Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Opinion - Local Diaspora Toolkit and Genealogy

The Irish Minister for Diaspora Affairs, Mr. Jimmy Dennihan, TD, recently launched the Local Diaspora Toolkit (Irish Times article about the launch). It was created by the Clinton Institute at University College Dublin and is meant to be a "a practical guide for local authorities and local and community groups to assist in the development of strategies for local diaspora engagement."[1] This toolkit was promised in the Global Irish – Ireland’s Diaspora Policy publication, which was launched earlier this year in March (I wrote a lengthy opinion piece when that document was published about the role of genealogy in diaspora engagement).

The Local Diaspora Toolkit is divided into four main sections in relation to the diaspora - identifying, engaging, communicating, and growing, with a fifth section focusing on funding and investing. Users of the toolkit are first recommended to define their diaspora. Of the five diaspora groups identified—lived, ancestral, next generation, returning, and affinity—genealogy can play a fundamental role with the ancestral group.

The toolkit encourages users to identify clusters of Irish emigrant communities, noting that "local knowledge, supported and enhanced by research, shows that there are often distinctive patterns of emigrant movement and resettlement from a specific area, so that you can find clusters of communities which have significant populations from a particular area in Ireland."[2] Four examples are identified: Mayo's connections with Cleveland, Ohio; Monaghan's twinning with Prince Edward Island; the descendants of Longford emigrants in Argentina; and Ballyoura, County Cork's links with Peterborough in Canada.

Regular readers of Townland of Origin will be familiar with my efforts to highlight these links. Researching those in the area of the U.S. or Canada where you immigrant ancestor settled in one useful strategy if you cannot find out where your ancestor came from in Ireland.

The idea of  researching links between a part of Ireland and another part of the world that were created due to emigration from Ireland is not new. However, it is encouraging to see it officially promoted in an Irish Government publication. There are very few countries in the world where genealogy forms part of official national Government policy. While that is an extremely positive step, these efforts must continue and be refined further.

Projects in parts of Ireland that aim to connect with diaspora communities through genealogy and local history research can be beneficial in a number of ways. Bringing local residents together to work on a project creates social cohesion and community participation. Such projects can raise the profile of that community in the wider region through local media interest in any books or websites that showcase the research. Funding can be secured for the research which will be spent in the local community and county. Lastly, members of the diaspora will hopefully want to come and visits once the hard work has paid off and links are established.  

Many Irish communities in the U.S and Canada are keenly aware of such links and it has to be said that they have often been the driver in establishing such relationships over the last number of decades. It is good to see that, belatedly, these connections have been more readily recognized in Ireland over the last number of years. There is funding available through the Emigrant Support Programme for organizations outside of Ireland who are interesting in connecting with Irish communities  (the application process for 2015 grant money is now closed).

So if you want to start a diaspora project in your local community how can you get started? Access the Local Diaspora Toolkit here and get reading. The final section of the toolkit outlines a number of organizations that can help with project funding, such as The Western Development Commission, The LEADER Rural Development Programme, The Heritage Council and Worldwide Ireland Funds. Hopefully, increased funding will be forthcoming from these organizations for such diaspora research projects.

[1] Kennedy, Liam and Madeleine Lyes. Local Diaspora Toolkit. Dublin: Office of the Minister for Diaspora Affairs. 2015. p.5
[2] Kennedy and Lyes. 2015. p. 15.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Emigrant City - New NYPL Project

Crowd-sourced, online transcription and indexing projects have become popular in genealogy over the last few years. Both Ancestry.com, through their World Archives Project, and Familysearch Indexing ask people to volunteer their time to transcribe and index genealogy records. The New York Public Library recently launched a transcription project called Emigrant City. Developed in collaboration by two departments of the public library (NYPL Labs and the Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy), "Emigrant City invites you to help transcribe recently digitized mortgage and bond record books from the Library’s collection of Emigrant Savings Bank records."[1]

The Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank, based in New York City, was founded by the Irish Emigrant Society and opened its doors in 1850. It was originally located on Chambers St., beside the current Municipal Archives, a location ideally suited to attracting a large number of Irish depositors who lived in Lower Manhattan. In all over 170,000 accounts were opened between 1850 and 1883 with the vast majority in the names of Irish men and women.[2] The 6,400 mortgage and bond books that are to be transcribed date from between 1851 and 1921[3].

