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