Thursday, December 31, 2015

Irish Genealogy In North America - 2015 In Review

Compared to 2014, 2015 was a quieter year when it came to new developments and record releases in relation to Irish genealogy in North America. However, there were some very positive additions. The year kicked off in great fashion with the addition of editions of the Gaelic American newspaper on and the release of Reproductive Loan Fund Records on Findmypast.

March saw the launch of a new website,, that allows people to pay in dollars for access to digitized local newspapers from Ireland. In the same month, the Ulster Historical Foundation had a very successful annual tour of the U.S. and Canada. They managed to fit in a phenomenal 15 stops in 17 days, no doubt taking planes, trains, and automobiles to get to all their destinations. They have already earmarked their 2016 tour, so watch out to see if they will be visiting a city near you.

Season six of the U.S. Who Do You Think You Are? featured actor Sean Hayes and his Irish-American ancestry. This was quite a good episode that showcased a number of detailed record sets in Illinois and Ireland.

The New York Public Library launched an interested website in November called Emigrant City. The website is an effort at crowd-sourcing the transcription of mortgage and bond record books from the Library’s collection of Emigrant Savings Bank records. Many of those who banked with the Emigrant [Industrial] Savings Bank were Irish immigrants and their descendants.

Lastly, the Irish Government released two documents this past year that have the potential to positively impact Irish genealogical research efforts in the United States and Canada. Global Irish: Irish Diaspora Policy and Local Diaspora Toolkit encompass a wide range of ideas and it is fantastic to see genealogy begin discussed in a government policy document. Read my two opinion pieces about these documents here and here.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Chicago and Great Lakes Lecture

The Ulster Historical Foundation (UHF) recently posted a lecture on their YouTube channel called "All Roots Lead to Chicago: Irish Railroad Workers and Canal Workers in the 19th Century." Debra Dudek of Fountaindale Public Library, Bolingbrook, Illinois and Tina Beard of Plainfield Public Library, Plainfield, Illinois travelled from the US to the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) where they presented the talk.

The lecture is divided into two sections: (i) where Irish immigrants settled in the states around the Great Lakes regions and what attracted them, and (ii) Irish immigration to the city of Chicago. Below you will find some of the main points of the talk, but I encourage you to watch the full lecture if you had Irish immigrant ancestors who settled in any of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania or New York.

  • Irish immigrants worked as canal builders in the early to mid 19th century. The canals were built towards the lakes (from states in the eastern US) and then built out from the lakes, for example south into Illinois
  • Minnesota and Indiana did not received a lot of Irish settlers
  • There was a lot of mining in Minnesota that attracted Irish immigrants – there are still pockets in Minnesota today that are communities of Irish miner descendants
  • Wisconsin had a lot of railroad work and shipping
  • Immigrants from Ireland came to these states into the 1920s and 1930s
  • A lot of Irish immigrants and their descendants were involved in the labor movement in Michigan. The Michigan State Department of Natural Resources has mining records  that contain full dossiers on such people. They are not online or indexed

  • There were 14 Irish newspapers in Illinois, most were in Chicago and there was one in the city of Moline
  • Chicago newspapers also had Information Wanted advertisements, like in the Boston Pilot newspaper
  • Chicago Irish neighborhoods included Bridgeport, Back of the Yards, Canaryville and Brighton Park
  • Many of Chicago's first Irish immigrants had worked on the Illinois & Michigan (I&M) Canal and the Erie Canal before that.
  • In Illinois, canal building efforts went from Bridgeport to Purdie where it connected with the Illinois river
  • There are Illinois records for the (I&M) Canal in Springfield, the state capital, and each of the communities along which it was built e.g. Jolie, Lockport
  • Roman Catholic parishes opened along the way of construction
  • The workers were given land instead of wages but they were not registered – those records do exist for the Lockport area, but don’t seem to exist for other communities
  • Ottawa, IL Genealogical Guild has canal records for the Irish immigrants that stayed in the area

  • Chicago neighborhoods Canaryville and Back of the Yards were near the train stock yards that arose from the 1860s onwards
  • Bridgeport was largely an Ulster neighborhood, particularly Cavan and Derry
  • After 1865 there was a lot of immigration to these neighborhoods as there were new jobs on the railroad
  • St. Gabriel’s was the RC parish in Canaryville
  • In the 1830s and 1840s Albany, New York had a large Irish population. Many went to Chicago to build buildings and canals
  • Pre-1854, Catholic baptisms in Chicago occurred in Old St Patrick’s Parish and served the Irish immigrants for the entire city. They are on

Thanks to the UHF and PRONI for posting it online and the Irish Genealogy News blog for highlighting it last month.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Tracing The Irish In Washington State

The November/December edition of Irish Lives Remembered genealogy magazine has hit the virtual newsstand and in this edition I've written about research in Washington state. Don't forget, this magazine is completely free for anyone to read.

