U.S. Federal Census 1880

U.S. Federal Census 1880

Last week I explained that the first bit of research when tracing the path of your Kerry ancestors should be done ‘at home’. If your ancestor was an immigrant to the United States ‘at home’ means in the records available in the U.S; wherever the emigrant settled. If you don’t already know it, you need to find the parish or townland of origin of your ancestor for a successful identification in Ireland.  Again I would like to quote from FamilySearch.org:

Seek to discover the immigrant’s Irish origins using U.S. (Australian/Canadian etc) records. Consult family papers, parish registers, vital records, censuses, naturalization papers, passenger lists, probate records, city directories, local histories, and many more historical documents. Every community where the immigrant lived created records that may provide meaningful information. To begin your U.S. records search on FamilySearch.org, start here.

But before you start on anything, I would ask you to have a think on the following and see where it might apply to your Gt or Gt Gt Grandfather:

  • 18th century immigrants were mostly single men, very few women or families would have travelled. In any case it  is also very difficult to get U.S. records that go back this far.
  • Emigration from Kerry to North America started from about 1820 with the major influx right through the Famine period (1845-1852) and on to 1950s.
  • In the first half of the 1800s many single men, single women and entire Kerry families travelled from the port of Tralee (Blennerville) and from Limerick to Canada and while some stayed there, the majority travelled on down to the American Colonies. This was a cheaper option as ships bringing timber from Canada made the passage to Tralee and Limerick and emigrants making the return passage could do so in the most cost effective way.    A smaller number made their way to Liverpool to cross the Atlantic directly to New Orleans, Baltimore, Pennsylyvania, New York, Boston, Quebec. During this period most immigrants went as labourers, railroad and/or farm.  Very few single women went until after the Famine and then they went as domestic servants to the cities, usually Boston or New York.
  • Irish Famine emigrants had only basic literacy and no documentation. Surnames got ‘mangled’ by Government Immigration authorities and were left like that.
  • From 1859 when the railway came to Tralee, the usual way to travel was to go to Cork or Queenstown and join a ship which had usually sailed from Liverpool and continue to New York.

FAK Title in Irish Lives RememberedSo think –  how did your ancestor afford the fare?    Could the family have afforded it?   Could the fare have been sent from a relative already in the United States?     How would they have travelled from their homes – from west of Dingle, the top of Coom, the Beara peninsula to the port of embarkation?   Chain migration is an important consideration.  Did members of the family already working in the United States or Canada, send home the passage money for younger siblings, for neighbours and their children and usually jobs were found for these new arrivals also in the industry in which the immigrant was already working.

I would start by looking at the US Federal Census of the year nearest to the estimated time of arrival of the immigrant.  Check the names on these records carefully.    Who are they ‘rooming’ with? Are they ‘Irish’ also?   Do they all work in the same work places?   Could they be neighbours from back home?  Don’t get too tied up in age or date of birth.   The majority of Irish people did not know (or care about) their dates of birth.  It was just not of any importance to them and you will find in each following census that they gave a different age each time.  They just did not know.  It is nothing devious but you can assume a range of possible dates of birth and that is quite adequate.

Follow your ancestor from the earliest Census through the following ones and then picking up births, marriages and deaths as life went on.  US Federal Census of 1790 -1840 only names the Heads of Households. 1840 record literacy, occupation and school attendance.   1850 lists every member of the household.   Each new census asked more questions and will give you more information.  Most of 1890 census was destroyed in a fire so this is one blank in your research.

Death Certs

A word of warning on death certs.  They can be very inaccurate and lead you down a cul-de-sac!   If the person who has died didn’t know his date of birth, it is most unlikely that his next-of-kin did.  Neither might they have been too interested in listening to stories of ‘home’ and the old days and may not have the correct Kerry location not to mind County that the deceased hailed from  Just treat with caution.

All this research is not alone to retrieve information which can be substantiated but also to shake up memories – your own or more importantly older relatives at home in the U.S.  You will at the very least have proper chronology of families, family names and some idea of ages which will be very important in identifying your particular family back in their Kerry homes.

Some more hints here – Listen to Joe Buggy (Townland of Origin.com) speaking to the Irish Family History Centr e on U.S. genealogy research.