Inevitably, there will be a healthy number of bank customers in the books who were Irish-born or the American-born children of Irish immigrant parents. In fact, the second person who received a loan from the bank was New York-born Mary O'Connor. She received a $2,000 loan on 22 January 1855.[4]

This is a project to keep an eye on, especially if you have New York City Irish ancestry. You can read more about the Emigrant City project on the dedicated NYPL website.

[1] Armstong, William. Emigrant City: An Introduction. 4 November 2015. New York Public Library. http://www.nypl.org/blog/2015/11/04/emigrant-city: accessed 7 November 2015.
[2] Salvato, Richard. A User’s Guide to the Emigrant Savings Bank Records. New York, NY: New York Public Library Manuscripts and Archives Division. 1997. Available at http://www.nypl.org/sites/default/files/emigrant.pdf: accessed 17 December 2012
[3] Sutton, Philip. Emigrant City: Two Stories. 4 November 2015. New York Public Library. http://www.nypl.org/blog/2015/11/04/emigrant-city-two-stories: accessed 7 November 2015.
[4] Sutton, Philip. Emigrant City: Two Stories. 4 November 2015

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Washington State Irish Genealogy Groups

Washington state is home to a number of organizations that promote Irish genealogy and they are all based in the Seattle metropolitan area. If you have Washington Irish ancestry, reside in the state, or plan to visit there for research, then getting acquainted with them can be very beneficial. Members of such organizations often have local knowledge about areas where Irish immigrants settled, know how to access genealogy records in the state, and also know about the less well known resources that can help you break through those genealogy brick walls.

The main organization is the Seattle Genealogical Society. Like many state or large city genealogy groups, they have an Irish interest group and meet every third Saturday. The Eastside Genealogical Society, based in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue, has an Irish and Scots-Irish special interest group.  Lastly, there is the Irish Heritage Club of Seattle which hosts occasional genealogy events.

You can learn more about these organizations and others across the United States and Canada on the Groups/Societies and Institutions (GSI) Database page elsewhere on this site.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Mortuary Records Of The Catholic Order of Foresters Talk

I got to attend my first Back To Our Past conference in Dublin a few weeks ago and there was one talk in particular that I had earmarked to attend: Finding Your American Cousins - A New Source for Massachusetts Mortuary Records, 1880 - 1943. This talk was about a topic I have blogged about before, the mortuary records of the Catholic Order of Foresters (COF) (access here and here). 

To quickly recap, the COF was a fraternal life insurance organization founded in Boston in 1879 by a group of Irish immigrants. Over the ensuing decades, the organization spread throughout the state and by the end of the 19th century there were ninety-five branches throughout Massachusetts.[1]

Mary Choppa, of the Massachusetts based Irish Ancestral Research Association, and Joanne Riley, an archivist at the Healey Library, University of Massachusetts Boston, crossed the Atlantic to give the talk. They started by outlining what the Catholic Order of Foresters was, what information was contained in the mortuary records, and how they came into the possession of TIARA and then the Healey library.

The genealogical strength of the mortuary records lie in the considerable level of detail that a person had to provide to get an insurance policy and the efforts and correspondence that were undertaken to ensure all relevant parties received a payout when the policy holder passed away. I hope to have an example of such a mortuary record on this blog in the next couple of weeks but for now I'll summarize the main points that were discussed.
  • Women were admitted to the Order, starting in 1894
  • The branches that were set up all over Massachusetts were called courts and there are surviving records of the activities of each court
  • There are 79,000 records available and they cover the years 1879 up to the late 1960s/early 1970s.
  • Each record contains between 8 and 29 pages
  • Information in the records include details such as name, address, information about parents and siblings including when and how parents died, name and address of one friend, details about beneficiaries including maiden and married name of females, names of family members even if they were not beneficiaries
  • The beneficiaries were sometimes family members who lived in Ireland. The records for such a person include correspondence between the family members in Ireland and the COF.
  • They are currently open for people to access up to 1943. A 72 year rule of access applies and as each year passes, one more new year of records will be accessible to the public
  • A different death certificate was supplied than the state/city issued civil death certificate, which can potentially have different information
  • The court that a person was a member of can indicate where the person resided in the state

The speakers noted that practically every Irish American family in Massachusetts today has at least one ancestor who can be found in these records. Currently, you can search an index of names through 1935 and apply to the Healey library for a copy of the documents. Records for the years 1936 to 1943 are also available and contact should be made with the Healey Library to search those years. An added bonus was disclosed at that talk in that the records up to 1935 will be making their way onto Familysearch.org in the future.  They will be indexed and all images will be digitized. No date was provided so keep an eye on the regular Familysearch.org new record announcements.

