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Shaking Your Family Tree!

Irish Migration Offers Clue to Roots

March 18, 1988|MYRA VANDERPOOL GORMLEY

To be successful in tracing your Irish roots you need to know the history of Irish migration to this country.

About 400,000 people of Irish birth or descent--half of them from Ulster--were counted in America's first census in 1790.

Both voluntary and involuntary migrants came to this country in the 17th Century. They included bonded servants, convicts, prisoners of war along with the paying passengers. Many Irish Catholics were sold into servitude; some were sent to the West Indies, but eventually many journeyed to the mainland colonies. A great number of Irish peasants and vagrants were transported to Virginia and Maryland.

Colonies of Irish, apparently Catholics from Tipperary and Waterford, settled in New Jersey as early as 1683. Most of our Irish ancestors who came to the New World before 1815 were young men, 16 to 40. They usually were accompanied by a relative or friend from their home area. Few were unskilled laborers. Many were artisans, particularly tailors.

During the American Revolution, Irish of all religions served together in both Loyalist and rebel military units. However, most Irish backed the American patriots.

From 1820 to 1920, about 4.7 million Irish came to the United States--with 1.3 million arriving between 1820 and 1845. The potato blight of late 1845 caused about 77,000 to leave Ireland. In 1846, the number increased to 106,000 and peaked at almost 250,000 in 1851.

Irish immigrants' areas of origin changed during the 19th Century. In the early years most came from the north and east but by the 1840s, the majority came from the Midlands and the south. In the 1880s, they came from the west of Ireland. Pinpointing the decade your ancestor arrived in this country aids in determining his probable ancestral home in the old country.

Although there are no exact figures on the total number of Irish newcomers who served in the Civil War, they were the largest proportion of foreign-born troops in the South, and probably ranked equal with Germany as the largest immigrant element in the Union armies. An overwhelming majority of Irish served the North. There were Irish regiments raised in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa. On the Confederate side, Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia also raised Irish units.

The largest collection of materials on Irish immigrants and their descendants in the United States is that of the American Irish Historical Society, 991 Fifth Ave., New York, N.Y. 10028. Most American Catholic colleges, particularly in the Northeast, have impressive collections of manuscript materials on individual immigrants and their descendants.

If your Irish ancestors came during the great migration of 1846-1851, consult the seven-volume work entitled "The Famine Immigrants," published by Genealogical Publishing Co. of Baltimore. They contain the names of those arriving at the Port of New York during this time.

The latest book on Irish immigrants is "Irish Passenger Lists, 1847-1871." It lists all those who sailed from Londonderry to America on ships of the J. & J. Cooke Line and the McCorkell Line, and identifies their places of residence.

These were essentially business records, but they provide the name, age and address of 27,495 passengers and the name of the ship. The majority were from the counties of Donegal, Londonderry and Tyrone in the north of Ireland and ships brought them mainly to the ports of New York, Philadelphia and Quebec.

"Irish Passenger Lists, 1847-1871," is available from Genealogical Publishing Co., 1001 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21202 for $30.50 postpaid.

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