blight hit the area’s potato plants and lasted about 6 years. Successive years of crop failure led to many deaths and forced people to flee.
When we begin our search of immigrant ancestors, we often feel that the passenger list is an important document we need.
However, you need to realize that passenger lists don’t begin in the US until 1820, 1865 in Canada, and 1890 in Great Britain. So if you are researching someone you expected came from Ireland to Canada in 1842, you may not find a passenger list at all.
Many Irish immigrants did come through Canada to the US. It was cheaper passage to come into the port of Quebec. Immigrants were held in quarantine at Grosse Ilse. It is estimated that over 5,000 immigrants died on Grosse Ilse and it is known to be the largest burial ground of Irish outside of Ireland.
Most common ports of entry into Canada were: Grosse Ilse, Quebec, St. John’s, and Halifax.
About 1894, steamship and railroad advertised to immigrants to immigrate to the US by sailing into Canadian ports and then gaining entry to US ports to lessen the hassles. Searching the Port of St. Albans, Vermont ship lists are a valuable source for tracing immigrant ancestors who might have come through Canadian ports of entry in the late 1890’s. This database can be found on Ancestry.com.
The most important thing a beginning researcher can do when tracing their Irish ancestor is to know all you can from the records here in the US. Using census records and birth and death records are a start, but most likely you will need to cast a wider net.
Consider finding tombstones which may have the place of origin inscribed on them. Be sure to find naturalization papers, passport applications (if they went back for a visit) and lastly, biographical sketches of other known family members. All may include a clue to the family’s original place of origin in Ireland. That key piece of evidence, the county in Ireland where the family is from, is vital to continue your search “across the pond”.
Here are another couple fun tidbits: Did you know that a nickname for “Bridget” is “Biddy” and “Delia”! How about the name “Darby” being the nickname for “Jeremiah”? If you are familiar with these particulars about Irish research, you will be way ahead of the game. By googling your targeted ancestors given name (i.e. Nicknames for Bridget), you can find possible names you should consider whist doing your research.
For the most valuable information on Irish immigration research strategies, I suggest watching the many videos at FamilySearch.org. https://familysearch.org/learningcenter/home.html. In the search field, type “Irish Immigration” or “Ireland Research”.
Happy hunting and may the luck of the Irish be with ye!