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Reconstructing an Emigrant Family from United States Records

by Familia Ulster Genealogical Review: No. 08, 1992


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by Edward J. O'Day

"For over two centuries Irish people have looked to the Americas, and particularly to the United States, as a land where unparalleled riches are within the reach of ordinary beings and where labour is justly rewarded.

Although transforming that popular image of the New World into personal reality proved elusive for many an emigrant, the dream of a new and abundant life abroad remained remarkably consistent from the eighteenth century into the twentieth.

Irish-American descendants who undertake to recreate the emigrant saga of their families sometimes adopt a type of reverse-image 'version of that dream, imagining the rediscovery of happy pastoral Irish kinsfolk who had the good sense to stay on the island of their birth.

But for those more interested in reconstructing the emigrant experience than in flights of fancy into an imagined past, the United States is still a land of great riches.

Americans of Irish origin may find genealogical evidence of their families in the United States as abundant as the mother lode of California which lured many an Irish person westward across both ocean and continent."

This article examines how to reconstruct the experience of the typical emigrant family from the abundant genealogical evidence available in the United States.