[1] TIARA. Tiara Foresters Project. 2011. http://tiara.ie/forest.php: accessed 16 December 2013.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Catholic Cemetery, Norfolk, Virginia

The land for St Mary's Catholic Cemetery in Norfolk, Virginia was purchased in 1854. Since that date, it has served as the resting place for Catholics from the Norfolk, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach areas of the state. This is an area of the United States that did not see a lot of immigration of Catholic from Ireland. As a result, the few Catholic parishes and cemeteries that they helped to create are important resources for genealogical research.

The About section of the cemeteries' website has a link to a database of interments that is hosted on the US Gen Web Archive. The database is considerable, with burials from the 1850s to the 21st century included. What makes this such a useful resource is that the information provided for each person was drawn from a number of different sources including original cemetery records, parish records, local death records, headstone inscriptions, obituaries and other records.

Names, dates of burial, dates of death, estimated years of birth, actual dates of birth and a link to an image of the headstone are provided for those in the database. Significantly, place of origin in Ireland is also included for some of the deceased.

For example, John M. O' Connor died on 16 October 1908. He was born about 1866 in Galway. Even though he is buried in Norfolk, Virginia, he died in Baltimore, Maryland.[1] Patrick McCarrick was born in Ballina, County Mayo on 16 June 1821 and died 3 February 1888. He was a captain in the Confederate Navy.[2]

Note: It is important to remember that the information in this database is a secondary source and was derived from primary source documentation. It is possible that mistakes occurred in the creation of this database so the primary source should be obtained wherever possible in your research.

[1] Alesia Raper, Tim Bonney, Robert B. Hitchings, Bill Inge, Colin Boklage, Marian Rudd, Emilie Hauser, Connie Kean & Candice Cheshire. St Mary's Cemetery Interment Database - O. Date Unknown. http://www.usgwarchives.net/va/norfolkcity/cemeteries/stmarys/sm-o.html : 10 October 2015
[2] Alesia Raper, Tim Bonney, Robert B. Hitchings, Bill Inge, Colin Boklage, Marian Rudd, Emilie Hauser, Connie Kean & Candice Cheshire. St Mary's Cemetery Interment Database - McC - McK. Date Unknown. http://www.usgwarchives.net/va/norfolkcity/cemeteries/stmarys/sm-mcc-mck.html : 10 October 2015

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Clann Mór - The Blue Ridge Railway Project

Beginning in the 1840s, thousands of Irish immigrants found jobs all over the eastern half of the United States building railroads. Researching these men and their families can be difficult due to the transient nature of their lives, lack of employment records, and the inherent dangers of the job resulting in high mortality rates. An excellent website, Clann Mór - The Blur Ridge Railway Project, is dedicated to researching the African-American slaves and Irish immigrants who toiled on the construction of one small part of the vast American railroad system - the Blue Ridge Railroad in central Virginia in the 1850s.

 The most useful part of the website for genealogist is the Research section. Amongst other interesting articles and pieces of research, first hand accounts from newspapers and diaries are provided from the time of construction, including an interesting yet typically nativist account from a young lady passing through the area:[1]
               "One of the poor men who work on the railroad had made a clearing among the trees in order to plant his potatoes. There are a great many Irish cabins on each side of the mountains, which reminded me of descriptions I have read of the manner of living of the lowest class in Ireland. They are mere hovels, & most of them have one or two barrels on the top of the chimney, but in some of them, we saw muslin curtains, a strange mixture of dirt & finery. The people are real Irish - wretched, miserable & dirty in appearance, but they hold on to Irish fun & Irish potatoes, as well as Irish tempers. Father called to a man who was at the door of one of the cabins & told him he had often seen double barreled guns but had never before heard of double barreled chimnies [sic], and he seemed very much pleased."

