Irish Immigration to America

Why did your Irish ancestors emigrate? The majority of Irish came to America during the Irish Potato Famine and in the years afterward. However, the reasons for the immigration was more complex than the starvation conditions they were suffering in Ireland before they left. Their reasons were based on conditions caused by British Penal Laws passed in the 1600s and 1700s. These laws set the stage for conditions that made possible the devastation the Irish suffered during and after the Potato Famine of the late 1840s.

The answers to why they left differ and are related to the sharp religious divisions between Irish Catholics, Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, and the Anglican English. These tensions seem to be the cause of many to begin leaving Ireland in the 1700s and early 1800s and appeared to magnify the well-known effects of the Irish Famine.

Religious and political freedom were among the early reasons. However, poverty, especially at the time of the Great Famine, was also high on the list of reasons to leave. The religious divisions and tensions in Ireland go back to the conflicts between Catholic Irish and their English Protestant rulers. The end of the Nine Years War in 1603 added another factor to the tensions when King James gave Irish lands to Scottish Presbyterian.

When the Irish lost the war, King James VI of England confiscated the land on the rebellious Irish lords. King James then recruited Scottish clansmen to populate the confiscated land. In 1609, he began the systematic resettlement of the Plantation of Ulster with recruited English and Scottish Protestant settlers. However, the English did not honor their early promises to the Scots, and soon the Presbyterian Scots felt the discrimination that the Catholic Irish felt. They began leaving Ireland for America and other countries about 1730.

The leading cause of the tension among the Presbyterian Scots and the Irish Catholics was the pressure from the English to support the Anglican Church. Only Anglicans could own land and be members of the local government. This situation produced much of the poverty that both groups suffered, and felt the need to leave. Over time the difference in economic levels became more extensive with the English or descendants of the English being very wealthy and all others suffering marginally to extreme poverty. The English landowners also encouraged growing of the potato, and it became the major food crop throughout Ireland. When the potato blight began, the English government did not bring in an economical substitute causing much of the starvation felt by the poor. Also, the fail of the potato crops gave the landlords reason to evict many of their tenants and convert the lands to pastures or larger fields that they harvested using farm implements.

Remember that each immigrant has a unique story. Our challenge is to dig out as many details of their immigration saga as we can for our family history. This search includes matching when they came and where they left for possible reasons occurring around them.

Our immigrant ancestors laid the foundation of our roots in the United States. Our lives would be much different if they did not endure the challenges of emigration from Ireland. Do not underestimate their contributions. They performed vital roles in the development of America. Many of them cleared fields on the frontier and worked on the farms. Many of the Irish were unskilled and toiled constructing the canals and railroads or in factories. Their lives became building blocks in the growth of their new country.

Just added to Illinois State Genealogy Society Webinar schedule

Join us on Tuesday, Sept. 8 at 8:00 PM Central for another free webinar – “Writing Your Family History: Mechanics and Flourishes”. Our guest speaker, Stephen Szabados will show you how to move beyond your beginning outline. You’ll learn how to work with a larger document and add the flourish, like photos and maps, to enrich your family’s history.

Webinar Registration Link:

After you register, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Polish Genealogy Websites

PGSA (Polish Genealogical Society of America) has compiled a list of over 45 websites that give us access to Polish records or information about local history and customs.

The importance of Organizing and Sharing your Genealogical Research

Start enjoying your Genealogy Research. Get organized!

There are many reasons why being organized is essential. My greatest joy came from finding more records and answering more questions once I became better organized. The positive feeling I had gave me positive re-enforcement and gave me more enjoyment from my hard work.

Initially, I collected personal papers, photos, and stories and then added the names and dates to the genealogy forms, such as family trees and group sheets. This basic data allowed me to find census records and other documents from online collections and archives. I was excited because I was filling out my family tree. When I tried to share this information with family members, they were usually confused and reluctant to take the time to read the documents. They were not excited about my research like I was.

Their reluctance made me rethink my approach, and I realized that the stories were more important than the documents. I then reviewed different reports available from various genealogy software but found none that was easy to use and understand by non-genealogists. They did not tell the stories.

Using Microsoft Word, I started recording my information in summaries for each direct ancestor. I listed each piece of information and story in chronological order in the summary. I also included photos, maps, and documents next to the text to help illustrate the information. I added other materials to the document at the end of the narrative. Sometimes, I included notes to myself to do future research when I could find time or resources. I highlight these notes by using red type.

My research efforts had many starts and stops, and this format enabled me to restart my research faster when I had time to return to it. The format allowed me to focus on what to do next quickly, and I could easily find the data I needed to do the next search. The format helped me correlate and analyze my research more efficiently. My research became more accurate.

The stories began to emerge from the gathered information, and the summaries were readable and increased the interest of family members. They suddenly asked questions and freely offered what they knew. The format also reminded them of many stories found deep in their memories. The exchange of information was amazing, and the family history grew.

Genealogy is not just the collection of names. Our ancestors were living human beings who interacted with the people around them. The documents and information we find contain stories about our ancestors. Our challenge is to review the information and see the stories hidden in the facts and then share them with our family. It is critical to organize our data in a format that can be easily read by all the members of your family, both present and future. Go beyond the names and dates and find the stories buried in the documents. Get organized. Find a way to write the stories and save them for your future generations.

Elements in my Family History Books

  • Organized and understandable
  • Goes beyond records, placing people in the context of their surroundngs
  • The facts and relationships are fully documented
  • Information accurate
  • Includes maps, charts, and photographs

DAR Begins Accepting Autosomal DNA

Great news for researchers who have a brick wall proving their lineage for DAR certification. The Society will now accept DNA results (Autosomal, mitochondrial, or Y-DNA) to help prove relationships to your Revolutionary War ancestors. This rule change is only for the first three generations of your lineage and will help adoptees or people with surprise parentage.

