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]  Clann Mhór - First Hand Accounts. Date Unknown. : 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]  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], 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, 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], 1860 U.S. Federal Census, Milwaukee County, Milwaukee, population schedule, City of Milwaukee, Page 67, House 497-505, families 503-511; digital image, 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 accessed 26 September 2015
[8] Mithcell, SA. 1874. Plan of Milwaukee. Philadelphia, PA:  S.A. Mitchell Jr. Available online 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

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Online U.S. Catholic Parish Registers

Widespread access to online Catholic Church parish register records in the U.S. is still but a pipedream. A few blog posts could easily be written about the realities of why this is so, but that is a story for another day. Instead, I've decided to be positive and gather together in one place all of the online Catholic Church records that I'm aware of.

Sadly, the list is short, especially when you consider the thousands of parishes that exist across the United States. Please post a comment if you know of any I have missed and I'll add them to the list.

Another access method for Catholic parish registers that is sometimes not considered is microfilms from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. Eventually, all of their microfilms will be on, but until that point is reached they remain a great way to access these records.

For example, see the list of registers for the state of New Jersey on the Familysearch Catalog (use Ctrl+F/Command+F Catholic to quickly highlight the relevant microfilms).

Access and Format Key
S - Scanned
I - Indexed
NI - Not Indexed
T - Transcriptions

Region/Parishes Covered
Access & Format
St. Joseph's Catholic Cemetery, Woodland, Yolo County
St. Mary's Catholic Parish, Littleton
Delaware and Eastern Shore Maryland on Delmarva Peninsula
1795-1925 (S/NI)
Archdiocese of Chicago
City of Chicago and surrounding area
South East Ohio / County map of parishes
Familysearch (S/NI)
St. Michael's Parish, Daviess County
St. Michael's Parish, Daviess County
Delaware and Eastern Shore Maryland on Delmarva Peninsula
1795-1925 (S/NI)
New Jersey
Archdiocese of Newark
St. Peter's Parish, Belville
Immaculate Conception Parish, Montclair
NYC Nuts (T/I)
New Jersey
Archdiocese of Newark
Various Parishes
19th Century
Familysearch (T/I)****
New York
Our Lady of Sorrow Parish, Bushwick
St. Leonards of Port Maurice, Bushwick
Most Holy Trinity, Williamsburg
New York
Ancestry: here & here (T/I)
North west Ohio
Familysearch (S/NI)
Ancestry (S/NI)
of Philadelphia
Philadelphia and south east Pennsylvania
18th & 19th Century

* Search for: "Burial register, St. Joseph's Catholic Cemetery, Woodland, Yolo Co., California"
** Search for: " St. Mary's Catholic Church, 1915-1985, of Littleton Colorado"
*** Records are contained within the database New Jersey, Births and Christenings, 1660-1980
**** Search for: "Register of St. Michael Catholic Church, Daviess County, Indiana"