This is my last article for the magazine and I would like to sincerely thank editor Eileen Munnelly for bringing me on board almost two years ago.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

United States National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938

The National Home (called Asylum up to 1873) for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers was founded in 1865 to look after volunteer soldiers who had been injured or disabled during the American Civil War. Twelve homes were opened across the United States, beginning with the first home in Togus, Maine in 1866.[1]

Date Established
Eastern Branch
Togus, Maine
Central Branch
Dayton, Ohio
Northwestern Branch
Wood, Wisconsin
Southern Branch
Hampton, Virginia
Western Branch
Leavenworth, Kansas
Pacific Branch
Sawtelle, California
Marion Branch
Marion, Indiana
Roseburg Branch
Roseburg, Oregon
Danville Branch
Danville, Illinois
Mountain Branch
Johnson City, Tennessee
Battle Mountain Sanitarium
Hot Springs, South Dakota
Tuskegee Home
Tuskegee, Alabama
Bath Branch
Bath, New York
St. Petersburg Home
St. Petersburg, Florida
Table 1: Chronological year of opening of National Homes for Disables Volunteer Soldiers

Both and have the database United States National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938. It contains almost 400,000 records and the page for each veteran in the registers is divided into four parts: military history, domestic history, home history, and general remarks.  Just over 28,100 of the entries are for men who were born in Ireland. Of those, the Irish county or place of birth is recorded for almost 500 men.

No. of records
Cork (inc. 2 Queenstown)
Tipperary (incl. 1 Templemore)
Donegal (incl. Donnegal)
Mayo (incl. May & 1 Charlestown)
Roscommon (incl. Rosecommon)
Kerry (incl. 1 Killarney)
Cavan (incl. Caven)
Offaly (incl. Kings)
Monaghan (incl. Monoghan)
Laois (incl. Queens)
Meath (incl. 1 Navan)
Castle Borough, Ireland
Clashmore, Ireland
Rockville, Ireland
Drummond, Ireland
Barr, Ireland
Kilduff, Ireland
Kenmore, Ireland
Bangor, Ireland
County Carney, Ireland
Grey Abbey, Ireland
Ardmore, Ireland
Clifton, Ireland
Table 2: No. of records that give Irish county/place of birth

The questions asked on the pro-forma registers changed slightly over the years but a core of questions were asked throughout:[2] (i) military history - time and place of each enlistment, rank, company and regiment, time and place of discharge, cause of discharge, kind and degree of disability, when and where contracted; (ii) domestic history - where born (state or country and town or county), age, height, complexion, color of eyes, color of hair, read and write, religion, occupation, residence subsequent to discharge, marital status/social condition, name and address of nearest relative; (iii) home history - rate of pension, date of admission re-admission and transfer, condition of re-admission, date and discharge of transfer, cause of discharge, date of death, cause of death (iv) general remarks - papers, effects, location of grave and remarks.

Not every question is answered for each resident, especially in the records of those who were admitted to the first few national homes.  However, most questions were usually answered and this is a tremendous amount of detail about one individual, especially in the 19th century. It is also unusual to see a government document ask about the religion of a person.

Entry for Austin Connelly, born about 1810 Dublin, Ireland
To share one example, Austin Connelly entered the Central Branch home in Dayton, Ohio on 13 July 1875. He was born in Dublin, Ireland about 1810. In the United States, he worked as a shoemaker in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He first enlisted in the 109th Pennsylvania volunteers on 22 February 1862 at Philadelphia. He was discharged in 1863 before re-enlisting in the 116th Pennsylvania volunteers in February 1864. A relative was named as John Finnell of Camden, New Jersey. Austin Connelly died on 4 May 1891.[3]

Access this database at and

[1] National Parks Service. History of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. Date Unknown. accessed 28 November 2015.
[2] Questions with strikethrough were asked in later years
[3] "United States National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 28 November 2015), Austin Connelly, 1875; citing p. 5403, Dayton, Ohio, United States, NARA microfilm publication M1749 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), roll 32; FHL microfilm 1,547,614.

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, 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. 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 accessed 17 December 2012
[3] Sutton, Philip. Emigrant City: Two Stories. 4 November 2015. New York Public Library. 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 in the future.  They will be indexed and all images will be digitized. No date was provided so keep an eye on the regular new record announcements.

[1] TIARA. Tiara Foresters Project. 2011. 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. : 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. : 10 October 2015