You can obtain more information on the DAR blog.

DNA Testing and Your Ethnicity

TV ads are making DNA test kits a favorite gift idea for adults. These are autosomal (atDNA) kits that give two types of results: ethnicity percentages and individual matches. Most of the test-takers of these gift test kits seem to be only interested in the ethnicity percentages. I feel this is true because I see that over half of my individual matches have no family trees and a reluctance to respond to my contacts. No one has responded when a family tree is not attached.

However, the ethnicity estimates that test companies supply may be confusing due to limitations in the way the testing companies calculate the ethnicity estimates. In fact, the projected ethnicities are not foolproof; they are estimates based on the comparison of the test sample to a reference population used by the testing company. The companies then used their algorithms to determine the percentage of each ethnic group you belong to you.

Are these projections reliable? Initially, some people complained that their ethnic estimates were inaccurate. Each test company has different reference populations, and these numbers cause more confusion because the ethnic percentages will differ from different companies. However, this is a relatively new science, and companies are revising their methods and base data regularly.

The testing companies regularly add DNA from new individuals and more population segments to the reference panels. Recently, they changed many ethnic estimates that now seem more accurate. The results from companies still vary when compared to other companies, and will likely continue to improve as they add more individual samples from more comprehensive geographical locations and sources. Eventually, I believe the projected ethnicities from each company will become closer to being similar.

The size and the populations in the reference panel are substantial factors determining the accuracy of an ethnicity projection. If the reference population does not include a segment of the world’s population such as Native Hawaiians, the ethnicity estimate cannot have that as one of the results, even if the test-taker has significant ancestry from that part of the world. Each testing company describes their reference populations in the help or information sections of their websites.

There are limitations as to how much detail the projected ethnicities can show due to the widespread migrations of different people across the different continents. One example of this is the population of central and western Europe. DNA between Germany and France to predict which country your ancestors left accurately. Another example is the populations in southern Europe along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. There are no significant differences in the

The estimated ethnicity for broad categories such as Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas are generally accurate, but the accuracy decreases when the projection tries to be more specific as to location or country.

Another limitation in determining a person’s ethnicity arises from the fact that the person may not have received any DNA from their ancestors from a particular region. We lose portions of DNA for older generations as each generation gets DNA from their parents. The amount of DNA from each ancestor in older generations until the piece left is so small that it may not be passed along to the next generation. This scenario may completely eliminate DNA from a geographic location.

Ethnicity seems to be one of the top reasons why people are submitting DNA samples. They want to know where are their roots. However, the results are only an estimate and have severe limitations. Be cautious when evaluating and using your ethnicity results, especially if you are looking for clues to specific locations or countries. Use the results as clues and be patient because the results will be revised many times in the future.

Our Immigrant Ancestors Were Heroes

Our immigrant ancestors were heroes. Their names will not appear in history books, but their efforts impacted American history, and without their sacrifices, our country would not have developed as it did.

They were mostly farmers who felt they had to leave Europe. Some left due to religious persecution. Many immigrated to survive the poverty they were enduring. If they were married, they left to find food for their children. If they were single, they left to find work because there was an excess of farm labor and no room for them on the family farm.

In the 1600s, the American colonies offered freedom from religious persecution. In the 1700s, the colonies offered land, jobs, and the opportunity for a better life. In the 1800s, the United States needed immigrants even more as their westward movement demanded more farmers, and the growth of their factories required more workers.

As the U.S. became the leading industrial power in the world, the rapid growth of heavy industry had a ripple effect on other sectors of the U.S. economy – mining, heavy equipment, petroleum, manufacturing, and the food industries all saw rapid growth. This increase demanded more workers, and the massive spike in immigration from Europe in the early 1900s gave the need for considerable increases in manpower.

The first immigrants were seeking religious freedom. They arrived with little money and few belongings. However, many were excellent farmers, worked hard, and most were successful. They established many towns in the eastern colonies and were among the first pioneers to move across the Appalachian Mountains. Later, immigrants found farms in the Midwest and continue to build strong roots where ever they settled. During the industrial revolution, our immigrants filled critical positions in factories and mills.

My 4th great-grandfather arrived in 1770 as a redemptioner (an indentured servant), learned a trade (miller), and was one of the early pioneers in Kentucky and Indiana. He and his children help build the communities where they settled with their farming efforts and also furnishing the vital service of milling the grain of their neighbors. After eight generations, he has about 400,000 living descendants. Many of his descendants are farmers and blue-collar workers. Some are also professionals such as lawyers, doctors, dentists, architects.

Our immigrant ancestors are the foundation of our roots in the United States. Our lives would be much different if they did not endure the challenges of emigration from Europe. Do not underestimate their contributions. They may have left us some material wealth, but the most significant contribution they left is their role in the factories and farms of the United States. Their lives were the building blocks in the growth of their new country, and their immigration influenced the quality of our lives today in the United States.

Remember that they made many sacrifices for us and helped build the United States. Hopefully, what you have read in these pages has given you a few clues to expand your vision of your ancestors so you can leave your descendants with more memories of their heritage.


Join me for a webinar tonight 6/8

My new book: German Immigration to America

Why did your German ancestors immigrate, when did they leave, where did they leave, how did they get here?

These are questions we all hope to find the answers.

This book discusses the history of the Germanic people and gives some insights into possible answers to the questions about your ancestors’ immigration.

The book also presents brief histories of most of the ports that were used by German immigrants for departure from Europe and the ports where they arrived. Also covered are details of life in steerage during the voyage and the process of examination of the immigrants to gain admittance to the United States.