The crowning achievement of the website creators is the fantastic Master List of Irish Workers and Slaves that those behind the website have created. Information for over 2,000 workers and their families is provided and was drawn from census, vital, newspaper and employment records. Some of the entries are vividly real: Morris Griffin died on 21 January 1851 with the notation remarking - "Irish blown up in large tunnell."[2] Irish counties of origin are also provided for some of the workers as the creators of the master list utilized the Information Wanted Ads in the Boston Pilot newspaper as well as local records.

[1] Clannmhor.org.  Clann Mhór - First Hand Accounts. Date Unknown.
http://www.clannmhor.org/clannmhor/First_Hand_Accounts.html : accessed 1 October 2015. Original at: Diary of Mary Jane Boggs Holladay [manuscript] 1851-61. Call numbers MSS 6436-h. The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. University of Virginia.
[2] Clannmhor.org.  Clann Mhór Master List of Irish Workers and Slaves. January 2013. Available online at

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

U.S. Census Series: Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1860

The city of Milwaukee had a population of just over 62,200 when the 1860 U.S. Federal Census was enumerated.[1] Of this number, Irish-born residents account for about 8.6% of the population at circa 5,375.[2] The county of birth was recorded for 562 of those people from Ireland. The numbers for each county are contained in the table below. Clare, Galway, Kilkenny and Meath were the counties that had the highest number of such instances recorded.

All instances of the Irish county of origin were for immigrants who lived in the 4th ward of the city. The census enumerator, or Assistant Marshall to use the correct terminology, for this part of Milwaukee was Maven Power. Maven was a lawyer who lived in the Town of Lake, Milwaukee County.  His entry in the 1860 U.S. Federal Census noted that he was born in the state of New York about 1819.[3] Also residing with him at the time was 31 year old Adelaide Powers, presumably his wife, and 18 year old Mary Kelly, a house servant, also born in the state of New York. It is very likely that Maven's Power ancestors were from Ireland and this could be a reason why he noted the counties of birth for some of those that he enumerated.

No. of people[4]
Offaly (Kings)
Laois (Queens)
Monaghan (Monahan)
Table: Instances of Irish county of origin in 1860 U.S. Federal Census, 
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The page below (click to view larger version) from the census enumeration shows the variation of places of birth for people who lived closely together in just seven houses - Galway, Mayo, Waterford, Carlow, Kings (Offaly) and Kilkenny are all represented.[6]

Irish counties of origin in 1860 U.S. Federal Census,  Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The 4th ward likely attracted Irish immigrants due to its proximity to jobs on the Milwaukee River and the railroad. A map of the city from 1856 shows the location of the 4th ward on the west bank of the river with the Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad running through the southern section of the ward (click to view larger version).[7] The legacy of this Irish area of Milwaukee can be seen in a later map from 1874 as there is a street in the 4th ward called Hibernia.[8]

Section of Lapham's Map of Milwaukee showing 4th ward

I'd like to thank commenter cmkinhunter for directing me towards this example back in May. See the Census Series section for other instances of Irish place of origin recorded in the U.S. Federal Census.

[3] Fold3.com, 1860 U.S. Federal Census, Milwaukee County, Lake, population schedule, Town of Lake, Page 78, House 597, family 597, Maven Power and family; digital image, Fold3.com http://www.fold3.com: accessed 26 September 2015; citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 21250.
[4] All totals are approximates based on a manual search of county names. It is possible that some towns were listed instead of county names.
[5] The index gives 10 returns for Longford but two of these are for 'Long Ireland' and upon inspecting the census documents they were for people from Long Island (New York State).
[6] Fold3.com, 1860 U.S. Federal Census, Milwaukee County, Milwaukee, population schedule, City of Milwaukee, Page 67, House 497-505, families 503-511; digital image, Fold3.com http://www.fold3.com: accessed 26 September 2015; citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 21253.
[7] Lapham, I.A. 1856. Map of Milwaukee. New York, NY:  Sherman and Smith. Available online http://www.davidrumsey.com/luna/servlet/detail/RUMSEY~8~1~1954~190067:Map-Of-Milwaukee-?sort=pub_list_no_initialsort%2Cpub_date%2Cpub_list_no%2Cseries_no#: accessed 26 September 2015
[8] Mithcell, SA. 1874. Plan of Milwaukee. Philadelphia, PA:  S.A. Mitchell Jr. Available online http://www.davidrumsey.com/luna/servlet/detail/RUMSEY~8~1~254634~5519457:Plan-of-Milwaukee?sort=pub_list_no_initialsort%2Cpub_date%2Cpub_list_no%2Cseries_no: accessed 26 September 2015

