Take it from someone who’s 1/16th Irish: Americans are proud as can be of even the tiniest sliver of Irish heritage. Especially around St. Patrick’s Day (which falls in the middle of Irish American Heritage Month).
A strong sense of community amid many hardships helped build that pride. During the 19th century, the heaviest era of Irish immigration to the United States due to the Great Famine (1845-1852), Irish arrivals faced prejudice, poverty, substandard housing and other problems. Some numbers for you:
- Almost 3.5 million Irishmen entered the United States between 1820 and 1880. Most stayed in large East Coast cities, partly because they couldn’t afford to continue west and partly because they could create close-knit communities with others from their place of origin.
- In 1847, the first major year of famine emigration, 37,000 Irish Catholics arrived in Boston, according to the History Place, where they packed into slums. A sobering statistic from the site: “Sixty percent of Irish children born in Boston during this period didn’t live to see their sixth birthday. Adult Irish lived on average just six years after stepping off the boat.”
- The same year, about 52,000 Irish arrived in New York City. About 650,000 Irish arrived there during the entire Famine period.
- About 11.9 percent of the US population reported Irish ancestry as part of the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey in 2008, making this the country’s second-largest heritage group.
Are you ready to research your Irish ancestors? Start with US records and work your way back to the immigrant generation, looking for a place of birth in Ireland—you’ll need this info to search in Irish records.
These are some of our favorite Irish research websites (several are free):
- Griffith’s Valuation: Ask About Ireland has a free search of Griffith’s Primary Valuation, a valuation of property in Ireland between 1847 and 1864. It’s an important resource for 19th-century Irish research, especially given the destruction of census records from that era. The March/April 2013 Family Tree Magazine has a tutorial for this site.
- Census of Ireland, 1901 and 1911: The National Archives of Ireland offers these censuses for free, along with a trove of historical information. Our video class will show you how to mine the clues in these censuses, even if your ancestors left Ireland before 1901.
- findmypast.ie: This new subscription site (with a pay-as-you-go option) has records of births, marriages and deaths (aka BMDs); courts and prisons; military; immigration; land and estates; as well as newspapers, directories and Griffith’s Valuation.
- Information Wanted: Also free is this database of “missing friends” from the Boston Pilot newspaper, which published notices from those looking for lost friends from Ireland. The column ran from 1831 to 1921; this site has 1831 to 1893 plus 1901 and 1913.
- Irish Genealogy: This site from the Irish Minister of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is dedicated to Irish genealogy and genealogical tourism. You can search nearly 3 million pre-1900 church records free, and view the actual record if it’s been digitized.
- Ancestry.com: Subscription site Ancestry.com has Irish records including Griffith’s Valuation, tithe applotment books (a tax paid to the Church of Ireland from 1823 to 1837), Ordnance Survey maps, BMDs and more.
- FamilySearch: Free Irish record collections here include civil registration indexes, prison registers, tithe applotment books and more.
- NARA: Passenger Lists: The National Archives’ Access to Archival Databases has passenger indexes including Records for Passengers Who Arrived at the Port of New York During the Irish Famine. It covers 1846 to 1851 and lists people of all nationalities, not just Irish.