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Irish Ancestors In Texas

The latest edition of Irish Lives Remembered genealogy magazine is out and in this edition I wrote about researching your Irish ancestors in Texas. Access here.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

My Ancestors Were From Cork

Having ancestors from Cork comes up time and time again when speaking with people in the American genealogy world. The names of these ancestors can sometimes be very 'Cork-like,' such as Cornelius Mahoney or Jeremiah Murphy. This came to mind when I wrote two of my recent posts (U.S. Census Series: Ward I, Boston 1860 and U.S. Naval Enlistment Records). In both, Cork has, by far, the largest representation from those who had their county of birth recorded. This is a potentially interesting observation and is worth looking at in more detail.

Can we say that if you don't know where your ancestors are from, and you want to play the percentages game, then Cork is the best place to start looking?

Before we go with this hypothesis it is worth highlighting three important points:
(i) about 10% of Irish people in the Naval enlistment records and 57% of Irish people in the Ward 1, Boston census returns recorded a place of birth. As this is the case, caution should be used before extrapolating any findings from the subset of records that record place of birth. 
(ii) these examples are just two record sets, one a point in time survey (census) from 1860 and the other (naval enlistment records) is a record set created via self-selection, as in some people chose to enlist, while others did not.
(iii) while it can't be measured, a maxim I have learned is that leaving from Ireland via the port of Cobh (known as Queenstown from approx. 1849 to 1922) can sometimes turn into 'born in Cork,' as family stories are passed down through the generations.

Despite all this, two interesting observations can be made if we look at statistics that can help with genealogical research. First, in the 1851 to 1880 period, county Cork had the largest number of emigrants leave Ireland (table one). 

Table 1: County with the highest number of emigrants leaving Ireland, 1851-1880[1]
1. Cork
1. Cork
1. Cork
1. Cork
2. Tipperary
2. Antrim
2. Antrim
2. Antrim
3. Limerick
3. Down
3. Tipperary
3. Down
4. Kerry
4. Tipperary
4. Limerick
4. Donegal
5. Galway
5. Limerick
5. Kerry
5. Tyrone

Second, Cork had the largest population of all counties in the 1851 to 1881 period (table two).  

Table 2: County with the largest population in Ireland, 1851-1881[2]
1. 653,512 Cork
1. 544,818 Cork
1. 517,076 Cork
1. 495,607 Cork
2. 410,919 Dublin
2. 410,252 Dublin
2. 405,262 Dublin
2. 421,913 Antrim
3. 352,912 Antrim
3. 368,977 Antrim
3. 404,015 Antrim
3. 418,910 Dublin
4. 333,650 Tipperary
4. 308,913 Down
4. 293,449 Down
4. 272,107 Down
5. 328,860 Down
5. 271,478 Galway
5. 249,720 Galway
5. 241,212 Mayo

It could be inferred that the reason Cork had the highest number of emigrants was because it was the county with the largest population. However, Dublin was the second most populous county in the same time period but did not produce the second highest number of emigrants. A casual observation for Cork and Dublin could be there that there were less economic opportunities in a large rural county than in a predominantly urban one. However, the 'large population = lots of emigrates' trend re-emerges with Antrim, the county with the third highest population and home to the second largest city on the island, Belfast.

So, to answer the question posed at the start: based purely on emigration numbers, probably, but even though Cork had the largest number of emigrants, that percentage is probably going to be small.

[1] Miller, Kerby A. Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North AmericaNew York : Oxford University Press, 1985.
[2] Census of Ireland for the Year 1891, Preliminary report with abstract of the enumerators' summaries 1891. Dublin: Alexander Thom. 1891.p. 13.  Available online at